We all know who David is, right? Little shepherd boy who defeated the giant Goliath; humble youngest son who became King, a man after God’s own heart, adulterer and murderer.
But do you know who Jael is? Maybe, if you’ve delved deeply into your Bible or various women’s Bible studies.
Jael killed Sisera, a general hell-bent on oppressing the Israelites. Her story can be found in Judges 4-5. While everyone knows the story of David and Goliath, very few know the story of Jael and Sisera, a story with a number of striking similarities. Let's learn about the woman who predated the man.
1. David and Jael both killed a key enemy leader, bringing victory to the Israelites. David killed Goliath, a Philistine emissary. Jael killed Sisera, a Canaanite general.
2. David and Jael both used their own traditional tools rather than typical battle weapons. David used the stones and slingshot that he used as a shepherd. Jael used a tent peg and hammer: as a woman it’s likely that she would’ve been in charge of setting up the domestic tents and therefore skilled at driving tent pegs into the ground.
3. David and Jael were both underdogs. David was so short and small that Saul’s armor didn’t fit him. Jael was a young wife, not a strong soldier.
4. David and Jael were both used by God. David articulates this clearly by saying that God is on his side and Goliath is nothing more than an animal. Deborah prophesies that God will use “a woman” to defeat Sisera. Why a woman? Because Deborah’s general, Barak, was showing cowardice.
5. Both David and Jael faced their adversary alone. David fought Goliath in direct one to one combat. Jael was in her tent, minding her business, when Sisera burst in, retreating from battle.
6. Both David and Jael disabled their enemy before killing him. David knocked Goliath down with a stone and then beheaded him, while Jael soothed Sisera to sleep and then impaled his head with a tent peg.
7. Both David and Jael were outside the official army. David was only present because he was bringing lunch to his brothers. Jael was in her home and there’s no indication that she was a solider.
8. Both David and Jael were acknowledged as heroes for their actions.
Given all the similarities, why is Jeal left out of all children’s Bible story books? Why is Jael never mentioned in Sunday School? How could I attend church weekly from birth through college and not learn about Jael until my mid-20’s?
Some would argue that it’s because Jael didn’t “fight fair.” She lures Sisera to sleep, then murders him. But it’s clear from the song in Judges 5 that Jael’s technique is not shameful. The song recounts Jael’s actions very clearly as praise.
Thinking further reveals the absurdity of this argument about fighting “fair.” Sisera was much bigger and stronger than Jael. If she had openly resisted him, it’s quite likely she would’ve been injured, raped, and possibly killed. Not only was her act beneficial to Israel, one could easily argue it was an act of self-defense. When Sisera appeared in her tent, her two options were to submit completely, or resist. She chose to resist. Yes, she did it through deception. She used her wits to even the playing field.
Are we saying hat killing an enemy solider is only OK if you use brute strength rather than trickery? That seems like a pretty fine hair to split. Either killing the enemy is OK, or it isn’t.
Isn’t it far more likely that we don’t talk about Jael because she’s a woman? And that we leave out Deborah’s story for the same reason? Somehow, if we talk about Deborah as a leader, we have to include this morally messy story of Jael, and that’s a problem. Yet when we talk about King David, a “man after God’s own heart,” we’re OK with including the objectively evil story of David’s actions towards Bathsheba and Uriah.
My daughter asks me for Bible stories every day. And I tell her the story of Jael. I tell her that Jael chose to deceive Sisera because she knew she couldn’t fight him and win. It’s time we stopped telling only half of the stories in the Bible. It’s time to start celebrating all Bible heroes, regardless of gender.