I pulled into the pickup line at my children’s school just in time to see my two teenagers coming down the sidewalk to the car. I was tired. My family had been trying to manage a hectic schedule like most Americans do in 2020. Our busy life included daily commutes to school, late volleyball practices, weekend tournaments, a husband who travels, dinner, a book deadline, laundry, bills, and more.
So when the girls jumped into the car and informed me that all of the events scheduled for the next week—school, spring concert, and volleyball—were canceled due to the COVID-19 virus (that I’d hardly taken notice of), I was a little less than sad. The prospect of days on end at home with nowhere to go was like a gift—an unexpected dream vacation.
This would be fun, we thought. We’d bake bread, do puzzles together as a family, play games, and sleep in a little. We could be the “Waltons” for a week or two.
Not the Dream Vacation
However, when the short “dream vacation” stretched into weeks of uncertainty, solemn daily briefings from our elected leaders, dire predictions, a rising death toll, Facebook wars, and the disappearance of toilet paper, the dreaminess began to fade. Having a husband, a college kid, and two high schoolers, all of whom needed their own workspace, at home 24 hours a day wasn’t as cozy as I had envisioned. I found myself tiptoeing around in my own house to avoid disrupting zoom chapels, zoom meetings, zoom lessons, and more. I hope my son Jesse has forgiven me for bursting into the house one afternoon and announcing loudly, “Hey guys, I found toilet paper!” I’m sure his jazz piano professor enjoyed that bit of Keep family trivia.
I’m sure I am not the only quarantined mother who has felt her house shrinking in the past few months. I gleefully thought to myself one day, I’ll just sneak out and go work at the library for a bit, only to remember that the library was closed, along with Starbucks and Panera. I was stuck in my house with these beautiful people I love but desperately needed to “social distance” from. When my children turned off my radio for the tenth time because they were bored with my programming, I may or may not have reminded them that “mom and dad pay the mortgage, so please leave my radio alone.”
A Morning in the Book of Judges
If one had to choose a book of the Bible to help manage quarantine stress, Judges may not seem like the best option. But it is where I was in my Bible reading. It was a bit depressing to read about God’s people who, after decades of wandering in the wilderness, finally entered into the promised land, only to refuse to fully possess what God had so graciously given. How could they have been so stubborn to ignore God’s command to utterly destroy the enemies of God who occupied the promised land? How could they, instead, choose to mingle with pagan people and even adopt wicked practices and religions? The book of Judges tells of at least six dramatic cycles of idolatry, God’s judgment, repentance, and deliverance. One expects the Israelites to learn their lesson, but sadly they do not.
Early one morning, however, my mind was arrested by an inspiring story in Judges 4. God’s people were once again oppressed by their enemies. Because of their wickedness, God had allowed them to be sold into the hands of Jabin, a Canaanite king. After twenty years of misery, they cried out to God for deliverance.
At this point, Deborah emerges into the narrative, bringing hope and the promise of deliverance. She was a wife, judge, counselor, and prophetess. Deborah was a woman who, in the midst of a godless culture, was tuned in to God’s voice. She relayed God’s message to Barak: Israel was to go up against the enemy and God would give the victory. Barak knew that Deborah had the Spirit of God upon her, so much so that he only agreed to go to battle against God’s enemies if Deborah accompanied him. He had the brawn, but he knew that Deborah had the brains, the faith, and the voice of God ringing in her ears; he refused to move forward without her. They went together into battle and God gave them victory, and at the end of the day, a defeated Sisera, the commander of the enemy army, fled on foot.
Deborah was a woman who, in the midst of a godless culture, was tuned in to God’s voice.
In a desperate attempt to avoid being captured by Barak, Sisera turns in to the tent of Jael, a housewife, and asks her for refuge and protection. She puts on a grand show of hospitality and then seizes the moment, and saves the day. I’ve read it numerous times and typically, I speed read through it while trying not to think too deeply about the narrative. It’s gory and makes me a little queasy and a lot uncomfortable.
But this time, I found myself both intrigued and put off by this part of the story. Deborah’s brilliant performance in this chapter had impressed me; so I decided to dive into Jael’s story of valor, based upon the fact that this woman was stuck at home—just like me! And, as I remembered from past reading, it is a shocking and gruesome tale.
Still, trying to get deeper into the story, I asked myself, “What kind of woman drives a tent peg through the temple of a sleeping man?” A first impression would describe her as heartless and violent. Perhaps this is why I’ve never heard a message or Bible study on the life of Jael. She doesn’t seem to be on the level with Ruth, Hannah, Mary, Esther, or even Rahab—not the kind of woman we usually study in our pursuit of godly womanhood. And yet, in Judges chapter 5, she is called a “most blessed woman” (Judg. 5:24). Why?
The Triumph of a Housewife
As I studied this passage in my quarantined setting, I began to see that both Deborah and Jael engaged the enemy of God effectively. While Deborah was well-known in the city, a career woman we might say, and fulfilled her role masterfully in that position, Jael, a relatively unknown tent-dwelling woman, engaged and defeated the enemy at home.
These were dark times in Israel’s history. Sin and wickedness most often ruled the day. The enemies of God were brutal in their oppression of His people. Yet, in this story, God used a simple housewife to defeat a great commander in the army of God’s enemy.
God used a simple housewife to defeat a great commander in the army of God’s enemy.
As I continued my study, I identified in a new way with this woman Jael. No, I wasn’t contemplating using a tent peg of my own; but I did recognize some strategies that she implemented—strategies that I needed to employ. In this strange new world of quarantine, and excessive family togetherness, I had allowed some enemies to take refuge in my own heart and home—enemies that threatened my peace, my joy, and my hope in God. Irritation, anxiety, restlessness, and fear sometimes ruled the day.
There are at least four things that I noticed about Jael which I believe helped her to destroy the enemy of God that had infiltrated her home.
JAEL WAS VIGILANT
It is probable that she was waiting outside her tent, peering down the road for word from the battle. She knew there was war. She knew what was at stake. She didn’t allow boredom or frivolous distractions to cloud her vision of what was going on around her. And thus, she was ready when Sisera appeared.
JAEL IDENTIFIED THE ENEMY
Although Jael’s tribe was neutral in the battle, she still identified with the people of God, and was able to recognize that this man was not just the Israelites’ enemy, but God’s enemy. This knowledge enabled her to do what she did next.
JAEL MADE A PLAN AND ACTED DECISIVELY
I wonder what was going on in Jael’s mind as she led Sisera to a comfortable mat on the floor, poured him a glass of fresh milk (perhaps still warm), and covered him with a blanket. Was her mind racing with what to do next? Was she scared? At which point did she decisively know what she would do after he fell asleep? Regardless, she didn’t waver, but carried out a great act of bravery that completely defeated God’s enemy.
JAEL INSTINCTIVELY REACHED FOR AND USED A WEAPON WITH WHICH SHE WAS SKILLED
We don’t know how many times Jael had both raised and taken down a tent. The tent was her home, and the nomadic lifestyle of her people leads me to believe that she was adept at wielding a tent peg and hammer. It’s a good thing she didn’t wait for a professional soldier to come by and take care of the enemy. She was confident in the integrity of the weapon she had in her possession.
Victory Over the Enemy
While a rogue army commander did not enter into my home in April of 2020, what was on the horizon in our emotional and spiritual lives could have been every bit as destructive to my family. The story of Jael spoke truth and grace into my life, and helped me to step back and view my circumstances from God’s perspective.
Irritation, anxiety, restlessness, and fear are enemies that lurk near our doors in this strange new world of quarantine and excessive family togetherness.
Being vigilant, watchful, and prayerful, even during difficult seasons in our lives, is the key to identifying and destroying the enemies that threaten to overwhelm us. Now more than ever, we need to heed the words of Scripture which admonish us to “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
This kind of vigilance will make us quick to identify the enemy before he can wreak havoc in our minds. The true enemy of God in our lives is not a worldwide pandemic, or any resulting first-world inconvenience. It is not any suffering that we may endure in this life. Our true enemy is Satan and the sin he tempts us to commit. Sin is what happens when we allow our flesh to take control, and we cease to trust in the power of the gospel revealed in Scripture and at work in us by faith.
It requires faith to persevere in holiness and obey the apostle Paul’s command for Christians to “put to death therefore what is earthly in you” (Colossians 3:5). Without faith, we are powerless. John Wesley says it this way:
By the same faith [by which we were justified and cleansed] we feel the power of Christ every moment resting upon us, whereby alone we are what we are, whereby we are enabled to continue in spiritual life, and without which, notwithstanding all our present holiness, we should be devils the next moment. But as long as we retain our faith in him, we “draw water out of the wells of salvation.”
This living water (the Word of God applied to our hearts through the Holy Spirit) is a pure, refreshing, and cleansing weapon that is skillful in the destruction of our enemy (Heb. 4:12). It speaks to all of life and to every situation that may arise and threaten to undo us. As we read and internalize God’s truth, we find answers and hope, no matter where life’s circumstances have planted us. Only by reading and obeying God’s Word by faith are we able to overcome enemies like irritation, anxiety, restlessness, and fear—enemies that lurk near our doors during a pandemic.
We are all walking through these unprecedented times together. Let’s be vigilant and aware of who the enemy really is! Let’s be decisive in destroying his plan to tear us down. May we allow the power of the gospel and the Word of God to propel us forward and be victorious. May we remember the promise of Isaiah 33:6:
He will be the stability of your times,
abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.