Judges 4:21 describes Jael killed Sisera while he was sleeping:

But Jael, Heber's wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.

This seems to be a quick and clean execution. Later Deborah sang about this event in Judges 5

25 He [Sisera] asked for water, and she [Jael] gave him milk;
in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.
26Her hand reached for the tent peg,
her right hand for the workman’s hammer.
She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple.
27At her feet he sank,
he fell; there he lay.
At her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell—dead.

In the song, there is more detail. Was Sisera able to get up after the initial blow? Or is this some poetic add-on to spice up the event? When did the "he fell" happen?

  • 1
    I have always imagined an initial blow waking him up and another blow (or two or three) being required (brave lady) to finish him off. But I cannot say if the Hebrew supports that imagery of mine. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 22, 2021 at 20:49
  • You have two references here that seem to indicate a rapid death. What grounds do you have for thinking that he might have struggled instead? Please edit this to contextualise your question.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 23, 2021 at 11:52
  • I modified and got rid of the word "struggle". Thanks.
    – user35953
    Mar 23, 2021 at 13:16

2 Answers 2


The word in question, נפל, nafal, has several meaning in MT Hebrew besides the simple meaning to fall down. It is used in verses 25-27 and in several other places in the sense of "died" in the perfect tense, as in the English usage "fallen in battle", as a result of combat. So there is no suggestion of a struggle in verses 25-27, no contradiction to verse 21, and no problem saying that a man who is already lying down "has fallen". In the following examples, the English word used to translate נפל or הפיל is highlighted.

  • Genesis 25:18 KJV: 'And they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt as thou goest toward Assyria; and he died in the presence of all his brethren.' Note that other translations interpret "fell" in this verse as in "where the chips fell", i.e. that they were dispersed amongst their brethren.
  • Deuteronomy 21:1 NIV: 'If someone is found slain, lying in a field in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who the killer was,...'
  • Judges 3:25 NIV: 'They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead.'
  • II Samuel 1:4 NIV: 'The men fled from the battle,” he replied. “Many of them fell and died. And Saul and his son Jonathan are dead.' Note that the NIV inserts "and died" after "fell", which is not in the MT but which the translators felt was necessary to indicate in what sense they fell.
  • II Samuel 3:38 NIV: Then the king said to his men, "Do you not realize that a commander and a great man has fallen in Israel this day?"'

Other meanings of נפל,"fell" in the MT besides the simple meaning are:

  1. Did not come to be, as in 1 Kings 8:56, NIV: 'Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses'., Joshua 21:45 NIV: 'Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.'
  2. Did come to pass, as in the roll of the dice, how the cards fell, as in Isaiah 9:8, NIV: 'The Lord has sent a message against Jacob; it will fall on Israel.' Here the NIV has translated over-literally. It is not the message that is falling on Israel, it is that the content of the message will occur. This is similar to the usage in Esther 3:7, NIV: 'In the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, the pur (that is, the lot) was cast in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar.'
  • Indeed it does. Thank you and upvoted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 23, 2021 at 12:30

The milk made him have no feelings to what is happening in the world. Just like when someone is intoxicated with wine he can get harmed without feeling it.

I think milk used here is just to specify a mixture of drink not necessarily cow milk or any other livestock milk.

So when Sisera was intoxicated and was fast asleep as a result of the stress from the pursuit and as the mixture he has taken, then Jael was able to hammer him to death.

So there's no struggle during the process because the Sisera's flesh has been diluted from having any feelings to the outside world.

If there's to be struggled it's only struggling to die and not to rescue himself from his oppressor.

  • 1
    I think I agree with that. Milky drinks help me to relax and fall asleep. That may have been Jael's intention.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 23, 2021 at 12:31
  • @NigelJ IMHO this drink was likely en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salep, still very popular starchy refreshment in the ME commonly sold in roadside kiosks today, which might have been Yael's business, like her ancestor Rahab.
    – user17080
    Mar 23, 2021 at 15:19

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