We've been talking about unity at church this month. But what if you don't feel like you fit in with the group? How do you experience unity when you're on the outside looking in?
The next three blogs will look at some examples from the Bible - people who are typically overlooked as heroes.
When people think of Bible heroes, they probably think of David, Joshua, Moses, the Disciples and the like. Afterall, heroes are the ones who win battles, stand up to giants, hold major parts in God’s plans. But don’t heroes fight all kinds of battles, don’t giants come in different forms, and don’t God’s plans include all of us as major players? No part is small. Nothing overcome is insignificant. No one in or out of the Bible is insignificant.
Let's look at our first hero:
Jael – The Israelites returned again to worshipping false gods, so the Lord allowed them to fall into the hands of the Canaanite King Jabin. It seems that nothing makes people more aware of the folly of sin than reaping its consequences. For twenty years then, the Canaanite chariots kept the Israelites on the run, raiding and raping their camps.
Jael was a Kenite, an Arabic people who had worshiped Yahweh long before Abraham claimed the Promised Land, long before Moses encountered Yahweh at the burning bush or married the Kenite priest’s daughter. These nomads were kin to Canaanites, but allies of the Israelites. Being non-Jew, Jael lived always on the edge of the camps, never among them. Yet her husband, Heber, moved them further away towards Canaan, perhaps to get work as a metal smith for Jabin’s army.
“Set up our tents near Kadesh, the city of refuge, under the terebinth tree,” he told her. The huge tree stood out as a familiar boundary marker there. It had witnessed a thousand years, and its name was synonymous with “solitary” – a bitter irony not likely to escape the woman as she prepared their lonely camp. All passed the tree on their way to Kadesh and beyond. There would be no peace, no safety here. It was hot as she worked.
“Yahweh pitches His tent for the sun,” she thought, “Would that He shelter me a little.”
Did she also know the terebinth to be an ancient source of pitch used to waterproof Noah’s ark? She may have focused on the meaning of the outer tree, yet God was setting her up for the inner meaning of “pitch”—to make atonement, reconcile, or ransom.
Under another tree sat quite another woman, Deborah, a prophetess and powerful Judge of the Hebrew tribes. She sent for Barak in Kadesh. “God has commanded you, ‘Take ten thousand of your men to Mount Tabor, and I shall send Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots to the River Kishon, and I will deliver him into your hand.’”
Barak was a brave leader, but he had doubts about his worthiness to secure God’s favor. He didn’t understand that there was nothing he need do to make God love him. He simply need accept it. So Barak said to the prophetess who had God’s ear, “I won’t go unless you go with me.”
Deborah looked sadly at him. This man was being offered a miracle that could transform his life, but he was afraid to let God work through him. She shook her head, “Then there will be nothing in this journey for you. The Lord will deliver Sisera into the hand of someone you think even less worthy than you—a woman.”
Soon after, word got out to Sisera that Barak and his men were headed to the tabletop mountain. There would be nowhere for the Israelites to run as Sisera’s nine hundred iron chariots attacked from all sides.
But rain fell that night, flooding the Kishon. When Sisera’s army arrived, their heavy wheels sank in the mud, and it was they who were trapped between Barak and the raging river. Every last man was slaughtered. All but one: Sisera fled on foot.
He was pursued deep into enemy territory, but he remembered that Heber the Kenite was at peace with Jabin, and that he’d passed Heber’s camp near Kadesh on his way to battle. Sure enough, Heber’s wife came out to meet him. “This way,” Jael beckoned, “don’t be afraid.” The sun was setting. The desert was getting cold. He stepped inside, and she covered him with a rug.
He’d run many miles. “Please, give me some water.”
Jael opened a goatskin of milk, let him drink long and greedy, then covered him again.
“Stand at the door, and tell no one I’m here,” the general ordered. He was soon asleep.
Then Jael took an iron tent peg, and with practiced hand, drove it through his temple into the ground.
When Barak finally caught up, Jael came out to meet him. “The one you are looking for is in here.”
Barak drew his sword and leapt into the tent. He understood the scene immediately, and that this was the woman God had promised the victory.
A cheer broke out, “Most blessed among women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; blessed is she among women in tents!”
Even Deborah recognized her, celebrating her in poetic song.
Jael was no longer an outsider alone, but reconciled to her community, and more importantly, she realized that God had always had a purpose in mind for her. Surely, she was blessed that the Almighty should take note of her.