Judges 4:21—Was Sisera lying down when Jael killed him, or was he upright as Judges 5:27 seems to indicate?

Problem: According to Judges 4:21, Sisera was lying down fast asleep when Jael approached him softly and drove the tent peg through his temple and into the ground. However, Judges 5:27 seems to indicate that Sisera fell down after Jael pierced his head with the tent peg. Was Sisera lying down or was he upright when Jael killed him?

Solution: The poetic description of Judges 5:27 can be understood to describe possible convulsions which Sisera’s body exhibited after the blow to the head. Also, the term “fell” is frequently used in a figurative sense to indicate someone’s demise. This would be especially likely in the poetic structure of chapter 5. The poem is not describing a literal falling down to the ground, as if Sisera was upright. Rather, it is poetically picturing Sisera’s demise. At the hand of this maiden, the mighty Sisera, captain of the army of the Canaanite king, has fallen. There is no contradiction here, merely the difference between historical narrative accurately reporting the events in a literal manner, and poetic expression accurately reporting the events in a poetic figure.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.