Jael – Radical Obedience

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of guest-teaching a Bible College class for CCBCE in their Old Testament character studies class. My character was Jael, found in Judges 4 and 5. What can we learn from her story?

Her family had made a peace agreement with the Canaanites that had been [oppressing] the Israelites for twenty years. It seems that her family was, on the surface, fairly neutral in the conflict between King Jabin of Canaan and God’s people. When the time came to strike a victory for God, however, Jael was anything but neutral.

After a heavy conflict that left him alive and alone (Judges 4.15-16) Sisera, the enemy’s army general, sought protection and provision in the tent of those he thinks are friendly (v.11, 17). Jael took her cultural and traditional expectations of hospitality seriously and provided more than her guest asks for (vv.18-20). Then, perhaps moved by the Spirit or remembering her shared ancestry with God’s people, we read this:

Then Jael wife of Heber took a tent peg in one hand and a hammer in the other. She crept up on him, drove the tent peg through his temple into the ground while he was asleep from exhaustion, and he died.

Now Barak was chasing Sisera. Jael went out to welcome him. She said to him, “Come here and I will show you the man you are searching for.” He went with her into the tent, and there he saw Sisera sprawled out dead with the tent peg through his temple.

Judges 4.21-22

What she did would usually have been strongly condemned in this time and in this place (actually, at any time and in any place, really), so why is she celebrated in Judges 5.24-27? What can we learn from the story?

Jael took the opportunity that God presented her with and used her own unique skills and experience, along with the resources she had, to God’s glory (see the prediction of Judges 4.9). Bedouin women would, so I read, regularly put up and take down the tents, so we can logically conclude that Jael was handy with a hammer. She used her own unique skills and experience, along with the resources she had, to God’s glory. God has gifted each of us with skills, experience, and resources, all for His glory (2 Corinthians 3.4-6).

For you and for me, let us not get so caught up in cultural expectations and tangled in tradition that we miss the opportunities God puts in our paths to use our unique skills, experiences, and resources to be radically obedient to Him and His plans.

Bigger picture, where does Jael’s radical obedience to God point our thinking? John 5 tells us that Scripture points to the Saviour, so, how does Jael take us to Jesus?

Jesus also was radically obedient to God’s purposes and plans, often at the expense of cultural or religious traditions and expectations.

For Jael, to take a guest into your house and not offer provision and protection was somewhat sacrilegious (Genesis 19.1-6, for example).

For Jesus, touching lepers (Matthew 8.3) and dead bodies (Luke 7.14), healing on the Sabbath (Mark 3.1-6), and spending so much time with sinners as to ruin His reputation with religious leaders (Luke 19.1-10) are but a few examples of His radical obedience to the Father that flew in the face of traditions and expectations.

He was absolutely not what the people expected of their Messiah (Psalm 110.5-7, v. John 6.15), but stuck fiercely to the plans and purposes of the One who sent Him (Luke 2.49, John 5.19, 12.44-50). Jesus was radically obedient to God’s purposes and plans and you and I reap the rewards.

Aren’t you glad that He was?

Published by James Travis

Pastor of Saar Fellowship in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Married to Robyn and Dad to our two boys.

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