The Nail of Jael

The history contained in the book of Judges was one of great turmoil for the nation of Israel.  During this time many foreign invading countries came to fight against Israel, and Canaan was no exception to this.  In response to this invasion God raised up the prophetess Deborah and the military leader Barak to fight against the Canaanite general Sisera and his army.

Typically, in the Judges narratives, men are the iconic heroes who drastically defeat the enemy.  The story of Deborah and Barak is somewhat of an oddity because the capstone of Israel’s military victory is accomplished by a woman; and the woman is not even Deborah!

The prophetess Deborah was probably a judge of civil matters at this time.  Doubtless under divine inspiration, “she sent and called Barak” (Judges 4:6) and began to explain to him Jehovah’s wishes.  God wanted Barak to go to Mount Tabor, assemble an Israelite army from the tribes Naphtali and Zebulun, and join battle with Sisera and King Jabin’s army at the Kishon river.  God promised that the Canaanites would be defeated.  But Deborah also told Barak plainly, “the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (4:9).

Barak did as the Lord instructed and Sisera and the Canaanites were conquered just as Jehovah had said.  “Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left” (4:16).  But, in the middle of the battle, general Sisera jumped off of his chariot and ran on foot out of the battle.

“Sisera fled away on his feet 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” (4:17).  Sisera came to Jael seeking refuge.  Jael took in the general and gave him warm milk and a comfortable place to rest.  Weary with the battle Sisera quickly fell asleep.  “Then Jael Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand…and smote the nail into his temples” (4:21).  Not long after this Barak arrived to find Sisera dead in the tent.  Jael, the woman of Deborah’s prophecy, killed the enemy of Israel with a nail.

It was not uncommon in those days for victors to sing for joy after their military triumph; “Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day” (Judges 5:1).  What is so interesting to me is how they describe Jael: “Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent” (5:24).  Jael is described as “blessed above women”; does that sound familiar?

Jael is not the only woman in scripture who is described in this fashion.  When the angel Gabriel came to Mary he said to her, “blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28).  As similar as these two descriptions are in English, they are almost more so in Biblical Greek:

εὐλογηθείη ἐν γυναιξὶν Ιαηλ [Jael] (Judges 5:24 LXX)
εὐλογημένη σὺ [thou=Mary] ἐν γυναιξίν (Luke 1:28 GNT)

Notice how Mary is directly paralleled to Jael; they are both described in almost identical fashion.

Think again about Jael’s story.  As a woman she participated in the deliverance of God’s people from their enemy.  She is called blessed among women, and she kills Israel’s enemy with a nail.  Now compare that to what we know of Mary.  As a woman Mary was involved in God’s plan to bring in the Messiah who would deliver God’s people from their enemy: sin and death.  Mary too is called blessed among women; and Jesus (Mary’s son after the flesh) kills sin–the enemy of God’s people–with a nail.

Keep in mind, I am not encouraging Mary-worship.  Nor am I saying that Mary was a co-redeemer with Jesus.  Mary was not directly involved in deliverance in the way that Jael was.  I am just drawing our attention to a breathtaking example of God’s foreshadowing in the scriptures.  I do not think Gabriel’s words to Mary were accidental.  By describing her in this way a connection is established between Mary, Jesus, and Jael.  Just as Jael helped deliver Israel from a military enemy, so Mary gave birth to Jesus; and Jesus delivered his people from the eternal enemy of death.

I am so thankful that God came to be born of the virgin Mary in the person of Jesus Christ.  And I am so thankful that Jesus, as was foreshadowed so long before, defeated my called sin when he alone died for my sins on the cross.  Mary and Jael were both blessed among women; and God’s people were saved with a nail.

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