And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead.
Jael appears to us as a hateful murderess; our feeling towards her is one of horror and indignation. Yet in the Bible she is extolled as amongst the noblest of heroes. The question is, what vindication can be offered for her conduct? If Jael received Sisera into her tent with the intention of murdering him, she must be left to the execrations of posterity.
But there are plain and straightforward reasons from which to infer that Jael had no design of killing Sisera; that she acted therefore with perfect honesty, and not with atrocious duplicity, when she offered him shelter. The action was too perilous; it required too much of more than masculine hardihood, or rather ferocity, even if there had been the strongest inducements; whereas there appears to have been no inducement at all, but rather the reverse, and we add to this, that since you have only the silence of Jael when she was asked by Sisera to tell a lie in his cause, the probability is that she had a reverence for truth; and if so she must have meant what she said when she gave the invitation and the promise, "Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not."
II. What were the motives which instigated Jael in putting to death her slumbering guest? We reckon it a satisfactory explanation of her conduct and one which removes every difficulty, that she was led by a Divine impulse or in obedience to a Divine command, to take away Sisera's life. It is true we are not told, as in the case of Abraham, that God commanded the action, but we are told that God approved the action. And since the action in itself, independent of His command, would have been a flagrant offence, we necessarily infer that what He approved He also directed.
III. There is a third question which suggests itself here. Granting that Jael acted on a Divine command, how could it be consistent with the character of God to issue such a command? Since murder is a crime which is expressly forbidden, with what propriety could He enjoin its perpetration? The answer is, that no one would have felt surprised had Sisera perished in battle. He was the oppressor of the Lord's people; what marvel, then, that he should be overtaken by vengeance?
Jael was but the executioner directed by God to slay a condemned criminal, and can we charge her with blood-guiltiness because she did not refuse to obey that direction. She had a hard task to perform, one demanding faith and dependence on God, but she performed it without flinching, and she deserves our admiration as a mighty heroine.
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1677.
References: Jdg 4:22.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi., No. 337. Jdg 4:23.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xv., p. 51. 4-5.—Parker, vol. v., p. 348. 5—Expositor, 2nd series, vol. vii., p. 133; Expositor, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 38; M. Dods, Israel's Iron Age, p. 173.
And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles.
And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.
And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.
And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.
And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?
And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.
And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.
And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.
And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.
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.
And they shewed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and inquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.
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.
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.
So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel.
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.