URC Daily Devotion 17 June 2023

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Saturday, 17 June 2023  
Jael and her Tentpeg


Judges 4: 17 – 24
Now Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. Jael came out to meet Sisera, and said to him, ‘Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear.’ So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug.  Then 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. He said to her, ‘Stand at the entrance of the tent, and if anybody comes and asks you, “Is anyone here?” say, “No.”’  But Jael, wife of Heber, took a tent-peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground—he was lying fast asleep from weariness—and he died.  Then, as Barak came in pursuit of 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 into her tent; and there was Sisera lying dead, with the tent-peg in his temple. So on that day God subdued King Jabin of Canaan before the Israelites. Then the hand of the Israelites bore harder and harder on King Jabin of Canaan, until they destroyed King Jabin of Canaan.

Sisera wasn’t having a good day.  The kingless disorganised Jewish people had defeated his army.  Forced to flee on foot, pursued by Deborah’s general, he assumed he’d be safe with the Kenites.  They were descended from Moses’ father-in-law but distant from the Jews.  

We know little of Jael – she’s in her own tent, not her husband’s (who doesn’t appear in the story).  Like Tamar, Jael wasn’t afraid to use her sexuality to defeat an enemy.  Instead of water, milk is given, instead of just somewhere to rest, she tucks him up and covers him.  We’re coyly told she “went softly to him” which has connotations of seduction.  Then, ensuring he was safely asleep, reversing the traditional roles Jael hammered a tent peg through his head.  We’re not told what Barak made of this woman (one imagines he’d have been very polite) and she disappears again into the background.  We don’t know why Jael acted as she did.  There’s no suggestion she’s Jewish so there’s no reason for her to have become involved.  Maybe she had experienced male violence; maybe she found in this act healing and freedom from past abuse.  

Every so often we read of a woman accused of murdering her husband or partner after years of living with coercive control and violence until something snapped.  Rarely the murder happens in the midst of a row but is rather more carefully planned so juries can struggle to see the long term effects of such coercion.   

We’ve no idea if there was a backstory to Jael’s action’s; maybe she was abused by Heber and the attack on Sisera was part of wider revenge.  Maybe she’d encountered Sisera before, maybe he tried to rape her.  Whatever the reason, Jael – and Deborah – were responsible for saving the Jewish people.  

Tender God,
we pray for women beaten and abused by men,
that they may find freedom.
Wise God we pray for juries having to discern truth,
grant them wisdom.
Angry God,
we pray for those who abuse,
that they may find justice and wholeness.

Today’s writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston is the URC’s Minister for Digital Worship and member of the Peedie Kirk URC in Orkney.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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