The Apocrypha, Lesson 7: Judith, Pt. 2

Judith with SwordRecap

Last week, we learned Judith “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.”  So, Judith and a servant make their way to the Assyrian camp.

 

Judith Goes to the Enemy Camp

10:11 As [Judith and her servant] walked across the valley [toward the Assyrian camp], an Assyrian patrol met her.  12 The men took her into custody and asked, “To what people do you belong, and where are you coming from, and where are you going?”  She replied, “I am a daughter of the Hebrews, but I am fleeing from them, for they are about to be handed over to you to be devoured.  13 I am on my way to see Holofernes the commander of your army, to give him an accurate report.  I will show him a way he can go to capture all the hill country without losing one of his men, captured or slain.”

  • In what way does Judith portray herself?

 

  • What does she promise?

 

14 The men heard her words and stared at her, for they found her to be beautiful.  They said to her, 15 “You have saved your life by coming down here to see our master.  Go to his tent, and some of us will escort you and present you to him.  16 When you stand before him, do not fear in your heart, but tell him what you have told us, and he will treat you well.”

18 There was much excitement in the Assyrian camp as news of Judith’s arrival spread from tent to tent.  So they came and stood around her as she waited outside Holofernes’ tent while the patrol told him about her.  19 They marveled at her beauty and wondered what kind of people the Israelites were.  “Who can despise these people who have such women among them?  How unwise we would be to leave one of their men alive, for if we let them go, they will be able to beguile the whole world!”

  • How do these soldiers respond to Judith’s beauty?

 

  • With such access to Holofernes, what is Judith able to do?

 

Judith Meets Holofernes

11:1 Then Holofernes said to her, “Take courage, woman, and do not be afraid in your heart … 3 Now tell me why you have fled from them and have come over to us….  4b No one will hurt you, but all will treat you well, as they do the servants of my lord King Nebuchadnezzar.”

  • What does Holofernes reassure to her?

 

  • How ironic may Holofernes’ statements be (“take courage” and “no one will hurt you”)?

 

5 Judith replied, “Accept the words of your servant and let your maidservant speak in your presence, and I will tell nothing false to my lord this night.  6 And if you follow the advice of your maidservant, God will accomplish something through you, and my lord will not fail to achieve his purposes.

  • What is the double play of meaning is taking place in “my lord”?

 

9 “Now as for Achior’s speech in your council, we have heard his words [if Israel is faithful following God Covenant, they will not suffer defeat].  The men of Bethulia spared him, and he told us everything he said to you….  13 Their food supply is exhausted and water is scarce.  So they plan to kill their cattle and to consume everything that God, by his laws, forbids them to eat….  15 On the day they … eat the food, you will be able to destroy them.

  • With this information, what may Holofernes be led to do?

 

16 “So when I, your servant, learned all this, I fled from them….  17 Your servant is a God-fearing woman, serving the God of heaven night and day.  So, my lord, I will remain with you; but every night your servant will go out into the valley and pray to God.  He will tell me when they have committed their sins.  18 Then I will come and tell you, and you can march out with your whole army, and none of them will be able to withstand you.

  • Again, how is Judith double playing the meaning of “my lord”?

 

  • If approved, what will Judith be allowed to do? What else can she do about influencing when the attack will take place?

 

20 Her words pleased Holofernes and all his attendants.  They marveled at her wisdom and exclaimed, 21 “No other woman from one end of the earth to the other is as beautiful in appearance or as wise in speech.”

 

Judith Gets Holofernes to Play Her Game

Judith now establishes the rhythm of going out every night with her servant to the valley of Bethulia.   She keeps to this pattern for four days and waits.  As Holofernes waits, he becomes concerned about Judith running out of food, for he knows she brought her own to follow the Old-Covenant eating laws.  

By the fourth day, Holofernes sends his attendant to persuade Judith to come and enjoy a meal with him.  The irony continues. For Holofernes intends to seduce her—but she has already seduced him.  Told to come to Holofernes’s tent and act like the Assyrian women, she replies, “Who am I to refuse my lord? (Judith 12:14).  Again, we find the double meaning in her us of “my lord.”

12:17 So Holofernes said to her, “Join us for a drink and be with us.”  18 Judith replied, “I will drink now, my lord because my life means more to me today than in all the days since I was born.”  19 Then she ate and drank before him the food prepared by her servant.  20 Charmed by her, Holofernes drank a large amount of wine, more than he had ever drunk at one time since he was born.

“Be with us”: An expression laced with a sexual overtone.

  • How does Judith feed Holofernes’ fantasy? (vs 18)

 

13:1 When it grew late, the guests excused themselves and left….  They all went to bed, for they were exhausted because the banquet had lasted so long.  2 So Judith was left alone in the tent with Holofernes sprawled out on his bed, passed out from drunkenness.

6 Then Judith went to the bedpost by Holofernes’ head and took down his sword.  7 She came closer, grabbed Holofernes by the hair of his head, and said, “O Lord, God of Israel, give me strength!”  8 Then she struck him twice in the neck with all her might, severing his head from his body…. 9b She went out and gave Holofernes’ head to her maid, 10 who placed it in her food bag.

Then the two of them went out together, as they were accustomed to do for prayer.

  • How do events unfold so Judith could carry out her plan?

 

Back to Bethulia

Judith and her servant make their way back to Bethulia.

13b They opened the gate and welcomed the two women, kindled a fire for light, and gathered around the two.  14 Then she said to them with a loud voice, “Praise God, O praise him.  For he has not held back his mercy from the house of Israel and has destroyed our enemies, by my hand, this night!”  15 She then took the head out of the bag and showed it to the people.

17 All the people were astonished.  They bowed down and worshiped God and said with one voice, “Blessed are you our God, who have this day humiliated the enemies of your people.”  18 Then Uzziah said to her, “O daughter, by the Most High God, blessed are you among all other women on the earth…”

New-Testament Tie-In: Uzziah praised Judith and declared her “blessed are you…”  In Luke 1:42, Elizabeth blessed her younger cousin with those same words: “Blessed are you…”  In the Old Testament, only two women received those words: Jael, who defeated the enemy, Sisera (Judges 5:24); and Judith, who defeated the enemy, Holofernes (Judith 13:18).

So, when Elizabeth honored Mary with such a blessing, a person steeped in the Old Testament is primed to see Mary as someone whom God will use to defeat the enemy.  Through Mary’s Son, the greatest of enemies was defeated, Satan.

 

14:1 Then Judith said to them, “Listen to me, my friends.  Take this head and hang it on the town wall.  2 At daybreak, when the sun rises, each of you takes up your weapons, and let every able man go out of the town.  Place a captain over them as if you are preparing to go down into the valley to attack the Assyrian outpost.  Only do not go down.  3 Then they will take up their armor, go into the camp, and rouse the officers of the Assyrian army.  When they run to the tent of Holofernes and do not find him, panic will seize them, and they will flee before you.  4 Then you and all who live within the borders of Israel will pursue them and cut them down in their tracks.

Achior, identifies the head as Holofernes.  The Assyrians see the Israelites assemble and go to get Holofernes.  With only his body there, they cry out, “The slaves have tricked us!  One Hebrew woman has brought disgrace to the house of King Nebuchadnezzar.  Look, Holofernes is lying on the ground, and his head is missing!”  The leaders of the Assyrian army then tore their tunics their loud cries and shouts rose up throughout the camp.  Overcome with fear, the Assyrians in every direction (Judith 14:18-15:2).

 

Israel Overcomes the Enemy

15:3 Then the men of Israel [from Bethulia], everyone who was a soldier, rushed out upon them….  5 When the rest of Israelites heard, they joined in, pursued their enemies, and cut them down.

8 The High Priest Joakim and the Council of Israel came from Jerusalem to witness what great things the Lord had done and to meet Judith and congratulate her.  9 When they met her, they all blessed her with one accord and said to her: “You are the glory of Jerusalem, the great boast of Israel, and the great pride of our nation!  10 You have done all this with your hand; you have done great good to Israel, and God is well pleased with it.  May the Almighty Lord bless you forever!”

And all the people said, “Amen.”

  • What does Judith prove God can do?

 

  • What does she show us about how God works?

 

Judith’s Song of Praise (after Holofernes’ defeat) Moses’ and Miriam’s Song of Praise in Exodus 15 (after Pharaoh’s defeat)
16:1 Then Judith sang a song of thanksgiving and all the people loudly sang this song of praise.  “Praise my God with tambourines, sing to the Lord with cymbals.  Raise to him a new psalm; exalt him, and call upon his name…. 15:20 Then Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand.  All the women followed her playing tambourines and dancing.
16:2 For the Lord is a God who crushes wars; he sets up his camp among his people; he delivered me from the hands of my pursuers. 15:3 The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name….  In your steadfast love, you led the people whom you redeemed; you guided them by your strength to your holy dwelling.
16:9 Her sandal ravished his eyes, her beauty captivated his mind, and the sword severed his neck!  10 The Persians trembled at her boldness; the Medes were daunted at her daring…. 15:16 Terror and dread fell upon them; by the might of your arm, they became still as a stone until your people, O Lord, passed by, until the people whom you acquired passed by.
16:13 I will sing to my God a new song: ‘O Lord, you are great and glorious, wonderful in strength, invincible.’” 15:21 Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

 

18 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they worshiped God.  19 Judith also dedicated to God all the possessions of Holofernes, which the people had given her.  The canopy that she had taken from his bedroom, she dedicated as an offering to God.  20 For three months the people continued feasting in Jerusalem before the sanctuary, and Judith remained with them.

21 When the celebrations had ended, everyone returned home.  Judith went to Bethulia and remained on her estate.  For the rest of her life, she was honored throughout the whole country.  22 Many desired to marry her, but she gave herself to no man …  23b She died in Bethulia, and they buried her in the cave of her husband, Manasseh; 24 and the house of Israel mourned her for seven days…. 25 As long as Judith lived, and for many years after her death, no one dared to threaten the people of Israel.

  • How would you describe the ending?

 

The story of Judith’s victory encourages our faith.  In our day, the enemies of sin, death, and the devil also besiege us.  Unlike Judith, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities, the cosmic powers of this darkness, and evil spiritual forces in the heavens (Ephesians 6:12).  A satanic Holofernes tempts our flesh to sin.  Death pursues us in our bodies throughout all our days, and the world seeks to conform our thinking to its own.

Judith teaches us the Lord shows mercy to those who fear Him (16:15).  Her victory reminds us God will deliver His people as He wills, with His ways not always matching our ways for achieving victory.

 

New-Testament Tie-In

14 You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart, nor find out what a man is thinking; how do you expect to search out God, who made all these things, and find out his mind or comprehend his thought? [Judith 8:14]

10 The Spirit searches out everything, even the depths of God.  11 For what person knows another man’s thoughts except for the spirit of the man which is in him?  So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God….  16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” [1 Corinthians 2:10-11, 16]

Both sections use peculiar terminology: eraunao for “search out” and bathos for “depths.”  Here we find Paul referencing Judith to the Corinthians Christians.

 

Judith and the Ethics of Deceit

Judith strategy for defeating Holofernes revolves around deceit.  She lies to Holofernes and his soldiers about conditions in Bethulia, even as tells them she is telling the truth (11:5).  She reveals the people are about to eat foods forbidden by God, though they are not planning to do so.  God will, therefore, overthrow the city within a matter of days (11:10-15).

She lies to Holofernes about her intentions to go outside the enemy camp each night to pray.  This she says so she can tell him when it is time for his troops to attack (11:17-19; 12:6-9).  In reality, she is establishing a pattern that will allow her to escape the camp after murdering the general (13:8-10).

Earlier, she asked God to use her “lying lips” as the means by which to bring about his deliverance of his people (9:10, 13).  Throughout the story, she appears to relish using ambiguous speech, which is also part of her attempt to deceive (11:6, 16; 12:4, 14, 18).  Part of her deceit involves, of course, leading Holofernes on to think that he will have his way with her before she leaves his camp (12:14-13:2).

  • Discuss: When dealing with an enemy, is it ethical to use subterfuge and misinformation as weapons of war?

 

As a frame to understand, in Exodus 20:13, God commands His people not to kill (not, not to murder).  Yet, God authorizes His people to kill when they wage war.  How do we think through this without trying to rationalize sinful behavior?

With beauty, guile, and information her weapons of war, her courage enabled her to stand before the most powerful general in the world and lie to his face—all the while finessing herself into a position to be alone with him.  She operates from her strengths to exploit the enemy’s weaknesses to defeat them.

 

Link to the next Lesson in this series.

 

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