Jael and Sisera (Judges 4:17-23)


The book of Judges records that the Israelites fell away from God after arriving in the Promised Land. Having fallen into idolatry, Israel was enslaved for twenty years to King Jabin of Canaan. When the Israelites realised their sin and repented, Deborah and Barak led them to victory over the Canaanite army led by Sisera. However, the victory was not complete because Sisera fled the battlefield. In fleeing, Sisera reached the tent of Jael, who was the wife of Heber the Kenite.

Jael received Sisera and gave him a blanket. When Sisera asked for water, Jael instead gave him milk. Sisera then asked Jael to watch outside the tent and lie if someone asked after him. When Sisera fell asleep, however, Jael took a tent peg and a hammer and she drove the peg into his temple, killing him. When the Israelites reached her tent, Jael showed them Sisera’s corpse. The Bible then records that “on that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the sons of Israel” (Judges 4:23).

It is easy for us to think that there is no spiritual benefit to reading such a gruesome Bible story. There is, however, much to learn despite the violence. The results of the sins of Israel in falling away from God are made clear in the violence, and are a cautionary tale of the results of a society abandoning God. Jael is part of this estranged society, murdering and breaching the rules of hospitality, but she did so to defeat God’s enemies.

However, we can also understand Jael to represent Christ, the Theotokos, and the Church. She is a type of Christ as she defeats sin (personified by Sisera) through the wooden tent peg, as Christ defeated sin through the wood of the Cross.

Jael is also called “blessed above women” (Judges 5:24), foreshadowing the Theotokos who also participated in salvation.

Finally, according to St Ambrose, Jael represents the Church as she, a foreigner, achieves the victory which Israel could not.

May we also understand from this passage that everything in the Old Testament is divinely inspired and is there for our benefit.


Source: Lychnos December 2021 / January 2022