Eastern Customs and Idioms of the Bible: Orientalisms

Bishop K.C Pillai

Jael Defends Her Honor

Judges 4:18-21

And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my Lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle. And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink: for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink; and covered him. Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any doth come and enquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? That thou shalt say, No. Then Jael, Herber’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.

And then, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said to him, “Come, I will show you the man whom you seek.” And when he went into her tent, there lay Sisera, dead with the peg in his temple. (Added for clarity, it was her tent.)

 There was a war at one time between the Israelites and the Canaanites in which the Israelites defeated the Canaanites. The captain of the army of the Canaanites was Sisera, and he ran when he saw defeat. He came to a tent where Jael lives and (1) she gave him refuge. He asked for water and (2) she gave him milk. (3) She also covered him with a mantle. These three actions of her were very significant. Jael belonged to a neutral party, so Sisera was sage there. In the tents, there is one part for men and one part for women, divided with a tarpaulin. Men could never enter the women’s side and vice versa. Only family could visit back and forth. Even military or lawmen could not go into a woman’s apartment. Sisera was a stranger to Jael, so why should she help him? It is believed that to give a man refuge who is running for his life is doing the word of God. Otherwise, it would have been against her culture to speak to the man.

She put him in the men’s side of the tent and covered him up with a mantle. A mantle is a three to four foot long cloth, folded in four parts and worn around the neck. The mantle represents authority, or protection, or when it is torn in two, it signifies an outward sign of inward grief or anger. Authority may be transferred by transferring the mantle from on to another. Jael invited Sisera in. Whenever a guest comes under the shadow of one’s roof, he is treated as if he were God or an angel. TH ehost would rather die than aloow any harm to come to the guest. He may be “no one” but when serving him, one is serving God. Receiving a guest is a religious thing and even the government would not interfere with it.

When Jael gave Sisera milk (buttermilk) in which there is salt, she took a covenant of salt with him, which is inviolable. She gave him three assurances of protection: (1) invited him in, (2) covered him with a mantle, and (3) took the covenant of salt with him. Being an Eastern man, he should have understood the significance of these three things. He then asked her to tell a lie. In their philosophy is an unwritten law: one can tell a lie to save someone’s life, but one can never tell a lie to profit or save one’s self.

She was offering to Sisera God’s assurance for protection. She would lay down her life for him (indicated by her standing in the doorway for him), rather then betray him. Later on, she comes inside from standing in the doorway and found him fast asleep. Sisera had three assurances, but he snuck into the women’s apartment. He did not stay where he was put. Any man can come into a man’s side of the tent. So Sisera began thinking, “maybe they will chase her away and come into the tent—although she means well, she could not defend me if men walked in. But if I get into a woman’s tent, no men, no power, no army can come in. I will be safer here.” So his unbelief in the three “securities” or assurances, led him into her apartment of the tent. His unbelief killed him. The woman found him in her apartment and carried out her part of the contract. She took a nail of the tent and drove this nail through his temple and he died. Why? 

If a person makes the covenant of salt with another person and one of the two breaks this covenant, the punishment is death. The reason that she drove a nail through his head was because he moved over into her side of the tent (verse 22). He broke the covenant of salt by doubting her protection, so he deserved only death. She was dealing with his unbelief by driving tent nail through his head. She had no animosity, she was not his enemy. She covered him with the mantle, exchanged the covenant of salt and she called him inside.

Because we do not trust in God, we try to make our own securities. Because of our unbelief, we forsake the sufficiency give to us in God. We do not believe because we do not understand. Knowing God is different from knowing about God. We must understand our security, freedom, heritage and rejoice in God for the rest of our lives.”

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