Chapter Eight


 Judith 8:

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.


COMMENTARY:  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.


COMMENTARY:  Heatstroke 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.



4) Judith was living as a widow in her home for three years and four months.


COMMENTARY:  Widows 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.


COMMENTARY:  Living 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.


COMMENTARY:  She 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 life.



8) No one had a bad word to say about her, for she feared God greatly.


COMMENTARY:  After 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 mix.


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.


COMMENTARY:  Her 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 Texts.


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.


COMMENTARY:  I 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!


COMMENTARY:  In Judith’s world view, God tests human beings; human beings don’t have the wit to test God.



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 plan?

“No, my brothers, do not anger the Lord our God.


COMMENTARY:  As 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 be cajoled.


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 manipulation?



17) “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 him.


COMMENTARY:  In 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 former days.


COMMENTARY:  Did 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.


COMMENTARY:  The 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 profanation.


COMMENTARY:  Bethulia 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:


biocost: The cost of an action in terms of the harm done to living beings through death, injury, deformity, disability, hardship, psychological trauma or spiritual crisis.”)



23) Our servitude will not work to our advantage, but the Lord our God will turn it to disgrace.


COMMENTARY:  How 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.


COMMENTARY:  Judith includes herself in the “us” of the city leaders.



25) Besides 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 brother.


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.”


COMMENTARY:  I’m 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.


COMMENTARY:  He’s 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.


COMMENTARY:  Nor 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 to her.



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.




32) Then Judith said to them: “Listen to me! I will perform a deed that will go down from generation to generation among our descendants.


COMMENTARY:  Judith 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.


COMMENTARY:  Remember 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.”


COMMENTARY:  Mystics 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 their favor.



35) Uzziah and the rulers said to her, “Go in peace, and may the Lord God go before you to take vengeance upon our enemies!”


COMMENTARY:  The elders take the leap of faith and trust their mystic.



36) Then they withdrew from the tent and returned to their posts.


COMMENTARY:  Nothing more need be said.  It’s in Judith’s hands, now.

Back Index Forward