Sisera’s right shin radiated pain. The mud beneath the greave had a rock in it, rubbing the flesh raw. He was caked in muck sandals-to-helmet, exhausted by its weight. Lower on the mountain several of his Canaanite soldiers cursed, crying out in the storm’s darkness as they fled the pursing Israelites. His attempt to regroup in a narrow valley had been futile; the few chariots left unable to maneuver.
Before the rain, his unconquered army lined wheel-to-wheel across the Plain of Esdraelon eagerly awaiting the Israelites descending the hills. But a freak hail storm had swept into their faces. The panicked chariot horses could not be controlled and the enemy confronted. Chasing behind the hail, a torrential rain sent turbulent brown water gushing down mountain channels into the Kishon River overflowing it upon the plain. Nine hundred chariots were rendered powerless in the morass.
King Jabin of Hazor trusted him to make the Israelites kneel. For twenty years they had. That is why the king did not lead in battle. They would pay, General Sisera vowed. They would pay dearly.
Loosening the straps of his breast plate, he discarded the heavy armor beside his duckbill axe. Then, removing his greaves he swiped off as much mud as he could. He kept only a dagger for defense and his hail-dented bronze helmet. Sisera scrambled upward, seething in anger, angling north-east toward the Bedouin camp of Heber, the Kenite some distance away. Heber would be at Elon-bezaanannim (oak in Zaanannim) east of Mount Tabor. With the help of the gods, he would find the Kenites.
The next day was far spent and night was coming on. The fragrance of roasting lamb perfumed the air long before he saw the glow of cooking fires and the twinkle of oil lamps inside the tents. The large tent some distance from the others was Heber’s. He had visited the blacksmith before.
Exhausted, weak beyond measure, Sisera remained cautious. There was open space to be traversed before he reached the sanctuary. Hidden Israelite soldiers might yet intercept him. If he could just touch the tent, age-old custom required the owner to welcome him as an honored guest and protect him as if he were family.
Jael, Heber’s wife, called from the darkness, startling him. “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; do not fear.” He had not seen her, but she had recognized him.
Stepping toward Sisera, she reached out a work calloused hand. Slipping an arm around his waist she steadied his faltering legs as she led him into the tent. “In here,” she said, drawing back an interior curtain.
Sisera hesitated, his eyes dark and questioning. “Isn’t this the women’s quarter? No man should…”
“Yes. No one will search there.”
“Even if they don’t, Heber will kill me if …”
“My husband will not return tonight. You are safe.”
Removing his helmet Sisera shook his head, loosening sweat soaked hair from his scalp. “Please, give me a little water.”
“This will be better.” She took a jug of cooled goat milk from a bucket of spring water. When Sisera had finished drinking, Jael pushed Jabin’s commander gently down upon a bed and covered him with a soft goat-skin rug.
Raising his head, Sisera gave a final order, “Stand by the door of the tent. If any man comes and inquires of you and says, ‘Is any man here?’ you shall say ‘No.’” Then, the sleep of exhaustion overtook him.
Early the next morning, Barak appeared at Heber’s tent. The Israelite leader and his men were pursuing Canaanite stragglers, killing the resisters and taking others prisoner.
Jael came out to meet him. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man whom you seek.”
Leading Barak to the side of the tent she drew aside a flap. Morning sun illumined the dark interior. There, in a pool of light lay Sisera. The bronze tent peg Jael had driven through his temple into the ground gleaming darkly.
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The above fictional account is based on the story in Judges 4. Why Jael violated the age old moral custom of sanctuary to slay a defenseless man who was not an enemy of her people, is a matter of speculation.
In Judges 5: 24-27, Deborah, the Israelite judge that predicted Sisera’s defeat by a woman, praises Jael in song, giving a slightly different version of the story.
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