Deborah and Jael were an unlikely duo, the Thelma and Louise of the Old Testament. The book of Judges tells us of the way in which, together, they conquered the evil and powerful Canaanite general, Sisera, after he oppressed the people of Israel for twenty, long years. Theirs is a story of unlikely actors, surprising deception, a bloody casualty, and the promise of redemption.
Deborah was a powerful and respected woman of Israel who guided her people and spoke the word of God as a prophetess (one of only three mentioned in the Old Testament). Her words and her actions were direct and brave. God used her as his mouthpiece to summon the warrior, Barak, to confront Sisera in battle. She was a mother to God's people who would not accept their oppression (Judg. 5:7), and she proclaimed the gospel news of God's coming deliverance from the Canaanites.
Jael was a housewife and a hostess. She made yogurt and pitched tents. Her husband wasn't an Israelite nor even a friend to the Israelites. Instead, he made peace with God's enemies. Jael didn’t proclaim, but she did deceive. She is the last person we would expect to take out Sisera. And yet, she was the woman through whom God delivered his people when she softly crushed the head of the napping oppressor with a tent peg through the temple as he fled from battle.
A bit more on how all this went down:
We are told that Deborah summoned Barak to her palm tree to remind him of a calling and a promise he had already received to defeat the Canaanites: “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel commanded you…” (Judg. 4:6). We get the sense that Barak struggled with both fear and doubt about what lay ahead, but Deborah continued to preach God’s word to him and even agreed to go with him into battle after he directly requested her presence.
And certainly, the task at hand was intimidating. Sisera had 900 chariots of iron! Along with the king of Canaan, Jabin, he ruled over Israel without fear of repercussion for two, long decades full of raping and pillaging. Still, God’s Word through Deborah was not only that he would win, but that he had already defeated this seemingly invincible enemy, for God had gone out before Barak (Judg. 4:14). At the river Kishon, Sisera’s forces were overtaken by rain (Judg. 5:4) and flooding (Judg.. 5:21), and the evil general barely escaped on foot.
He retreated to the tent of Jael who he believed to be his ally, only to meet his end while he unknowingly slept under the comfort of a warm blanket with a belly full of food.
We have a God who spoke through the mouth of a woman to mobilize a nation, and worked through the hands of a woman to end tyranny.
Deborah, the mother of Israel, and Jael, most blessed of tent-dwelling women. Did they ever even meet? Would they have been friends? This is beside the point, but still, I wonder. Living in a world where it seems like no one with any differences can get along, I wonder how two women, from such different worlds, ever came together to accomplish the same goal.
We shouldn't be surprised that God chose to work through two seemingly opposite people, however, because God always chooses to work in the ways we would least expect.
He works through brave women and cowardly men, through quiet housewives and sudden rainstorms. He works through those who would otherwise be opposed to him. But before we get too prescriptive, let me remind you who the real actor in this story is. As usual, it's our God.
A God who first sold his people to their enemies (Judg. 2:14) before selling his enemies back to his people through a woman who probably was not even a part of his people (Judg. 4:9).
A God who actively harnessed his creation and rerouted adversaries to claiming his victory. While today we may no longer have reason to fear 900 chariots of iron, we still face the enemies of sin, death, and the devil just as Deborah, Barak, and Jael did.
We have a God who spoke through the mouth of a woman to mobilize a nation, and worked through the hands of a woman to end tyranny. To be sure, this is a story of brave and courageous women, but most of all, it is a story of how our God continues to fulfill his promises.
God uses the unlikely, the unexpected, and sometimes even the unsavory to deliver us and to crush the heads of his enemies. While his means of rescue may change, his promises remain permanent. So whether it’s by means of tent pegs through the head of an oppressor or nails through the hands of his son, we see yet again that we serve a God who never ceases to defeat his enemies so that his people, just like the sun, may rise in his might (Judg. 5:31).