Are You Embarrassed?

In Judges 4 Deborah, Barak, and Jael defeat Jabin King of Canaan and his military leader Sisera. Judges 5 is a song celebrating the great victory Israel had over her enemies. Judges 5:1-23 describes the need for deliverance (vs. 6-8) and the rounding up of various tribes to fight (13-23).  So far so good. But then we get to Judges 5:24-31 and God goes off script. First, he says the Jael will be blessed among all the tent dwelling women. Why? She is good with a hammer:

He [Sisera] asked for water and she gave him milk;
she brought him curds in a noble’s bowl.
She sent her hand to the tent peg and
her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;
she struck Sisera
she crushed his head
she shattered and pierced his temple.
Between her feet he sank,
he fell,
he lay still
between her feet he sank,
he fell
where he sank,
there he fell—dead.

Judges 5:1-23 is a quick paced narrative describing the gathering of troops and the battle. In 24-27 everything slows down. God wants us to stop, bend over, look inside the tent, and see the details. Jael’s husband, Heber the Kenite, had a peace treaty with Sisera and Jabin (Judges 4:17). Sisera had probably been in Jael’s house many times over the 20 years of oppression (Judges 4:3). But the times of easy money from the Israelites was over. God had raised up a savior. Jabin and Sisera were soundly defeated by Barak and his army (Judges 4:15-16). Sisera fled the battlefield and went to a place of safety: Heber’s house. Jael even invites him in and gives him a blanket (Judges 4:18). He was thirsty and needed water. Jael gives him milk. She gives him milk in a noble’s bowl (maybe to stroke his ego). She reaches out her hand to the tent peg. In the Middle East women set up tents. Jael was no waif super-model nor a Victorian shrinking violet. My guess is she was bulky and strong. She quietly reaches out to pick up a stray tent peg. Then she gets a mallet. Then she strikes, crushes, shatters, pierces his temple. He dies (understatement?). But before he dies he sinks, falls, lays still, sinks between her feet and falls. Sisera’s place of safety became his grave. Jael stands over him in triumph. God wants us to glory in the gruesome death of this general at the hands of a housewife. But do we? Aren’t we a little embarrassed by all of this fuss? Did God really need to tell us twice that Jael killed Sisera with a mallet and a tent peg (Judges 4:21, 5:24-27)? Yes, we know Jael is blessed. But do we really accept our blood spattered heroine as an instrument in God’s hand?

However, the song, given by the Spirit, does not end there. If it did we could perhaps we could handle it. But the song gets worse. It goes on to mock Sisera’s grieving mother.

Out of the window she peered, the mother of Sisera wailed through the lattice: ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’ Her wisest princesses answer, indeed, she answers herself, ‘Have they not found and divided the spoil?— A womb or two for every man; spoil of dyed materials for Sisera, spoil of dyed materials embroidered, two pieces of dyed work embroidered for the neck as spoil?’ 

Sisera’s mother wonders why her son is taking so long to return from the battle. She sits on the balcony watching the horizon for the dust of his chariot (Judges 4:3). “What keeps him?” she asks. We know. He has been nailed to the ground. His head was struck, crushed, shattered, and pierced. He is not coming home. Her maidens answer her concerns with words of encouragement. “Oh, don’t worry,” they say, “His victory has been so great that he needs days to divide the spoil. No doubt right now he is raping (a womb or two) various Israelite women. He is going to bring home riches beyond measure.” But this is false hope and empty words. How long did she wait? When did this mother find out that Sisera was dead? When did she find out that he did not die heroically by an arrow or spear on the battlefield? A woman, an Israelite woman, killed him with tent peg and a mallet. God does not want us to feel sorry for Sisera’s mother. We are not to grieve with her. He wants us to rejoice at her grief. He want us to sing a song mocking her.

The song ends with a cry for all of God’s enemies to perish just like Sisera:

So may all your enemies perish [like Sisera], O LORD! But your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might. 

Sisera is not a one time event, a strange anomaly in the history of God’s work. He is a model for all those who attack God’s people and reject God. They will be judged. God’s flaming sword will come down and wreak vengeance on those who do not trust Him (II Thess. 1:7-10). The Holy Spirit want us to pray for the enemies of God to be destroyed like Sisera.

In our age of ease, comfort, and tolerance it is easy to be embarrassed by God’s Word, especially passages like this. We love Psalm 23, John 3:16 and Galatians 3:28, but our effeminate age is not so fond of passages like Exodus 15:3, II Kings 9:30-37, Mark 9:48, Revelation 2:16 and Judges 5:24-31. God is a God of vengeance and bloodshed. He is not all peace, love, hot chocolate, and marshmallows.  We want a soft God. We want a God who will never threaten us or anyone else. We want a God who does not get angry and kill people. We want a God who has been sanitized and sprayed with Lysol and whose instruments are clean, not covered in blood. We want a tame Lion who is safe, easy to talk about, and will not get us in trouble.

But that is not the God of the Bible. That is not the Jesus of the Bible either. The God of Scripture is the one who signed off on drowning millions of people, including women and children (Genesis 7:21-23).  God killed Saul (I Chron. 10:14).  God wanted a queen to be eaten by dogs and she was (I Kings 21:23 and II Kings 9:36). God cursed Israel with a siege and famine for her disobedience (II Kings 25:2-3). God killed a couple for lying about money and church members for corrupting of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 5:10, I Cor. 11:30). God delivers people over to Satan (I Tim. 1:20). Jesus promises to come and kill a modern day Jezebel and her children (Revelation 2:22-23).  God created the lake of burning fire and Jesus will send people there.

God wanted his people to sing this song. He wants us to lift our voices in praise for the tent peg, the hammer, and the grieving mother. Moses loved this God. Joshua served this God. Deborah sang about this God. David delighted in this God. Isaiah saw this God. Paul preached this God. Jesus was the exact representation of this God (Hebrews 1:3). When we get done with Judges 5 what does God want from us? He wants us to worship Him, to glorify His great name, and to love Him more. Do we? Do we love, sing, delight in, and preach the God of Jael, the God who kills men with a tent peg and then writes a song about it?  Do we worship the God of Genesis 7, Judges 5, and Revelation 2? Or are we just embarrassed by Him?

Most Blessed Among Women is Jael

Several thoughts occurred to me as I read the story of Deborah, Barak, and Jael this morning in Judges 4-5.
First, did Jael go against her husband by killing Sisera? It is hard to tell, but in 4:11 Heber has separated himself from the rest of his family. 4:17 says there was peace between Jabin King of Hazor and Heber the Kenite. From this information it appears that Jael killed the man her husband was in league with.
Second, the assassination of Sisera is well planned by Jael. She coaxes Sisera into her tent (4:18) by telling him that he has nothing to fear. He asks for water and she gives him milk (4:19). The song (5:25) tells us that she gave him milk in a lordly bowl (NKJV) or noble’s bowl (ESV). She was appealing to his vanity. She knew exactly what she was doing.
Third, the courage of Jael is easy to overlook. If Sisera awakes she is a dead woman. Was her hand shaking as she picked up the hammer? When her husband returns she might face his wrath.
Fourth, I love the phrase at the end of verse 21, “So he died.” Typical understatement. The man has a tent peg sticking out of his head.  Do you need to check the pulse of man with a tent peg driven through his skull?
Fifth, Jael’s killing of Sisera echoes the promise that the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent in Genesis 3:15. There is another man killed by a head wound in Judges as well. In Judges 9:53 a woman throws down a millstone and crushes Abimilech’s head. 
Sixth, the song in chapter 5 is more explicit about Jael’s deed than the story. It says she pounded Sisera, pierced his head, split and struck his through his temple (NKJV). My mind wanders to how big the tent peg was. Could it actually have split his head in two? I think our sanitized PG minds miss how violent an act this would have been. 
Finally, is there anything less politically correct than the end of Deborah’s song? Here we have Sisera’s mother sitting at home on the porch rocking in her chair.  She is surrounded by her friends. She is wondering why her son is so long coming home. Her friends say that it is because the victory has been so great that they are still dividing the spoil. But we all know the truth. Her son was killed by a woman, in a tent by a tent peg. His head was split while he slept. His death was not noble. He was a disgrace. He is now buried or burned in a foreign land and will be forever remembered only in these two chapters of Scripture. Aren’t we supposed to feel bad for Sisera’s mom? She has lost a son. Aren’t we supposed to grieve for her? Apparently not. So may all the enemies of God perish (5:31).