Judges 4:21: Jael's Glorious Victory over Sisera, Part 2

Verse 21:[1] Then Jael Heber’s wife (Judg. 5:26) took a nail of the tent, and took (Heb. put[2]) an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.


[She brought a nail of the tent, יְתַד] A peg (Arabic, Montanus, Junius and Tremellius). One of the iron pegs with which a tent is fixed in place (Lapide, Bonfrerius, Piscator); which were on that account large and very sharp (Bonfrerius). Now, she made use of this nail, either, because the Israelites had been disarmed by the Canaanites (Martyr); or, because among the Kenites arms were wanting with which they might strike others (Bonfrerius).


A nail of the tent; wherewith they used to fasten the tent, which consequently was long and sharp, being headed with iron: these weapons she chooseth, either, 1. Because she had no better weapons at hand, this being only the woman’s tent, where arms use not to be kept, and these people being wholly given to peace, and negligent of war, or Sisera having disarmed them before this time. Or, 2. Because she had more skill in the handling these than other weapons, being probably accustomed to fasten the tents herewith. Or, 3. Because this was very proper for his present posture, and which she knew would be effectual.


[Above the temple of his head] Which was a softer part of the head and more liable to receive the nail (Menochius).


[It buried, etc., וַתִּצְנַ֖ח בָּאָ֑רֶץ] And it fixed itself (was fixed [Pagnine]) into the earth (Montanus); and it passed through into the earth (Septuagint); it fastened in the earth (Munster, Junius and Tremellius, similarly Tigurinus, Vatablus). That is, with his head pierced and transfixed (Vatablus). Hebrew: it alighted upon the earth; that is, bursting forth with force from the other temple it was fixed in the earth (Junius). The woman’s attempt was bold, but she was seeing God and the elements fight against the impious man, the persecutor of the faithful (Munster).


[Who, entering into a deep sleep, etc., נִרְדָּ֥ם וַיָּ֖עַף] He was overwhelmed by sleep and weary (Munster); he was overwhelmed by sleep because of weariness (Vatablus). [Pagnine and the English Version place these words in parentheses.] The reasons for his sleep were weariness, the milk, and that he was lying down well covered (Martyr). Question 1: Why did Jael kill Sisera with her own hand, and not await Barak, so that she might deliver Sisera to him? Response: Because there was danger in delay, lest he, arising, should flee, and renew the war (Lapide, Bonfrerius). Question 2: Whether Jael acted rightly in killing a confederate, especially whom she had invited into her house by feigning friendship, and thus had tacitly promised security (Bonfrerius)? Response: She acted rightly (thus all interpreters). For, 1. There was peace only because it was compelled (Tirinus). 2. Not women, but men, are called to such covenants and treaties; neither is a wife always bound to keep the covenants of her husband (Lyra). 3. Or, this peace was free, so that it was permitted to either side to violate it for the sake of their own interests (Lapide). 4. It is not said to have been a covenant of friendship between Jabin and Heber, nor a pact confirmed by oath (Lyra, Bonfrerius): but it was only warding off vexation with some tribute; or, the King promised to him security without tribute, because he was not fearing anything from him, and so he was not requiring a solemn pact. 5. If an oath had come between, it was able to be loosed by God; and it actually was loosed, since this was was commanded by God. 6. There was no injustice here, since he was declared a public enemy (Bonfreirus). The war was just (Menochius). He was an oppressor of the people, and now divinely broken (Martyr). Now, although the Kenites were not Hebrews by blood, yet they were by affinity, and they had passed into the Hebrews’ inheritance, Republic, and faith: Jael was obliged, therefore, as a common member of the Republic to expose and destroy the enemy (Lapide). And so Jael would have sinned, if she had not killed him. 7. It was lawful to kill such an enemy, therefore it was lawful to make use of means accommodated to that end; which sort were, the receiving of him into the house, the refreshing of him with drink, inducing him to sleep, etc.; just as stratagems of this sort, in which the enemy might be led into deception and death by the feigning of flight or other tricks, are wont to be commended among soldiers (Bonfrerius). Jael dissimulated, but without lying (Malvenda out of Junius), since she affirmed nothing. At the same time, it is possible to allow that Sisera was deceived by her words, since he took them in a different sense. Now, this was able to be the sense; Come in, be not afraid, that is, There is no one in the house from whom thou mightest be able justly to fear for thyself. For she was not then in the house, neither ought the general of military forces to fear a woman (Bonfrerius on verse 17). 8. Jael at first, when she invited Sisera to herself, contemplated no deceit against him; but afterwards she changed her counsel at the command of God (certain interpreters in Martyr). 9. For Divine inspiration was added, whereby she was moved unto this deed; and so Scripture praises what she did (Menochius, Bonfrerius, Tostatus, Lapide). Ordinarily the laws of hospitality and of pacts ought to be preserved inviolate; but, with God commanding, all things are to be loosed. Then Abraham is obliged to slaughter his son,[3] and the Levites their kinsmen (Exodus 32), and every person a father or mother fallen to idolatry (Deuteronomy 13). Hence, since God proscribed Sisera (which He had signified through the prophetess Deborah), no oaths to Him were able to be kept. For obedience is to be yielded to God rather than to human reason (Martyr). 10. Or it is to be said that the promise made to him concerning his security was contrary to the public good, and thus was able to be rescinded (Estius). 11. Or a distinction is to be made: There is something in this deed that is praiseworthy; namely, the good and pious disposition of Jael toward Israel, just as formerly in the case of the midwives, Exodus 1. There is also something that is not free from censure; that she falsely and deceptively promises security to Sisera (Estius on verse 17). I myself also would have thought the same, unless I had attended to God as the governor of the entire affair (Martyr). Without any inconvenience falsehood in Jael is able to be conceded (Bonfrerius). What she said, it is able to be judged an officious lie, intended for the salvation of her people, and so a light sin (Menochius).


Into his temples; which is the softest part of the skull, and soonest pierced. This might seem a very bold attempt; but it must be considered that she was encouraged to it, partly, by observing that the heavens and all the elements conspired against him, as against one devoted to destruction; partly, by the fair opportunity which God’s providence put into her hands; and principally, by the secret instinct of God inciting her to it, and assuring her of success in it. Question. What shall we judge of this act of Jael’s? It is a difficult question, and necessary to be determined, because on the one hand there seems to be gross perfidiousness, and a horrid violation of all the laws of hospitality and friendship, and of the peace which was established between Sisera and her; and on the other side, this fact of hers is applauded and commended in Deborah’s song, Judges 5:24, etc. And some who make it their business to pick quarrels with the Holy Scriptures, from hence take occasion to question and reject their Divine authority for this very passage, because it commends an act so contrary to all humanity, and so great a breach of faith. And whereas all the pretence of their infidelity is taken from the following song, and not from this history, wherein the fact is barely related, without any reflection upon it, there are many answers given to that argument; as, 1. That there was no league of friendship between Jael and Sisera, but only a cessation of acts of hostility; of which see the notes on verse 17. 2. That Deborah doth not commend Jael’s words, verse 18, Turn in, my lord; fear not; in which the great strength of this objection lies; but only her action, and that artifice, that he asked water, and she gave him milk; which, if impartially examined, will be found to differ but little from that of warlike stratagems, wherein a man lays a snare for his enemy, and deceives him with pretenses of doing something which he never intends. And Sisera, though for the time he pretended to be a friend, yet was in truth a bitter and implacable enemy unto God, and all his people, and consequently to Jael herself. But these and other answers may be omitted, and this one consideration following may abundantly suffice to stop the mouths of these men. It cannot be denied that every word, or passage, or discourse which is recorded in Scripture is not divinely inspired, because some of them were uttered by the devil, and others by holy men of God, but mistaken, (the prophets themselves not always speaking by inspiration,) such as the discourse of Nathan to David, 2 Samuel 7:3, which God presently contradicted, 2 Samuel 7:4, 5, etc., and several discourses of Job’s three friends, which were so far from being divinely inspired, that they were in a great degree unsound, as God himself tells them, Job 42:7, Ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath. This being so, the worst that any malicious mind can infer from this place is, That this song, though indited by a good man or woman, was not divinely inspired, but only composed by a person piously-minded, and transported with joy for the deliverance of God’s people, but subject to mistake; who therefore, out of zeal to commend the happy instrument of so great a deliverance, might easily overlook the indirectness of the means by which it was accomplished, and commend that which should have been disliked. And if they further object, that it was composed by a prophetess, Deborah, and therefore must be divinely inspired; it may be replied, 1. That it is not certain what kind of prophetess Deborah was, whether extraordinary and infallible, or ordinary, and so liable to mistakes; for there were prophets of both kinds, as hath been proved above, on Judges 4:4. 2. That every expression of a true and extraordinary prophet was not divinely inspired, as is evident from Nathan’s mistake above mentioned, and from Samuel’s mistake concerning Eliab, whom he thought to be the Lord’s anointed, 1 Samuel 16:6.

[1] Hebrew: וַתִּקַּ֣ח יָעֵ֣ל אֵֽשֶׁת־חֶ֠בֶר אֶת־יְתַ֙ד הָאֹ֜הֶל וַתָּ֧שֶׂם אֶת־הַמַּקֶּ֣בֶת בְּיָדָ֗הּ וַתָּב֤וֹא אֵלָיו֙ בַּלָּ֔אט וַתִּתְקַ֤ע אֶת־הַיָּתֵד֙ בְּרַקָּת֔וֹ וַתִּצְנַ֖ח בָּאָ֑רֶץ וְהֽוּא־נִרְדָּ֥ם וַיָּ֖עַף וַיָּמֹֽת׃


[2] Hebrew: וַתָּשֶׂם.


[3] See Genesis 22.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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