There are a lot of women who admire particular characters in the Bible for various reasons. Mary was submissive to God’s will. Ruth was loyal. Sarah was obedient. But these last couple years I’ve had a fascination with a woman in the Bible named Jael (or Yael). Jael is best known for inviting Sisera, commander of the Canaanite army, into her tent, offering him a glass of milk, tucking him in for a nap and then driving a tent stake through his head to kill him. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not really the violence that fascinates me. It’s how ordinary she was.
We don’t know much about Jael’s life proceeding or preceding the incident for which she has become immortalized. I’ve read commentary on her and there are a lot of theories about who she was and how she came to be in the “right” place at the right time, but the Bible actually doesn’t say that much. We know she is married to Heber the Kenite. The Kenites historically allied themselves with Israel. Heber had moved himself and his wife away from the Kenites, though, and towards the Canaanites and at the time of this story Israel is about to enter a battle with the Canaanites after enduring two decades of cruel oppression.
In fact, the whole reason the warrior Sisera trusted Jael enough to seek refuge in her tent (running for his life after the rest of his army fell) is because the house of Heber was known to be at peace with the Canaanite king. Apparently Jael has different feelings about the matter, though, because after Sisera is welcomed into her home she somehow performs the arguably brutal but undeniably brave act of slaying the leader of the Canaanite military.
Duping and assassinating a rather imposing and famous war hero in the heat of the day in the quiet of your home doesn’t seem to me like something most regular people could just DO, let alone on the spur of the moment. I mean, what specifically had happened to her or what had she done to prepare for this moment in history in which the Lord would literally deliver the head of the Canaanite army into her hands?
We aren’t told that Jael had any distinguishing character traits or any particular training or life circumstances that led her to be poised, ready to act, when Sisera stumbled to her tent that day. I could do what many commentaries have done and infer (let’s face it, sometimes offering what seems nothing more than rather shaky speculation) all sorts of things about her character and occupation. But what if the reason we’re told so little is because there’s simply not very much to tell? What if her life was not particularly noteworthy up until then? Because this is the type of person that God seems to actually prefer to use. In the middle of our lives wherever we are- gathering water at the well, on the road from one place to another, just another day bobbing around in our fishing boats- He calls ordinary people and empowers us to do extraordinary things not because we are (extraordinary) or live in an extraordinary place or have extraordinary training or skills but because He is God.
What if Jael was just a not-so-special woman in her culture and in that time waiting for her husband to return home? Waiting for the day to cool to start dinner? Waiting to be reunited with her family? Waiting for a war to end? And what if waiting was precisely the thing that prepared Jael for that moment? Maybe she was going a little crazy with the waiting, a little too much time to think. Perhaps life was a little too quiet, stripped down of all the relationships and activities that had kept her busy before she and Heber had left their clan. If she was anything like me, the waiting was leaving her feeling a bit restless, energy building in her body and soul as she paced the stretches of her imagination. I wonder if she found herself, senses straining, hungry for a sign, any sign, about what might come next. And in that restlessness, maybe she was talking to God. Maybe she was asking Him what He was going to do with her life through all of this. For what purpose was she here and why now and what next? And with everything else stripped away, her eyes and ears were tuned in, ready and willing to respond to that still, small voice.
At that moment, in the isolation and emptiness of her circumstances, something in the corner of her vision catches her eye. She lifts up her head to scan the lonely landscape and spots a man running a bit desperately towards her, injured maybe, breathing heavy, armor haphazardly streaming from his limbs. She’s got barely a moment to think, but she picks up the conversation with God and quickly asks Him what she should do. All that energy, all that time, all that waiting, all that questioning; she’s already at full attention. It takes almost no time for her to spring to action and carry out the crazy plan that’s taking shape between her and God.
This ordinary woman without any special training or notable personality or character traits, located in a neighborhood that is apparently most identifiable because of nothing more than the presence of a particular oak tree, armed with a glass of milk, a warm blanket and some standard household tools single-handedly takes down the leader of the military force oppressing the Israelites for the last twenty years. If that doesn’t leave you excited about what God could do with your life, I don’t know what could!
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!