Wonder Women of the Week: Deborah & Jael

So my very first post honoring strong, brave, truly feminine women is going to be shared by two lovely ladies from the Bible. What! Doesn’t the Bible basically just subtly infuse our mind with instructions on how to be good ’50’s housewives?!?

Looks like you haven’t actually been reading the good word. Because I definitely just came across the scene where Deborah leads the army, and Jael kills the oppressive enemy general by stabbing him in the head. Yeah. That’s right. It’s in the Bible.

"Jael & Sisera" by Artemisia Gentileschi

A little context for this story: After settling in “the promised land,” the Israelites keep getting taken over by neighboring people groups. Each time, they pray to God, and he sends a hero (think Sampson) to lead them against their oppressors.

So now the Israelites find themselves cruelly oppressed by a certain Mr. Jabin, king of Canaan and his army commander crony Sisera (who I always imagine looks like Richard III from Loncraine’s 1995 version). The text stresses that Sisera had a huge, strong, financially loaded army. No bueno for Israel.

Enter Deborah. She’s the prophetess who is Israel’s military and legal leader (called a judge). Not your average housewife. Here’s how  the story goes:

Judges 4:4-9
Deborah, a prophetess,the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’ ”  Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”  “Very well,” Deborah said, “I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman.”

Mt. Tabor in modern times. (jerusalempilgrimage.blogspot)

So Deborah and Barak crush Sisera’s 900 chariots and company with their small army. But, oh no. Being the brave leader that he is, Sisera ditches his chariot and runs away. Now, back in the day, if you wanted to win a battle, you had to get the leader of the army.

Enter Jael. She was a Kenite, a tribe of people living in peace with the Israelites. However, her hubby and King Jabin were allies. We don’t get a lot of motivation for why Jael…oh I’ll just cut to Deborah’s victory song (yeah, she was a poet too) about what Jael did when Sisera asked to hide in her tent.

Judges 5:24-27
“Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
most blessed of tent-dwelling women.
He asked for water, and she gave him milk;
in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.
Her hand reached for the tent peg,
her right hand for the laborer’s hammer.
She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple.
At her feet he sank,
he fell; there he lay.
At her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell—dead.

Not your average housewife, ay? And wait, before you think I’m just going to feature a woman murderer every week…I do have a point. Remember Deborah’s warning to Barak about a woman getting the credit? It seemed like she was talking about herself, but  being a prophetess, she knew Jael would be the star of the day. Sisera put his hope/faith in his armies, Barak put his faith in Deborah, and Deborah said “Psh, forget relying on humans. I’ll let God take this one. He’ll put our enemies exactly where we want them.”

Back to Jael. Hospitality in her culture was paramount. To invite someone in was to offer them safety and comfort. Jael broke societal convention and even defied supposed alliances in order to do what she thought was right. I can imagine she knew a little somethin’ somethin’ about the Jabin and his government were treating the Israelites. We don’t know if she worshiped the God of the Israelites, but she seems to have a good grip on the goings on the region:

Judges 4:22-23
Just then Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple—dead.

On that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites. And the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him.

So that’s the story of how God used two women (click here for the full source text)  -who weren’t afraid to take risks for what they though was right- to rescue a whole people group. And may I point out, it also says something about a text written way back when in a patriarchal society. Women running the country and winning battles? Have I inspired you to see what other kinds of feminist goodies are in the Bible? Check out these awesome ladies:

Phoebe & Priscilla: Trusted friends and equals of Paul 

Rahab: The prostitute that not only helped the Israelites capture a whole city, but who became a direct ancestor of King David and Jesus himself. Respect!

Mary Magdalene: A key witness throughout the life of Jesus. And more importantly, first to see Jesus after he leaves the tomb, which is significant since women were not believed to be acceptable witnesses at the time, yet the Bible bases the validity of it’s account on the testimony of a woman.

Song of Solomon: An entire book of the Bible devoted to a celebration of sex in marriage.

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5 thoughts on “Wonder Women of the Week: Deborah & Jael

  1. Pingback: How I Learned a Lesson from a Dead Man After the Radiator Exploded « Ezra Won't Shut Up

  2. Pingback: Wonder Woman of the Week: Paula Bonhoeffer « Ezra Won't Shut Up

  3. I really appreciated your pictures and how you used this story to challenge the way we typically view women in the Bible. Definitely gave me more to think about

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