Yet this story also forms part of a recurring pattern in Scripture, in which Israel defeats her enemies with tools instead of weapons. In this case, Israel has no shields or spears but conquers, instead, with a peg and a “workman’s hammer” (5:26). Another judge, Shamgar, defeats the Philistines with a cattle prod (3:31). Gideon wins with jars and trumpets (7:19–23). The Philistine king Abimelek is killed by a millstone being thrown over the wall (9:53), the second time in five chapters that an obscure woman has crushed the head of a powerful man with a domestic implement. Jericho’s walls were brought down by a musical instrument (Josh. 6). Moses brought the Israelites from Egypt using a staff designed for steering sheep. God, it seems, likes commonplace tools—the stuff of cooking, building, farming, and culture-making. But why?
The most obvious purpose is reminding Israel, over and over again, that its military security does not come from strength, numbers, weaponry, or ability but from the power of God fighting on its behalf. In that sense, the victory of tools over weapons speaks to a larger biblical pattern, in which strong armies worshiping false gods are overcome by weak armies worshiping the true God. The very strangeness of the weapon is the whole point: Nobody could win with that unless God was with them. It could a tent peg or a cattle prod. It could be an angel. It could be a jawbone, a pebble, a song, or an altar soaked in water that suddenly catches fire. Whatever the means of victory, it rams home the point that Israel’s success comes “‘not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zech. 4:6).
There is also a hopeful, eschatological contrast here. The triumph of tools over weapons, work over warfare, is itself a prophetic statement of the peace that God will ultimately bring to the world. Mallets and millstones defeat shields and chariots because, in the end, the world will be filled with farmers and millers rather than generals and armies.
Read it all.