Tent Pegs and Opportunity

Today we’re going to talk about tent pegs, murder, and what opportunity looks like.

The story of Jael and Sisera is one of the wildest, for my money, in the entire Bible.  In Judges 4, Israel is under the rule of King Jabin of Canaan.  The judge Deborah commands an Israelite man named Barak to take ten thousand men to challenge Jabin’s commander, Sisera.  Barak agrees, but on one condition; Deborah must accompany him.  Deborah agrees, but because of his reticence claims that “the honor will not be yours, because the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman” (Judges 4:9).

As Deborah predicts and as God has promised, Sisera’s men fall to Barak’s forces.  Sisera flees on foot to “the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite” (4:17).  Jael emerges and invites Sisera inside the tent, and goes so far as to provide him milk when he asks for water.  Sisera instructs her to hide his presence in the tent, then falls asleep inside.  And then:

Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died (4:21).

Sit and think about the force that woman must have used.  She drove the tent peg through his temple into the ground.  I often wondered about that detail when I read the story in earlier years – why did the story need to be so gruesome?  Why add in that detail?  But now I understand: this detail is meant to show us that Jael worked with intent.  She was neither hesitating nor second-guessing herself.  You can’t stake a man’s head to the ground with a half-hearted effort.  Jael saw an opportunity and took advantage of it; she acted with immediacy, with whole-heartedness.

Contrast this with Barak who, in spite of being given the Lord’s promise of success in battle, demands that Deborah come along as a sort of good-luck totem.  God’s word was not enough; Barak needed Deborah’s promised presence before he would take advantage of the opportunity given to him.  Where Jael was committed, Barak was halfhearted; the Lord chose to deliver victory to the one who was willing to take advantage of the opportunity without doubt or hesitation.

God is never going to ask you to nail someone with a tent-peg.  But God does provide His children with opportunities, and He gives glory to those willing to step forward and seize the moment.  I can’t help but think that Jael had a lot working against her.  As a woman, she was in many ways a second-class member of society, subject to her husband’s authority and the cultural mores of the time.  Enemy or not, Sisera was a man, and a man with authority.  What boldness it must have taken for Jael to overcome conditioning and concerns to take action alone, yet Barak couldn’t bring himself to act even with the promise of an army and God’s favor behind him!

It’s true that there is sometimes danger for those who don’t look before they leap.  But when you are under God’s favor or when you are working on God’s behalf, then the leap is all that matters.  When we determine to ourselves that we are going to move forward in God’s name or when we perceive that God has asked something of us, we must commit boldly and completely to whatever it is that we intend to do.  Whatever God has given you to do today – if you know it is a task from Him, if it is underscored with an understanding of the Word and if your heart is willing to glorify Him – don’t settle for halfhearted measures.

Act.  Act without delay.  Act fearlessly.  Act with intent.

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5 responses to “Tent Pegs and Opportunity

  1. This is brilliant: “the Lord chose to deliver victory to the one who was willing to take advantage of the opportunity without doubt or hesitation.” Such an insightful consideration of this account. By the way, what prompted you to choose the name for your blog? I love it.

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    • Thanks for the kind words!

      I chose the name because I have always been struck by the environment of grace that allowed two people, who otherwise would have been strangers, to meet and interact – and I want my blog to be the same kind of sheltering place where those kinds of “God encounters” can occur. I’m glad you like it – it “felt right” when I picked it!

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  2. “Well behaved women seldom make history.”
    I think of this quote when I think about both Deborah and Jael. Neither one of them lived within the bounds of convention – and they’re remembered for it by name. I think that it’s more than just being bold, or at the right place at the right time. Think about the shame that Barak had to live down; he did not get credit for taking down the enemy general – a woman did that! And now – so many hundreds of years later, she is praised for her action and he still can’t live it down.

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    • So true! And it amazes me that in Deborah and Jael we have women transgressing traditional social boundaries to get the job done: Deborah essentially scolds Barak, and Jael has to make this enormous mental commitment to take down Sisera. So much initiative from both women – and it really is a bit funny that to this day Barak is known mostly for his cowardice!

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