Friday, 11 May 2018

A Different Sort of Mother: Jael ~ Ganeida

Today is Mother's Day & it is customary to discuss God's views on Mother's, motherhood & women in general.  To be quite honest our Proverbs 31 stereotype makes me weary just thinking of her.  None of us are that perfect.  I have something of the same problem with Mary ~ though for slightly different reasons.  I am not much like either of those women & @ a guess, neither are you if you are a woman, a wife, or a mother. To my surprise the name The Holy Spirit gave me was Jael.

I nearly laughed.  Seriously?  The woman who drove a tent peg through Sisera's skull?  That Jael? Yep.

You find Jael's story in Judges 4 which we will now read.

I am going to deal with some context problems firstly because Jael's murder of Sisera is one of the bloodiest in scripture, only surpassed by Ehud's killing of his king & completely ununderstandable on a superficial reading.  Firstly Jael was a married woman.  She was married to Heber, a Kenite man, who was related to Moses via marriage. The Kenite's were nomads, living in tents but their trade was as metalsmiths. What's more, as metalsmiths the men would have been highly valued by both sides of the war to make & mend weapons. One wonders which side they worked for; the Caananites?  The Israelites? Neither? Both?  Interesting because the army of the Caananites was demolished.  No~one escaped but Sisera & he fled to Jael.

In the conflict between the Israelites & the Canaanites the Kenites were officially neutral. This does not mean they didn't support one side or the other, only that they, themselves, were not @ war with either nation. They were, however, living in a war zone & subject to the fallout common to any conflict zone.  What's more, Heber had removed himself & his family away from other members of his tribe [v11] so the family did not have the protection of other families around them.  On top of all this the men were away from the camp.  How do I know?  Because when Sisera arrived it was Jael who went out to greet him.  If the men had been there it would have been Heber who greeted the stranger & offered him hospitality.  What Jael actually did was dangerous because Jael & Heber would have had separate tents & for a man who was not her husband to be found in a woman's tent meant immediate death for both of them.  

Next understand that the Caananites practised child sacrifice, idolatry, incest, bestiality, & homosexuality.  They were an incredibly cruel & amoral people ~ & @ one point in scripture God instructs the Israelites to completely wipe this people out because they were so incredibly wicked.  Sodom & Gomorah were Caananite cities.  Sisera is described as being incredibly cruel to the Israelites & oppressing them harshly [EXB][AMP] so  he arrived @ Jael's tent with a reputation for cruelty.

What of the standard of hospitality?  Surely Jael dishonoured the sanctity of the hospitality tradition? Did she, I wonder?  There are several things to consider.  Firstly Jael is a woman without the protection of men living in a war zone.  Secondly, the honour of her family is in her hands.  We have discussed the concept of honour & shame in Middle~eastern societies when we looked @ the story of the Prodigal Son. For women this always included sexual purity. Sisera is a brutal soldier who has just suffered a humiliating defeat & Jael is vulnerable, an easy target for asserting his dominance & male pride. Thirdly, although this is not stated in scripture, we know from studying ancient cultures that these were always family groups.  Although scripture does not implicitly state it, it is probable that there were other women & children in the camp: Jael's daughters & grandchildren.  As acting head of the family her first priority was to protect the rest.

In context Jael's action's start to make sense.  Sisera is a threat.  He is a threat to her honour.  He is a threat to her security.  He is a threat to her family ~ so she acts to eliminate the threat. Deborah  is pretty pleased about it.  She calls Jael *most blessed among women.* [5:24]

Now we know  For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  [Romans 15:4]

What can we learn from the story of Jael? What in particular can we learn about what it means to be a mother, a wife, a woman in God's eyes?

The first thing I notice about Jael is she identifies the threat to her family.  She sees Sisera coming.  She knows who he is.  She knows his reputation.  She can guess what has happened because he is on foot, not riding, not in one of his *iron chariots*, battered & weary & alone & she knows she has decisions to make.  Other people's safety rides on the choices she now makes ~ & she doesn't have a lot of time to make a choice.  If she gets it wrong her life & other's lives will be lost. Jael has discernment.  Even though, technically, Sisera should be no threat she knows what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:14...even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

The next thing I notice is her courage. She doesn't hide in her tent & pretend no~one is home & hope that the threat will go away. She doesn't pass the responsibility on to someone else.  Sisera is weary & thirsty.  Offered or not he would have sought somewhere to shelter & something to drink.  He has specifically sought out Jael's tent knowing the family is on friendly terms with the king.  I find that a fascinating comment.  Expedient... & so Jael goes out to meet him headfirst. She faces the danger.

Thirdly, she doesn't wallow in indecision.  Having identified the threat & faced it, she acts.  She nails it dead.  There will be no resurrection.

I believe that for too long the church has pushed a warped view of what godly women look like & how they act.  Dear sisters, whether you are a mother or not, you have a family ~ either natural or spiritual ~   & you are called to be a warrior in Christ's army.  You are living in a war zone ~ a spiritual war zone. Like Jael you are called to identify anything that threatens your honour [your high calling in Christ~ Phil 3:14 KJV ] , face it with courage & act to eliminate it! We are equipped with everything we need to defeat our enemies & to walk in victory.  Like Jael we have the tools we need to act on behalf of the families we are called to protect & shelter.  Jael took ordinary, everyday household items & turned them into weapons to defeat her enemy.  So can we.  Our weapons are our faith, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Prayer. They are ordinary, everyday things but they are extremely powerful. I believe God honours our courage because it displays trust in God, His goodness, His lovingkindness, His favour towards us.  Jael teaches us that we can be brave  & courageous, warrior women, & that we can be this AND have a meek & gentle spirit. [1 Peter 3:4]

In the Greek  praus, means an attitude of friendly warmth, patient, kind & gentle ~ & surprisingly Jael was these things! Hisuchios is the word translated gentle or quiet & denotes self control ~ someone who is considered in their responses rather than acting impulsively.  However that did not stop Jael from acting to defeat a threat!  Nor should it stop us!  How often do we allow things in our lives & relationships out of a mistaken understanding of godly womanhood? This strong, steady consistency of character is valuable.  We do not see Jael losing her head.  We do not see her giving way to her emotions or acting out of fear.  Instead she keeps a cool head. She assesses the situation.  She acts calmly.  She does not inflame the situation.  

I think it is sometimes difficult for Western women who, for the most part, have lived lives of safety & security, to understand what women in a war zone understand perfectly well: a male, any male, fresh from action & having been too close to death, is capable of horrendous things. She had not been raped ~ but that made the threat no less real.  So long as Sisera lived that was a very real possibility.

So let us learn from Jael to weigh the threats in our life to living successfully in Christ, then act calmly & rationally to completely eliminate those things from our lives. Amen.

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