The Book of Judith can be found in the apocrypha, which means, according to Article 6 of the 39 Articles, “the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.” Which is kind of interesting, given that, in the end, Judith beheads her enemies and is celebrated as a hero, but I’m getting ahead of the story.
The book begins, “It was the twelfth year of Nebuchadnezzar who reigned over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh,” which rabbinical scholars state is the equivalent of, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” In other words, it is historical fiction. That said…
Israel is under attack from the Assyrians in the north. On their way to Jerusalem, the Assyrians conquer everyone in their path, finally coming up against the Jewish city of Bethulia.
The general of the Assyrian army, Holofernes, is all for immediately marching in and conquering it, but the Edomites who are with him, convince him to lay siege instead by cutting off the water supply. They do and they wait.
After thirty-five days, the people of Bethulia are ready to surrender, but the mayor convinces them to wait five more days, saying, if God did not rescue them after 40 days, he would surrender.
It is then that Judith goes into action. She plans to save her people by what ever means necessary, which requires getting safely into the Assyrian camp. In order to do this, she is going to need to lie, so she prays that she could lie well. We heard part of it today and included the words, “King of all your creation, hear my prayer! Make my deceitful words bring wound and bruise on those who have planned cruel things against your covenant.”
She is very beautiful, so to accentuate that beauty, she dresses seductively. Then leaving the city with her maidservant, she allows herself to be taken captive. Because of her beauty, they do not harm her, and when she lies, saying she has information on how to defeat the Israelites, she is taken to Holofernes. Beautiful woman encounters lustful general. Care to guess what the general is thinking? Yahtzee!
Judith’s plan works, but she manages to keep the general at bay for several days, but eventually she declares that she will give into his desires. He is so excited by the prospect, that he celebrates. In fact, he celebrates so much with liquor that he passes out. Scripture picks up: “With that she went up to the bedpost by Holofernes’ head and took down his scimitar; coming closer to the bed she caught him by the hair and said, ‘Make me strong today, Lord God of Israel!’ Twice she struck at his neck with all her might, and cut off his head.” Then escaping through the enemy camps, she returned to the city. She said to the people, “Praise God! Praise him! Praise the God who has not withdrawn his mercy from the House of Israel, but has shattered our enemies by my hand tonight!” She then had them place the head of the general on the city gate, which struck such fear that it through the Assyrians into chaos so that the Israelites were able to drive them out of the land and back to their own. I think Judith would have made a good Marine.
It is interesting that this story is tied to the feast of St. Mary Magdalene who we celebrate today, but if we read them closely, we will see that Judith’s words to the city are really the same as Mary’s words to the apostles: “Praise God! Praise him! Praise the God who has not withdrawn his mercy from the House of Israel, but has shattered our enemies,” is the same as “I have seen the Lord.” Judith declared salvation from an earthly enemy, Mary declared salvation from the enemy of all: death. Praise God! Praise Him! Praise the God who I have seen, risen from the dead, who has shattered our enemy, who has conquered death, once and for all, and brought salvation to all God’s children.
This is the Good News; therefore, praise Him. Praise Him, not only with your lips, but with your entire being, body and soul.