THE WARRIOR POSE – THE STORY OF JAEL
“Every Woman has a story AND Every Woman’s story matters to God.” – Tabitha’s Daughters, LLC
When we enter into the Old Testament, as we often do, we are accustomed to the stories of warriors, conquerors, and those who fought hard on behalf of God: Moses, King David, Joshua, Caleb, Gideon, Samson, and more. We are conditioned to think about men, both ancient and contemporary, as warriors. We forget, or maybe we were never told of the warring women of Scripture, such as Rahab, Jael, Deborah, the Daughters of Zelophehad, Queen Esther, and others, who were totally feminine, but totally capable and willing to carrying the weight of the battle on their womanly frames.
Brave, fierce, audacious, confident, charismatic, generous, and authentic, these women were as warrior-like, as their male counterparts. So, what does it mean to be a “Warrior Woman?”
This certainly is an interesting and imperative question for us, as we journey through the end of Black History month and enter into Women’s History month. Is the warring spirit different for women than men, and if so, what are the attributes and characteristics of assigning this term to ourselves and to our lives?
Perhaps the very idea of the warrior pose, often one of the first positions of Yoga, can help us to understand and to navigate these questions, especially if we connect the symbolism of being a warrior woman to the idea of what the warrior pose teaches us.
The Warrior Pose symbolizes “our inner ability to overcome ego and ignorance.” As we practice this pose, we are challenged and tested to bring to the fore our “strength, focus, confidence, and courage.” (http://www.ekhartyoga.com)
If we see this metaphor clearly, the warrior pose is who we must become to win the battles in our lives which seek to defeat us. With godly focus, we bring everything we have to the fight, and we win because a warrior woman never quits on herself. Instinctively, a true warrior knows that while the battle must be fought, the victory is a given. Bringing every weapon available to the fight, a true warrior understands that showing up for the battle, committing to the win, and staying in place until the victory is secured, is what is required to truly be and live life, as a warrior woman.
In the story of Jael, we find a true warrior spirit. She was a woman who received a difficult assignment; one which she could have ignored or refused; but took on the fight because she heard God’s battle cry and responded. Her story teaches us that warriors have nothing to do with gender; but instead the commonality lies in the courage it takes to show up for the battle and fight for the win. In Jael, the warrior woman, we can clearly see what it means to pull deeply from our inner strength, with confidence and courage, knowing that when God is for us, nothing can be against us – so all we can do is win, no matter what giant we may face.
And now, THE WORD from Our Sponsor……………………………………………………… (Judges 4: 11-23 – NRSV)
In the story of Deborah, “the Mother of Israel,” Jael (the “mountain goat” as her name means in Hebrew) is often relegated to the shadows of the narrative. Because Deborah’s light shines so brightly in her own story, Jael’s contribution is often viewed as secondary by the reader. We fail to remember that Jael is the one who actually kills the enemy captain Sisera, and more importantly, as Deborah stridently reminds Barak, “the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Translation: When it’s over and done with, Jael will receive the glory of this battle.
Because we don’t quite understand the meaning of “honor” in Old Testament presentation, Deborah’s sentence fails to impact us in the way Barak may have heard it. “Honor” in this context relates to “glory” and “glory” in Hebrew is translated as “kavod” meaning: “dignity of position, weight, glory, splendor, and reverence.” In the ancient Near Eastern traditions, including Israel, to achieve or to be bestowed with “honor” was a most desirable and important element of life. In this context, for the “honor” of the battle to be given to “a woman” would have been a most disgraceful and dishonorable circumstance for the general of God’s army. If this is the case, imagine what it meant for Jael, a non-Israelite and A WOMAN to receive the “kavod of God!” We can understand the “weightiness” of this mantle, as Jael is described in the song of Deborah as: “Most blessed among women is Jael….may she be blessed above all women.” (Chapter 5:24)
This is the beginning of our understanding of who Jael was in the story because God would not bestow “honor” on just any person. The person who received the “honor of the battle” was required to win for Israel and Jael, the Kenite, was the designee. The very fact that God’s imperative was to distinguish two women in a decisive battle against the enemy of Israel, signals to the reader just how important Deborah and Jael were to Israel’s circumstances. This was a war of immense proportions, primarily because the honor of Yahweh hung in the balance, as well:
“This deliverance is described a second time in the early poem of chapter 5 [The Song of Deborah]. No other narrative describes more clearly the religious gathering of the clans, and the prowess of the hardy mountaineers when united. The plain of Esdraelon (see intro of chapter 5) is one of the famous battle-fields of [biblical] history. In chapter 5, all the tribes are mentioned either as uniting or refusing to appear, save Judah and Simeon. Subsequently we hear no more of such united efforts.” (A Commentary on the Holy Bible, p. 162).
So, who was Jael, this warring woman of Judges, and how/why did she receive the assignment which brought her the glory of the battle?
Jael was the wife of Heber – “Now, Heber the Kenite, a descendant of Moses’ brother-in-law, Hobab, had moved away from the other members of his tribe and pitched his tent by the oak of Zaanannim near Kedesh.” (4:11) “Meanwhile, Sisera ran to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because Heber’s family was on friendly terms with King Jabin of Hazor.”
So, we can infer from these two descriptions that Jael’s husband, Heber, the Kenite, was friendly with King Jabin, the Canaanite sovereign. Additionally, since Sisera was the captain of Jabin’s army, most likely Heber was also an ally of Sisera.
How then, does Jael receive the assignment, prophesied by Deborah, to take Sisera’s life?
The first assumption we have to make is that Jael was fierce enough to do it. No other person than a warrior could take a tent peg and plunge it into the head of an enemy. Jael was not only fearless, she was strategic. These are shared qualities of both Jael and Deborah.
Why is Jael able to see that Sisera is not an ally; but instead an evil enemy?
“Jael, however, has more pressing matters to consider than an obsolete political and economic alliance between her husband and this defeated commander. Though her thoughts are never revealed, she is clearly a woman caught in the middle. The Israelites have obviously won. They cannot be far behind Sisera, and they are unlikely to take kindly to a family that has allied itself with the enemy – especially if found to be hiding the Canaanite commander. Jael does what she has to do.” (Women’s Biblical Commentary, p. 69).
But, what about Jael’s act of violence?
It is interesting that in commentary after commentary, Jael’s actions are questioned and even deemed misguided:
“The only association given of this woman who sprang from obscurity by a single deed which, because of its nature, hardly deserved fame, is that she was the wife of Heber, the Kenite….Lacking courage, she dare not attack Sisera fairly.” (biblegateway.com)
This is an example of a portion of commentary which chooses to indict Jael for her actions against Sisera. It is interesting that men in the Old Testament, such as King David, who secured “200 foreskins” from the Philistines, is deemed a hero of scripture; yet Jael is portrayed as a murderess, who should have found “another way” to rid herself of Sisera.
Ultimately, Jael’s actions are no differ than her male counterparts and, as difficult as it may be for us to concur, necessary. In war, life and death decisions are never celebrated; but are chosen to secure the victory and save the innocent. Jael makes a decision not for the honor platform; but to save her family and herself, and possibly her entire community.
How do we relate to Jael and use this story for our own purposes?
Some of us may see this story as a “text of terror” and it may be just that; however, Jael’s choice was for survival. Hopefully, we may never be in a position to make such a choice, so Jael, the heroine, can be viewed symbolically. For us, Jael becomes an inspiration for the battles we, as women, must fight in our own lives and on our own terms:
(1) There was no resignation in Jael. – Failure was not an option. Jael made a choice to fight and win!
(2) Jael’s decision was guided by God. – Jael had a reason to fight. Her assignment was clear. She was on the battlefield for the Lord.
(3) – Jael was strategic and watchful – She used her intelligence and discernment to win the victory.
(4) Jael partnered with a sister – The victory belonged jointly to Deborah and Jael.
(5) Jael’s courage was meaningful and necessary to her family and community – Her win was not just for herself.
(6) Jael is called “most blessed among women” for a reason – “Obedience is better than sacrifice.”
Finally, Jael teaches us an important lesson. “Anything worthwhile, is worth fighting for. “ Her deed is clearly fearless and universal:
“When the greater world of national battles intrudes into her domestic space, Jael takes up a domestic “weapon of opportunity” and becomes a heroine…..this Kenite woman becomes one of the “mothers” of Israel.” (Women in Scripture, p. 98)
Contemporary Jaels – “Warrior Women of Today”
Kamala Harris – Vice President of the United States
Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi – Founders of the Black Lives Matters Movement
Stacey Abrams – Politician, Lawyer, & Civil Rights Activist
First Lady Michelle Obama, Civil Rights Activist and Leader
Leticia James – State Attorney General of New York
Questions for our discussion and consideration:
Why is it, when women take up arms, is it deemed inappropriate, un-ladylike, and unnecessary? Explain.
How can you use this story in your own personal struggles and battles? Are you a Jael?
Why do you think God specifically chose Jael? (Any answer is valid – please explain).
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