Role Model

I have found a new role model. A woman prepared to act against her family for the sake of the Lord and his people. She used her abilities and the resources at her deposal to serve the Lord's cause even at the risk of her own life. She is a little intimidating because she seemed so in control despite her vulnerability. Her nerve extended to extreme violence. She is Jael, and we read about her in the book of Judges. 

I confess that I have avoided spending prolonged time in Judges; the depravity of Israel is horrendous, and its heroes are complicated. The added difficulty is the violence that it describes. The graphic descriptions of despatching the baddies can delight younger hearers, but I found Jael's act of driving a tent peg through Sisera's temple gruesome. She invited Sisera into her tent; she offered hospitality and care just like a mother of Israel and then, when he was asleep, murdered him. What are we supposed to make of that? Is Jael someone we should admire? To my surprise, I discovered the answer is yes.

When we think of female role models, we often look to examples of compassion rather than bold, intrepid warriors. We don't generally associate women with courage as much as kindness, although this is changing. This year has seen some extraordinary displays of female bravery and perseverance. The human spirit that took Charlotte Worthington Olympic BMX rider from a failed run and heavy landing to performing the first-ever 360-degree backflip by a woman was glorious to see. She abandoned all her fear and caution in the pursuit of victory. Our society cares about safety but celebrates valour when it sees it. Sport throws up stories like these, and we rejoice in them.

Life can bring hardship and demand courage in events we have not foreseen. In Afghanistan, women who had previously taken up leadership positions in the government, journalism, and armed services spoke out on social media as the Taliban advanced, knowing all was lost. Their stories were heartbreaking, their courage was astounding. They expressed fear and caution but remained committed to their cause. I shed tears as I read of their trials. Along with many in the Church, I cry out to the Lord for them and their nation.

In Deborah and Barak's song, Jael is celebrated and called blessed because she responded bravely to the call to 'help the Lord'. She did what she could, took her opportunity and killed Sisera, a fierce and brutal enemy. Her actions showed her commitment to the Lord and his people. She is in stark contrast to others in the song who are condemned because they chose safety instead of rallying to the Lord's cause. Paul similarly rejoices in the risk-taking Priscilla and Aquila. 

Jesus calls his people to take up their cross and follow him. What that will look like in each life, I don't know, but it will involve bravery, discipline, perseverance and at times, suffering. It will include seizing the moment and using the resources we have for Christ's sake. It may not always be 'safe'. I am such a coward I struggle even to watch sport. I watched the European cup final behind a cushion and left the room during the penalty shoot out relying on the groans from my family to hear the result. I doubt I could have the presence of mind to act in the way Jael did, but I know we are called to offer ourselves to the Lord willingly. Let's pray that when the need arises, we too, can be bold and faithful. For now, I will think about my new role model while rejoicing in Jesus' most excellent example and seek to follow in his steps.

(First published in Evangelicals Now in Oct 2021)

© 2023 Karen Soole