A Stake to the Brain

Judges 4:17-24
17 But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 And he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. 20 And he said to her, “Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” 21 But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. 22 And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple. 23 So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. 24 And the hand of the people of Israel pressed harder and harder against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.

Into the story of God’s defeat of His enemies comes the woman, Jael. Sisera is making his escape after Jabin’s army is defeated, by God’s thunderstorm, and in his fatigue he falls into the tent of Jael. She offers him hospitality and a place to sleep after the rigors of war. Little did he know that his sleep would be final.

This is another one of those stories that catches the new reader by surprise. To find that one of God’s people would do something so gruesome in His name is rather shocking. (And teaching this story to late elementary school boys is kinda fun too.) But war is violent and Deborah had prophesied that the victory would ultimately be handed to a woman has now come to pass. The death of Sisera and the defeat of the chariots previous to his death begins the forward momentum that Israel needed to finally vanquish their captors. Israel is once again free from slavery and they live in peace for another 40 years as Deborah continues her leadership.

This story (as did the one about Ehud’s killing of the Moabite king, Eglon) certainly begs the question of violence perpetrated in the name of the Lord.

Eglon’s assassination by Ehud was a gruesome act similar to the treacherous acts of violence by modern partisans of underground movements. However, the question arises whether it was ethically justifiable, perpetrated as it was by a deliverer whom “the Lord raised up”. Several factors need to be kept in mind. Eglon’s deed is merely made a matter of record. In the account there is no explicit approval of what he did. Furthermore, God achieves His goals—here the survival of the chosen people—through human agents who frequently are anything but morally perfect. Finally, Biblical accounts do not hesitate to ascribe everything that happens to the sovereign will of God, even such things as the hardening of the heart (Exodus 4:21, Deuteronomy 2:34; Numbers 31:17; 1 Samuel 16:14; 1 Kings 22:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:11 f.). Exploits by other judges must be viewed in this perspective. (Jael: Judges 4:17ff.; Samson: Judges 14–16)
Roehrs, W. H., & Franzmann, M. H. (1998). Concordia self-study commentary (p. 163). St. Louis, MO: CPH.

Clearly, Christians are called to peaceable living. But there are times when God’s sovereign judgments prevails and believers are used to execute that judgment. Peter runs into a situation where he succinctly describes the path of the Christian.

Acts 5:27–29
27 And when they [the Temple authorities] had brought them [Peter and his entourage], they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

These times call for careful prayer and a seeking after God. Ultimately He is in control and we are called to live as He demands first and foremost. It’s a tough situation and hopefully most of us will never find ourselves there. But it does happen and then we are bound to the will of the Lord. We have no indication of how Jael felt about this killing. While she was brave and did indeed execute God’s will, it must have been terrifying and maybe guilt inducing. The Christian walk isn’t always easy.