Archive for the 'Women of the OT' Category

What’s In Your Hand?

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

Today’s scripture: Judges 4:17-24 (ESV-text and audio) (NRSV) (The Message)

As you read, consider: What might God be saying to me in this passage? Summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two before reading on.

My thoughts (Deb Doty):

Jael did what with a tent peg? Eeeeuuuuuuuw! How gross!

Maybe one of the reasons why this passage can offend our modern (and postmodern) sensibilities is that it’s a woman who performs the act of extreme violence, skewering a sleeping human being — a human being she has lured into a sense of safety and trust. It’s shocking because it’s so unexpected. She isn’t a warrior. She’s a housewife. Besides, she’s not even an Israelite. She’s a Kenite — this ain’t her fight! So, how in the world did she end up turning a macho (but exhausted) general into a shish kabob?

[Now, here’s where we pause to take a brief look at the back story—otherwise known as the context. Kenites were the nomadic descendents of Moses’ wife’s father. They had entered the Promised Land (Canaan) with the Israelites, so their history had intertwined with Israel’s history. But our passage tells us that Jael’s husband had set off on his own, and his clan was at peace with King Jabin, General Sisera’s boss. So, it appears that Jael’s clan was a neutral party to the war that was taking place between Israel and Canaan.]

So, picture it….

Sisera, exhausted after running from a lost battle, staggers to a tent, seeking haven among a friendly group of people. Jael welcomes him, comforts him, and feeds him — just as you’d expect a Middle Eastern nomadic woman of her time would do. And just as could be expected from a Middle Eastern macho general of his time, he feels safe. He is alone with a mere woman (no threat there!) — and this woman will, of course, follow his orders and protect him. He has nothing to fear, so he falls sound asleep.

The Bible doesn’t tell us why Jael decides to do what she does. But for some reason, Jael decides not to be neutral. Maybe something about Israel’s God resonates within her heart and she just has to side with that God. Or maybe she’s figured out that if Sisera is running like a frightened hare, it’s wisest to side with the obvious winners. But whatever her reason, she chooses to side with Israel.

With that decision made, she makes an even more startling decision. She — a lone woman — will kill the mighty General Sisera. And so she picks up a tent peg and a hammer and tiptoes up to the snoring soldier and… BAM! She pins him like an insect in a Boy Scout’s bug collection. And from that moment on, the tide turns, Israel subdues King Jabin of Canaan, and Israel lives in peace for 40 years.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that part of a nomadic housewife’s duties included setting up the tent? Yup, tent pitching was woman’s work. So, when Jael decided to kill Sisera, she picked up two familiar household items — items she used with regularity — a tent peg and her hammer. Using what she just happened to have at hand, what just happened to be a woman’s tools, she turned the tide for Israel.

Are you in the middle of a battle in your life? Do you cry out to God, “But I can’t make a difference! I can’t possibly overcome this terrible situation! I’ve tried and tried, but I still can’t seem to defeat this one thing. God, why don’t you send someone bigger and stronger than me to set everything right?”

Look around you. What’s that in your hand? Only a hammer, or a tent peg? Think again.

Thought for the day: Look around with fresh eyes. The very thing you need may be right there in your hand.

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to start, consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
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