Sr Marina Thomas SSS
The battle was hot at Mount Tabor. Barak, the commander of the Israelites was at his mighty best under the leadership of Deborah. Not only did they know well that they would claim victory, but also that it would be at the hands of a woman. But, how?
The Israelites had been under the oppressive Canaanite King Jabin for the past twenty years now. And they were teeming with burning ambition to avenge.
Deborah, the great judge of Israel summoned Barak and prophesied victory if he would lead the war against the Canaanites. So he gathered around ten thousand men from the tribes of Zebulun and Naphthali and began to gear them up for war. No sooner than this news reached the ears of Sisera, the commander of King Jabin of Canaan, he summoned his entire military force, proud owners of nine hundred iron chariots and set out to combat.
The ten thousand Israelite warriors charged heavily against them with Barak and Deborah at the helm. Suddenly there was a heavy downpour and the battleground was seized with great panic. All of the Canaanites were slayed!
Sisera fled for his life on foot and sought refuge at the tent of Heber the Kenite as the Canaanites were in good terms with them. Jael, Heber’s wife treated him hospitably. When he asked for some water, she gave him a whole flask of milk and a rug to keep warm. While he was fast asleep, she stared at him with hatred for he represented their oppressors.
Her heart swelled with zeal for the Lord who hates idolaters, pity for her country folks who had suffered under them for twenty long blood-drenched years. Being a descendant of Moses’ father-in-law, the revelations of God to Moses might have been an oft-repeated song in their household: She considered the promises of the Lord and realized to her horror, ‘the enemy of my Lord cannot go unscathed….there is none here to do this but me… let him die like a worm…. but how?’
Trembling with fear and hatred, she scrabbled for something sharp…and then she found the tent peg. She groped about for a hammer stealthily lest the enemy awake and when she found it, she knew that she cannot afford to miss the aim or else it would be the last day of her life. She kept the peg softly on his temple, called upon God’s name, waved the hammer as high and as mightily as she could, and forced it through. He died. A worm’s death!
When Barak reached there on his hunting spree for Sisera, Jael came out and underplaying her valiant act, simply said, “Come and I will show you the one you are seeking.” She had nothing to say in praise of herself or about the danger that she had put herself in. (Judges 4)
Jael is one of the heroines of the book of Judges – a personification of alertness, poise, fortitude, patriotism and devotion to God.
Have we wondered why she missed the adulation that David won in his episode with Goliath. Or for that matter, why is Judith hardly ever talked about although she saved Israel from the Assyrians staking not just her life but also her dignity?
Every Catholic child who knows his/her catechism knows about David but never once hears about Jael or Judith or Deborah.
If a man, who is blessed in his anatomic and psychological constitution with aggression, is praised when he overcomes the enemy, how much more to be praised is a woman, weaker on both accounts, who does the same?
Both Jael and Judith differ from David on two accounts: Disclosure of intent and the brutality of the means employed. Jael was scared to show her abhorrence of Sisera in the absence of Heber. Ditto for Judith. Treachery was their sole alternative: no sooner than they would reveal their intent, they would be crushed and defeated. So God strengthened them to do a wily act, beyond their imagination.
Thanks to another woman, Deborah, Jael was not an unsung heroine; praises of her acts resound in the ‘song of Deborah’ in Judges 5 (which dates back to the 12th century BCE – the oldest part of the Hebrew Bible) where she is addressed as the “most blessed of all women,” a title which will be bestowed later on Mary in the New Testament. And Judith, in having an entire book to her credit, is raised to the pedestal in the Biblical hall of fame.
Susan B. Anthony, who played a pivotal role in the women’s suffrage movement, prophesied heroically, “The day will come when man will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nations. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race.” Women and their achievements have for long been ignored very callously. Yet none can deny on second thoughts that brave and sensitive women have contributed much to make the world a better place to live in.
Think about Joan of Arc who led the French into an unbelievable victory in the battle of Orleans or Helen Keller who did not permit her multiple handicaps to come in the way of her success as political activist, lecturer and author or Saint Teresa of Kolkata who had to brave the odds both from the Government and the Church to save the destitute and the unwanted or Aung San Suu Kyi who led Burma into democracy despite having to be a political prisoner for fifteen years or Malala Yousafzai whose campaign for right of education for girls only spiralled higher after Taliban’s bullet crossed her head or Irom Sharmila who fights a lone battle against the Indian Government for repealing of the AFSPA.
Unfortunately, such stupendous feats of women are bestowed insufficient light. Media prefers to project women in a skewed image of her personality, that is, her emotionalism, fashion and beauty. Portrayal of violence against women is also on the rise on the so-called ‘silver screen’.
Whether it is war or famine, it is women who are tormented the most. They are starved and deprived, ogled at, bullied, portrayed nude in pictures and cinema, stripped, molested, sold, oppressed, stoned, mutilated, raped, forced into prostitution, and slaughtered mercilessly. Among less barbarian people, they are denied the right to education, to hone their skills, to work, to have money, to have freedom, to have entertainment, to choose their life-partner, to raise their voice, to even have a dream. They are meant to give birth, look after the household and to be at the beck and call of men. And among still less violent people, they are denied appreciation for their achievements and bullied for their failures. Women are victims of all forms of social injustice.
It is high time now that every woman strive to stand on her own feet, each in her own sphere of work, to learn to protect herself, to stand up for her dignity, to get off the floor and refuse to be a doormat. It is time to fulfil the prophecy of Susan Anthony…time to rise up to fulfil the dream of God – an earth cared for by both man and woman, a paradise where both share their labours and pains, achievements and joys on the same scales. (Genesis 1:26-28)
When will and emotion club together in a woman with a single burning intent, she is more fearsome than a ravenous lion!
Famous French essayist Anais Nin said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Do you have the courage to be a Jael or a Judith or a Deborah in the context of your own life situations? Let’s begin the battle by believing that we have what it takes, both the nerve and the grace (of God). And the question, as the great philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand said is ‘not who’s going to let me?’ but ‘who’s going to stop me?” Be a woman and be proud to be one. Let nothing stop us from fulfilling the will of God – life in abundance for all, both men and women!