“And Jael went out to meet Sisera….”
King James Version
“The Wild Lady”
“We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.”
What part of my ancestral history do I carry within my life?
How has my family history affected my life today?
"Ancestral habits of mind can be constricting; they also confer one’s individuality.”
“We cannot destroy kindred: our chains stretch a little sometimes, but they never break.”
It was several days after my niece, Aimee, was born. My sister came to my house and I asked if I could hold her precious bundle of joy on my lap.
“Don’t drop her,” my sister ordered. (As if I would have dropped this beloved child!)
“I wouldn’t think of it,” I reassuringly responded.
As I sat rocking the tiny little girl, I wondered to myself what life would hold for her. What challenges would she face? What would she grow up to be? How would things turn out for her?
As I reflect on those days, now a memory in the past, I think of how Aimee has grown and matured. Now, a mother herself, with one-year-old Alton and 3-year-old Elise, when I spend time with her, I recognize, not only our family resemblance on the outside, but also the passing, from one generation to another, those characteristics and traits that make us uniquely what we call, “relatives.”
Throughout history, the thread, that links us together like a chain, is forged by the bond we call “family.” As author Jean Clarke notes, “What families have in common the world around is that they are the place where people learn who they are and how to be that way.”
There is no place where we see this truth played out as well as in the life of Old Testament families where behavior that benefited society, as well as behavior that worked toward the degradation of humankind, was portrayed in living color from generation to generation.
Today, we begin our study on a woman named Jael – a central figure in eliminating the destructive hold King Jabin and Sisera had on the children of Israel for 20 long years.
But in order to understand what Jael did and why she did what she did, it is important to understand where Jael came from and what her life may have been like.
First, the name Jael, means “wild” or “mountain goat.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the first name on my list or yours for a little, feminine girl would be “mountain goat.” Katherine Paterson wrote that, “The name we give to something shapes our attitude toward it.” And when I read what Jael’s name meant, all I can think about is a wild, mountain goat scaling rocky cliffs on the side of a mountain.
However, this name may have also reflected the heritage or lineage that Jael was part of. Living, as she did, in Southern Palestine, she belonged to a family of nomadic, tent dwellers who faced the harsh, desert elements and still survived. Her husband, Heber, was part of the Kenites. The Kenites were skilled metal workers which gave them a valuable service to sell to other tribes and groups in the land of Canaan. Somewhere along the way, Heber, Jael’s husband, decided to “sever” himself from the rest of the Kenites (Judges 4: 11). Why this happened, we are not told. Perhaps it was a family feud, but for whatever reason, he moved to the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh. Here Heber aligned himself with other Canaanites including King Jabin, with whom he had a relationship of “peace,” quite likely based on the fact that Heber had a “metal service” he could sell to King Jabin who had 900 chariots of iron. Seems like a great mutual relationship – you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours!
It was in this tough environment we find a wild, mountain goat of a girl, Jael, living in a tent and struggling to exist. While names can be identifiers, as Casey Miller and Kate Swift observed, “From antiquity, people have recognized the connection between naming and power,” it may well have been likely that Jael’s name, rather than being a hindrance to her, was a fitting banner which described the strength and courage of a woman who was called to be a deliverer of God’s children.
The reason it is so important for us to explore and understand the background that helped mold Jael into the woman she was is that each of us, as women, and men, too, are fashioned into the people we are by varying circumstances. Generations of biological, physiological, and psychological data is pressed into each of our gene pools. The result is that we all come in a pre-packaged container that has been produced as well as affected by those who have gone before us.
Jael, the wild, mountain goat, had a background, a history, a past – and this affected her life in the present. It helped mold her daily decisions. It helped create who she was.
And yet, as we will learn, no matter her background, nothing in her genes or her environment or in her past, deterred her from making a choice to serve the God of heaven when He called upon her. This should be a HUGE encouragement to you and me! While living in a tent in the desert, this daughter of the God of heaven and earth, purposed in her heart that even when her husband chose to “make peace with Jabin and Sisera,” she would not! Even though she lived in the land of the enemy, she would not bow to the demands of those who wished to destroy God’s children. Jael – a wild woman – with a willing heart for God. Believe me, God needs more Jaels today who are wildly willing to work for Him.
“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”
“Know who you are
do not debase the name.
Carry it in your heart,
a root flame of love.
Walk through the world in silence.
The moment will come.
The sign will be a soft
stirring of wings,
a gold shimmer of air.”
“And I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.”
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