Judges 4 – “The War Against the Canaanites”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
God sends Deborah the prophetess and Barak the warrior to destroy the Canaanite army. The glory, however, goes to Jael the Kenite for killing the Canaanite general with a tent peg.

II. Photo
Jael saves the day: “Then Jael wife of Heber took a tent pin and grasped the mallet. When [Sisera] was fast asleep from exhaustion, she approached him stealthily and drove the pin through his temple till it went down to the ground. Thus he died.” (v 21)

III. Important Verses
vv 4-5: Deborah, wife of Lappidoth, was a prophetess; she led Israel at that time. She used to sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would come to her for decisions.
vv 8-9: But Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; if not, I will not go.”  “Very well, I will go with you,” she answered. “However, there will be no glory for you in the course you are taking, for then the LORD will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh.
v 18: Jael came out to greet Sisera and said to him, “Come in, my lord, come in here, do not be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.
v 21: Then Jael wife of Heber took a tent pin and grasped the mallet. When he was fast asleep from exhaustion, she approached him stealthily and drove the pin through his temple till it went down to the ground. Thus he died.
v 24:  The hand of the Israelites bore harder and harder on King Jabin of Canaan, until they destroyed King Jabin of Canaan.

IV. Outline
1. The Israelites sin
2. God delivers them to the king of Canaan
3a. The Israelites call out to God
3b. Description of the enemu
4-5. Description of Deborah
6-16. Deborah and Barak defeat the Canaanite army
17-22. Jael kills Sisera, the fleeing Canaanite general
23-24. The Israelites destroy the king of Canaan

V. Comment
Chapter 4 tells the story of four main characters: Deborah the prophetess, Barak the God-sent warrior, Jael the Kenite, and Sisera the Canaanite general. While the Israelites defeat the Canaanites, it is interesting that this is not the focus of the chapter. Rather, the question is who gets the credit for the victory, and the answer is Jael – not Barak. Collins make several important points about this aspect of the story: “Since the Kenites were not an Israelite tribe (they are identified in Judg 4:11 as ‘the descendants of Hobab, the father-in-law of Moses’), Jael is a marginal figure on two accounts – she is a woman and not an Israelite. Yet she becomes the heroine of the battle by luring Sisera into her tent and killing him with a tent peg while he is asleep… For this she is pronounced the ‘most blessed of women’ in 5:24. The morality of her action, however, is problematic on several counts. Her clan was at peace with the Canaanites, so she was not trying to liberate it. She simply seems to have decided to back the winners in the battle. Moreover, the violation of a guest was regarded as a particularly heinous crime in the ancient world. (Compare the story of Sodom in Gen 19:8, where Lot’s host offers his virgin daughters to the mob so that they will not molest the men, ‘for they have come under the shelter of my roof.’) Since Jael’s opportunism works to the benefit of Israel, however, no questions are raised about its morality. As in some stories in Genesis, the end (the benefit of Israel) justifies even dastardly means.” (207)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Trent C. Butler, “Judges” (Word Biblical Commentary vol. 8; Nashville: Nelson, 2009).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 15 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Photo taken from http://i48.photobucket.com/albums/f241/buhdydharma/hammer-nail.jpg

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