Women Heroines of the Bible: Jael, Matron Warrior

One of my favourite movies is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It showcases the technical skill of the martial arts as the primary fighting means of good overcoming evil. It is a welcome contrast to many Western films that often bombard the viewer with the same predictable and shall I say, boring “blow em’ up” scenes. Yawn. What makes this movie and others like it particularly fascinating to me is that they not only have male warriors but female ones as well. And the women are just as good as the men, when it comes to acts of bravery, the tenacity of self-preservation, and exceptional tactical movements.

A TV show that I saw a few times as a child and that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend as brilliant or exceptional in its storyline is Xena, The Warrior Princess. How Xena manages to fight off a group of tough male warriors single-handedly, we’ll never know. (However, we wonder about some of the scenes in CTHD above.) Nevertheless, she commands my attention because she is both a woman and a warrior simultaneously. In contrast, one woman whom we can readily admire reveals the skill and bravery of a seasoned male fighter and yet likely had next to no experience as a warrior. Her name is Jael and her story can be found in Judges 4.

As the wife of a Bedouin and thus a seasoned tent dweller, Jael would have likely wielded a mallet many times to drive a tent peg into the ground, gaining much precision and skill. Although I’m certain she never thought she would one day use both for a man’s skull, her previous experience would have aided her in responding quickly and deftly to the threatening presence of her people’s archenemy and mighty warrior Sisera.

Today’s audience can be divided over this story, questioning whether Jael was really a heroine or not. Many are shocked at the Scriptures’ seeming nonchalance at her rather brutal act: “But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him [Sisera] while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died” (4:21). They even deem it to be a cold-blooded murder, missing the fact that later, Deborah, judge over all Israel, praised this woman’s act through song:

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 workman’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. (5:24-27)

Heroic acts happen in all settings and contexts. Responding in her own context, Jael was thus honoured by all of Israel and most importantly God. Maybe we then need to redefine what a hero/heroine looks like. Would we have any issue with a mother protecting the lives of her children if a person was about to kill them? No, many of us would not. How then can we take issue with Jael helping to save the lives of an entire people by ridding the perpetrator and mastermind behind such evil acts toward her own? We would readily commend such an act if it were on the movie screen, so how much more should we praise her who did it not in the imaginary but the real world? Perhaps it is a harder story to grasp in today’s modern Western context; however, it would not have been in previous times or in other places. Jael can definitely take her place alongside of the imaginary female superheros and the like, but even more she can stand next to her female and male heros, counted as such throughout history, as they sought to overcome evil with good.

I’ve often stated that if I had a little girl, I’d name her Jael. I don’t know if whomever I marry may agree with such a name (!), but she remains a heroine of mine. I just wish I’d have that much boldness and courage in the face of such evil. She thus remains an inspiration to me and hopefully, you, my reader, as well.

Theology of Fashion–Defined

Entering into a discussion on fashion calls for none else than an entry on the theology of fashion! Yes, I said it and out loud too. And if you think that no theology on said topic could possibly exist, well, it does. This past semester, I gave a lecture on it to my class of all male classmates and my male professor. The following are bits and pieces of my lecture notes for the class presentation.

We often speak of today’s society craving something, that preceding societies did not desire. However, human nature has remained virtually the same since the beginning. Although context and environment may change, the human nature does not. Of course, certain aspects within human nature can become more pronounced, resulting in a propensity toward that aspect, that can in turn consume a society. This has happened all down through the ages. At the same time, it hardly seems so—that one aspect is emphasised above the rest. Human nature is commonly compulsive, obsessive, driven: prone to longings and cravings that leave people feeling empty or partially fulfilled but never completely satisfied. Thus the human nature, being deep and complex, searches for something more. In fact, it strives for that which is beyond itself. Moreover, because all are made in the image of God, thus all can exude a proclivity toward something and for this entry, that something is beauty.

I will not get into grappling with what the world defines as beautiful. That being entirely relative, none other than the fashion world displays this to such an extent. It is a place to witness an ever shifting culture of relativism, where one fashion is in, while another is out. What was entirely unstylish when we were children has now become vogue today. At the same time, some styles seem to remain for years, while others last but a moment and then just as quickly vanish from the fashion scene. Ironically so, in many respects, the fashion world many times hardly exudes beauty. Instead, it reveals the carelessness and fleeting nature of the world. However, beauty can be found within in it—that which is both physical and material.

Nevertheless, I want to focus on why fashion affects so much of the world, not so much fashion itself. Fashion is an outward manifestation of the inward make-up of what it means to be human. Humans desire beauty, that which is beautiful. It is a God-given desire, even if it can become at times rather warped and twisted. Thus the question can be asked, “What does fashion reveal to us about the desires, the innate longing within us for something other than ourselves?” Other questions can then follow: “Is it the desire for the Other?” “Or is it a desire to understand the self?” “Or possibly is it a desire to cover up self or hide from self?”

Oftentimes, we the Church believe that we need to redeem everything around us, including fashion. However, because we can recognise the Divine within all of creation, we can seek to understand the reality that beauty exists within fashion. Thus our desire for fashion does not necessarily come out of sinfully willful pleasure, but reveals our thirst for and our affinity for the Divine revealed in that which is beautiful.

Furthermore, the body is not bad. Unfortunately, many evangelicals maintain a gnostic perception of the body to their detriment. However, Michelle Gonzalez in her book Shopping points out that the Incarnation shows us more than anything else that the body is to be esteemed. Hence, the material world reflects the glory of God. In her warning against consumerism, she does not dismiss the idea that fashion can speak to the believer. Rather, she argues that daily life, which would include such activities as shopping that relates to fashion, is that which reflects the glory of God.

Thus and obviously so, I do not view the love of fashion to be only for those deemed to be hedonistic, materialistic consumers. In fact, I would say that many aren’t, and more are embracing the beauty found within Creation, rather than not.