by Marti Fischer
One of my favorite authors, Dorothy Sayers, never found her Christian life dull. “Perhaps it is no wonder,” she wrote, “that women were first at the cradle and last at the cross. They had never known a man like this Man — there never has been such another.”
Her answer to Sigmund Freud’s question, “What does a woman want?” is to call the question “frivolous.”
“What is unreasonable and irritating,” she continued, “is to assume that all one’s tastes and preferences have to be conditioned by the class to which one belongs.” For Sayers, the question was not, “What do women want?” but rather, “What does this woman want?”
“Are all women created do the same thing?” she asked.
The obvious answer is no, of course not. Never in the course of history were women created to all do the same thing, and least of all Christian women today. We, as Christian women, are created to do several special things in the world. Our task is to find what those special things are, and then do them.
Which brings me to the Old Testament story of Jael and the unique thing she was created to do.
Jael, a tent-dweller, was the wife of Heber the Kenite (Judges 4:17-22; 5:2-31). They were tinsmiths who made farming utensils, domestic items, and weapons. During the Israelites never-ending struggle with the surrounding Canaanites, the Kenites were regarded as being neutral. They were descendants of Jethro, and hence, had the confidence of the Israelites, while at the same time benefitting from a formal contract of peace with the Canaanites. Heber, a sensible Kenite businessman, benefited from the neutrality by making and supplying weapons for both armies without either party knowing.
Within this setting, Heber’s wife Jael emerges from obscurity and is singled out to perform one deed. The history of this event spells that out clearly.
For twenty years, Jabin, the Canaanite king, had oppressed Israel, and in large measure, the instrument of their control had been Sisera, the king’s general, the “man of the iron chariots.” Deborah, a prophetess of Israel who, like Gideon, was a courageous and wise Judge of the Israelites, had aroused the tribes of Israel and convinced her military general and heroic leader, Barak, to unite the tribes of Israel for greater strength. Unfortunately, only two of the twelve tribes, Zebulun and Naphtali, sent men to the battle. No matter; that was enough for the Lord. And because God had gone before him, Barak defeated Sisera’s Canaanite army at Mount Tabor. The defeat was complete except for Sisera, who fled on foot to save himself. He ran away north toward his command post and came upon the “oaks of the wanderers,” where the Kenites lived. Here he was invited to take shelter in the tents of Heber by Jael (Judges 4:17-18). Under the cloak of her neutrality, Jael seized the opportunity to strike a blow for the nation of Israel.
The writer tells the story with elaborate detail: Jael invites the general Sisera in, and gives him “thickened milk” — a yogurt style drink that was mildly sedative — and hides him under a blanket where the thoroughly frightened and exhausted man drops off to sleep, a sleep from which he never awakens. “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he had told Jael. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone in there?’ say ‘No.’”
But while he slumbers, Jael takes a tent peg and the mallet with which the pegs were driven into the ground and hammers the stake through Sisera’s head! Later, Barak, the Israeli commander pursuing Sisera, is met by Jael, who brings him to her tent, lifts the flap and shows him the gory sight. In silence, Barak turns and walks away. The honor of the victory is not his because he had hesitated in obeying the Lord, but as Deborah predicted, the Lord delivered Sisera into the hands of a woman (Judges 4:9). Jael listened and obeyed.
Deborah’s poetic version of Jael’s deed is sung as follows:
Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
most blessed of tent-dwelling women.
He asked for water, and she gave him milk;
in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.
Her hand reached for the tent peg,
her right hand for the workman’s hammer.
She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple.
At her feet he sank,
he fell; there he lay.
At her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell — dead.
Jael’s savage sledge was a hammer of justice. From that day on, “The hand of the Israelites grew stronger and stronger against Jabin, the Canaanite king, until they destroyed him” (Judges 4:23,24). Her heroic act was the beginning of the end of Canaanite control. Thus Israel, the repository of the “seed” of the Messiah, was spared to the end that it might bring salvation to the world through Christ the Messiah (Genesis 3:15).
“Blessed are you among women,” Deborah sang of Jael, a phrase that recalls Elizabeth’s blessing of Mary. And what did Jael do to merit such praise? What lay before her — the thing she was created to do.
Perhaps some of us are called to carry out such history-changing acts. Most obedience, however, comes in the ordinary affairs of everyday life. But we never know what heroism lies in quiet obedience to God; and there is no biblical reason why you or I, in our obedience, may not play an extraordinary role in the unfolding drama of world redemption.
If Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” we must obey, and “Go!” with all the force of which our spirit is capable, and with all of our eagerness, mixed with fear, for there is an immense need in our world for the gospel. Jesus is not offering a pleasant party invitation. “Go!” is His urgent demand. You never know what He may be calling you to do.
Seek that which distinguishes you, and follow Jesus, always knowing He is “able to do immeasurably more than all you ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within you.” (Ephesians 3:20)
Therefore, do not curb your God-given gifts and creativity, or restrict your service. In terms of God’s call to discipleship, there is “neither male or female” (Galatians 3:28). While I think there will always be a mystery involved in how and why God created humankind “male and female,” we are “joint heirs” of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). Each of us, male and female, are created to do a special thing in the world. Each of our tasks is to find out what God has fitted us for, and, through the power of Jesus Christ our Lord, be faithful and do it.
Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force. – Dorothy Sayers