Jael: Malicious in Tent

Judges 4 and 5

One of my favourite Netflix series for 2019 was the spy thriller and darkly comic ‘Killing Eve’. The star was Villanelle, the beautiful and almost child-like assassin who comes up with weird and macabre ways to bump off her victims.

If Deborah defied our expectations of women in the Bible by being a judge and prophet then this next woman shatters any illusions that women are the ‘gentler sex’.

Yesterday’s tale ended with Sisera, the commander of the King of Cannaan’s army, in retreat. He had oppressed the people of Israel for many years and Barak, with Deborah at his side had gone to fight for justice. Sisera began the battle with 900 chariots and ended with an enormous defeat. He fled on foot to the tent of the Bedouin family of Heber the Kenite, who he knew was a long-time ally of his.

Heber the Kenite may well have been an ally, but Sisera didn’t consider Heber’s wife. Jael, it seems, was not an ally – very far from it in fact:

 Jael saw him coming, so she went out to meet him and said, “Sir, come into my tent. Come in. Don’t be afraid.”

Judges 4.18 (ERV)
Jael and Sisera, ca 1690, Lucas Jordán, Luca Jordanus, Luca Fa Presto, 1632-1705

She was generous and hospitable, gave him some milk and a warm bed and tucked him in for the night. After a full day’s battle Sisera must have been exhausted and so he soon fell sound asleep.

She went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground – and he died.

Judges 4.21

Bedouin people lived in tents and so Jael must have been a good hand with a peg and a mallet! She uses what she knows. Villanelle couldn’t have done it better herself!

Jael even gets a mention in Deborah’s triumphant song which isn’t the most romantic of ditties!

Most blessed women be Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite,
Of tent dwelling women be blessed….
She put her hand to the tent peg and her right hand to the work-men’s mallet;
She struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head,
She shattered and pierced his temple.
He sank, he fell, he lay still at her feet;
At her feet he sank, he fell,
Where he sank, there he fell dead.

Judges 5:24-27


It’s an odd tale, and brings up moral issues of whether violence such as this can ever be justified or claimed to be part of God’s will. It’s hard from our perspective to judge the decisions of those in conflicts so many centuries ago. Do the ends justify the means? It’s very hard to tell, but what we are told is the actions of Deborah and Jael led to peace:

there was peace in the land for forty years’

Judges 5.31

That is, until the people rebelled again and war broke out once more (Judges 6).

Reflection and Prayer

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Ephesians 4.31-32

Aggression and violence is more often considered to be a male issue, and men are certainly more likely to be physically violent than women. However research shows that women are more likely to use indirect aggression, such as spreading false rumours, excluding others from a social group, making insinuations without direct accusation, and criticising others’ appearance or personality (1).  Jael’s actions are shocking because of the physical nature of her actions, but perhaps we can all recognise ways in which we can be aggressive at times, and when our anger can result in harm to others.

I love this prayer by Harry Williams as it’s so real and honest:

O God, I am hellishly angry; I think so and so is a swine; I am tortured by worry about this or that; I am pretty certain things can’t get worse; this or that has left me feeling terribly depressed. But nonetheless here I am like this, feeling both bloody and bloody minded, and I’m going to stay here for ten minutes. You are most unlikely to give me anything. I know that. But I am going to stay here for ten minutes nonetheless. Amen

(1) Frontiers – Behavioural Neuroscience, 02 May 2018 – Aggression in Women: Behaviour, Brain and Hormones https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00081

Author: clarehayns

College Chaplain and Welfare Coordinator of Christ Church, Oxford | Mum of three boys | wife of a juggler and magician | Council of Reference of ZANE - http://www.zane-zimbabweanationalemergency.com | enjoys board games, dog walking, films, eating out.

6 thoughts on “Jael: Malicious in Tent”

  1. Thank you so much Clare, I love this series. Well done for all the hard work that has gone into it. From a fellow clergy mummy x


  2. My father had the story that my gt uncle basil, part Cornish that the curds were really clotted cream, and I have heard there was a link between the Phoenicians and the Cornish with the trade of tin.
    I find the reminders of these characters helpful when I realised I may be stuck in UK instead of getting home to France next week.


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