By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Women in the Old Testament

  • The name Jael means "mountain goat."
  • Jael is a woman of action - she goes out to meet Sisera, initiates conversation with him, invites him into her tent, and covers him up.
  • When Sisera asked for water, she gave him milk.
  • She disarmed him with her words of reassurance.
  • Sisera determined his own fate by ordering her to stand in the doorway and tell any man that asked, "There is no man in the tent!"
  • Once he was asleep, she killed him with a tent peg.
  • Next Jael went out to meet Barak.
  • She knew who he was looking for and she led Barak to the dead Sisera, thereby robbing Barak of the glory of victory.
  • When Deborah predicted Sisera would be sold into the hands of a woman, most readers thought she was referring to herself. Jael was not yet on the scene.
  • Most scholars see Jael as a heroine, not a villain.
  • She was the instrument of divine deliverance.
  • She was not an Israelite.
  • Jael's husband was a Kenite, a friend (ally) of Sisera's "boss", King Jabin.
  • Moses' father-in-law was a Kenite.
  • Those critical of Jael claim she violated customs of hospitality.
  • Perhaps Sisera should have gone to her husband's tent instead - generally hospitality was a man's duty.
  • But Sisera violated the rules, too.
  • Good guests don't make demands (Sisera made two, one of which was to ask her to lie on his behalf).
  • In light of his transgressions against rules of hospitality, scholars suggest that Jael was justified in killing him to restore honor to herself and her household.
  • Sisera was a great warrior, who generally used and abused women.
  • Jael might have believed he meant to do her harm.
  • This, then, is not murder, but a clear case of self-defense!
  • This is made credible by the three-fold repetition of "he fell" at her feet (5:27). Oftentimes this expression references sexual abuse.
  • She defeated the man who had oppressed the Israelites for 20 years.
  • Deborah's Song says that Jael is "blessed above women." (5:24)
  • In Judges, Jael is a heroine, one who did the very work of God.
  • Ultimately, credit for the deliverance is given to God.


Ackerman, Susan. Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen. New York: Doubleday, 1998.'

Auld, A. Graeme. "Joshua, Judges, and Ruth." The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1984.

Block, Daniel. "Judges, Ruth." The New American Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.

Gehman, Henry Snyder, ed. The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1974.

Hamlin, E. John. "Judges, At Risk in the Promised Land." The International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1990.

Harris, J. Gordon. "Joshua, Judges, Ruth." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000.

McCann, J. Clinton. "Judges." Interpretation. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996.

Bible Characters