The massacre by Hamas of over a thousand Israeli citizens this week has been hard to stomach. The brutality serves up a grim reminder of evil in the world. In the midst of the many heartbreaking accounts, one story has recalled to me one of my favorite Bible characters: Jael of Kedesh.
I confirmed the harrowing story through several sources. It comes from the beautiful southern town of Ofakim, a few miles inland from Gaza, about half way to Beersheva. On Saturday, Rachel and her husband, David, found their home taken over by five fleeing Hamas terrorists. They threatened her, firing their weapons and holding a grenade over her head.
The Israeli police (which included one of David and Rachel’s two sons) arrived outside while the couple were trapped inside. The police opened negotiations with the terrorists, who demanded food and water. But inside, Rachel began talking to the attackers. She could see that they were hungry and distraught so she offered them coffee and cookies. As the hours wore on, she gave them lunch. She put them at ease with this hospitality, distracting them from their evil intent. (David later said that she drove them crazy as she kept asking if they wanted something.)
In the eerily similar scene of the Biblical Judges, Jael, with similar extraordinary composure, welcomed the Canaanite general Sisera into her home and offered him the hospitality of milk, giving him a place to rest (Jdg 4:18-19). Her dehumanizing attackers were likewise set to rape and pillage Israel (Jdg 5:30). The book of Judges pictures brave women operating faithfully in the midst of evil with all they have, their domestic tools, when leadership fails around them. Jael parallels Deborah, who praises her (Jdg 5:24) and who herself stands in the gap as, as she says, “a mother in Israel” (Jdg 5:7). They become heroes through their femininity.
At one point, Rachel bandaged a wounded terrorist, telling him, ‘Go to sleep, it’s not bad. Do you want water or something to eat?’ The Hamas attackers were sitting in the room eating their cookies when the police, having communicated with the couple visually, broke in and killed the operatives. Just so, Sisera, lured to sleep by Jael, perished.
Along with these striking similarities, the Biblical Jael of Kedesh also differs the modern day Rachel of Ofakim. For one, in the biblical story the woman goes one step further and herself takes out the attacker, again with her domestic tools (Jdg 4:21). Another difference is their husbands. Jael’s husband, Heber, did not do well. He separated himself from his tribal Kenites to live apart from the people of God (Jdg 4:11) and made peace with Israel’s evil enemy (Jdg 4:17). This turned out for the good of Israel as it put Jael in Sisera’s path and led, through her self-composure, to the slaying of the brutal general.
It is at least a small consolation to hear the story of this brave couple, man being man and woman being woman, in the midst of so much heart-rending carnage.