A Retelling of Jael

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A few things I found interesting in my study of Jael but did not include in the spoken word:

  • When Joshua died, the Israelites had not yet taken the promised land. They cried out to God to ask who would fight for them against the Canaanites and God said the tribe of Judah would lead this fight. As part of describing the movements of Judah against the Canaanites, Judges says the Kenites (Jael's people) left the City of Palms to join the men of Judah near Arad. So not only were the Kenites allied with the Israelites, they also moved with the very men tasked with fighting the Canaanites.

  • Scripture says Jael covered Sicera with a "Semikah" when he lay down. The Hebrew word is translated as "mantle" or "rug" or "blanket" or "curtain" or "coverlet" or "cloak" or "quilt" depending on the translation. It is the only time this word occurs in the entirety of scripture. It is called a "hapax legomenon," or just "hapax" for short, when a word only occurs once within a context. (This was fun new info for me!)

  • Most assume from the text that Heber took his metal working skills to the Canaanite side and told the enemy King about Israel's plan to attack for self serving reasons. However, Deborah prophesied even before this that God would lead Sicera's army to the river Kishon. When Heber tattles about the plan, heading to the river Kishon is exactly Sicera's response. Much like the actions of the traitor Judas, Heber's betrayal played right into the plans God already laid.

  • Midrashic sources contain more tradition about Deborah and Jael both. I haven't dug into these much yet, but I found a couple of interesting things. One speculated that Barak may have been the husband of Deborah. Another holds that Jael was an incredibly beautiful woman and speculates that Jael may have slept with Sicera prior to killing him in order to make him tired. There is a phrase in the song of Deborah (Judges 5:27) which some Hebrew scholars believe leads credence to this speculation. I may or may not get a chance to look further into other sources on our girls in this story, but if you get into it - share what you find!


When Joshua died, a succession of judges marked peace in between periods of oppression for the people of God.  And during that time, Israel spent 20 years under the heel of King Jabin the Canaanite and his 900 iron chariots ready to fight under the mighty warrior Sicera.

Israel endured twenty years of tears under Jabin the King before God answered their cries and Deborah said bring me the warrior Barak - And she, Deborah, the leader, prophet & judge said "Come. Gather ten thousand men and God will give Sicera's army to your hand."

But Barak was afraid, or he didn't trust enough, or a bit of both, but he just wanted Deborah the judge to go with him.  He wanted her there to be sure of his victory.  The prophet agreed but she prophesied that because of this - his insistence she come along - the honor song would not be his  and the enemy commander Sicera would fall dead, not to his hand, but to a woman's instead.  So Deborah went. And an army ten thousand Israelites strong prepared to meet Sicera's troops at the Kishon river.

Now a man, Heber, was of the tribe of the Kenites who'd been allied with the Israelites since Moses married the daughter of the Kenite Jethro years and years before.  The Kenites were metal workers see, and you remember that Canaanite King Jabin?  He had those 900 chariots of iron.  So the other side of this coming war might have more need for a metal worker like Heber.  

And in what might just have been one of the earliest instances of war profiteering, this metal worker Heber, this Kenite, left his home for the enemy of the Israelites and cozied right up to King Jabin of the Canaanites.  And he tattled - he told them the Israelites were coming for them and he pitched his tent.  He picked his side.   

And with him was his wife Jael who we will find was not quite of the same mind as her husband.  Maybe she didn't approve of his new friends.  Maybe she'd been an Israelite who'd just married in.  Maybe she felt loyalty toward the people she'd lived among her whole life.  Whatever it was, this wife of Heber's was not a believer of him.  Though her tent was pitched on the side of the Canaanites, Jael's heart was with the Israelites.

But Sicera didn't know this.  So when Barak and his ten thousand laid waste to Sicera's army of men and Sicera abandoned his chariot and fled, he thought he'd be safe in the tent of Jael, wife of Heber, the King's friend.

"Come with me," she said "Come my Lord. Come right in.  Don't be afraid."  And she let him lay down, gave him cover.  He said "Stand at the entrance, don't tell another soul I'm here and be a dear and get me some water?"

She brought him curdled milk and waited as he drifted off to dream world and then Jael the tent dwelling wife of the Kenite Heber looked upon the sleeping leader of Jabin's enemy, perfectly exposed, thinking he's with a friend and she drove a tent peg right through the hospitality rules of the nomads and through the temple of Sicera where he lay on the floor.

And when Barak came by looking, Jael was waiting "Come," she said, "I'll show you the man you're looking for."