A while back one of my Bible study groups examined some of the books that Protestants consider Apocrypha, but which Roman Catholics and Orthodox churches consider scripture. One week we looked at Tobit and the next week we examined Judith. A summary of the book follows.
The ruler of Nineveh, sends his general Holofernes to punish those nations and people who did not answer his call for help in battling an enemy force. The Israelites are the last to face this large army (over 100,000 in number), and they are under siege in Bethulia. All seems lost. Food supplies dwindle and water has given out. Many encourage the King to surrender to Holofernes and beg for mercy, but Judith, a beautiful widow, and even more importantly a righteous woman, castigates them and says that she will save her people with God’s help. Judith goes into the camp of Holofernes, stuns him with her beauty, and after several days takes advantage of his drunkenness one evening by severing his head from his body. Judith returns to Bethulia and rallies the Jews to take advantage of the leaderless Assyrians. They do just this. The books ends with a hymn of praise to God for their victory led by Judith.
Two passages from Judith stuck in my mind after reading the book. The first is when Judith decries the willingness of her people to surrender to the Assyrians after five days if God does not deliver them in this time frame.
They came to her, and she said to them: “Listen to me, rulers of the people of Bethulia! What you have said to the people today is not right; you have even sworn and pronounced this oath between God and you, promising to surrender the town to our enemies unless the Lord turns and helps us within so many days. Who are you to put God to the test today, and to set yourselves up in the place of God in human affairs? You are putting the Lord Almighty to the test, but you will never learn anything! You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or understand the workings of the human mind; how do you expect to search out God, who made all these things, and find out his mind or comprehend his thought? No, my brothers, do not anger the Lord our God. For if he does not choose to help us within these five days, he has power to protect us within any time he pleases, or even to destroy us in the presence of our enemies. Do not try to bind the purposes of the Lord our God; for God is not like a human being, to be threatened, or like a mere mortal, to be won over by pleading. Therefore, while we wait for his deliverance, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our voice if it pleases him.” – Judith 8:11-17
I especially love it when she says, “Who are you to put God to the test today, and to set yourselves up in the place of God in human affairs? You are putting the Lord Almighty to the test, but you will never learn anything! You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or understand the workings of the human mind; how do you expect to search out God, who made all these things, and find out his mind or comprehend his thought?” I also love the prayer that Judith prays to God asking for the strength she needs to carry out her plan. This is a part of that prayer:
“For your strength does not depend on numbers, nor your might on the powerful. But you are the God of the lowly, helper of the oppressed, upholder of the weak, protector of the forsaken, savior of those without hope. Please, please, God of my father, God of the heritage of Israel, Lord of heaven and earth, Creator of the waters, King of all your creation, hear my prayer!” – Judith 9:11-12
How beautiful are the names that Judith gives to God?
God of the lowly
helper of the oppressed
upholder of the weak
protector of the forsaken
savior of those without hope
Very beautiful, in my opinion.