Through her husband Heber, Jael had kinship ties with the Israelites. Heber was descended from Jethro, who had been the father of Moses’ wife. She was therefore bound to the Israelites by kinship obligations.
Nevertheless Heber, a sensible business-man if ever there was one, was on good terms with the Canaanites, so Sisera saw the encampment of Jael and Heber as a refuge.
Jael had her own tent, separate from her husband’s tent. At this period in Israelite history it was still common for several women to be married to one man. In such a case, each wife had her tent which she made, pitched and maintained herself. When she had children, they lived with her in this tent.
‘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”. 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”.
Read Judges 4:17-20 and 5:24-25.
Sisera arrived at the encampment in the last stages of exhaustion and terror.
It is important that Sisera went into Jael’s tent, not the tent of Heber her husband. The ancient laws of hospitality in the Middle East were very strict. A guest, once ritually invited into the home, had to be protected and cared for, even at the expense of everyone else in the house. But only the chief man of the household could offer ritual hospitality. Jael offered help to a fleeing enemy general, but not ritual hospitality.
Sisera went into Jael’s tent. She covered him with a rug, which suggests that he was afraid and wanted to hide. He asked for water. She gave him a drink of goat’s milk. Exhausted from the battle and his flight, he fell asleep.
Then occurred one of the most graphically described murders in the Hebrew Scriptures:
She put her hand to the tent peg
And her right hand to the worker’s mallet;
She struck Sisera a blow,
She crushed his head,
She shattered and pierced his temple.
He sank, he fell,
He lay still at her feet.’
Read Judges 4:21-24 and 5:26-27.
Faced with a man who was far superior to her in physical strength, Jael used her wits and courage. She took the wooden hammer used to put up her tent and one of the pegs that held the tent ropes, then with one expert blow she drove the peg deep into the side of Sisera’s head. (also see our commentary on Deborah)