Judges 4:21
Then Jael Heber's wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.
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(21) Then.—Many commentators have ventured to assume that at this instant Jael received a Divine intimation of what she was to do. To make such an assumption as a way of defending an act of assassination peculiarly terrible and peculiarly treacherous seems to be to the last degree unwarrantable. If any readers choose to adopt such methods for themselves they ought not to attempt the enforcement of such “private interpretations” on others. The mind which is unsophisticated by the casuistry of exegesis will find little difficulty in arriving at a fair estimate of Jael’s conduct without resorting to dangerous and arbitrary interpolations of supposition into the simple Scripture narrative.

Heber’s wife.—This addition, being needless, might be regarded as emphatic, and as involving an element of condemnation by calling prominent attention to the “peace between Jabin and the house of Heber,” which has been mentioned where last his name occurs (Judges 4:17). It is, however, due in all probability to the very ancient and inartificial character of the narrative.

A nail of the tent.—Probably one of the great tent-pegs used to fasten down the cords which keep the tent in its place (Exodus 27:19; Isaiah 22:23; Isaiah 54:2, &c). Josephus says an iron nail, but there is nothing to show whether it was of iron or of wood, and the LXX., by rendering it passalon (“a wooden plug “), seem to have understood the latter.

An hammer.—Rather, the hammer. The ponderous wooden mallet kept in every tent to beat down the cord-pegs. The word is Makkebeth, from which is derived the word Maccabee. The warrior-priests, to whom that title was given, were the “hammers” of their enemies, and Karl received the title of Martel for a similar reason.

Went softly unto him.—So as not to awake him. The description of Sisera’s murder is exceedingly graphic, but as far as the prose account of it is concerned, the silence as to any condemnation of the worst and darkest features of it by no means necessarily excludes the idea of the most complete disapproval. The method of the narrative is the same as that found in all ancient literature, and is a method wholly different from that of the moderns, which abounds in subjective reflections. Thus Homer sometimes relates an atrocity without a word of censure, and sometimes indicates disapproval by a single casual adjective.

Smote.—With more than one blow, if we take the poet’s account (Judges 5:26) literally.

Fastened it into the ground.—Rather, it (the nail) went down into the around. The verb used is rendered “lighted off” in Judges 1:14.

For he was fast asleep and weary.—The versions here vary considerably, but the English version seems to be perfectly correct. The verb for “he was fast asleep” is the same as in the forcible metaphor of Psalm 76:6 : “The horse and chariot are cast into a deep sleep.” The description of his one spasm of agony is given in Judges 5:27. There is no authority in the original for the gloss found in some MSS. of the LXX.: “And he was convulsed (ὰπηεσκάρισεν) between her knees, and fainted and died.” The words here used are only meant to account for his not being awakened by the approach or preparations of Jael (Kimchi), unless they involve a passing touch of pity or disapproval. Similarly it was, when Holofernes was “filled with wine,” that Judith “approached to his bed, and took hold of the hair of his head . . . and smote twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him.” (Judith 13:2; Judith 13:7-8.)

Jdg 4:21-22. Then Jael took a nail of the tent — That is, one of that sort on which the cords of the tent were fastened, and which consequently were of a large size. Come, and I will show thee the man whom thou seekest — Thus both parts of Deborah’s prophecy concerning Sisera were fulfilled. He was delivered into the hand of Barak, according to the prediction, Jdg 4:7; but not alive, and therefore not to Barak’s honour, as was foretold Jdg 4:9. For, when he came into her tent, behold Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.

4:17-24 Sisera's chariots had been his pride and his confidence. Thus are those disappointed who rest on the creature; like a broken reed, it not only breaks under them, but pierces them with many sorrows. The idol may quickly become a burden, Isa 46:1; what we were sick for, God can make us sick of. It is probable that Jael really intended kindness to Sisera; but by a Divine impulse she was afterwards led to consider him as the determined enemy of the Lord and of his people, and to destroy him. All our connexions with God's enemies must be broken off, if we would have the Lord for our God, and his people for our people. He that had thought to have destroyed Israel with his many iron chariots, is himself destroyed with one iron nail. Thus the weak things of the world confound the mighty. The Israelites would have prevented much mischief, if they had sooner destroyed the Canaanites, as God commanded and enabled them: but better be wise late, and buy wisdom by experience, than never be wise.If we can overlook the treachery and violence which belonged to the morals of the age and country, and bear in mind Jael's ardent sympathies with the oppressed people of God, her faith in the right of Israel to possess the land in which they were now slaves, her zeal for the glory of Yahweh as against the gods of Canaan, and the heroic courage and firmness with which she executed her deadly purpose, we shall be ready to yield to her the praise which is her due. See Judges 3:30 note. 21. Then Jael took a nail of the tent—most probably one of the pins with which the tent ropes are fastened to the ground. Escape was almost impossible for Sisera. But the taking of his life by the hand of Jael was murder. It was a direct violation of all the notions of honor and friendship that are usually held sacred among pastoral people, and for which it is impossible to conceive a woman in Jael's circumstances to have had any motive, except that of gaining favor with the victors. Though predicted by Deborah [Jud 4:9], it was the result of divine foreknowledge only—not the divine appointment or sanction; and though it is praised in the song [Jud 5:24-27], the eulogy must be considered as pronounced not on the moral character of the woman and her deed, but on the public benefits which, in the overruling providence of God, would flow from it. A nail of the tent; wherewith they used to fasten the tent, which consequently was long and sharp, being headed with iron: these weapons she chooseth, either,

1. Because she had no better weapons at hand, this being only the woman’s tent, where arms use not to be kept, and these people being wholly given to peace, and negligent of war, or Sisera having disarmed them before this time. Or,

2. Because she had more skill in the handling these than other weapons, being probably accustomed to fasten the tents herewith. Or,

3. Because this was very proper for his present posture, and which she knew would be effectual.

Into his temples; which is the softest part of the skull, and soonest pierced. This might seem a very bold attempt; but it must be considered that she was encouraged to it, partly, by observing that the heavens and all the elements conspired against him, as against one devoted to destruction; partly, by the fair opportunity which God’s providence put into her hands; and principally, by the secret instinct of God inciting her to it, and assuring her of success in it.

Quest. What shall we judge of this act of Jael’s? It is a difficult question, and necessary to be determined, because on the one hand there seems to be gross perfidiousness, and a horrid violation of all the laws of hospitality and friendship, and of the peace which was established between Sisera and her; and on the other side, this fact of hers is applauded and commended in Deborah’s song, Judges 5:24, &c. And some who make it their business to pick quarrels with the Holy Scriptures, from hence take occasion to question and reject their Divine authority for this very passage, because it commends an act so contrary to all humanity, and so great a breach of faith. And whereas all the pretence of their infidelity is taken from the following song, and not from this history, wherein the fact is barely related, without any reflection upon it, there are many answers given to that argument; as,

1. That there was no league of friendship between Jael and Sisera, but only a cessation of acts of hostility; of which See Poole "Judges 4:17".

2. That Deborah doth not commend Jael’s words, Judges 4:18, Turn in, my lord; fear not; in which the great strength of this objection lies; but only her action, and that artifice, that he asked water, and she gave him milk; which, if impartially examined, will be found to differ but little from that of warlike stratagems, wherein a man lays a snare for his enemy, and deceives him with pretenses of doing something which he never intends. And Sisera, though for the time he pretended to be a friend, yet was in truth a bitter and implacable enemy unto God, and all his people, and consequently to Jael herself. But these and other answers may be omitted, and this one consideration following may abundantly suffice to stop the mouths of these men. It cannot be denied that every word, or passage, or discourse which is recorded in Scripture is not divinely inspired, because some of them were uttered by the devil, and others by holy men of God, but mistaken, (the prophets themselves not always speaking by inspiration,) such as the discourse of Nathan to David, 2 Samuel 7:3, which God presently contradicted, 2 Samuel 7:4,5, &c., and several discourses of Job’s three friends, which were so far from being divinely inspired, that they were in a great degree unsound, as God himself tells them, Job 42:7,

Ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath. This being so, the worst that any malicious mind can infer from this place is, That this song, though indited by a good man or woman, was not divinely inspired, but only composed by a person piously-minded, and transported with joy for the deliverance of God’s people, but subject to mistake; who therefore, out of zeal to commend the happy instrument of so great a deliverance, might easily overlook the indirectness of the means by which it was accomplished, and commend that which should have been disliked. And if they further object, that it was composed by a prophetess, Deborah, and therefore must be divinely inspired; it may be replied,

1. That it is not certain what kind of prophetess Deborah was, whether extraordinary and infallible, or ordinary, and so liable to mistakes; for there were prophets of both kinds, as hath been proved above, on Judges 4:4.

2. That every expression of a true and extraordinary prophet was not divinely inspired, as is evident from Nathan’s mistake above mentioned, and from Samuel’s mistake concerning Eliab, whom he thought to be the Lord’s anointed, 1 Samuel 16:6.

Then Jael, Heber's wife, took a nail of the tent,.... When she perceived he was fast asleep, and it being now put into her heart to kill him, having an impulse upon her spirit, which she was persuaded, by the effect it had upon her, that it was of God; not filling her with malice and revenge, but a concern for the glory of God, the interest of religion, and the good of Israel, she took this method to effect the death of this enemy of God, and his people; having no arms in the house, for the Kenites used none, she took up an iron pin, with which her tent was fastened to the ground:

and took a hammer in her hand; which perhaps she knew full well how to handle, being used to drive the pins of the tents into the ground with it:

and went softly unto him; lest she should awake him

and smote the nail into his temples: as he lay on one side, these being the tenderest part of the head, from whence they have their name in the Hebrew language, and into which therefore a nail, or iron pin, might be more easily driven:

and fastened it into the ground; she smote the nail with such force and violence, that she drove it through both his temples into the ground on which he lay; and then, as it seems, from Judges 5:26; cut off his head, to make sure work of it:

for he was fast asleep and weary; and so heard not; when she came to him:

so he died; not in the field of battle, but in a tent; not by the sword, but by a nail; not by the hand of a man, but of a woman, as Deborah foretold, Judges 4:9.

Then Jael Heber's wife took a {k} nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.

(k) That is, the pin or stake, by which it was fastened to the ground.

21. a tent-pin] a wooden peg, used for fastening the ropes, and driven in with the mallet, both of them instruments which Bedouin women are accustomed to use.

and it pierced through] and it descended; the verb only again in Jdg 1:14, Joshua 15:18, where it means alight, descend from.

for he was in a deep sleep; so he swooned and died] The word for swooned is uncertain. With a slight change, but following the Hebr. accents, AV. reads ‘for he was in a deep sleep and weary; so he died.’ This makes smoother grammar. In Jdg 5:26-27 Jael murders Sisera while he is standing and drinking out of the bowl. Some have explained the different account given here as due to a misunderstanding of the parallelism of Jdg 5:26, as though peg and hammer meant two different implements, seized, the one by her hand, the other by her right hand. But it is more probable that the whole account of Jael’s action in ch. 4 is founded on a slightly different tradition, which made Jael murder Sisera in his sleep.

Verse 21. - Then Jael, etc. Sisera, having taken every precaution, had lain him down to rest; not, like David, trusting to the Lord to make him dwell in safety, but confiding in Jael's friendship and his own crafty directions. But no sooner had he fallen into a deep sleep, than the crafty and courageous woman, into whose hands Sisera was to be sold, took a tent pin and the heavy hammer with which they drove the pin into the ground, and with a desperate blow forced it through his temples, and pinned him to the ground. Without a struggle, he swooned and died. Instead of and fastened it into the ground, it is better to translate, that it (the pin) came down to the ground. It is the same word as is translated lighted Joshua 15:18. In the last clause put the full-stop after asleep, and read, So he swooned and died. It is impossible for us to view Jael's act in the same light as her contemporaries did, on account of its treachery and cruelty; but we can admire her faith in the God of Israel, her lave for the people of God, and her marvellous courage and strength of mind in carrying out her purpose, and make allowance for the age in which she lived.

Judges 4:21In order to be quite sure, Sisera entreated his hostess to stand before the door and turn any one away who might come to her to seek for one of the fugitives. עמד is the imperative for עמדי rof , as the syntax proves that the word cannot be an infinitive. The anomaly apparent in the use of the gender may be accounted for on the ground that the masculine was the more general form, and might therefore be used for the more definite feminine. There are not sufficient grounds for altering it into עמוד, the inf. abs. Whether Jael complied with this wish is not stated; but in the place of anything further, the chief fact alone is given in Judges 4:21, namely, that Jael took a tent-plug, and went with a hammer in her hand to Sisera, who had fallen through exhaustion into a deep sleep, and drove the plug into his temples, so that it penetrated into the earth, or the floor. The words ויּעף והוּא־נרדּם are introduced as explanatory of the course of the events: "but he was fallen into a deep sleep, and exhausted," i.e., had fallen fast asleep through exhaustion. "And so he died." ויּמת is attached as a consequence to וגו התּצנח ... ותּתקע, whereas ויּעף belongs to the parenthetical clause נרדּם והוּא. This is the explanation adopted by Rosenmller, and also in the remark of Kimchi: "the words ויּעף נרדּם indicate the reason why Sisera neither heard Jael approach him, nor was conscious of the blow inflicted upon him." For the combination of ויּעף with ויּמת, "then he became exhausted and died," which Stud. and Bertheau support, does not give any intelligible thought at all. A man who has a tent-peg driven with a hammer into his temples, so that the peg passes through his head into the ground, does not become exhausted before he dies, but dies instantaneously. And ויּעף, from עוּף, equivalent to עיף (Jeremiah 4:31), or יעף, and written with Patach in the last syllable, to distinguish it from עוּף, volare, has no other meaning than to be exhausted, in any of the passages in which it occurs (see 1 Samuel 14:28, 1 Samuel 14:31; 2 Samuel 21:15). The rendering adopted by the lxx, ἐσκοτώθη, cannot be grammatically sustained.
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