And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not…
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, we think, 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. What likelihood is there that Jael proposed to murder Sisera? He was not her enemy, for there was peace between her husband's family and the Canaanites. She had nothing to gain by his death; and if she had, she needed only to refuse him a shelter. The enemy was in pursuit, and would quickly have overtaken the fugitive. Had she wished his death ever so much, she had nothing more to do than to leave him to his fate. He was a doomed man, and there was no necessity that she should endanger herself to ensure his destruction; for let it be well observed that the killing of Sisera was a most dangerous undertaking for a lonely woman. Whatever account may be given of her subsequent conduct, the only candid construction to be put on this part of the narrative is that Jael was thoroughly sincere in offering an asylum to Sisera — that it was not with the language of deceit, nor in order to cloak a bloody purpose, but simply in truthfulness of heart, and with the earnest desire of succouring a distressed man, that she invited the fugitive into her tent, covered him with a mantle, and refreshed him with milk. "Nevertheless," you will say, "she killed Sisera; whether premeditated or not, the murder was committed. What is to be urged in extenuation of so barbarous a deed? " This brings us to examine by what motives Jael was instigated, or on what principles she acted 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. She had probably acted from her natural feeling when offering shelter to the fugitive and giving most hospitable entertainment. We only think it a kindly part that she should go out to meet Sisera in his distress, and endeavour to shield him from further injury; but when the deep slumber was on him there came an intimation to Jael, I cannot tell you how conveyed — but certainly in such a manner as that there could be no doubt of its origin — an intimation from God that her guest must die, and that, too, by her hand. And if such were the case, again we remind you that nothing but a Divine command will explain a Divine approval. If such were the case, we challenge you to find in all the annals of Scripture a mightier display of the power of faith than was exhibited by Jael. What if Sisera should awake just in time to discover and defeat the murderous design! It was likely. He seemed indeed in deep sleep, but fresh as he was from battle, his brain must have been full of confused imagery, and the least noise must startle him as though his foes were at the door; and she having but a woman's hand and a woman's strength — shall she dare to attempt the nailing the sleeping warrior to the earth? Will not her courage fail her at the most critical moment, when there is enough done to arouse Sisera, but not to overcome? Besides, why must she be the executioner? There was little probability that Sisera could escape; in a short time the pursuers would arrive, and then the fate of Sisera could be sealed without her interference, We will believe that thoughts such as these crowded into Jael's mind; we can believe that it was a moment of terrible perplexity when she felt that she had received a commission from God, and considered the fearfulness and the peril of its execution. There must have been the natural shrinking from the shedding of blood; there must have come the cutting reflection that Sisera was her guest, and that she was pledged to his defence; there must have been dread of his revenge if she should betray her cause in its execution; but the faith of this woman triumphed over all that is most calculated to confound and dismay her. There is yet another question, which will, perhaps, suggest itself to your minds as full of great importance as those already considered. You may, perhaps, now be disposed to allow the great probability, if not the certainty, that Jael acted on a Divine command, conveyed to her after Sisera had been admitted into the tent, and you may on this account acquit her of any charge of treachery or cruelty. Then you will ask, how it could 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? Now, just think! No one would have felt any surprise had Sisera perished in the battle. He was the oppressor of the Lord's people: what marvel, then, that he should be overtaken by vengeance? Thus also with the Canaanites; their wickedness marked them out for extermination, just as did that of the unbelief of the world before the flood came; so that if in place of employing the sword of the Israelites, God had employed a deluge, or a pestilence, we should not have had a word to say, but must have admitted the justice of His ridding the land of those by whom it was profaned. And could either Jael or the Israelites be charged with murder in performing by Divine command a just though severe action? They were only the executioners of a righteous sentence: could they on that account contract guiltiness? Why, when the law of the land has condemned a man to death, who thinks of charging the executioner with murder, because he is instrumental in executing the penalties of that law? Indeed, he has not actually invaded and rifled the sanctuary of life, as a midnight assassin who steals on his victim, and leaves him weltering in his blood; but because a competent authority has directed him to inflict death, he is no murderer, but only an obedient servant of the State when he takes the life of a fellow-man. And now having vindicated Jael, we shall not hesitate to go further, and hold her forth as an example which it should be your endeavour to imitate. We do not merely mean that having displayed strong faith, and obeyed the law, when obedience was beyond measure difficult, she has left a pattern to be followed by all who are summoned to special difficulties and sacrifices in the service of God; over and above this, the case of Jael and Sisera has a peculiar similarity to many — yea, even all — amongst yourselves, who are required by God to inflict death where they have offered hospitality. Yea, if it be the Scriptural demand that we "crucify" — "crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts" — oh, then, there is vast similarity between our own ease and that of Jael. We too must put to death the enemy whom we have cherished and received. We too must determine that we will act the executioner where we have been the patron and the host. We too must be ready to strike down that which we have embraced, and pierce that which we have admitted not only into the tent, but into the heart.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.