Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote America’s bestselling novel of the nineteenth century, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The novel had such political importance that when meeting Stowe during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said, “So this is the little woman who made this big war.”
Our reading from the book of Judges today centers on a “little woman” who ended a big war: Jael. It’s not clear, however, that Jael is the deliverer whom God has raised up to save Israel. In the previous chapter, the author included narrative clues like “The Spirit of the LORD came on [Othniel],” and “he gave them a deliverer—Ehud,” and Shamgar “saved Israel” to help readers identify the divinely appointed deliverer (3:10, 15, 31). But such explicit affirmations are omitted in Judges 5. This signals that God’s rescue operation has not just one protagonist but three: Deborah, whose prophetic and judiciary roles are important; Barak, who leads the Israelites army into battle; and Jael, the courageous housewife.
Based on Deborah’s prophetic utterance—that a woman, not Barak, would have enjoyed battle honors— the case could be made that Jael was Israel’s real deliverer (v. 9). (The author of the book of Hebrews notes Barak’s importance in Heb. 11:32). The text doesn’t miss the irony of what happened: Jael’s hospitality was her weapon of war. She welcomed Sisera into her tent, covered him with a blanket, and gave him milk to drink. She communicated safety while plotting his death, ending his life with an ordinary household item: a tent peg.
But even after noting Jael’s courage, the author again returns to real victor: it is the Lord who gave Sisera into Israel’s hands (vv. 14, 23).
Apply the Word
Together, Deborah, Barak, and Jael worked for Israel’s deliverance. That should remind us of the collaborative nature of God’s kingdom work. As the body of Christ, we must partner together to accomplish God’s purposes. We each have gifts and a role to play in working out His good purposes (see 1 Cor. 12:12–31).