Friday, September 08, 2006

Tent Dwellers

I was never a camping kind of gal.
I did it.
Knew what it was about.
But it never was my thing.

So, when it came time to marry, I choose an Oregonian Eagle Scout who thinks, no, BELIEVES...camping is synonomous with living. The outdoors-the only real place to be. Tents-the best things in the world. (sigh)

When his brothers asked us what we wanted for a wedding gift, Jeff chose a tent. An REI dome tent (now lovingly referred to in our family as" The Kickin' Tent".)
And though I am not the tent connoisseur like my hubby, I have to agree that our tent is cool.

Much to my surprise (and my husbands!) I have become quite a great camper. I can sleep on the ground, pee in the bushes, cook over a fire and set up a tent!

It's funny.

At one point in my life, I actually agreed to be a Full-Time Tent Dweller.
When we moved to Uganda we brought a three room tent. We were going to live in it while we bought land and built a house.
We never ended up living in the tent though.

I've been thinking about all this tent stuff because of a recent Bible study.
Our Biblical predecessors, the Old Testament ones, were well aquainted with tents.

Sarah. All the Israelites traveling with Moses. Jael.


Jael's isn't a very popular story.
For obvious reasons.

We teach on Sarah-and we focus on her willingness to follow her husband. (and to live in a tent!)
We teach on Rahab-we focus on her declaration that God is God.
We teach on Mary-and we focus on her submission to God's difficult and BLESSED call on her young life.

But what in the world do we focus on in Jael's story?

Jael married into a family that had a history with Moses. They were in-laws. Distantly.

Jael was married to Heber. Heber was a descendent of Hobab. Hobab was Moses brother-in-law. (Hobab was a guide for the Israelites in the desert. You know. The wanderings and grumblings.)

So, Jael probably heard many stories around the campfire.

At the time of Jael's story the Israelites had ticked God off yet again. And they were currently sold into the hands of King Jabin and his "cruelly oppressive' army commander Sisera.

Jael's husband, Mr Heber, had pitched his tents in an area where the Israelites were living,but was buddy-buddy with King Jabin, and still had distant connections to the late Moses.

It's a messed up world.

If you don't believe that. Ask Deborah.

She was The Judge. The Go To Lady. All the Israelites brought their problems to her and she heard their cases and made decisions. Sound like a fun job?

She apparently did it very well. And was very wise.

You gotta know she heard stories about Sisera.

Deborah wrote a song, later on, and she describes how Sisera's Mom expected and accepted Sisera's behaviors.

"Where is my son?"
"Are they not dividing the spoils?....a girl or two for each man...colorful garments for Sisera...colorful garments embroidered...for my neck...?"

Sisera is known as a warrior who ravages, kills, takes the loot and the women.

Fast forward through history and you see this story repeated.
Currently it is the excruciating truth of Congo. Sudan. Northern Uganda.
Warriors who take women as "the spoils".
This behavior creates many problems.
For everybody.

Deborah had received a command from the Lord that Barak (Israelite Army commander) was to attack Sisera. And that the Israelites would win. Finally.

Sweet relief. Salvation. Praises?

Not exactly.

Barak balked. "I will NOT go, if you don't go with me!"

Deborah scolded and said, "Okay. I'll go with you. But because of the way you are handling this, Sisera will be given to the hands of a woman."


So the battle ensues. The Israelites led by belligerant Barak are in fact wiping out the bad guys.

Sisera's men were suffering and falling to the sword.

Men who had obeyed Sisera's ruthless commands. Carried out his oppressive orders. Fought for him for years.

And brave warrior, honorable soldier and loyal brother that he was...

Sisera ran. Abandoned his chariot and ran.

He found a tent, got a drink and went to sleep.

His men were dying.

Sisera snoozed. Exhausted.

But not before he told a woman to stand guard for him. A woman.

Maybe not a wise choice.

Jael was the hostess.

She, of course, knew who Sisera was. And what he was about.

Remember, Jael's hubby was King Jabin's buddy. (King Jabin=Sisera's boss)

Sisera thought Heber's tent would be a safe place.

I don't think Jael was happy to see him coming.

I know if Mr. Cruel was loping towards my tent flap me and my "woman-ness" would find a place to hide.

Not Jael. She went out to meet him and welcomed him in.

It was obvious he had been in battle.

And obvious that he was running.

He asked for water. She gave him milk.

Showed him where to rest.

Tucked him in.

And drove a tent peg through his temple. Pinning him to the ground. Dead.

It was God's will that Sisera and his army be destroyed that day. Not Jael's will. Or Deborah's.


Now, I know Deborah knew that.

But, who told Jael?

I don't know.

She is honored as a hero none-the-less.

Deborah calls her "Most blessed of women...most blessed of tent dwelling women."

This phrase, "most blessed of women..." is repeated later to describe Mary the mom of Jesus.

No small praise, this phrase.

Did Jael know Sisera's army was destroyed?
Did she kill him because he was obviously deserting?
What would her husband say?
King Jabin?
Was she afraid for herself and the other women in her camp?
Had Sisera hurt her before?

The answer?  We don't know.

It doesn't say.

Just tells us the story and says Jael is blessed.

Maybe, Jael isn't the main point.

Evil men. Rebellious people. Brutal murder.

God. The Holy Contradiction in a very, very dark place.

God. Still watching in the days of intense rebellion.

Take a stroll through the book of Judges someday. If you can stomach it. NOT a pretty Bible story here. Just grief. And hurt. And ugliness.

And God.

Still watching. And acting. And hearing the cries of His children.

There are some common messages in my processing throught these Old Testament women studies.

1.God ALWAYS sees. And when He acts, it is deliberate and decisive.

2.Don't mess with God's people. (not just the Israelites anymore....) Even when they are being stupid. They are God's. And He is watching.

3.God adores women. And chooses, throughout the Old Testament, to REDEEM the lives of those who are not worthy(according to His own law). Rahab, Tamar, Bathsheeba, now Jael (she is called Blessed!) As if to show us,"THIS is what I have in mind, folks. Redemption. Not perfection.

4. God, so often, chooses surprising vessels to fulfill His purpose, here, a non-Israelite woman.

I'm left with this:

God's faithfulness is Amazing. His compassion and desire to be good to us, unfathomable.
He keeps His promises, even when He is mad.


Be Nice.

You may need to rest in someone's tent someday. Be sure your kindness precedes you. Or else keep an eye on their tent pegs.

And what we have seen on this Earth does not compare to what awaits.

Mercy beyond comprehension. Justice for those who've chosen their own way.

God help us all!

(Bible story taken from Judges 4-5)


Jim Coffey said...

WOW ... I thought I'd read the bible all the way through but I somehow missed the tent peg story.

Thanks for sharing. Extremely well written as always (that good ol' ECISD school system - Ms. Moore would be proud!)

Ike Graul said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ike Graul said...

This one and Ehud are my two favorite judges-type stories for all the wrong jr.-high-ish-type reasons.
Exactly what is Mr. Heber going to say to his wife when he comes home and she's bloody from elbows to knees with a hammer in one hand and a army general staked to the floor?
If it were Kaelea, I'm pretty sure I would just drop my backpack and get right on the dishes.


(comment deleted and reposted for obvious typographical error.)

Kim Hodges said...

I like the way you made the point about being nice, and about wanting a good reputation to precede us. Seems like the way I had always been taught that story was to have my tent peg ready, because you never know what God will call us to do in His name!! Rather ironic, as Jeff (Christian) had us focusing on love and non-violence this past week in our journey through the Sermon on the Mount!

Steve Maxwell said...

Well written Cheryl. I have heard refference that story at PUMP and have always "enjoyed" it. It is rated "R", but it is the kind of story that speaks to the awesome timing and power of God. Thanks for the insights.
God bless you guys.

Jason Hill said...

I'd like to see the size of the arm big enough to wield a mallet heavy enough to pound a tent peg into a skull with just one blow (if it doesn't go through right away, the guy might wake up).

I imagine that living in a tent is quite a strength building experience. Jael and Cheryl prove that.

Diane said...

I'm making a copy of this and putting it in my "Women of The Bible" file. That was very insightful. You are quite a woman. I am blessed by our sisterhood. Grace and peace, Diane