The Apocrypha, Lesson 6: Judith, Pt. 1


Judith is work of religious fiction without the pretense of recounting actual history.  The story opens with a fictionalized Nebuchadnezzar making war on an invented King of the Medes, Arphaxad.  The first hearers of Judith would catch this, clueing them in to understand Judith for its religious value.  The real Nebuchadnezzar was king of the Babylonians, not the Assyrians, who never ruled in Nineveh.

Judith is one of the Apocrypha books first written in Hebrew, which makes sense since we find “wordplay” within the book become all the more prominent in Hebrew.  For example, the town Bethulia, where much takes place in the book, doesn’t exist until later—in Samaria!  “Bethulia” is a wordplay on the word “virgin” in Hebrew, betulah, and betel, “house of God” (which we pronounce as bethel).

The name Judith means “Jewish woman.”  Thus, the account becomes one of her representing Israel.  The book becomes a David-versus-Goliath story, with the “David” figure now reduced to a woman.  By her beauty and hand, she defeats Israel’s enemies, with a recurring refrain, “by the hand of a woman.”

The book’s central theme is who will prevail, a mighty king or a Jewish woman?  Of course, the credit for Israel’s victory belongs to God, with the book ending with hymns celebrating God’s power, goodness, and faithfulness.


General Holofernes brings Ruin: The Setup

King Nebuchadnezzar commissions Holofernes, the general of his armies, to subdue the western nations.  Those who surrender are spared; those who resist are “ravaged,” “plundered,” “destroyed,” “seized,” “killed,” “burned,” “sacked,” and “put to death … by the edge of the sword” (2:22-27).

Holofernes plunders Persia, Cilicia, Libya, and the Midianites.  After that, most of the remaining nations surrender without a fight (2:14-3:4).  There is a catch, however, for Holofernes is destroying local places of worship and replacing them with temples dedicated to Nebuchadnezzar (3:5-8).

As Holofernes’ army gets closer to Israel, “fear and terror” come upon the seacoast towns (2:28).  So desperate are those people, they proclaim themselves “the servants of Nebuchadnezzar” and beg, “Do with us whatever you will” (3:2).

Israel responds militarily (4:4-7) and religiously (4:8-15).  The military response is taking to the hills and fortifying the mountain villages.  The religious response (4:8-15) includes prayers and acts of penance.

Holofernes receives reports of Israel’s mobilization.  Astounded such a small nation would resist while all their neighbors surrendered, he summons the Ammonite and Moabite leaders to inquire about the military strength of these people (5:1-4).  The Ammonite, Achior, recounts to him a survey of the Israelite people (5:5-21).  He tells the general if Israel does not sin, it cannot be conquered by another nation (5:17-18).  The Lord will protect Israel and defeat its enemies by whatever ever way He sees fit.

Holofernes responds, “What god is there except Nebuchadnezzar?” (6:2).  Holofernes banishes him to die with the Israelites.

  • What does Achoir reveal about the nature of God’s Old Covenant with Israel?


Excursus: The Public Nature of the Old Covenant versus the New Covenant

In the Old Covenant, God promised to reward His people for being faithful, following His covenant.  However, the people experienced God’s reprimand when they strayed from His ways.

8:3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.”  7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people.  And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”  8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you according to all these words.” [Exodus 24:3, 7-8]

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.”  [Deuteronomy 28:1]

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.” [Deuteronomy 28:15]

Jesus reveals a different reality in the New Covenant.

At that time, some people came and reported to him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  2 And he responded to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all the other Galileans because they suffered these things?  3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.  4 Or those eighteen that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed—do you think they were more sinful than all the other people who live in Jerusalem?  5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.” [Luke 13:1-4]

Jesus shows us life with God’s people has changed.  No longer is there public reward or censure based on God’s people following the Covenant.  Instead, bad events in life point to the need for repentance.

We live in a fallen world with fallen natures.  So, a day does not go by that reminds us in some way of our need to repent from sin back to God.  As Luther wrote in his first thesis (of the 95 Theses), “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”


Holofernes’ forces (170,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry) focus on one small outpost in Israel, Bethulia, the last defense of Jerusalem and its Temple against the Assyrians.  When the Israelites see this army, they are “greatly terrified.”  The people cry out, Holofernes’ army will “strip clean the whole land” (7:4).


Judith’s Genealogy

The story of how God saves Israel through the hand of Judith comes to us in a chiasm.


6, Chiasm for second Half of Judith


8:1 In those days, Judith heard about these things: she was the daughter of [1] Merari the son of [2] Ox, son of [3] Joseph, son of [4] Oziel, son of [5] Elkiah, son of [6] Ananias, son of [7] Gideon, son of [8] Raphaim, son of [9] Ahitub, son of [10] Elijah, son of [11] Hilkiah, son of [12] Eliab, son of [13] Nathanael, son of [14] Salamiel, son of [15] Sarasadai, son of [16] Israel.  2 Her husband Manasseh, who belonged to her tribe and family, had died during the barley harvest.

When we think of genealogies, we often believe they serve only one purpose: To give a listing of one’s ancestors.  Not so for the Jews.  For example, Matthew separates the genealogy of Jesus into three units of 14.  By our standards, Jesus’ family tree is incomplete, for Matthew omitted people and the divisions cover unequal periods of time.

Not so, for his genealogy says what he wants it to say.  Matthew stresses the number 14 to show Jesus as the fulfillment of King David’s line:

  1. David and Jesus are the only names listed with their titles (King, 1:6; Christ [meaning “anointed, which is how one was made a king”], 1:16),
  2. David is the 14th name in the list, and
  3. the numerical value of David’s name in Hebrew equals 14, dalat vav dalet (D V D).

Judith’s genealogy contains 16 names.  Sixteen should be written yod vav (Y’ V) in the normal Hebrew way of denoting numbers but, instead, the Jews said tet zayin (T Z).  This was to prevent speaking part of the personal name of God (Yahveh or Yahweh).  Every educated Israelite knew this.  So an undercurrent in Judith’s genealogy is if she will be speaking for God, though she is not a prophet and so should not.

  • What may be a play here by Judith not being listed as belonging to a tribe of Israel, with her genealogy also starting chronologically with “Israel”?


Judith Speaks

The people of Bethulia hold out for a while against the Assyrians, led by Holofernes.  With their water supply cut off, they resist surrendering for thirty-four days.  They buy an extra five days of resistance against the enemy by making this deal with the townspeople.

In comes Judith, a widow, beautiful in appearance, with an attractive face.  Her husband left her gold and silver, many servants, cattle, and land; and she maintained this estate.  She held the respect of the people, for she feared God with great devotion (8:4-8).

“She heard all that Uzziah said … and how he promised them under oath to surrender the city to the Assyrians after five days” (8:9).  So, Judith goes to speak to the him and people of Bethulia.

  • 12 “Who are you to put God to the test this day?…

  • 15 For if he does not choose to help us within these five days, he has the power to protect us within any time he pleases, or even to destroy us in the presence of our enemies…. 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.

  • 18 For never in our generation, nor in these present days, has there been any tribe or family or people or city of ours which worshiped gods made with hands …

  • 25 In spite of everything let us give thanks to the Lord our God, who is putting us to the test as he did our forefathers. 26 Remember what he did with Abraham … ”


  • What points does Judith make?


28 Then Uzziah said to her, “All that you have said has been spoken out of a true heart, and there is no one who can deny your words.  29 Today is not the first time your wisdom has been shown, but from the beginning of your life all the people have recognized your understanding, for your heart’s disposition is right.  30 But the people were very thirsty, and they compelled us to do for them what we have promised, and made us take an oath which we cannot break.”

  • What did the Uzziah agree to do? Why?


Judith now responds:

“Listen to me.  I am about to do a thing which will go down through all generations of our descendants.  33 Stand at the city gate tonight, and I will go out with my maid; and within the days after which you have promised to surrender the city to our enemies, the Lord will deliver Israel by my hand.  34 Only, do not try to find out what I plan; for I will not tell you until I have finished what I am about to do.”

  • What affirms what Judith will do is God working through her?


Virginity as a Paradigm for the Temple

9:1 Then Judith fell upon her face, and put ashes on her head, and uncovered the sackcloth she was wearing; and at the very time when that evening’s incense was being offered in the house of God in Jerusalem, Judith cried out to the Lord with a loud voice.

  • How and when Judith prays reveals what about her trying to honor what God set up for His people?


2 “O Lord God of my father Simeon, to whom you gave a sword to take revenge on those strangers who had torn off a virgin’s clothing to defile her, and exposed her thighs to put her to shame, and polluted her womb to disgrace her…  so you gave up their rulers to be killed …  7 Behold now, the Assyrians are increased in their might … 8 Break their strength by your might, and bring down their power in your anger; for they intend to defile your sanctuary, and to pollute the tabernacle where your glorious name resides, and to break off the horns of your altar with the sword.”

  • In Judith’s prayer, she referred to Shechem’s rape of Dinah in Genesis 34. What is the comparison she makes with the Temple (the “House of God,” betel)?


  • As horrific as rape is, what does Judith see as worse, the defiling of a woman or the defiling of the place where God revealed His presence to His people?


11 “For your strength does not depend on numbers, nor your might on men of strength.  For you are the God of the lowly, helper of the oppressed, upholder of the weak, protector of the forlorn, savior of those without hope.  12 Hear, O hear me, God of my father, God of the inheritance of Israel, Lord of heaven and earth, Creator of the waters, King of all thy creation, hear my prayer!  13 Make my deceitful words bring wound and stripe on those who have planned cruel things against your covenant, and against your sacred house, and against Mount Zion, and against the house your children possess.  14 Cause your whole nation and every tribe to know and understand that you are God, the God of all power and might, and that there is no other who protects the people of Israel but you alone!”

  • What within this prayer lets us know what will be included in Judith’s plans against the Assyrians?


  • What does Judith realize about the end goal for the Assyrians with Israel? (vs. 13)


  • What does Judith want God to achieve through her? (vs. 14)


  • Earlier Judith said, “While we wait for [God’s] deliverance, let us call on him to help us, and he will hear our voice if it pleases him.” Still, she chooses to act.  What does this reveal about living out our life of faith?


Judith Prepares

10:1 When Judith had ceased crying out to the God of Israel, and had ended all these words, 2 she rose from where she lay prostrate.  She called her maid and went down into the house where she lived on Sabbaths and on her feast days, 3 and she removed the sackcloth which she had been wearing.

“lay prostrate”: Words for “worship” in both Greek and Hebrew mean to be prostrate before God.  The form recognizes we are not worthy to come before God or be in His presence without His mercy.

  • What does the sackcloth reveal?


She took off her widow’s garments, and bathed her body with water, and anointed herself with precious ointment, and combed her hair and put on a tiara, and arrayed herself in the festive attire that she used to wear while her husband Manasseh was living.  4 She put sandals on her feet, and put on her anklets, bracelets, rings, earrings, and all her other ornaments, and made herself very beautiful, to entice the eyes of all men who might see her.

  • What does Judith now do?


  • What does this reveal about how she plans to achieve her end?


Judith plans to vanquish power by her beauty.



  • Why do you think Judith brought food and drink with her?


Next week, what will happen to Judith?  Will she succeed?  Tune in.


Link to the next Lesson in this series.


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