Shawna Atteberry

Baker, Writer, Teacher

Biblical Women Who Didn't Submit: Sarah

Bedouin Meets Europe by Piotr Pastusiak.

It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves by accepting the authority of their husbands. Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him lord. You have become her daughters as long as you do what is good and never let fears alarm you (1 Peter 3:4-5).

I have one question about these verses: Who is this Sarah Peter is speaking of? Because this is not the Sarah I have encountered in the Old Testament. Here are some viginettes of the Sarah we find in Genesis:

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the LORD has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife.

He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her (Genesis 16:1-6).

But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring” (Genesis 21:9-13).

Now Sarah also did obey Abraham when he wanted her to say she was his sister, so Abraham would not be killed by Pharaoh or Abimelech. Sarah obeyed and in both cases was taken into both rulers’ harems. But we don’t see Sarah submitting in all ways to Abraham as complementarians would have wives to submit blindly to their husbands today. It was her idea to give Hagar to Abraham as his concubine, so they could have children.  When Hagar started looking at Sarah with contempt, it was Sarah who blamed Abraham, who returned Hagar to being Sarah’s slave instead of his concubine.

It was Sarah who told Abraham that Ishmael would not inherit with her son, Isaac, and to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Godde sides with Sarah on this and tells Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Godde will honor the covenant to both women: their sons shall become nations, but Sophia-Yahweh’s covenant would go through Isaac.

1 Peter would have us believe that Sarah was always submissive. But she wasn’t. Genesis gives a very different picture of this brave, strong woman who left all she knew to follow Sophia-Yahweh and find the land Godde had promised to her and Abraham’s descendants. She told Abraham what she thought, and she made decisions that affected God’s covenant for millenia to come. Sarah was not always a nice person, and she was definitely wrong in the ways she dealt with familial problems, but she was not a submissive wallflower who blindly followed her husband.

Related Posts

Biblical Women Who Didn’t Submit: Abigail
Woman of the Week: Sarah

Me, Working at Home, and the Bible

Girls in Cairo weaving

Girls in Cairo weaving

Since I struck out for the freelance life almost three years ago, I’ve wondered if I’m actually working. I work from home, I stay in my PJs to all hours of the afternoon, and I don’t make a lot of money. When people ask me what I do, and I say, “I’m a writer,” I wonder if that’s a “real job.” After all you actually have to take showers and work a specific amount of hours to have a “real job” right? Not to mention you get a regular pay check at a “real job.”

I’ve also been at odds with myself over housework. Because I’m the one who’s home a lot, I do most of the housework. It’s nice to break up sitting around on the computer with doing a load of laundry or picking stuff up. And who hasn’t put off writing a blog post to clean out the fridge? (OK, My Hubby wishes I did this.) I used to find all sorts of house stuff to do when I was in school too. It’s amazing what needs to be cleaned right now when you need to parse Greek verbs or write a soul-bearing blog post.

Then something happened last year. Something devastating: I actually wanted to to do housework, and figure out how to be a decent homekeeper. This feminist-who-did-not-want-to-be-an-absolute-clean-freak-like-her-mother freaked out. You can reading about my freaking out here.

And through all of this it never hit me what a total hypocrite I was. You see I’m writing this book called Career Women of the Bible. In the Bible most of the work was done at home, and women did a substantial amount of the work for the family to survive including house repairs, all the food preparation, making sure the children didn’t wander off into wadis or be trampled by sheep or goats, and they spun thread and wove all the textiles the family and the household needed. In fact women’s work–textiles–drove the ancient economy. Women wove and their men traveled and sold the textiles. They sent back the money from the textiles to their wives, and the wives spent it how they saw fit.*

So here I am being this big advocate that yes women worked and had actual careers in the Bible, and most of that work was done at home. In fact, most men worked from home because work and home hadn’t been divided by the Industrial Revolution yet. Even if you lived in a town or city, your shop or business was run out of your home. Home, work, and family were interwoven.

I realized what a disconnect I was having a couple of weeks ago when I read What Does “Workers at Home” Really Mean? I was cheering what Sandra was saying when it hit me. I was not practicing what I preach. All the women in the Bible I applaud, preach about, teach about, and storytell about worked from their homes. Their weaving drove ancient economy, and they were in charge of the family’s largest resource: food. The women apportioned the food and made it last from one harvest to the next.

The matriarchs were in charge of small moving businesses, and their weaving probably helped the family buy the thing they needed while roaming around Canaan and Egypt. Not to mention their weaving literally sheltered the family: they wove the goat’s hair in thread and wove the panels for the tent. (Women’s work was also setting up the tents and tearing them down.) Rahab was a prostitute yes, but she also ran an inn (most likely in her own home), and there is flax on her roof for weaving. The Proverbs 31 woman has girls who weave for her, and she sells the textiles. She also buys and sells property. Priscilla and Aquila made tents, and Lydia did travel for her business: she was a merchant of the purple cloth that only royalty could buy.

In addition, the early church met in people’s homes. We know Priscilla and Aquila had churches meet in at least in three of their homes spread over Asia and in Rome. The first church in Europe met in Lydia’s home. Homes were the hubs of hospitality and grace. Homes are where the first Christians heard of God’s love and grace, ate together, and celebrated the Eucharist together.

And I didn’t think “real work” could happen in my home. I was wondering if I was really working and could honestly say I work just because I don’t go to an office and keep certain hours. I am a working woman in my home just like all the women of the Bible. Like them I am also a homekeeper. I am in charge of one of the things that cost us the most money: food. I shop and provide our meals. I love it. I love to cook, and I love to feed people. Nothing shows love like cooking. I also want my home to be a place to live in, be comfortable in, have people over, and not look like a couple of tornadoes go through it a week. So I pick up, do laundry, sweep, and mop, so that I don’t have to do a manic clean-out just to have somone over for dinner. For some reason I think Sarah, Deborah, Martha, and Priscilla would approve.

*For an extensive record of women and the textile industry read Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times. In fact, this is must read to really understand how intertwined the home and business were in the ancient world. “Cloth for the Caravans” is the chapter that deals with women weavers sending their wares out on caravans for trading. The letters between the husbands and wives they recovered are great!

(There are affliate links in this post.)

What Jesus Had to Say About Families

In Biblical Women Who Didn’t Submit: Abigail, I began looking at The Quiverfull Movement and some of the beliefs that far right, fundamentalist Christian groups have about women. The Quiverfull Movement has been in the press due to Kathryn Joyce’s new Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchal Movement. Since my first post, The American Prospect and GlobalComment have either done a review or an interview with Kathryn, and Religion Dispatches has posted a searing commentary on their view of children as taking culture back for God in God’s Little Soldiers: Procreation as a Weapon.

For the past week or so I’ve been having stray thoughts about what Jesus had to say about families wandering through my head. I wonder what people like the Quiverfull movement and others that idolatrize the nuclear family do with Jesus’ view of the biological family:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:34-37).

But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50).

To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:59-60).

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26).

Jesus redefined family as those who do the will of God, even at the cost of the biological family. One’s family was no reason not to follow Jesus. If one’s family got in the way of following Jesus and doing the will of God, then the family was to be left behind. It is absolutely amazing how quickly biblical literalists say, “Oh but that’s not what Jesus really meant” when these verses come up (Everyone picks and chooses what to take literally in the Bible, whether they admit to it or not). If you think this is a radical and hard thing to swallow now, imagine what it would have been like to hear in the ancient world.

The paterfamilias was the social unit. And the paterfamilias is not the equivalent of today’s nuclear family with mommy, daddy, and kiddos. The paterfamilias was the patriarch, his wife or wives, all their children, and anyone who belonged to the household: parents, siblings, servants, and slaves. The patriarch could be your grandfather, father, uncle, or older brother, depending on who was still alive. A person did not exist outside of the paterfamilias in society in that day. You were defined by the family, and your social standing was also determined by your family and the family’s connections. When Jesus’ followers heard him say: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple,” they must have been picking themselves up off the ground. Outside of a woman leaving her family for her husband’s family, leaving the paterfamilias was absolutely unheard of. If you did, you were on your own, which meant, more than likely you would end up a social outcast. But the fact remains that Jesus said this.

He redefined family outside of biological relationships. When you became a Christian, your family became the Church. Your nuclear family came after that. Not that Jesus absolutely did away with the biological family either. His first miracle was at a wedding (probably a family wedding) at the request of his mother. He made sure his mother was taken care of before he died. But Jesus made it very clear that the most basic societal structure was not the family: it was his followers, the Church. The Church, those who obeyed the will of God, would be the basic social unit that changed the world. The Church would be the one to proclaim the gospel and show people how to live like Jesus in the world. Granted we haven’t always done a good job of it, but that is how Jesus redefined family.

If you’re a Christian, the biological family cannot be the foundation of society, and all evils do not come from the family breaking up. In fact, there have been times in Christian history where marriage and children were looked down on as second best, and both fathers and mothers abandoned their children to join monasteries for the higher good of chastity and prayer (but that’s another post).

Jesus and the New Testament writers make it clear that the family of God, the Church, is the foundation of society. It is also interesting to note that not many of the New Testament leaders are married or have children, or that children just aren’t mentioned. A good example is Priscilla and Aquila: they’re married, they make tents, they host churches in the homes, but do they have kids? We don’t know. Neither Jesus or Paul married and had children. Peter’s wife is mentioned, but did they have kids? Don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say whether Phoebe or Lydia, Timothy or Titus, were married or had children.

Yes, families are important. Yes, we should marry if we are called to do so and have children if called to do so. We should also remember there are people who aren’t called to marriage or parenthood. We just need to remember that it is not the nuclear family that changes the world. It is the Church’s testimony of Christ and living out the love of Jesus in our daily lives that brings the kingdom of God to earth. That should begin in our families, but it should not end there.

Biblical Women Who Didn't Submit: Abigail

Conservative and fundamentalist Christians of the extreme kind are getting some press right now. It’s due to Kathryn Joyce’s new book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Articles by Kathryn or reviews of her book have appeared on NPR, Mother Jones, Salon, Religion Dispatches, Feministing, Feminste, Pandagon, and Emerging Women. Members of the Quiverfull movement are biblical literalists who believe families should have as many children as God gives to them. (The name quiverfull comes from Psalm 127:3-5: “Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.”) They do not use artificial birth control, and have families as large as 20. They homeschool their children. There are strict gender roles: men work and the public square is their place. Women are to be homemakers and  mothers. Their sphere is to be in the home. And of course, wives are to be totally submissive to their husbands. The husbands are the high priests and heads of their homes. Their wives must always defer to them. In the May/April issue of Mother Jones, Kathryn Joyce’s “The Purpose-Driven Wife” discusses another fundamentalist group (not part of the Quiverfull Movement) that gives the classic complementarian view of a submissive wife and mother:

[The wife’s] priorities may include rising early to feed the family, being available anytime to satisfy a husband’s desires (barring a few “ungodly” or “homosexual” acts), seeking his approval regarding work, appearance, and leisure, and accepting that he has the “burden” of final say in arguments. After a wife has respectfully appealed her spouse’s decision-a privilege she should not abuse-she must accept his final answer as “God’s will for her at that time,” Peace advises. The godly wife must also suppress selfish desires (for romance, a career, an equitable marriage), practice addressing her spouse in soothing tones, and maintain a private log of bitter thoughts to guide her repentance. “If you disobey your husband,” Peace admonishes in The Excellent Wife, “you are indirectly shaking your fist at God.”

According to them the Bible says so. Actually the Bible says so in three verses out of the entire canon. Twice in Paul’s letters and once in 1 Peter we read that wives are to submit to their husbands. But we see a different picture when we read about the women in the Bible. They did not submit in all things to their husbands. In fact some of them defied their husbands and did what was best for their families and households. It was a very good thing that Abigail did not submit in all things to her husband, Nabal. If she had she would have been slaughtered. Her story is found 1 Samuel 25.

A Decisive Woman

Abigail’s husband was Nabal. Immediately we know the man is going to do something stupid: Nabal means fool. And Nabal does not disappoint us. David has not been crowned king yet. At this time he is on the run from Israel’s king Saul. David and his band of mercenaries protect shepherds from wild animals and bandits. In return, when the landowner sheered the sheep and feasted at the end of the season, he would feed and give gifts of food to David and his men. Nabal, not only decides he’s not going to pay up, he adds insult upon insult about David. David has 400 warriors, and he is angry. He decides that he is going to kill Nabal and his household.

One of Nabal’s slaves who heard what Nabal said to David’s messenger goes to Abigail. He tells her what happened. Now if Abigail would have been the submissive wife that Martha Peace thinks all women should be, Abigail would have submitted to her husband’s idiocy, been resigned to her fate, made her peace with God and waited for David and his men to wipe out her household. But Abigail did not submit: she made a decision and acted quickly.

Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys and said to her young men, “Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. As she rode on the donkey and came down under cover of the mountain, David and his men came down toward her; and she met them (1 Samuel 25:18-20).

The next two verses tell us: “David had said, ‘Surely it was in vain that I protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; but he has returned me evil for good. God do so to David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.'” The English translation waters down David’s actual vow: “God do so to David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male who can piss against a wall to him” (Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories by Tikva Frymer-Kensky, 317-18).*  In very vulgar language we see David’s rage as he vows to wipe out Nabal’s entire household.

A Wise and Strong Woman

Abigail meets David on his way to fulfill his oath. The first thing she does is get down from her donkey and fall on her face before David. Now we find out what kind of woman Abigail is: she is a wise woman. She embodies Lady Wisdom from Proverbs 1–8.

‘Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt; please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. My lord, do not take seriously this ill-natured fellow Nabal; for as his name is, so is he; Nabal* is his name, and folly is with him; but I, your servant, did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent.

Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, since the Lord has restrained you from blood-guilt and from taking vengeance with your own hand, now let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be like Nabal. And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the trespass of your servant; for the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord; and evil shall not be found in you as long as you live. If anyone should rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living under the care of the Lord your God; but the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. When the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you prince over Israel, my lord shall have no cause of grief, or pangs of conscience, for having shed blood without cause or for having saved himself. And when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant (1 Samuel 25:24-31).

Abigail first offers to take David’s oath and God’s judgment on herself. Oaths were taken very seriously, and David had said that God’s wrath could come down on him if he didn’t kill every man in Nabal’s household. In order for David to save face in front of his men, Abigail took God’s wrath on her own head. She is willing for the curse to fall on her if David will hear her out.

She goes on to tell David not to mind her husband: he is named “Fool,” and he is a fool. Abigail had not known of the servants he sent or their request, or she would have sent him the food and gifts he had earned. Her wisdom now kicks into high gear. She tells David that she knows he will be king of Isreal, and she doesn’t want anyone to be able to hold anything against him. If he kills Nabal and their household there will be blood guilt. Nabal is a powerful and wealthy in the southern part of Israel, and some could accuse David of killing him and his family to gain power and further his own career. When David comes into power there should be no blood guilt or doubt that God has called him and made him king.

She assures David that God will take care of his enemies, and to let God deal with Nabal. Not only is Abigail a wise woman, but she also becomes a prophetic voice in this story. She assures David that he is God’s anointed, and that he will be king of Israel.

Prophet and Deliverer

David listens to her, and decides she is right. He praises Abigail for coming, being Lady Wisdom, and staying his hand. He accepts her gifts and leaves.

Abigail returns home. Nabal is drunk, and she waits until the next morning to tell him what happened. The next day she tells Nabal what she did. She told him of how she met David and prevented him from killing Nabal and their entire household. Nabal was so shocked he became paralyzed and ten days later he died (the general consensus is he had a stroke). After Nabal died, David “wooed” her and purposed marriage to her. Abigail accepted.

Abigail was a wise and strong woman who could make quick decisions and act on them. Her wisdom, diplomacy, and stength save herself and her household. She also kept David from slaughtering innocent people due to his rage with one man. An act that could have cost him the kingship of Israel. Unfortunately after Abigail marries David and become part of an ever growing harem, she disappears. But she reminds us that God gave women wisdom, strength, and power to protect not only their own lives, but the lives of those around them. God gave women the reason and capacity to make decisions, especially when their husbands decisions would have meant certain disaster.

* I cannot recommend Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories highly enough. Dr. Frymer-Kensky does an excellent job of putting bibilical women in their social and historical setting. Her translations and grasp of ancient semitic languages is amazing, and she’s a wonderful storyteller. She was an incredible woman with an incredible mind and died much too young. I also recommend her first book, In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth. In this book she explores how the Bible’s idea of men and women being made in the image of God is a very different take on humanity and the relationships of men and women than the rest of the ancient world had.

All biblical quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version.

(They are affliate links in this post.)

Related Posts

What Jesus Had to Say About Families

Most Blessed of Women? Jael

"Deborah: Words, Women and War" by Nathan Moscowitz

During the times of The Hebrew Scriptures, the tents were women’s work. Women spun the goat hair, wove it, and made the tents. They pulled down and packed the tents when the household left for another place. When the day’s journey was done they would unpack the tents and set them back up. This means that Jael knew her way around a tent peg and a hammer.

We first hear about Jael’s husband in a verse that comes out of nowhere in the middle of the Deborah and Barak story. Deborah has called Barak and told him that God want’s him to attack the Canaanite army that has been oppressing Israel for 40 years. Barak will not go into battle without Deborah, God’s envoy. Deborah tells Barak she will go, but that Sisera will die by the hand of a woman. Deborah, Barak and the Israelite army march out. In Judges 4:11 we read, “Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the other Kenites, that is, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had encamped as far away as Elon-bezaanannim, which is near Kedesh.” In the next verses Sisera, the Canaanite general, hears that Barak is gathering an army at Mt. Tabor, and he and the Canaanite army march to meet them. Who is Heber, and why is he mentioned now?

We find out in the next few verses. Deborah gives the command for Barak and the army to attack, and God sends the Canaanite army into a panic. The Israelites rout the Canaanites, and Sisera abandons his post and runs away. Now we find out why the reference to Heber appears earlier: “Now Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite” (v. 17).

Jael welcomes Sisera into the tent, gives him milk, and then covers him as he lays down to sleep. He commands her to tell anyone to come by that she has not seen him. Jael waits until he falls asleep, and then she graps a tent peg and her hammer and quietly goes to Sisera. She pounds the tent peg through his temple, and then goes out of her tent to wait for Barak. When he and the army arrives, she tells him that Sisera is in her tent.

Why would Jael kill Sisera when there was peace between her husband and Sisera’s king? And why would Deborah sing in Judges 5:24 that Jael is “the most blessed of women” (the only other woman called “most blessed of women” is Mary). In her book, Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen: Women in Judges and Biblical Israel, Susan Ackerman outlines the clues that suggest Jael was acting in a cultic role. Earlier in Judges we are told that the Kenites were descended from Moses’ father-in-law (1:16). The biblical traditions don’t agree on what his name was, but they all agree on one thing concerning Moses’ father-in-law: he was a priest. Judges 4:11 is the first time we have seen “Kenite” since chapter one, and the writer once again points out that the Kenites are descended from Moses’ father-in-law. The writer wants us to connect Heber and Jael with their priestly ancestor. By connecting Jael to the Kenite community the writer is giving her actions priestly authority. By inserting one word he is telling his readers that Jael is functioning in a cultic role parallel to Deborah’s prophetic role.

The second clue we are given is that Heber has moved away from the Kenites, and he and Jael have encamped at Elon-bezaanannim, near Kadesh (4:11). Elon-bezaanannim, which means “the oak of Zaanannim.” This is a clue the place where they encamped is sacred space, because oaks were often used to symbolize the holy. In other places in Scripture oaks are places where divine revelations and teaching occur (see Gen. 12:6; 13:18; 14;13; 35:8; and Jud. 9:6). Ackerman also notes the root that oak is from in the Hebrew is the same root that “God” or “gods” comes from, el. For Jael’s tent to be pitched by or under an oak tree is to signify that it is a sacred spot, holy ground.

This is further confirmed in the next place name given to show where Heber and Jael live: they live near Kedesh. In Joshua Kedesh had been designated as one of the cities of refuge where someone who unintentionally committed murder could flee to escape the revenge of the kinsman redeemer. It is also a city whose lands were given to the Levites, so they could graze their animals. Kadesh was identified with both a sanctuary and Israel’s cult. It is also the only city in Naphtali that has this dual claim.

The writer of Judges 4 has given us three major markers that Jael is to be seen in a cultic role: she is a Kenite, descended from Moses’ father-in-law; her tent is under or near a sacred oak, and she lives near Kadesh. Jael’s tent is seen as sacred ground, and this is the reason why Sisera enters. Sisera believes himself to be safe.

But that leaves the question: why did she kill him? Sisera is on sacred ground, and the rules of hospitality are that you will fight, and if necessary, die in your guest’s place, not kill them. First she was in danger if Barak did find Sisera in her tent. She would then be seen as Israel’s enemy. The second reason is possible rape. In Deborah’s song the verses that follow Jael’s murder of Sisera have Sisera’s mother saying that he delays because there is a woman (literally “womb”) or two for each man to rape (5:38-40). She did not want to have the same fate befall her. It is also worth noting that if Sisera’s intentions were honorable, he would have gone into her husband’s tent and not hers. In my “Judges” class in seminary, we learned that the tradition of the time was for the husband and wife or wives to have their own separate tents. There was no reason for Sisera to be in her tent. If her husband came home, she would have been accused of adultery. She was protecting herself from possible rape as well as the possibility of being killed.

There is a third reason for why Jael killed Sisera. Staying with Ackerman’s argument that Jael is functioning in a cultic role, she acts because she is doing what God has told her to do. She knows that this is a holy war God is waging against the Canaanites to deliver Israel from their oppression. This suspends the rules of sanctuary she could provide for Sisera. Jael is acting as Moses, Phineas, and the leaders of Israel acted when the men of Israel had sexual relations with the women of Moab and worshiped Baal of Peor (Numbers 25). Phineas’ zeal for upholding the covenant by killing an Israelite man and the Midianite woman he brought into camp, is commended by God, and he and his family receive a blessing (verses 10-13). As Moses and Phineas protected Israel’s heritage as the people of God, so Jael does. She knows the deeds of this man, his arrogance, brutality, and what he would do if she were a woman of a tribe he defeated. She would finish the battle Deborah had started and help to insure 40 years of peace in Israel. With Deborah she would bring shalom to God’s people by obeying what she knew to be the will of God.

As a priest it was Jael’s duty to stand between God and the people–to intercede. In order to save her family and possibly her people, Sisera had to be turned over to the Israelites. He became her sacrifice. Jael reminds us that standing between God and the people can be a very dangerous place. Hard decisions must be made, and in the end, there are times we wonder if what we did is what God wanted.

The next biblical woman to be written about (drumroll)

Is Jael. She had the most votes. Esther and Abigail tied for second, and I will be writing them about them later. A post will be appearing on Jael a little later today. (I really need to eat something.) I have done some writing on the other women you suggested. The articles are scholarly; the sermons not so much. If you have any suggestions to make the scholarly articles more readable, please let me know.


Career Women of the Bible:The 12th Century B. C. E. Career Woman (Deborah)

Career Women of the Bible: Standing Between Life and Death (Zipporah and Huldah)

Career Women of the Bible: Teachers, Elder, and Co-Workers (Priscilla)


Everyone Has a Story (Deborah and Jael)

God Uses Harem Girls (Esther)

Who's the next woman I write about?

Earlier today I posted this question on Twitter and Facebook: Which woman of the Bible do you want me to write about next. Here are the answers that came back:

  • Shiprah and Puah (the midwives in Exodus)
  • Rahab
  • Deborah
  • Jael
  • Abigail
  • Esther
  • Priscilla

What’s your vote? I’ll pick one and write the entry tomorrow.