Jael was married to Heber, who was a descendant of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law (v.11). So Jael had a kinship tie to the Israelites. But, “there was an alliance between Jabin king of Canaanites Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite” (Judges 4:17).
It seems that the Heber was a tinsmith who made farming and domestic items, but also weapons. Heber, was a business man, he knew his business would thrive if kept company with the likes of Jabin and his military commander, Sisera. So Sisera expected that Heber and Jael would provide a safe refuge for him.
Jael had her own tent, separate to her husband, which was common at the time because men were often married to more than one wife. Each woman would pitch their own tents so they were very competent with hammers and tent pegs. The cultural expectation of the day was that if a guest was formally invited into the home they had to be cared for and protected. However, it was only the chief man of the household who could offer this type of hospitality, in this case Heber.
So it’s interesting that Jael took the initiative: “Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, ‘Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.’ So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket” (Judges 4:18).
When he was asleep Jael hammered a tent peg through his temple. She chose to give victory to the Israelites which was probably not in her husband’s best interest. Instead, she acted according to her own convictions and showed that she was siding with Israelites and with the God of Israel. The Israelites celebrated Jael as a national hero.
There are surprising similarities between the stories of Jael and David, when he killed Goliath:
• They were both physically smaller and weaker than their opponent
• They both used unconventional weapons
• They both used skills from their normal daily lives, instead of military techniques
It is easy to see the spiritual parallels. God can use us even if we are physically smaller and weaker than those who oppose us. He can use unconventional methods. He can use our ordinary everyday skills and abilities.
Jael had to make a difficult choice. Was she going to stand up for her own convictions and overcome the cultural expectations of her day? Or would she cave into other people’s expectations?
Jael teaches us the value of taking the initiative, creating opportunities, and standing up for our own beliefs.