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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Ja´el (wild goat), wife of Heber, the Kenite. When Sisera, the general of Jabin, had been defeated, he alighted from his chariot, hoping to escape best on foot from the hot pursuit of the victorious Israelites. On reaching the tents of the nomad chief, he remembered that there was peace between his sovereign and the house of Heber; and, therefore, applied for the hospitality and protection to which he was thus entitled. This request was very cordially granted by the wife of the absent chief, who received the vanquished warrior into the inner part of the tent, where he could not be discovered by strangers without such an intrusion as Eastern customs would not warrant. She also brought him milk to drink, when he asked only water; and then covered him from view, that he might enjoy repose the more securely. As he slept, a horrid thought occurred to Jael, which she hastened too promptly to execute. She took one of the tent nails, and with a mallet, at one fell blow, drove it through the temples of the sleeping Sisera. Soon after, Barak and his people arrived in pursuit, and were shown the lifeless body of the man they sought.
It does not seem difficult to understand the object of Jael in this painful transaction. Her motives seem to have been entirely prudential, and, on prudential grounds, the very circumstance which renders her act the more odious—the peace subsisting between the nomad chief and the King of Hazor—must, to her, have seemed to make it the more expedient. She saw that the Israelites had now the upper hand, and was aware that, as being in alliance with the oppressors of Israel, the camp might expect very rough treatment from the pursuing force; which would be greatly aggravated if Sisera were found sheltered within it. This calamity she sought to avert, and to place the house of Heber in a favorable position with the victorious party. She probably justified the act to herself, by the consideration that, as Sisera would certainly be taken and slain, she might as well make a benefit out of his inevitable doom, as incur utter ruin in the attempt to protect him. We have been grieved to see the act vindicated as authorized by the usages of ancient warfare, of rude times, and of ferocious manners. There was not warfare, but peace between the house of Heber and the prince of Hazor; and, for the rest, we will venture to affirm that there does not now, and never did exist, in any country a set of usages under which the act of Jael would be deemed right.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Jael'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/j/jael.html.