Famous Last Words: Sisera

So far, the people we have looked at for their famous last words have been among the most noble personages in the Bible [1]. That said, although Sisera’s last words are far shorter than that of the others, and he was far more wicked as a person, we can learn a lot from the last words of even the wicked. What makes Sisera’s last words so notable is that there are two parallel accounts, one of them in a laconic prose account, the other in a poetic account in the next chapter that fills in details. Let us take it in that order, first with the account given in Judges 4, and then with the added details provided in Judges 5. First, let us examine what is said in Judges 4:15-22: “And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth Hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left. However, Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; do not fear.” And when he had turned aside with her into the tent, she covered him with a blanket. Then he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a jug of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him. And he said to her, “Stand at the door of the tent, and if any man comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there any man here?’ you shall say, ‘No.’” Then Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went down into the ground; for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died. And then, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said to him, “Come, I will show you the man whom you seek.” And when he went into her tent, there lay Sisera, dead with the peg in his temple.”

There is a lot going on in this passage. Let us look at Sisera’s last words, though, sleeping in the tent of someone else’s wife and telling her to lie on his behalf. In some ways, this particular death foreshadows the death of Haman in similar murky circumstances. In both cases we have men who are of unscrupulous moral standards and a strong hostility to God’s people, and whose doom is brought about by their failure to respect the boundaries of hospitality and of the sanctity of marriage. Normally, of course, in biblical culture, the demands of protecting one’s guests is an absolute obligation (see, for example, Judges 19 and Genesis 19 for particularly harrowing examples of this). However, Sisera’s trespassing over the boundaries of acceptable behavior for a guest, and his known hostility to Israel, denied him sanctuary when Jael unilaterally broke the treaty her husband had established with the goyim of Hazor. Regarding the attempt of Sisera to hide from a military disaster by resting in the tent of a woman, there are examples throughout history of this sort of shift being taken, like the situation where Jefferson Davis accidentally grabbed an article of clothing by his wife, apparently, as he was trying to flee from Union troopers in the collapse of the Confederacy, a situation where the enemies of God were scattered in like fashion to the defeat of Sisera at Mount Tabor and ended up in a dishonorable state.

There is still more going on here, though, that merits close investigation. When Sisera entered into Jael’s tent, he asked for water to drink. This is understandable, as he was tired and wished to stay alert, given that he was being chased by the Israelite army after his own army had been destroyed in combat. She gave him milk, though, a dish designed to make him sleepy. This point is elaborated somewhat in Judges 5:24-27: ““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 her hand to the tent peg, her right hand to the workmen’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.” It is clear that Sisera did not get what he asked for. He asked for water, got cream in a lordly bowl, fell asleep in a compromising position that indicates the threat of rape or the tactic of seduction, and Jael used that most domestic of nomadic implements, the tent peg, to rid the world of Sisera in a dramatic and final way, receiving the glory for killing the general that would have gone to Barak had he not insisted that Deborah go with him to battle, even if that was a sign of respect that has often been misinterpreted. Perhaps, as he was not troubled about the glory of the victory going to a woman, but rather having the visible blessing of God through the prophetess Deborah, the glory went to one of the more remarkable women of the Bible.

It can be said that Sisera did not get what he wanted, but rather what he needed. We mock Sisera at our own peril, though, given the ease to which we ourselves can fall prey to the same sort of behaviors that led Sisera to an ignominious end. What Sisera wanted was to oppress Israel; what he got instead was the destruction of his army at the hand of Barak’s army. What Barak wanted was a girl or two for himself and the rest of his soldiers, if his mother can be believed [2]. What he got was a very unpleasant death at the hands of a woman when he sought refuge in her tent in ways that seem at least vaguely inappropriate, if the hints and implications of the Hebrew language can be believed. What he wanted was a glass of water, what he got was milk or cream. What he wanted was a good rest, and what he got instead was a head-splitting headache courtesy of a tent peg. When we get what we need rather than what we want, it can be a very unpleasant thing. Let us never forget that, and also remember that it is never wise to ask someone to lie on your behalf and tell them you’re not in their room. Don’t take my word for it; look what happened to Sisera.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/famous-last-words-jacob/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/famous-last-words-joseph/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/famous-last-words-moses/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/famous-last-words-joshua/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/looking-out-my-window/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Famous Last Words: Sisera

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Famous Last Words Project | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Famous Last Words: Adoni-Bezek, Zebah and Zalmunna, Agag | Edge Induced Cohesion

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