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.


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