Obscure Series: Jael

Do you know who Jael is? After the first few weeks of more familiar Bible stories, this week we have a truly obscure character! Jael This story is one of allies, friends, traitors, mixed loyalties, women with conviction, and a strategically placed tent peg.


Judges 4:11-24

Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh. 12 When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera called out all his chariots, 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14 And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. 15 And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.

17 But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 And 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. 20 And he said to her, “Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.'” 21 But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. 22 And behold, as Barak was pursuing 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 in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple.

23 So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. 24 And the hand of the people of Israel pressed harder and harder against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they destroyed Jabin king of Canaan. ESV

Judges 5:6, 24-27

“In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned, and travelers kept to the byways. . . 24 Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed. 25 He asked water and she gave him milk; she brought him curds in a noble’s bowl. 26 She sent her hand to the tent peg and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet; she struck Sisera; she crushed his head; she shattered and pierced his temple. 27 Between her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still; between her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell—dead. ESV


The story of Heber and Jael occurs during the time of the Judges. During Deborah’s leadership, Israel seemed frozen with inaction and was unable to unite to face their enemy from the North – Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army. Because of Israel’s reluctance to face her enemies, Deborah struggled to get an organized response to Sisera’s army. Barak, the army commander, would not follow God’s instructions to go to Mt. Tabor unless she went go along with him.
In the ensuing discussion, Deborah told Barak (4:9) that the honor of the victory would not go to him, “for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” This was a rebuke as it would have been shameful for a warrior to rely on a woman in battle (Judges 9:53-54). The woman was not identified.

The Characters

  • Jabin was a king in Canaan who reigned in Hazor.
  • Sisera was commander of Jabin’s army.
  • Deborah was a Judge and prophetess who led Israel.
  • Barak was the leader of Israel’s army, who reported to Deborah.

Heber was a Kenite who had originally been aligned with Israel. He and his wife Jael left the Kenites, and moved into Canaanite territory and aligned themselves with the Canaanites.

Obscure Bible Study: Meet JaelCommentary

The Canaanites were allowed by God to treat the Israelites “harshly” for twenty years because Israel did evil in the eyes of the Lord (Judges 4:1). Rather than obey God’s instructions, Barak told Deborah “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”

It is not clear why Barak was reluctant or why Deborah agreed to accompany Barak. Maybe it was just easier for Deborah to comply with Barak’s wishes than create a scene. She may have concluded that Barak would not go at all if she did not accompany him. When Deborah told Barak that a woman would win the battle it is very likely that Barak assumed that the “woman” was Deborah.

Sisera, the Canaanite commander, abandoned his troops early in the battle. He fled on foot. He ran like a coward and did not stand his ground and lead his troops. He went to the camp of Heber and Jael seeking protection. Barak and his army had chased down the remnants of Sisera’s army as they were trying to escape and they killed everyone except Sisera. Sisera escaped and hid in the tent of Jael. Why Jael invited Sisera into her tent is unknown. But once Sisera was in the tent Jael probably had some time to think about the consequences of her inviting him into a forbidden place. If Jael wanted to protect her future, what options did she really have after Sisera was in the tent?

Judges 4:18-21 reports that Jael killed Sisera by driving a peg into his temple when he was asleep. How would you explain the actions of Jael? Do you think Jael’s killing of Sisera is a choice she made to correct the mistake of allowing him in her tent, or do you think Jael’s loyalties were not with the Canaanites?

CONSEQUENCES: Once Sisera was in the tent her options were somewhat limited because anyone observing his coming or going would assume she was giving him aid.

LOYALTIES: It is possible that Jael had never changed her loyalties. She may still have been committed to Israel, her family’s original alliance. However, publicly acting against a husband’s wishes would have been a major cultural taboo. She would have been disloyal to her husband by going against his decision to support Sisera.

This incident violated several cultural norms, particularly as it related to the role of women in their society. Where else in Scripture does God elevate women to a role that generally conflicted with the existing culture? Some possibilities might include Miriam (Ex 15 and Nu 12), Anna (Lk 2:36), and Esther. Can you identify any others?

The real underlying problem is identified in Judges chapter 5 which is often referred to as “The Song of Deborah.” In Judges 5:8 the text says, “When new gods were chosen . . .” Herein lies the problem! Israel was unfaithful to God. There was a great lack of leadership in Israel, roads and villages were unsafe, and vandals and thieves were a constant problem. In general, life was nearly impossible.

Application Questions

Do you have divided loyalties? Who or what are you really loyal to?

Do you need the courage of Jael for some situation or conflict in your life?

For answers to these and many more questions about this obscure character, check out the 5th book in the Obscure Bible Study series or the digital version of the Obscure Bible Study

Also, join us on our Facebook page to talk about Jael all week long!