Feminism, Theology

tent spikes and other spectacular things

Jael

I was in high school the first time I ever heard the story of Jael. One of the Bible courses I took through A Beka was a study on the book of Judges, and I was fascinated by many of the tales. Stories like left-handed Ehud, or even Samson, as problematic as his character was for me. But I devoured any story about women. We only covered two of them as part of the study, but it prompted me to go looking for more. Someone had given my mother a copy of All of the Women of the Bible, and I spent a lot of my time that school year digging through it.

Over the years, though, Jael remained one of my favorites. Her story was untainted, almost entirely untouched, by the culture I was raised in. It was like she didn’t exist for them– like her story was a secret I could keep to myself. I held her story close to my chest, protecting it. Cherishing it. I had Jael and the Tent Spike, and no one would be able to take that away from me.

My freshman year in college I was enrolled in the mandatory speech class. We gave impromptu speeches, memorized poems– but one of the bigger class assignments was reading a passage from the Bible. It had to be at least seven verses long, and sequential. I didn’t even have to think about it– I was reading Judges 4:17-22.

When the day came for all of us to stand up and read our selected passages, I drew the last spot to go. As I listened to the passages all 15 of my classmates had selected, I started shrinking down into my seat. Almost without exception, they had chosen from various Psalms. No one besides me had even chosen to read a story, let alone a story about someone’s head getting bashed in.

My nervousness had quadrupled by the time I finally had to walk to the front of the room. My teacher nodded at me, her signal that I could start reading. I was being graded on this– on elocution, on diction, and most especially on my ability to read a story and make it come alive. It was go out with a bang, or nothin’.

I opened my KJV Bible to Judges 4 and began reading.

Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite: for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber. 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.

I lifted my eyes off the page to “make eye contact with my audience,” a requirement of speech-giving, and realized that most people seemed curious– I wasn’t reading a Psalm, after all– but no seemed to recognize the story.

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 man doth come and inquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.”

Again, I glanced around the room. A few people were shifting now– they’d recognized it.

Then Jael, Heber’s wife, took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him . . .

I dropped my voice to a conspiratorial whisper, leaning forward, animating the story, doing my best to create a sense of anticipation.

And smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary.

So he died.

I delivered “So he died” with all the straight-man aplomb I could manage. It was a dramatic place to stop, so I closed my Bible and went to sit down. Shocked silence followed me, and as I looked around, people were shifting uncomfortably. I decided it must have been because I’d chosen something violent, and ended it so abruptly. Maybe I should have read Deborah’s Song instead. That line of thinking seemed to be confirmed when a friend of mine approached me after class and asked me why I’d chosen that particular story, and told me there “must be something wrong with me” if “that was the only story you wanted to do. There’s so many other, better, stories you could have read.”

At the time, I thought that’s all it was.

Until dinner, when he announced to the rest of the group what I’d read in class that day. Some of them did seem uncomfortable with me choosing such a violent tale when most of them had opted for Psalms, too, but I discovered over cafeteria Salisbury steak and broccoli that the violence wasn’t really the part they had a problem with.

A lot of reasons got thrown at me that night. I’d read a story about a woman– and not just any woman, but a woman who “usurped authority over a man,” and was one of the greatest shames to the Kingdom of God. All my protestations of “but, it’s in the Bible!” didn’t make any difference. Because I couldn’t read it “in context,” I shouldn’t have read it at all. And they were quite specific about the context: that Jael was being used as a tool to prove to the men of Israel that they were a sorry lot. “Look, see what you made me do!” God was saying. “I had to use a woman because none of you men would step up!”

I tried to explain what this story meant, although I barely even understood why it was so important to me. Explaining that I felt some sort of connection to Jael, that because she had her story, it meant, somehow, that I mattered. These thoughts were just snatches of emotions– a resonance that pulled at the deepest parts of me. All I knew was that Jael was there, and that was significant.

But, in the long run, It didn’t matter that Deborah called Jael “most blessed among women,” or that her story is one of the oldest in the Old Testament– the only thing that mattered about Jael’s story was that she was Barak’s punishment for being a pansy.

But, I was stubborn.

A few weeks later, there was open auditions for a small play. I’d always loved being in the Christmas pageants my home church put on, and decided I was going to try out. The audition had to be delivered from memory, and it had to be short. Something with impact and punch.

Guess what I chose.

I didn’t make it into the play, but I did get a callback. It felt like some sort of validation, no matter how small.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jael and the Tent Spike remains one of my favorite stories, and, as I look back over my life, especially my teenage years when I was soaking up Bad Girls of the Bible on the sly, in tiny snatches at the library, I realize that I was destined to become a feminist. So many infinitesimal things were gently guiding me to this place, where I am big and loud and proud and glorious– so many things in my life that were mustard seeds.

Being a feminist . . . it just makes sense for me.

And I owe it all to Jael and her tent spike.

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  • This is HILARIOUS. (Not the negative reactions, but just. What a can of whoop-ass you opened on them all, hahaha. GO YOU.)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Jael sounds like someone you do NOT want to mess with.

  • Good for you!

  • you go girl! I love that story too. It is such a powerful display of a woman taking control of her life, to me.

  • Kreine

    I find it fascinating how different IFB churches “handled” Jael.

    At my church, we read the story, but Jael’s deceit was emphasized. “Come here; don’t be afraid.” Her disobedience to male authority was marked. After all, she gave Sisera milk when he asked for water. She didn’t follow his instructions to stand in the tent door & deflect inquiries.

    And worst of all, she usurped male political authority by breaking the treaty & killing Sisera.

    Not to mention, she couldn’t possibly be a woman after God’s own heart or even following his will, because, hello? Women are nurturing & men are warriors!

    I always thought she was plucky & admirable & brave. I don’t know if I could bring myself to drive a spike through anyone’s temples.

  • It is encouraging for me to hear how this story has been a blessing rather than a curse to someone. For me, it was the latter. The few times it came up in a sermon or Bible study the teaching emphasized that female leadership was ALWAYS used as a last resort, and always brought SHAME on the community where it happened. It was God’s PUNISHMENT on disobedient men. So, I pretty strongly dislike the passage. Though, your story may help change that.

    • sheila0405

      In my Fundamentalist church, it was presented the same way. But heroic women are embedded in Scripture. I’m now a Catholic. We have more books and more passages within books of our Bible. We have Deborah and Jael and Esther, but we add in Judith. She has a whole book devoted to her. I know the Catholic Church gets a bad rap, but I’ve found more encouragement towards women, and never had any sermon at all that relegates women to below men. We are all equal in God’s eyes. Women do so much “heavy lifting” in the Church, both religious and lay women. I have found true compassion in the Catholic Church, despite all of the negative reports in the media. I am so thankful that I no longer have to sit through a sermon, cringing the whole time.

      • While I myself am now Anglican, I have many Catholic friends and appreciate many aspects of their view of women. I haven’t read the book devoted to Judith. I will have to look that up!

        • sheila0405

          I’d love to know what you think of Judith when you get around to reading it. My email is
          sheila.faustina@gmail.com. I appreciate your kind words. We are closely linked–the Anglican church is filled with beauty! I’m happy that you found a place for yourself.

          • I am in grad school working on my dissertation right now, so it may be a while before I get around to reading about Judith. But I promise I will. And I’ll try to let you know!

  • St. Ambrose wrote that the historical stories of these women (Jael and Deborah) existed, among other reasons (some prophetic), so that women’s minds might be stirred up. He favorably acknowledged the female leadership and action in these stories.

  • sheila0405

    Amazing that the push back from your peers was about gender instead of God seeing women as equal to men. Jael was a brave woman. I have always been intrigued by the story, too. I am a Catholic, and I suggest you read the book of Judith. She is another hero, and she also was able to slay the enemy of Israel. Interesting that the Catholic Church, which many see as oppressive towards women, made certain to keep Judith in the canon of Scripture, and consider it inspired by God Himself!

  • Loved your Jael story! It recalled for me a similar experience in my Christian college many years ago. (I’m now 75.) We were learning to teach Bible stories to early elementary students at Christian schools. I can still feel myself standing there in the blue plaid wool jumper I had made the year before in our high school home ec class. It had large patch pockets, and tucked deep inside one was the tiny india paper KJV my parents had sent me off with that fall. I remember carefully planning the outfit and planting the Bible in case my story was challenged. I too was nervous.

    My story was about Hannah in the temple, praying for a child. (1 Sam 1) We were to tell our stories, not read them and when I came to the part of Eli thinking Hannah was drunk, I could see that the audience was taken aback. I don’t recall if the teacher interrupted or waited until I’d finished to challenge me. She seemed certain I had the story wrong and was embellishing inappropriately. But my reaction remains vivid. I calmly reached into my pocket, opened my Bible marked with its bright red ribbon, and read Eli’s words from vs 12 – 14 for her.

    • sheila0405

      Great story! When I finally started actually reading through the Bible, which of course included passages not read from the pulpit, I, too, was taken aback. I remember when reading the story of the rape of Tamar, I nearly fell off the couch. The Bible is brutally honest about the oppression of women in the Middle Eastern culture in which much of the OT is written. In Numbers 5, there is a horrifying ritual a woman has to go through to “prove” her faithfulness to her husband. Funny thing is that I don’t see any passages in which husbands are required to have a virginity test. And the thing that bothers me the most is that some of the mistreatment of women is codified by God himself in the Law.

  • What a lovely story Samantha. In the spirit of your presentation, being the feminist you are and a Woman of God ( I hope), I would like to bring to your notice that it is not true that “God had to use a woman because the men were….not…..stepping up”. My understanding is that us men ( am a ‘masculist’) at the time were hot on the heels of Sisera and that is why he fled into the tents of Jael and to his death.
    Sister Samantha I will have you know that the Jael story did not paint we ‘macho’ men of valour as pansies or wimps but that we we men were so ‘macho’…..it even rubbed on our women.

    On a more serious note sister Samantha, I do not think there are women in the Kingdom of God…..only Sons of God. I believe God created the ‘woman’ for ‘be fruitful and multiply’ purposes ONLY; this is where the….difference….between a man and a woman ends. Aside this reason I don’t think there is any difference between a man and a woman and that is why the bible uses ‘Sons of God’ and not daughters of God. There are no women in heaven unless one wants me to believe that spirits of human beings possess the reproductive capabilities of the flesh and hence the need for procreation.
    Samantha , essentially you are a Son of God because your spirit has no sex…..did the blessed Jael not prove this ?

    • Not to jump topics, but seeing you comment here reminded me. Can you update me on the status of my lottery winnings? I emailed you my bank account information and wired you an advance payment to cover administrative expenses. Can I expect to see my million dollar winnings any time soon?

    • I am not familiar with the “Masculist” perspective. And while I get the idea from your comment that you are trying to be respectful of women, your view is actually quite the opposite. From what you say, it seems that you believe that the masculine is the default, the universal, the real (I can only assume this is why you say that a sexless spirit would be a son rather than a daughter). The feminine is just a temporary variation on masculinity so that God could make a way to make more men. But such a view seems not only to degrade women, it also seems to belittle God. If God really just wanted men and masculinity, I am sure he could have come up with a means of reproduction that only required men. But he didn’t. He created both men and women, and both men and women are image bearers. I don’t think one has to be a complementarian (I am not one) to think that there is more to sex differences than the need to procreate. But even if that is the extent of the difference, your claim that the sexless is male assumes that the masculine is somehow permanent and heavenly, while the female is temporary and earthly. That just seems like Aristotle re-packaged in an (offensive) interesting way.

      • Thanks for your comment sister Aletheianna, at least your choice of words were not abusive, unlike that of madam sheila0405’s. Infact your comments does not make me feel evil for the mere fact that God created me a man and thanks for not telling me to get away from this site. I have very strong doubts that God intrinsically made men to bring sufferings and hardship to women. As there are both good and evil women in this world so there are equally good and evil men; and this feminist this and masculinist that is a natural reaction to counteract such actions by evil men and women.

        Now what am saying is that the use of ‘women’ and ‘men’…on earth….is only an attempt to describe the sexless spirit ‘sons’ or ‘children’ of God. The Almighty God who, for the reason that He created a ‘man’ before a ‘woman’, his children tend to think he must be a ‘man’. My submission is that God is a spirit and so are we , but that he made us ‘women’ and ‘men’ to serve as portals through which His many children manifest in flesh to do His Will on earth as it is done in Heaven. If we fail in this as ‘children’ of God then all this feminist this and masculinist that and pointing accusing fingers at each other comes to nought.
        Our singular honour as image bearers of God goes beyond having heads , limbs, eyes etc; bearing the image of God as Holy multiples of Him is defined by the Christ-mindsets of our spirits. If we as Christians think that bearing God’s image means having hands and feets and nose etc, then of course the devil was made in God’s image too and hence Satan would eventually get back to God, like God’s children or ‘sons’.
        If anyone has questions or rebuttals to what I have said , it should be brief and straight to the point so we can have a meaningful , christian dialogue as children of God. Insults and ‘get away you evil man’ statements are unhelpful because…..plants grow better with the quiet dews of heaven…..not noisy thunderbolts.
        I have a lot to say on Sister Samantha’s rather educative site that is if she does not kick me out like sister Sheila0405.

        • I don’t have any intentions of “kicking you out”– yet.

          However, I keep the comment section here on my blog a safe place. Disagreements are going to happen, that’s inevitable. I can understand if Sheila’s response hurt you, and I’m not dismissing how you feel, but using words like “abusive” to describe someone who is disagreeing with you is not appropriate in this context. I’m only pointing this out because you’ve said English is not your first language, and that’s ok. “Assertive” or “strongly-worded” better describes Sheila’s response. “Abusive” does not. The word “abusive” carries heavy accusatory overtones in English that you need to be aware of.

          • Hahahahaha……please I will be good boy so keep your sword sheathed my sister. “Assertive”, “strongly worded”…..hmmm? Well noted and thank you my sister.
            I just saw an interesting article on this site headed “Christian Feminism’ , should be very interesting so I’ll go read it next.

    • sheila0405

      There is nothing in masculinism that is spiritual. AKA “The Men’s Movement”, masculinists first appeared on the scene when fathers were being denied child custody & visitation, while at the same time having to pay extraordinary amounts of money for child support. It appears that you know nothing of theology, and you are simply bringing your secular, gender-specific point of view here. You are probably a troll, looking for feminists blogs. Samantha’s story is absolutely valid. There are fundamentalist pastors by the hundreds, if not thousands, who interpret the story of Jael as a broader theme: the condemnation of men failing to step up to the plate. I, too, was raised in fundamentalism, and that is the interpretation pushed on me by my pastors. I am 58 years old, so imagine how many pastors taught that crap over a period of decades. If you need validation for your male centered universe concept, there are masculinist groups on the web. Go find one.

      • Sheila0405, mother dear, I really meant no harm by my post but if you found it offensive I am by this reply offering my apologies to you and all here who share your view about my offensive view on the Jael story.
        Perhaps I could not explain myself well because the english language is not my mother tongue.
        Sheila my big sister, the first part of my post about ‘masculinists’ and ‘us macho men’ was just to make fun of us men….but no
        t to offend women in anyway…..God forbid….so you calling me names like ‘troll'( dont know its meaning but it should be something bad) and telling me toget away from this site really saddens me…..because honestly I had no deviant intensions by my post, please.
        My rather dumb opinion about the ‘sexless’ human spirit and the consequent use of ‘sons of God’ to ndescribe the followers of God was informed by the general Biblical acknowledgement that the Godhead is a ‘He’ and obviously his Son is a ‘He’ ; additionally the bible uses ‘Sons of God’.
        Fo

        • Am not a Theologian though and neither am I a male-gender ‘this that’ you tagged me with, am just a buffoon pursuing the…fundamental….teachings of Jesus.

        • The Godhead is not a “he.” The Godhead is sexless, genderless, and is described in BOTH masculine and feminine terms. Jesus uses feminine imagery to describe himself while he was still on earth, inhabiting a male body.

          English translations of the Bible, historically speaking, have been incredibly sexist and have consistently favored masculine nouns and pronouns when the original Greek or Hebrew used gender-neutral terms.

          Being “Sons of God” isn’t a biblical concept. It’s a result of translation– translations that, historically, have been almost exclusively written by sexist men that believed that women were inferior to men– or, short of that, not permitted to exist as full human beings in Christianity.

          • Well forgedimagination, I do not think you and I are saying very different things. We are all essentially sexless…..being the spirit children of a sexless God.
            As for sexism its found among males and females….we have male sexists and female sexists; is this true or not, forgedimagination?

    • sheila0405

      Franklın Ampah-Korsah: A troll is someone who visits web sites with themes that the person disagrees with. That person then starts posting provocative comments to try to start arguments. I believe that your initial comment, saying there are no women in heaven, was meant to provoke. It seems as if you are in disagreement with the basic theme of this site, which is the persecution of people, especially women, by fundies. This is a place where we meet to try to heal the wounds inflicted on us by such an upbringing. I stand my ground on my initial assessment of your purpose here. Your words tend to further inflict sexists wounds on those of us who gather here.

      • Sheila0405, you called my attention to some sexist statement I made, I apologised even though I still think you grossly misunderstood me. Now you imply that I am still offending the sensibilities of women here with my conntinued use of ‘sexist’ words……thus
        affirming your initial stand that I am a troll. Please quote my very words you find offensive to womanhood so I can understand what you are saying. I am awaiting your reply.

        • Saying “I’m sorry you misunderstood me” is not an apology.

          • My sister I apologised to sheila0405 so to cut matters short, sometimes its better to admit guilt even though you do not feel guilty, than to enter into long arguments.
            I have already explained myself about why I used ‘sons’ of God and not ‘daughters’ of God…..because the Bible does not use ‘daughters’ of God. Then either you or someone suggested that its because the bible was translated by sexist, patriarchal men and that is why in the english bible we only see ‘sons’ of God and not ‘daughters’ of God…..I accepted the possibility of this story; but this is all beside the main thrust of my replies under this topic. My assertion is that the human spirit is sexless but that I believe God made us ‘men’ and ‘women’ solely to serve as the portal through which His sexless spirit children manifest on earth to fulfill his will on earth as its done in Heaven……and yes if you care to know, its my belief that there is no need for procreation in Heaven and hence the need for sexual union……and thus……there are no ‘men’ and ‘women’ in heaven but only the sexless children of God.
            Sheila0405 may choose to ‘stay her ground’ that am a troll , which am not, but I first heard of Samantha when I commented on an article she wrote voicing her thoughts on the biblical statement that the man is the head of the woman etc. , even though I had by then not received this deconstruction of thought am happily undergoing here, I think I did rather well with the reply I gave at the time. This is how I came across samantha and her site. I am not a troll sheila0405 neither am I a fundie ( what does that mean?). For the first time in my life I have been offered a chance to peek into the inscrutable psyche of a woman and am enjoying my lessons on this site. Sheila0405 can you relax your iron grip on my tail which is already sore with your heavy ‘stomp’ the last time? If there are feminists and masculinist in the world today its only because there are evil men and women with evil intents in the world.

        • sheila0405

          The exact words you used that were offensive were your statements that women won’t be in heaven, and that women are only in existence to bear children. Everything else flowed from those basic premises, which means that anything else you said in your comments lack credibility. As I stated, this is a safe place for wounded souls. We are not here to get trampled on all over again by someone who believes that women are not equal to men. This is also the last time I will interact with you. It’s not worth my time.

          • There are no ‘females’ or ‘males’ in heaven….this is my argument. ‘Males’ and ‘females’ are earthly, fleshly terms to describe the essentially sexless spirit children of God. I am tired with having to keep repeating this.

  • I was introduced to this story quite young, and before my family got into the Patriarchy movement. So I was definitely given the impression that both Deborah and Jael were badasses. (In the best possible way.)

    Even after my parents got into the gender roles thing, their take was that, yes, Barak was a pansy, but women should always be ready to take action. Thus, Deborah and Jael were still noble characters, and Barak’s failures didn’t take anything away from their heroism.

    I too have a bit of difficulty imagining driving a stake through someone’s head. I do know that if someone hurt my wife or kids, I could do it. And I have NO doubt my wife could too.

  • It’s been a long time since I thought about Jael. I love her, too. What a brave soul!