06 September 2010

Women Did It Better: Deborah and Yael

By Anna C. Bowling

Before there was Judge Judy, there was Judge Deborah, whose story can be found in the Biblical Old Testament Book of Judges. Her story connects with that of a woman named Yael, who proves that Army wives can get the job done. Whether one considers the spiritual side of Deborah and Yael's adventure fact or fable, their tale is a compelling one. Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, held her court between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, serving as leader as well as settling disputes. During the time Deborah led her people, Israel faced an impressive enemy in Sisera, captain of the Canaanite army. For twenty years, Sisera's army oppressed Israel and Israel had had enough.

Deborah, a prophetess as well as a judge, summoned Barak, one of Israel's greatest military men, and told him that God had laid out a plan for Barak to follow which would deliver Sisera's army, with nine hundred iron chariots, into Israelite hands. Barak agreed to follow this plan, but only if Deborah would go with him. If she would not, neither would he. Deborah did accompany Barak, but told him that because of the way he was going about this, the honor for the victory would not be his, and God would hand the enemy over to a woman. Barak, Deborah and ten thousand soldiers set out for Mount Tabor to face off against Sisera.

According to Deborah's prophecy, the plan succeeded. The Israelites conquered the Canaanites, but Sisera managed to escape on foot. Fleeing to a tent he suspected would give him safe haven, Sisera found himself greeted by Yael, who welcomed him into her tent. Yael gave Sisera a drink of milk and covered him with a blanket. Yael, seeing her chance, waited for Sisera to fall asleep and then drove a tent peg through his skull.

"Jael Slaying Sisera" by Maarten van Heemskerck, 1551.

When Barak came searching for Sisera, he found his enemy in Yael's tent, already dead. This fulfilled the second part of Deborah's prophecy, that the honor of dispatching Sisera would go to a woman.