Good morning! Chapters 4-5 of Judges today introduce us to the strong and memorable biblical women Deborah and Jael. Deborah’s righteous leadership and Jael’s brazen action liberate Israel from Canaanite oppression.
Judges 4 announces Deborah’s judgeship over Israel in a fascinating, matter-of-fact way, needing no explanation or justification for a woman leading the nation. After decades of oppression by a Canaanite king, Deborah conspires with her military leader Barak to defeat the Canaanite commander Sisera and liberate her people. Barak’s loyalty is evident in his response, essentially “I’m only going if you’re going.” Sisera has chariots of iron, superior military technology which makes it very difficult to defeat Canaanites on the plain, as Joshua and Judges have mentioned earlier. Yet Barak does rout the Canaanites forces and sends Sisera fleeing to some of the Kenites (distant relatives to the Hebrew tribes through Abraham’s father-in-law). We meet Jael then, a matriarch of the Kenite clan who invites Sisera into her tent. After making him comfortable and promising him shelter, Jael kills Sisera in his sleep and victoriously displays his body to the pursuing general Barak. We read that this decisive action is how God made possible the eventual overthrow of the Canaanite king Jabin and the liberation of Israel.
Imagine singing Judges 5 around a campfire after telling the preceding story. This chapter is a victory song of Deborah and her general Barak. The song celebrates peasantry, the “little people” who pull through in a clutch. We read that some tribes joined in (Benjamin, Issachar, Zebulun, Naphtali—all modest tribes in the biblical tradition), while other tribes sat out the fight (Reuben, Gilead, Dan, Asher—arguably more prominent tribes). This adds to the theme of God working for deliverance in unexpected ways through unexpected people. Deborah’s song finishes by praising Jael for fiercely taking up “the workmen’s mallet”, juxtaposing her bravery with an imagined scene of Sisera’s mother, looking out the lattice of her home and selfishly awaiting his return with spoils of battle for her to enjoy. We know that Sisera will never return home, because of the liberating women who shun society’s “meek and mild” expectations to act as God’s deliverers. In other words, Deborah and Jael are the example to follow, not a housebound woman like Sisera’s mother. While we might squirm at some of the violent depictions here, these chapters give a helpful biblical counterexample for all who rebel against expectations of female domesticity. I’m glad to remember this story among the many other narratives of women as passive objects who merely submit to the actions of biblical men. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Judges 6-8. Thanks for reading!