God used Deborah and Jael to deliver Israel from its enemies. Though they worked separately and may have never interacted with each other, what these two women did brought about victory for Israel.
Their story takes place during the time of the judges when Israel did not have a human king, God was their king. Yet, the nation of Israel still found itself in a lot of trouble during this time period. They went through seven cycles of sin. First they would follow and serve the Lord, then fall into sin, then become enslaved by another nation, and then they would cry out to the Lord for deliverance, the Lord would raise up a judge to lead them, and then they would be delivered from whoever was enslaving them at the time. This cycle repeated itself seven times in a few hundred years!
One of the judges appointed by God was Deborah. Deborah was also a prophetess, so God spoke directly to her. She is one of the few prophetesses mentioned in the Bible; she was also the only female judge. During the time of Deborah Israel was being oppressed by the Canaanites, whose king was Jabin. Israel had cried out to the Lord to deliver them from Jabin. God tells Deborah what should be done in order to defeat the Canaanites. Deborah sends for Barak and tells him that he is to lead an army against the Canaanite army (which is led by Sisera). He is to take 10,000 men from the tribes of Zebulun and Napthali. Even though God promises to be with Barak he is afraid and won’t go unless Deborah goes with him.
“I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river, Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.” Judges 4:7
Sisera learns that Deborah and Barak are going up to battle with 10,000 men and he goes out to meet them. Sisera leads a huge army out to meet them near Mount Tabor. At this point Barak must have still been very nervous about the battle because Deborah tells him:
“Arise! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hands, behold, the Lord has gone out before you.” Judges 4:14
They win the battle, with the help of the Lord. The interesting part of the Bible’s description of the battle is that it gives all the credit to God. It seems like a strange depiction of a battle, but it is written in such a way that we cannot deny that without His help Barak would not have stood a chance against Sisera’s army.
“The Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak…” Judges 4:15
At this point in the battle Sisera pretty much knows that he is the loser, so he gets out of his chariot and runs away on foot. In his flight he passes by the tent of Heber the Kenite who was a friend of the Canaanites and King Jabin. Heber’s wife Jael calls out to Sisera from the tent telling him to come in to hide and rest. At this point he was very tired so he took her up on her offer. Sisera lies down in Jael’s tent and asks for water, she gives him milk to drink. After he drinks, he rests and probably falls asleep.
What Jael does next is sort of surprising and very bold. As Sisera rests she takes up a tent peg and a hammer and drives the peg right through Sisera’s head and into the ground, so he dies. This is surprising because prior to this act we are given no information about Jael, except that her husband was a friend of Jabin. However, earlier on in the story Deborah predicts that a woman will kill Sisera (Judges 4:9) so the fact that Jael kills him is a fulfillment of this prophecy. Since Jael was Hebrew it is very probable that she did not share her husband’s friendship with Jabin and Sisera. Maybe she saw the horrible things these men were doing to her people so when she saw an opportunity to kill Sisera she took it. Whatever her reason, this act must have taken a lot of guts and faith.
“Most blessed of women is Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite;
Most blessed is she of women in the tent.
He asked for water and she gave him milk;
In a magnificent bowl she brought him curds.
She reached out her hand for the tent peg,
And her right hand for the workmen’s hammer.
Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head;
And she shattered and pierced his temple.” Judges 5:24-26
God used these faithful women to win the battle and deliver Israel when faithful men were scarce. This shows us that God will use us despite our shortcomings (not that being a women is a shortcoming! Back in this time period women were usually considered weak and most of the time did not hold positions of authority).
At the end of the battle Deborah and Barak sing a beautiful song glorifying God and repeating the events of the battle in poetic form.
“Hear, O kings; give ear, O rulers!
I—to the Lord, I will sing
I will sing praise to the Lord, the God of Israel.” Judges 5:3