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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

Judges 4

Verse 21

WAS JAEL A MURDERESS?

‘Then Jael Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took 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.’

Judges 4:21

Jael appears to us as a hateful murderess; our feeling towards her is one of horror and indignation. Yet in the Bible she is extolled as amongst the noblest of heroes. The question is what vindication can be offered for her conduct? If Jael received Sisera into her tent with the intention of murdering him, she must be left to the execrations of posterity.

I. But there are plain and straightforward reasons from which to infer that Jael had no design of killing Sisera; that she acted therefore with perfect honesty, and not with atrocious duplicity, when she offered him shelter. The action was too perilous; it required too much of more than masculine hardihood, or rather ferocity, even if there had been the strongest inducements; whereas there appears to have been no inducement at all, but rather the reverse, and we add to this, that since you have only the silence of Jael when she was asked by Sisera to tell a lie in his cause, the probability is that she had a reverence for truth; and if so she must have meant what she said when she gave the invitation and the promise, ‘Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not.’

II. What were the motives which instigated Jael in putting to death her slumbering guest?—We reckon it a satisfactory explanation of her conduct and one which removes every difficulty, that she was led by a Divine impulse or in obedience to a Divine command, to take away Sisera’s life. It is true we are not told, as in the case of Abraham, that God commanded the action, but we are told that God approved the action. And since the action in itself, independent of His command, would have been a flagrant offence, we necessarily infer that what He approved He also directed.

III. There is a third question which suggests itself here.—Granting that Jael acted on a Divine command, how could it be consistent with the character of God to issue such a command? Since murder is a crime which is expressly forbidden, with what propriety could He enjoin its perpetration? The answer is, that no one would have felt surprised had Sisera perished in battle. He was the oppressor of the Lord’s people; what marvel, then, that he should be overtaken by vengeance?

Jael was but the executioner directed by God to slay a condemned criminal, and can we charge her with bloodguiltiness because she did not refuse to obey that direction? She had a hard task to perform, one demanding faith and dependence on God, but she performed it without flinching, and she deserves our admiration as a mighty heroine.

—Canon H. Melvill.

Illustration

‘I loved Frederick Maurice, as every one did who came near him; and have no doubt he did all that was in him to do of good in his day. Which could by no means be said either of Rossetti or of me: but Maurice was by nature puzzle-headed, and, though in a beautiful manner, wrong -headed; while his clear conscience and keen affections made him egotistic, and in his Bible-reading, as insolent as any infidel of them all. I only went once to a Bible-lesson of his; and the meeting was significant and conclusive.

The subject of lesson, Jael’s slaying of Sisera. Concerning which, Maurice, taking an enlightened modern view of what was fit and not, discoursed in passionate indignation; and warned his class, in the most positive and solemn manner, that such dreadful deeds could only have been done in cold blood in the Dark Biblical ages; and that no religious and patriotic Englishwoman ought ever to think of imitating Jael by nailing a Russian’s or Prussian’s skull to the ground—especially after giving him butter in a lordly dish. At the close of the instruction, through which I sate silent, I ventured to inquire, why then had Deborah the prophetess declared of Jael, “Blessed above women shall the wife of Heber the Kenite be”? On which Maurice, with startled and flashing eyes, burst into partly scornful, partly alarmed, denunciation of Deborah the prophetess, as a mere blazing Amazon; and of her Song as a merely rhythmic storm of battle-rage, no more to be listened to with edification or faith than the Norman’s Sword-song at the battle of Hastings.

Whereupon there remained nothing for me—to whom the Song of Deborah was as sacred as the Magnificat—but total collapse in sorrow and astonishment; the eyes of all the class being also bent on me in amazed reprobation of my benighted views and unchristian sentiments. And I got away how I could, and never went back.

That being the first time in my life that I had fairly met the lifted head of Earnest and Religious Infidelity—in a man neither vain nor ambitious, but instinctively and innocently trusting his own amiable feelings as the final interpreters of all the possible feelings of men and angels, all the songs of the prophets, and all the ways of God.’

John Ruskin in Præterita.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Judges 4". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/judges-4.html. 1876.