Select Verses from Judith

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.

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Christians and the Bible

From Soren Kierkegaard:

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

This is a quote I ran across on the blog Waving or Drowning (I love the title) years ago, though I was introduced to Soren Kierkegard even longer ago during my first year in seminary. Amazingly enough, only one of my professors opened his or her classes with a devotional reading and/or prayer. Dr. Charles Bull, who taught Christian History, was the one. During one four-class stint, Dr. Bull read from Fear and Trembling, taking as his texts the introductory passages where one man considers and interprets the story of the Akedah (Abraham’s binding of Isaac). I found these readings to be one of the most moving and formative experiences of the school year.

What I find particularly refreshing about Kierkegaard is his honesty, which can at times be brutal. As you can see from the quote above, Kierkegaard felt that most Christians only talk about their faith; they don’t, however, live it. It is said that when the bishop of his diocese of Copenhagen died, and all the newspapers spoke in glowing terms of this great Christian, Kierkegaard noted in his diary something like this: “He is dead now, and as he has been responsible for a very long period, it would have been desirable that one would have been able to convince him to end his life by giving in to Jesus Christ, and to admit that what he represented among us was not Christianity but a compromise.”

Kierkegaard went on to explain his feeling further by telling a story about geese in one of his sermons. He compared his fellow Christians to domesticated geese. These geese, he says, always talking about flying: “We have wings,” they say, “we never use our wings; we should use them, let us fly!” But nobody ever flies. And on Sundays a big goose stands a bit higher than other ones on a pulpit, and he, too, every Sunday, encourages and exhorts the others, in the most beautiful words, to fly. But nobody does fly, and if one would start to fly, the preacher would be the first one to shout, “Come down immediately!”

I guess the problem of hypocrisy has been around forever, and the idea that the followers of Jesus should actually follow Jesus is nothing new either.  As for me, I often wonder what our churches, what Christians, and what I might look like if we all took the Bible more seriously, if we all lived our faith with more conviction.  What would happen, do you think, if we more thoroughly practiced what we profess and proclaim to be true.