Notes for Judges 4:11-23
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 4:11, KJV: Now Heber the Kenite, (which was) of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which (is) by Kedesh. 12 And they shewed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor.
Jethro was the father of Zipporah and six other daughters and therefore the father-in-law of Moses (Exodus 3:1, e.g.). Hobab was mentioned as a son of “Raguel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law (Numbers 10:29). Jethro’s other name was Reuel so Raguel may be simply an alternate spelling.
Why Heber had separated himself from the other Kenites is not specified. According to Judges 1:16, most of the Kenites had settled in the land of Judah after they left Jericho, the “city of palm trees”. But in verse 12, Heber and the others who followed him (note the plural) reported to Sisera where the Israelites had gone (Mount Tabor).
Kedesh is probably the same as Kedesh-Naphtali, where the army of Zebulun and Napthali had gathered together in order to fight against Jabin and Sisera (see verse 10).
13 And Sisera gathered together all his chariots, (even) nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that (were) with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon.
The size or Sisera’s army was immense. For each chariot, if there were two people (driver and soldier), there were 1800 charioteers; or 2700 if there were three to a chariot. The number of infantry and other troops is not specified.
14 And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this (is) the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him.
This was the signal for Barak and the army to attack. All of the soldiers joined Barak in this action.
15 And the LORD discomfited Sisera, and all (his) chariots, and all (his) host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off (his) chariot, and fled away on his feet.
Again it is stated that the LORD provided the victory. Compare this verse with Joshua 10:10-13, where the LORD fought for Israel against the Five Kings.
Sisera must have seen that the battle was going against him so he left the chariot and went on foot.
16 But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; (and) there was not a man left.
Barak and the 10,000 Israelite soldiers completely destroyed Sisera’s army, chariots and all. There is no record of any casualties (killed or wounded) among these men.
Harosheth was the headquarters for Sisera; at least, that was where he dwelt (verse 2).
17 Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite: for (there was) peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.
This peace between Sisera and Heber is mentioned in verses 11 and 12. Why Sisera fled to the tent of Heber’s wife is not stated here. If he was trying to escape by fleeing to a woman’s tent, he was displaying cowardice of the worst kind. He had commanded hundreds of iron chariots, but now he ran for his life.
There may be other reasons known to the peoples of that day but not readily known to us. The reader is encouraged to read and review conservative commentaries and reference works for more detailed information concerning tents or parts of tents reserved for women, sanctuary status, etc.
18 And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle.
Hospitality was almost expected in these days. Compare this reaction of Jael with those of Abraham and the Three Guests in Genesis 18, and Lot and the Two Angels in Genesis 19. But also notice that the Guests approached the male head of the house, not the woman.
“Mantle” may refer to an outer garment or simply a covering of some kind.
Jael appeared to be genuinely concerned for Sisera’s welfare and health—note her words, “fear not”. What was Sisera afraid of? The text does not say.
19 And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him.
No doubt he was thirsty after fleeing from the battle. The exact distance from battle zone to Jael’s tent is not specified but it seems to be safely away from the action.
“Bottle” here probably refers to a container of some kind other than glass. We are not told what Jael used to store the milk but since there was no refrigeration in those days, the milk may have been quite fresh!
20 Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and enquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.
Sisera wanted Jael to lie in order to keep himself safe. He may have suspected that the Israelite army would come through the area, searching for enemy soldiers. Sisera, though, did not seem to fully understand the concept of the host protecting the guest. Lot gave hospitality and shelter to the Two Angels, as mentioned, but would not give them to the evil men of Sodom who wanted to abuse them. He offered his two virgin daughters instead but the men of Sodom were not interested in them. So he would have been safe from them, anyway, after being welcomed into Jael’s tent.
21 Then Jael Heber's wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.
Sisera must have truly been sound asleep at this time. Jael was apparently strong enough to make the “nail” (perhaps a wooden tent peg—would she have had access to iron at this period of time?) pierce through Sisera’s skull. There is a relatively soft spot in the skull that may have been the spot where Jael drove the “nail”, thus ending Sisera’s life.
22 And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her (tent), behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail (was) in his temples.
This is proof that Sisera expected the Israelite army to come searching in this area. Jael met Barak and gave him the news that Sisera was dead.
Nowhere was this commended, and nowhere was Jael commanded to kill Sisera. But he was an enemy of Israel, even though Heber the Kenite was more or less allied with Sisera (verse 12). This also fulfilled the prophecy of Deborah (verse 9) that the LORD would “ . . . sell Sisera into the hand of a woman”.
23 So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel. 24 And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.
God certainly delivered Israel from the hand of Jabin and Sisera. They had 900 chariots of iron and an unspecified amount of other soldiers but Israel destroyed that whole army (verse 15).
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).