This story is by Lauren N. Simmons and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Author’s note: While one person’s background and their feelings and motivations in response to an event have been imagined, the basis for this story is found in the Old Testament of the Bible in Judges 4 and 5, as well as parts of chapter 19.
War truly is the gift that keeps giving, Jael thought as she drove the tent peg through the ground. A storm had just passed, and the freshly rained-upon ground yielded easily to her. She and her husband once lived with a nomadic tribe, called the Kenites. Her husband put Jael in charge of the tents many years ago. Never thought this is where my life would lead, she used the hammer to secure the tent’s position.
Wiping the sweat from her brow, Jael thought back to all those years ago, when her Israelite parents promised her in marriage to Heber.
“Your match is a descendant of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law!” They were thrilled. The ancient ties were still very important.
All Kenites were the descendants of Hobab, a clan of metalworkers. Due to the constant strife between Israel and Canaan, the land Israel invaded after their exodus from Egypt, her parents thought they were placing her in a position of security. The Kenites’ survival depended upon neutrality in dealing with both sides to move freely about the area. War had been the only constant in Jael’s life.
“Jael, our jewel, you will finally be safe.” They had promised.
“Remember to prepare a tent for my metal work,” Heber says, tearing Jael from her memory.
“Yes.” As if I could forget.
“There are people in Kedesh who could use my services with metal. Hopefully it is a good way to earn some coins for our purse. I am going there today and plan to be back tonight.”
“Very well.” Strange that he should want to help one of the Israelite cities of refuge. I guess it is a small distance from here. Double-minded as ever.
Heber was the one to decide to leave the other Kenites, isolating himself and Jael. He makes peace with the Canaanites, whose rulers have grown so powerful, it is no longer expedient to be on the side of Israel.
Now Barak, a commander for Israel, has summoned 10,000 men to lead into battle against Sisera, the army commander of one of Canaan’s kings. Barak is supported by Deborah, judge, leader, and prophet over all Israel.
Heber himself was Sisera’s informant of Barak’s military preparations. He even helped Sisera’s army with their metalwork. Loyalty binds me to my husband.
Jael drove another tent peg through the ground. Sisera… why go into the hands of Sisera… They need no help with 900 iron chariots!
When Jael was ten years old, Sisera’s infamous chariots ran wild through her village. They pillaged the harvest; stole sheep, cattle, and goats; and set fire to every house. She never forgot the smell of the scorched earth. But that was not the worst. Sisera himself savagely raped Elisheba, her beloved older sister. He abused her throughout that horrible night and let her go at dawn. She then went to the family home, which was in ashes, and fell at the doorstep. Jael and her parents had no idea where Elisheba was and were so worried. By the time she was found at the doorstep, Yahweh had taken her soul to heaven. Jael never forgot what that man did to her sister’s body.
Another tent finished, Jael looked up in astonishment to see the man himself walking towards her. Did her eyes deceive her? She used her sleeve to wipe her eyes. She was right. Sisera strode towards her. The scar that ran the length of his forehead was unmistakable. How had those 20 years never managed to change a thing about him?
Jael goes out to meet him. “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” She shows him to her own tent. I know he will only see me as the wife of an ally.
Custom dictates that no other man than a woman’s husband or father should enter her tent. But Sisera has no qualms. Indeed, he has found an ideal hiding place, if that’s what he seeks. It is apparent to Jael that Sisera is in some state of shock. She gives him a blanket.
“I’m thirsty,” Sisera speaks for the first time, waving away the covering. “Please give me some water.”
Jael opens a skin of milk and hands the drink to him. She covers him again.
“Stand in the doorway of the tent.” Always the commander. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say ‘No.’”
Jael stands in the doorway while Sisera falls fast asleep. A wild thought enters her mind. She wonders if she has it within herself to take a life. A clear calmness enters her mind, like a Voice, but different – she knows these are not her own thoughts. “Do it. Take it.” And just like that, the Voice left as soon as it came. Jael is left with her own conscience.
If I do this thing, my life will completely change. I can no longer stay with Heber. He will not keep me as his wife if I do this. And I do not wish to stay with someone who aids Sisera. I am violating the rules of hospitality. Where will I go? Will the Israelites take me back as their own? What was once binding me no longer exists. My husband is no husband to me. I am left without a country or even a people.
Sisera stirs. Jael knows she cannot wait a moment longer. She can only trust her instincts.
War truly is the gift that keeps giving. Just as she has done every day of her life, Jael picks up a tent peg and hammer. Their coolness steels her. Sisera sleeps comfortably, exhausted.
Jael screams “Never again!” at the moment of impact when she drives the peg through his temple to the ground, killing him. The sound of the death blow deafens her, and all the world goes silent.
The silence breaks when Barak comes looking for Sisera. Though Jael has never seen Barak before this moment, she knows without a doubt it is him. You can always tell a man fresh from war in hot pursuit of his enemy.
“Come,” Jael says. “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” She shows Barak into her tent, and he sees Sisera with the tent peg through his temple.
Barak falls to his knees. “Deborah told me the Lord would hand Sisera over to a woman,” he says incredulously.
Jael looks at the crusted redness of her hands. Israel will be free. And I am more than free. I am boundless. I am the warrior who has slain Sisera.