[The following essay examines, in sometimes grim detail, the biblical phenomenon of “looking out of the window” and what it means in the stories of Sisera, Michal, and Jezebel. Some aspects of this examination are unpleasant. You have been warned.]
What could be so wrong about looking out of a window? This seemingly innocuous activity is mentioned three times in scripture, all in the Old Testament (and, to be more specific, all in the Historical Prophets), and every time it is mentioned there is a mark of severe divine disapproval on the action and on the person (in all cases, a woman) who is looking outside of the window. What could this possibly mean? Is the Bible trying to make a point about the activity of looking out the window, or is there something to which this expression refers to about God’s will and those who oppose it?
Since there has been little study about this issue, it is not the point of this particular paper to come up with any doctrinal position or firm conclusion about what it means to look out of a window. Nonetheless, by examining all three stories about looking out of the window in detail, perhaps we can come to some conclusions about the Bible’s strong condemnation of these situations and some tentative conclusions we may draw for ourselves from these examples in our own lives.
The three times in the Bible where looking out of a window is mentioned occur in Judges 5:24-31, at the end of the Song of Deborah, where the fate of Sisera is given in grim detail and contrasted with the speculations of his mother; in 2nd Samuel 6:12-23, where David rejoices over the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and Michal is cursed with barrenness for her disapproval of his religious fervor; and in 2nd Kings 9:0-37, where Jezebel looks through the window contemptuously at Jehu and is then thrown out of the window to a violent death. In all three cases it is women who look out the window, and in all three cases there is a severe penalty for their actions. In examining each of these cases in further detail, perhaps we may come to a better understanding of the sin each of these women was engaged in that is described in the action of looking out of their window.
Case Study #1: Sisera’s Mother
In Judges 6:24-31, at the close of the Song of Deborah, we have an account of the death of Sisera (the general of the forces of Jabin, the Canaanite King of Hazor) as well as an account of the speculations of Sisera’s mother about the success of her son in battle that are not to be realized. In order to understand the worthiness of condemnation of both Sisera and his mother, it is worthwhile to compare the verses in question in two different translations. The New King James reads, for this passage:
Most blessed among women is Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite;
Blessed is she among women in tents.
He asked for water, she gave milk;
She brought out cream in a lordly bowl.
She stretched out her hand to the tent peg,
Her right hand to the workman’s hammer;
She pounded Sisera, she pierced his head,
She split and struck through his temple.
At her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still;
At her feet he sank, he fell;
Where he sank, there he fell dead.
The mother of Sisera looked through the window,
And cried out through the lattice,
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why tarries the clatter of his chariots?’
Her wisest ladies answered her,
Yes, she answered herself,
‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoil,
To every man a girl or two;
For Sisera, plunder of dyed garments,
Plunder of garments embroidered and dyed,
Two pieces of dyed embroidery for the neck of the looter?’
Even here it is obvious that Sisera’s grim fate is contrasted with the speculations of Sisera’s mother for girls and pretty clothing as spoil from the expected victory over the Israelites. Nonetheless, a translation by OT scholar James B. Jordan makes these verses somewhat more arresting:
Most blessed of women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite;
Most blessed is she of women in the tent.
He asked for water;
She gave him milk.
In a magnificent bowl,
She brought him curds [buttermilk; yogurt].
She reached out her hand for the tent peg,
And her right hand for the workman’s hammer.
Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head;
And she shattered and pierced his temple.
Between her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay.
Between her feet he bowed, he fell.
Where he bowed,
There he fell devastated.
Out of the window she looked and lamented,
The mother of Sisera through the lattice,
“Why does his chariot delay in coming?
Why do the steps [hoof beats] of his chariots tarry?”
Her wise princesses would answer her,
Indeed, she repeats the words to herself:
“Are they not finding, are they not dividing the spoil?
A womb, two wombs for every warrior?
To Sisera a spoil of dyed work,
A spoil of dyed work embroidered?
Dyed work of double embroidery
On the necks of the spoil?1”
According to Jordan, though, the translation itself is somewhat more polite than what the Hebrew language actually expresses, and it is this that gives the verses their pointed spiritual meaning.
First, the story of the death of Sisera is loaded with sexual overtones. When Sisera asks for water, he is instead served milk and cream in a bowl. Then, it would appear as if Sisera takes the offering of the cream as an entrance for an attempted rape. The Hebrew word for “feet” often refers to the genitals, so the head of Sisera being between the legs of a married woman would be a graphic sort of sin, worthy of the death penalty. Also, the word for “lay” used in verse 27 is used for rape in Deuteronomy 22:23, 25, 28, and the word for “bow” is used for sexual relations in Job 31:10. Therefore, we can see the killing of Jael of Sisera as an act of self-defense in an attempted rape2, which adds a layer of meaning to her being considered blessed among all women.
Next, we must consider the words of Sisera’s mother with their distinctly sexual overtones as well as their materialistic focus. For one, the word translated “womb” or “girls” in verse 30 is actually an example of the crudest sort of talk for women, calling them by their private parts3. This offensive statement, which the Bible says is repeated by Sisera’s mother and her confidants to each other, demonstrates the low regard to which they held the virtue of God’s people, which was worthy of punishment. In addition, there is the irony at how Sisera’s mother and her friends emphasize the fancy clothing they expect as spoil, with the irony that Sisera and his army are the spoil and that Sisera’s clothing was dyed by his own blood when he was killed by Jael4.
Let us examine that in this context looking out the window is connected with anxieties. Sisera’s mother is anxious that the battle is not going well, and her looking out the window reflects that anxious waiting on her part. In short, despite her brave and proud words, she and her confidants are repeating these words to each other to calm themselves down, words that reflect a contempt for God’s people. This is not a matter to be taken lightly, as the things that comfort these wicked women is the thought of Israelite maidens being raped by Canaanite soldiers and of being pampered with clothing stolen from the Israelites. God, instead of fulfilling these wicked desires, here chooses to fulfill the fears without providing the hoped for reward.
So, in summing up this particular episode, we have rather dark visions and fantasies of the Canaanites being thwarted by the will of God. Looking out the window is an anxiety about the success of the enterprise of Sisera in battle combined with the desire for domination over the Israelites in the most brutal of fashion and the despoiling of precious treasures. These visions of rape and plunder were not fulfilled, but we should be reminded not to have such visions ourselves in our enterprises. The song of Deborah, and its ending, is a reminder that God will will be done, and that the will of evildoers will (at least eventually) be thwarted.
Case #2: Michal and David
In 2 Samuel 6:12-23, we have the account of Michal looking out the window at David. As can be expected, since this is a biblical account, there is a great deal about this story that is not stated, but is instead implied. Here again, we find a woman looking out of the window and ending up being condemned by God. The New King James version reads for these verses:
Now it was told King David, saying, “The Lord has blessed the house of Obed-Edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the rk of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with gladness. And so it was, when those bearing the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, that he sacrificed oxen and fatted sheep. Then David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet.
Now as the ark of the Lord came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. So they brought the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it. Then David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. And when David had finished offering burnt offerings and peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts. Then he distributed among all the people, among the whole multitude of Israel,, both the women and the men, to everyone a loaf of bread, a piece of meat, and a cake of raisins. So all the people departed, everyone to his house.
Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself.”
So David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me instead of your father nd all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the Lord. And I will be even more undignified than this, nd will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor.”
Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.
This is not a pretty pretty, overall, of the relationship between David and Michal. There are a lot of elements going on here, so it would be good to take them one by one. The Nelson Study Bible, in its section on “A Love That Turned To Hate,” remarked that the celebrations of David when the Ark was moved to Jerusalem was probably not sufficient to cause Michal’s hatred, but that the hatred had grown over the years. Instead of accepting her God-given lot in life and trusting God to provide her future happiness, she became bitter at God and David, and died childless, without any indication of healing5. This is certainly true, but there is of course, a bit more to the story.
For one, let us note that blessings make up a huge part of the purpose of this story. God had blessed David with the Kingdom (a point that David makes directly to Michal when she chastises him). Upon seeing the blessings that God had brought Obed-Edom due to the presence of the ark, David moves the ark to Jerusalem, his capital. Then, he blesses the people of Israel who, devoutly religious, celebrated the transfer of the ark with him with food. Then, upon returning to bless his household, he is instead cursed by Michal. God does not take lightly those who curse the people He has blessed. Michal’s looking out the window suggests that she is not happy the Ark is being moved to Jerusalem (or else she would be joining David in celebration), and instead of rejoicing in the will of God, she curses God’s anointed in her heart, a very dangerous action to take.
For another, it is mentioned several times throughout the passage that Michal is the daughter of Saul. For one, it has already been noted that David realizes the blessing he has received in having the Kingdom instead of Saul or his house (of whom Michal was a part). Seeing David enjoy the throne and the adoration of the people must have been difficult for Michal to take, remembering her own days as a royal princess. Furthermore, there appears in the life of Saul two occasions where his ecstatic worship is noted (much like was the case here for David). The first was when Saul was consecrated as King in 1 Samuel 10:10-12, where, upon the receipt of ‘another heart’ from God, he prophesied among the people, before going to the high place to worship. The second occasion took place in 1 Samuel 19:23-24, where Saul, seeking to kill David (after Michal had lied to save David’s life and let him escape certain death), prophesied naked before Samuel in Naioth in Ramah all day and night. Likely, it was this episode in particular that Michal may have been painfully aware of when David whirled and danced with joy in front of the people.
There is another element in Michal’s bitterness that appears quite evident from her criticism of David, and that is both a certain concern for the dignity of power (perhaps she was embarrassed over her father’s occasional lapses into ecstatic worship) as well as a certain jealousy towards David for his eye for the ladies. Quite possibly it is the jealousy Michal felt over David’s harem, and being only one wife among several rather than his only wife (as she was during his youth), that prompted the bitterness of her tirade. Instead of seeing his worship as the passionate and sincere worship and praise of God, she saw it as lewd behavior designed to seduce other women. Her trust in God, and her trust in David, had fallen precipitously. Furthermore, her comments about the dignity of office appear a bit snobbish, especially when compared to David’s rather exuberant and uncomplicated praise of God shown in this passage.
It is clear that in this story, looking out the window for Michal involved a few unsettling and unpleasant elements. For one, there was a separation from the worship of God, a refusal to take part in what should have been a joyous occasion (or even to happily receive David’s blessing upon his return to the palace). For another, there was a dissatisfaction with the will of God in her life that was expressed by her hating David in his heart, a hatred borne out of years of suffering as well as a feeling that God’s will was unfair and hostile towards her. For another, there was a jealousy towards David’s success and his having other wives, with the imputation of wicked motives towards his ecstatic worship. It should be noted in this context that David’s ephod reminds one of the priestly ephods worn by such people as Samuel (see, for example, 1 Samuel 2:18). An ephod was a sign of religious ceremony to God, not of indecency, and Michal’s charge that David was being indecently exposed in performing a priestly function of worship in leading the procession of the Ark back to Israel was itself a blasphemous act.
When these elements are examined, it is not surprising that Michal was punished with childlessness (a very severe punishment in the Bible, where numerous biblical characters show a relentless urge to procreate, taking very desperate measures to have children6). God does not take kindly to those who mock his anointed, and insult godly worship as lewdness merely because it is passionately done. We should bear this in mind ourselves, even if we are more staid and restrained in our own practices. We should also remember that bitterness towards God’s will for us can have very severe consequences in our lives, and that we should trust in God to provide for our happiness. This is, of course, much easier said than done.
Case #3: Jezebel
The third example of looking out of the window we have in the Bible concerns the gruesome end of Jezebel. In this third example, we find Jezebel both taunting and trying to seduce Jehu, both attempts failing and resulting in one of the most memorable examples of defenestration in history7. The verses in question, 2 Kings 9:30-37, read, in the New King James Version:
Now, when Jehu had come to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it, and she put paint on her eyes and adorned her head, and looked through a window. Then, as Jehu entered at the gate, she said, “Is it peace, Zimri, murderer of your master?”
And he looked up at the window, and said, “Who is on my side? Who?” So two or three eunuchs looked out at him. Then he said, “Throw her down.” So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses; and he trampled her underfoot. And when he had gone in, he ate and drank. Then he said, “Go now, see to this accursed woman, and bury her, for she was a king’s daughter.” So they went out to bury her, but they found no more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands. Therefore they came back and told him. And he said, “This is the word of the Lord, which He spoke by His servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, ‘On the plot of ground at Jezreel dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel; and the corpse of Jezebel shall be as refuse on the surface of the field, in the plot of Jezreel, so that they shall not say, “Here lies Jezebel”’”.
It is clear that this is a very ugly story in the Bible, but there is something we can say also about this story concerning Jezebel looking out the window. Like the other two stories, there is a hint of sexuality about Jezebel looking out the window. This passage makes one of the few biblical references to putting on makeup, and it would appear like the aged Jezebel (who reminds us of an aged Cleopatra attempting to seduce Octavian, the similarly humorless destroyer of peoples in Shakespeare’s Anthony & Cleopatra) is seeking first to seduce Jehu into sparing her life. This attempt is unsuccessful.
Then, after failing to seduce Jehu, Jezebel seeks to taunt him. By calling Jehu Zimri, Jezebel is referring to the military leader who led a coup against Elah, the son of Baasha, king of Israel, in 1 Kings 16:16, which led to Omri, the father in law of Jezebel being named as King over Israel by the people before prevailing in a brutal and ugly civil war. However, though Jehu certainly took power in a coup d’etat, it was one ordained by God, for Jehu had been anointed with oil as an officially recognized king.
Again, we see that Jezebel’s action in looking out the window reflected a desire to overturn the will of God. Despite being anxious for her life, as her son had just been killed, Jezebel was determined to try her best to thwart God’s judgment upon her, and she was unrepentant and stubbornly defiant to the very bitter end. Again, though, we must note that her looking out the window (and the eunuchs, not particularly masculine men, looking out at Jehu in fear also) shows considerable anxiety about their fate.
It should also be noted that this passage is considerably detailed about the bloody nature of Jezebel’s death. Like the death of Sisera, this passage is particularly descriptive of the bloodiness of Jezebel’s death—with her blood spattering on the walls and the horses, the fact that her flesh was eaten by dogs (scavenging mongrels not well-liked in biblical times), and the fact that only her skull, her feet, and her palms were left. This is a bitterly descriptive picture of the end of those who flagrantly and unrepentantly oppose God and persecute His servants and corrupt the religious life of His people. God does not take kindly to tyrants and those who lead religious heresies, and let the end of Jezebel be a solemn warning to those who seek to follow after her corrupt and wicked example.
It should also be noted that Jezebel’s end was the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The details recorded in 2 Kings 9:36-37 match the prophecy delivered by Elijah’s servant to Jehu when Jehu was consecrated as the King of Israel in 2 Kings 9:10. Again, God is in control of history and His will cannot be thwarted. Jezebel stands in the line of those who were opposed to God’s ways and received a just and severe penalty for a consistent refusal to repent as well as a gleeful disobedience of God and the active persecution of His people. This is not something God will accept, in this world or the next.
Similarities Between The Three Case Studies
Now that we have examined the three cases within the Bible of people looking through windows, it is now possible to try to examine what similarities we can find running like a thread throughout these stories. Since God expressed His severe disapproval with the three women who looked through the window described in these passages, there is obviously some lesson for us to take concerning the theological importance of looking through a window, as well as what other similarities we may determine from these stories.
It should be noted that in all three cases, the looking through the window is an act of fear on the part of these women, who were not trusting God’s design. Looking through the window in the case of Sisera’s mother demonstrates anxiety over the success of Sisera’s attack on Israel, and to assuage these anxieties she imagines the prospect of Sisera coming home with a pretty Israelite girl to rape and with plenty of fancy clothing to show off. In the case of Michal, her looking out the window reflects her anxiety about David’s loyalty as a husband as well as a hostility to David’s rather enthusiastic form of worship, which manifested itself both in bitter sarcasm to David coming from deep-felt hatred as well as a blasphemous viewing of godly worship as lewd behavior. In the case of Jezebel, looking out the window showed a fear of one’s impending death at the hands of a usurper who had already killed her son the king, and her attempts at seducing and taunting Jehu were unsuccessful. In all of these cases the women acted in fear and did not trust God to deliver them—indeed, all of these women can be considered enemies of God’s way in their words and actions8.
Another unusual thread tying all of these stories together is the theme of childlessness. This may seem unusual, but in all three stories this is a notable element in the story. In the Song of Deborah we have Sisera’s mother facing the bitter news that her son has died (at the hand of a woman in an attempted rape, no less). In the story of Michal and David, we have the explicit word of scripture stating that Michal died childless. And in the story of Jezebel’s demise we see in context that Jezebel had just lost her son Joram to Jehu’s uprising, and that the entire line of Ahab was to be exterminated shortly thereafter. Jezebel was thus left childless, without heir, a sign of the loss of name and inheritance that falls upon those who are enemies of God.
We also see in all three of these stories a strong sense of sexuality that has been noted, but is worthy of discussing again. In the case of Sisera’s mother, we find her pondering the prospect of her son and his fellow soldiers having a girl or two to rape and, probably, enslave. In the case of Michal we have her jealous over the attractiveness of her husband to other women and the worries that her husband would seek even more women than he already had in his harem. In the case of Jezebel we have an older woman seeking to seduce a hothead general, using her feminine wiles to maintain power. In all of these cases sexuality—either through domination, fear, or seduction, is an important element, though all cases represent a failure of proper sexuality.
Finally, we see in all of these stories the disinheritance of the ungodly and the inheritance of the godly in their place. In the case of the Song of Deborah we see the Canaanites of Hazor dispossessed and their place taken by the righteous Israelites under Deborah and Barak. The spoils of the wicked are laid up for the righteous. In the story of Michal and David we see the aftereffects of the definitive displacement of the dynasty of Saul for the dynasty of David. And finally, in the story of Jezebel and Jehu we see the demise of the dynasty of Ahab and the (temporary) destruction of the Canaanite Baal cult (personified by the Phoenician princess Jezebel) and the establishment of the dynasty of Jehu.
Lessons For Us Today
Though this may seem a particularly obscure topic in which to find relevance, the story of the three women who looked out of their window does contain lessons for us today that are worthy of mention. For one, unlike these women, we should be confident in God’s will, and obedient to that will, in the knowledge that God will accomplish what He desires to do. Rather than seeking to actively thwart God’s will, being embittered by what God has done in our lives, or vainly imagining a better fate to get rid of anxieties about God’s will in our lives, we need to strive for obedience to God and a trust in His will. Even though this is a very difficult task, the alternative of worrying and fretting and seeking to thwart God’s designs does not suggest very promising results for us or for our future destiny. With that in mind, let us avoid looking out the window, and rather look into the spiritual mirror of the law.
1James B. Jordan, Judges: A Practical and Theological Commentary (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1985), 104-105.
2James B. Jordan, Judges: A Practical and Theological Commentary (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1985), 104-105.
3 While the reference would be unprintable even now, basically Sisera’s mother is calling the Israelite maidens who would have been captured by Sisera and made into slaves in nasty language that shows the crudest and basest view of these young women and that explains the cave-dwelling view of women that Sisera seems to have.
4James B. Jordan, Judges: A Practical and Theological Commentary (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1985), 106.
5 Earl D. Radmacher, ed. The Nelson Study Bible, (Nashville, TN, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), 517.
6One need only note, for example, the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Tamar, Samson’s parents, Ruth, and Hannah to see the desire for offspring and the directions it took in the course of biblical history.
7I have previously written about three other notable historical examples of defenestration, that is, throwing someone out of a window, in my short essay on “The Defenestrations of Prague.”
8Of the three, certainly Michal would seem the least hostile to God’s way, though she does not appear to be a loyal worshiper of God or pleased to see the ark in Jerusalem. Certainly her behavior towards David, including her blasphemous accusal of his worship practices, and her bitterness at her lot in life demonstrates her faith in God’s will was not particularly strong. Both Jezebel and Sisera’s mother, on the other hand, were open enemies of God’s people.