139) The Wisdom and Courage of Judith

   In the book of Judith from the Apocrypha, the heroine saves the besieged Jewish city of Bethuliah.  She does so by deceiving, and then killing the invading general Holofernes, leading to the defeat of his army.  In chapter eight (verses 8-35) Judith tells the ruler and elders of Bethuliah of her intentions, but first she rebukes them for putting God to the test.  She encourages them to remain faithful to God who may, in fact, be putting them to the test.  And she calls on them to put their trust in God even when they do not understand his ways, arguing that they should not expect to be able to comprehend the almighty God when they cannot even understand another person. 

    There was no one that said an ill word about Judith, for she feared God greatly.  But Judith heard the evil words that the people had spoken against the ruler, because their courage failed them for lack of water.  And Judith had heard all the words that Uzziah and the elders had spoken unto the people, and that they had sworn to deliver the city unto the Assyrians after five days.  And so she asked to speak to the elders. 

    And when they came to her, she said to them, “Hear me now, O elders of the inhabitants of Bethulia, for your words before the people this day are not right.  You were wrong to make an oath, pronounced between God and you, promising to deliver the city to our enemies, unless within these five days the Lord turns to help you.  Who are you that you should this day put your God to the test?

    “You want to put the Lord Almighty to the test, but what do you know?  You cannot even see into the depths of the heart of a man, nor can you understand his thinking.  How, then, do you think you can search out the heart of God who has made man and all things?  Can you expect to know what is in God’s mind or comprehend his ways and purposes?  No, my brethren, do not provoke the Lord our God to anger.  For even if he will not help us within these five days, he still has the power to defend us on any day he so wills it, or, he has the power to destroy us before our enemies even get the chance.  Do not attempt to limit the ways of the Lord our God, for God is not like man, that he may be forced to give in to threats.  Therefore, let us wait for his salvation, calling upon him to help us.  He will hear our voice and help, if it pleases him.

    “For none of our people in these times, have worshiped gods made with hands, as had been done in ages past.  For this reason our fathers were given to the sword, and plundered, and suffered greatly before our enemies.  But we know of no other god, therefore we will put our trust in Him, that he will not forsake us.  For if we are taken, all Judea shall fall, and our sanctuary will be spoiled, and we will be punished.  And the Gentiles will slaughter our brethren, and enslave our country, and desolate our inheritance; and we will be dishonored by the Lord our God.

    “Therefore, let us be an example to our brethren, because their hearts depend upon us, and the sanctuary and the temple rest upon us.  Moreover, let us give thanks to the Lord our God, who is putting us to the test, even as he did our fathers.  Remember what things he made Abraham endure, and how Isaac was tested, and what happened to Jacob…  The Lord doth scourge those who come near to him, in order to admonish them.”

    Then said Uzziah to her, “All that you have said has been spoken with a good heart, and no one can deny your words.  And this is not the first day that we have seen your wisdom.  All the people have known of your understanding, because the disposition of your heart is good.  But the people were very thirsty, and compelled us to make that oath, which we will not break.  Therefore pray for us, because you are a godly woman.  Pray that the Lord will send us rain to fill our cisterns, and we shall be fainthearted no more.” 

    Then said Judith to them, “I am going to do something which will be told throughout all generations to the children of our nation.  You shall stand this night at the gate, and I will go forth with my maid; and within the days that you have promised to deliver the city to our enemies, the Lord will deliver Israel by my hand.  But do not ask me what I am going to do, for I will not tell you until I am finished.”

    Then Uzziah and the elders said to her, “Go in peace, and may the Lord God be with you.”

English: "Judith Showing the Head of Holo...

“Judith Showing the Head of Holofernes”, illustration of the Apocryphal Book of Judith, Chapter 14, from Gustave Doré’s (1832-1888) illustrated edition of the Bible.

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Habakkuk 1:2  —  How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?   Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? 

Isaiah 55:7-9  —  Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”  declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth,  so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”    

Proverbs 3:5-7  —  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.  Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.

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    Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves:  Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.     —Book of Common Prayer