1) Now in those days Judith, daughter of Merari, son of
Ox, son of Joseph, son of Oziel, son of Elkiah, son of Ananias, son of Gideon,
son of Raphain, son of Ahitub, son of Elijah, son of Hilkiah, son of Eliab, son
of Nathanael, son of Salamiel, son of Sarasadai, son of Simeon, son of Israel,
heard of this.
is the most thorough genealogy of a woman given in scripture.
2) Her husband, Manasseh, of her own tribe and clan, had died at the time of
the barley harvest.
COMMENTARY: It matters to the story that she is a
widow. In this culture it means that she
has legitimate knowledge of sexuality from her marriage, while at the same time
having every right to court someone new, whenever she so chooses, without
somebody arranging the match for her.
Manasseh, being of her own
tribe and clan, has a similar enough genealogy as to not need repeating it.
3) While he was supervising those who bound the sheaves
in the field, he was overcome by the heat; and he collapsed on his bed and died
in Bethulia, his native city. He was buried with his ancestors in the field
between Dothan and Balamon.
is, in essence, death or debility from dehydration, brought on rapidly by intense
perspiration without rehydrating, usually from working too hard under hot
conditions. So basically Judith’s
husband died of what now afflicts her community.
was living as a widow in her home for three years and four months.
did not commonly hold title to the property of their late husbands in that part
of the world, but Manasseh had left the land and a sizeable inheritance to her.
5) She set up a tent for herself on the
roof of her house, put sackcloth about her waist, and wore widow’s clothing.
outdoors when she owns her own building is an unusual austerity. The sackcloth around her waist explains it:
she is an ascetic mystic, offering up her discomforts in penance for any sins
in her community.
6) She fasted all the days of her
widowhood, except sabbath eves and sabbaths, new moon eves and new moons,
feastdays and holidays of the house of Israel.
fasts on every day except those when it is forbidden, by Jewish custom, to
fast. While the frequency of days
excluded from fasting makes it possible to do without food at all on the rest
of the days (especially since a number of Jewish holidays last for more than a
day) it is also possible that she might have practiced light fasting, which
would mean abstaining from wine and meat.
However, Jewish mystics practiced frequent full
fasting as a means to an altered state of consciousness conducive to visions
and discernment of God’s will, as well as emptying oneself to become a conduit
for God’s purposes. It’s entirely
possible that she really did go fully hungry more times than not.
7) She was beautiful in appearance and
very lovely to behold. Her
husband, Manasseh, had left her gold and silver, male and female servants,
livestock and fields, which she was maintaining.
COMMENTARY: She is not some widow starving for lack of
money or the inability to win a new husband.
In fact she would be a prime catch, had she wanted to remarry. But Jewish mystics also often practiced
sexual abstinence in order to sublimate their desires into a passion for God.
It also matters that her
wealth gives her the time and freedom from distraction to dedicate herself to
her mystical disciplines. Prayer is her
8) No one had a bad word to say about her, for she feared
hearing quite a bit of debate among Christians as to what “fear of God” means,
I have learned that this was a dubious translation-choice to begin with. The same word translated as “fear” could also
mean “sight”, “perception”, “regard” or “awareness”, all of these on an intense
level. Fear is an intense emotion, but
that is only one way of looking at it.
Having personally been yards from a lightning-strike,
feet from a coyote, javalinas and wildcats inches from rattlesnakes and a giant
centipede, and tapped on the foot by a tarantula the size of my hand, I can
attest that one feels a heightened “Oh WOW!” feeling the minute one realizes
just how close one has come to something beautiful and dangerous (or in the
case of the tarantula, alarming) and while terror definitely contributes a
significant part of the overall gestalt, it’s not the only thing going on. A similar collection of emotions can knock
one flat in an experience of the Divine, but with a lot more awe and joy in the
By saying Judith “feared God greatly”, they’re saying
that she perceived God more deeply than most.
She was a mystic.
(Note for non-Americans: A javalina is sort of like a lean wild boar,
with very sharp tusks. Not actually related
to pigs, but similar. A yard is close to
a meter, a foot as a measurement is roughly a third of a meter, and an inch is
very roughly about three centimeters.)
9) So when Judith heard of the harsh
words that the people, discouraged by their lack of water, had spoken against
their ruler, and of all that Uzziah had said to them in reply, swearing that he
would hand over the city to the Assyrians at the end of five days, 10) she sent her maid who was in charge of
all her things to summon Uzziah,
Chabris, and Charmis, the elders of her city.
spiritual status entitles her to summon the leaders of her community. This matters today, when some sects of
Christianity teach that women are unfit to receive guidance from God and must
merely obey the guidance of men. This,
to me, shows of many reasons for the importance of these Deuterocanonical
The “maid who was in charge of all her things” would
be her chief female servant or slave.
(Most likely slave, since Judith later sets her free.) She would be the one actually managing the
property, freeing Judith up to pray and fast.
11) When they came, she said to them:
“Listen to me, you rulers of the people of Bethulia. What you said to the
people today is not right. You pronounced this oath, made between God and
yourselves, and promised to hand over the city to our enemies unless within a
certain time the Lord comes to our aid.
saw the oath as allowing five more days for the salvation of Bethulia than the
people demanded, but Judith sees another way of looking at it—trying to
blackmail God into saving them.
12) Who are you to put God to the test
today, setting yourselves in the place of God in human affairs?
COMMENTARY: Judith sees Uzziah as acting as though it’s
up to him to decide the fate of Bethulia.
13) And now it is the Lord Almighty you are putting to the
test, but you will never understand anything!
Judith’s world view, God tests human beings; human beings don’t have the wit to
14) You cannot plumb the depths of the
human heart or grasp the workings of the human mind; how then can you fathom
God, who has made all these things, or discern his mind, or understand his
“No, my brothers, do not
anger the Lord our God.
someone renowned for her perception of God, she feels all too aware of human
limitations in perceiving the Divine fully.
But there’s more to this than that.
She considers insight into the human heart and mind as an elementary
prerequisite for even beginning to understand God.
At the risk of discrimination, I have to say that
neurologically the average female brain is better equipped to “plumb the depths
of the human heart or grasp the workings of the human mind” than the average
male brain, with its greater capacity for picking up social cues and nuances of
speech and body language. (In fairness,
the average male brain has a neurological advantage over the average female
brain in mechanical aptitude and navigation.)
Hard work at understanding can, of course overcome this discrepancy, but
political leaders, with their many responsibilities, don’t have the luxury of
devoting themselves to prayer and fasting to the extent that a rich widow can. Judith’s insight into both God and human
nature will turn the tide.
15) For if
he does not plan to come to our aid within the five days, he has it equally
within his power to protect us at such time as he pleases, or to destroy us in
the sight of our enemies.
COMMENTARY: If you’re going to believe in a God at all,
you have to believe that someone Almighty has complete control over when and
what He decides to do.
16) Do not impose conditions on the plans of the Lord our
God. God is not like a human being to be moved by threats, nor like a mortal to
COMMENTARY: Something to remember in our own
prayers. It’s bad enough that sometimes
we behave this way with our fellow human beings, but what’s the point in
believing in a Higher Power if that power is not so high as to stand beyond
“So while we wait for the salvation that comes from
him, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our cry if it pleases
other words, if you want something, just ask.
Don’t play games—with God or humankind.
18) For there has not risen among us in
recent generations, nor does there exist today, any tribe, or clan, or
district, or city of ours that worships gods made by hands, as happened in
they not believe themselves earlier, welcoming in the outcast who told
Holofernes that they couldn’t be conquered if they hadn’t committed idolatry?
19) It was for such conduct that our
ancestors were handed over to the sword and to pillage, and fell with great
destruction before our enemies. 20) But since we acknowledge no other god
but the Lord, we hope that he will not disdain us or any of our people.
people have lost their confidence, having been conquered before. But Judith reminds the elders that the
reasons for that past disaster, as she sees it, no longer exist.
21) If we are taken, then all Judea will fall, our
sanctuary will be plundered, and God will demand an account from us for their
stands at the key point that Judea needs to defend. They cannot make this decision just for
themselves, but think of all the other consequences, should they surrender.
22) For the slaughter of our kindred, for
the taking of exiles from the land, and for the devastation of our inheritance,
he will hold us responsible among the nations. Wherever we are enslaved, we
will be a scandal and a reproach in the eyes of our masters.
COMMENTARY: She believes that God cares about more than
just His sanctuary, but also for the massive biocost to His people, right when
they’re just starting to get back on their feet again.
(Okay, I admit it, I
coined the word “biocost” years ago for my science fiction. Here’s the definition from my glossary. I think the concept matters:
cost of an action in terms of the harm done to living beings through death,
injury, deformity, disability, hardship, psychological trauma or spiritual
23) Our servitude will not work to our advantage, but the
Lord our God will turn it to disgrace.
could any deity be fond of those who cause the deaths of many others to save
their own lives?
24) “Therefore, my brothers, let us set an
example for our kindred. Their
lives depend on us, and the defense of the sanctuary, the temple, and the altar
rests with us.
includes herself in the “us” of the city leaders.
all this, let us give thanks to the Lord our God for putting us to the test as
he did our ancestors. 26) Recall how he
dealt with Abraham, and how he tested Isaac, and all that happened to Jacob in
Syrian Mesopotamia while he was tending the flocks of Laban, his mother’s
COMMENTARY: Not all hardship is a punishment. Sometimes it involves teaching, and a chance
to prove oneself.
27) He has not tested us with fire, as he did them, to try
their hearts, nor is he taking vengeance on us. But the Lord chastises those
who are close to him in order to admonish them.”
not sure about the language here. I’m
ignorant of much, but considering the bent of mistranslations elsewhere, it
seems likely to me that by “chastises” she means “disciplines” and “admonish”
might mean something along the line of “teach hard lessons”. She has already said, after all, that they’re
not being punished.
28) Then Uzziah said to her: “All that you
have said you have spoken truthfully, and no one can deny your words.
listening to a woman! That should not
merit an exclamation point, but sadly, in a world where misogynistic preachers
can attract enough followers to build megachurches, it does.
29) For today is not the first time your
wisdom has been evident, but from your earliest days all the people have
recognized your understanding, for your heart’s disposition is right.
is Uzziah unusual in the community for recognizing Judith’s worth.
30) The people, however, were so thirsty
that they forced us to do for them as we have promised, and to bind ourselves
by an oath that we cannot break.
COMMENTARY: He does not excuse his oath, but does explain
the mitigating circumstances, and reminds Judith that it’s too late, he can’t
back out now. Thirst is the third
strongest instinct (#1 being the protection of one’s young and #2 being
breathing, as tested by how fast a rat will brave an electric field to get to
what’s withheld from her) and an entire city of thirsty citizens would be hard
for anyone to resist.
Bible scholars have also
pointed out that Uzziah’s not including Judith in this “us”. But he excludes her deferentially, confessing
31) But now, since you are a devout woman, pray for us
that the Lord may send rain to fill up our cisterns. Then we will no longer be
fainting from thirst.”
COMMENTARY: Uzziah makes the common error in prayer of
trying to act as God’s advisor, getting too specific in what he asks for. He can see no way out except for rain, and so
that’s what he wants Judith to pray for.
But since there’s little point in worshiping a deity with no more
imagination than oneself, it’s better to simply state what one wants and leave
the means up to God.
Again, he excludes her
from “us”, but as one better than the elders, whose prayers are more
powerful. Which begs the question that I
often get asked when referring to the prayers of the Saints—aren’t all prayers
equally powerful? In the New Testament,
James 4:3 says that prayers for the wrong motives sometimes go unanswered. Uzziah has the humility to admit that
political motives entangle his prayers, so he asks for the help of someone with
a purer heart.
This is why Catholics
often invite saints to pray with us. We
believe that they have no impure motives anymore. And that, being perpetually in God’s presence
with more awareness than we have, they have complete faith.
Then Judith said to them: “Listen to me! I will
perform a deed that will go down from generation to generation among our
doesn’t need to pray for rain. She has
already received an inspiration, since she is the one who sees/perceives/regards/has
awareness of God “greatly”. And that
inspiration requires action, not just passively waiting for rain.
We often think that having more faith in God than in
human agency means passivity, praying and waiting for blessings to fall in our
laps. But the blessings often comes in
the form of inspiration and guidance on how to act.
33) Stand at the city gate tonight to let me pass through
with my maid; and within the days you have specified before you will surrender
the city to our enemies, the Lord will deliver Israel by my hand.
when I said that the hero would not be someone people would expect in a
military situation? The chief message of
this book is to not try to limit God by our expectations.
34) You must not inquire into the affair,
for I will not tell you what I am doing until it has been accomplished.”
have this awkward habit of receiving inspirations for really weird plans that
nobody else thinks will work until after they succeed. But they can get away with it, because they
don’t act all by themselves; they aren’t gambling—the dice has been loaded in
35) Uzziah and the rulers said to her, “Go
in peace, and may the Lord God go before you to take vengeance upon our
elders take the leap of faith and trust their mystic.
36) Then they withdrew from the tent and
returned to their posts.
Nothing more need be said. It’s
in Judith’s hands, now.