Chapter Thirteen


 Judith 13:

1) When it grew late, his servants quickly withdrew. Bagoas closed the tent from the outside and dismissed the attendants from their master’s presence. They went off to their beds, for they were all tired because the banquet had lasted so long.


COMMENTARY:  “He” being Holofernes.  Bagoas is hoping that his master will get lucky.  But this is, after all, the 13th chapter.



2)  Judith was left alone in the tent with Holofernes, who lay sprawled on his bed, for he was drunk with wine.


COMMENTARY:  Just a note to guys:  Contrary to liquor advertisements, this does not charm women.



3) Judith had ordered her maidservant to stand outside the bedchamber and to wait, as on the other days, for her to come out; she had said she would be going out for her prayer. She had also said this same thing to Bagoas.


COMMENTARY:  So here we see how Judith establishing a habit of leaving the encampment for prayer and bathing pays off.



4) When all had departed, and no one, small or great, was left in the bedchamber, Judith stood by Holofernes’ bed and prayed silently, “O Lord, God of all might, in this hour look graciously on the work of my hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem. 5) Now is the time for aiding your heritage and for carrying out my design to shatter the enemies who have risen against us.”


COMMENTARY:  Notice that though she has respect for her own efforts, her design and the work of her hands—as she deserves—she also acknowledges her need for God’s assistance.  All kinds of things could go wrong with even the best of plans.  It never hurts to invite assistance from one stronger than yourself, and for those of us who believe, who better than God?


But that doesn’t mean you have to grovel as a worm and think yourself nothing at all, with no work worth doing so why bother.  God already made plenty of worms and He doesn’t need one more.  (For that matter, they, too, serve the ecology that God created.)  Catholics believe that we were put on this Earth to collaborate with God, given intelligence and talents and creativity because God, who could do all things by Himself if He’d wished, doesn’t want to do it alone.  He did not make us puppets.  He did not make us mirrors.  He made us distinct.  He wanted to produce synergy, and that takes an Other.  So what we do counts.  And what we are capable of—no matter what that might be—matters.



6) She went to the bedpost near the head of Holofernes, and taking his sword from it, 7) she drew close to the bed, grasped the hair of his head, and said, “Strengthen me this day, Lord, God of Israel!” 8) Then with all her might she struck his neck twice and cut off his head.


COMMENTARY:  The story includes that it took her two strokes, to cut off his head, to emphasize that the defeat of Holofernes was not accomplished by strength, but by collaboration with God.  When she asks God to strengthen her, He does not answer by giving her a warrior’s muscles, but by strengthening her resolve. 

When we collaborate with God, He does not turn us into something else;  He does not make us an eagle to fly, but teaches us to discover our own ability to invent an airplane; He does not make us a tree to stay rooted, but helps us find the courage within us to stand our ground.  We Catholics believe that He already made us exactly as He intended, so why change that, unless He made us from birth with the intention of using us to demonstrate a miracle?


So we waste our time and God’s gifts by wishing we were somebody else, hating what we are.  We do better to listen to God’s guidance to discover exactly what He designed us for, and to make the most of that.

Judith did not regret being a woman.  A man could not have gotten this close to Holofernes, nor clouded his judgment so severely, nor used his own prejudices against him.  Nor did she dismiss her intelligence as pride, but used it to its fullness to come up with her plan, right down to an excellent exit-strategy.


If we’re messed up, it’s not because we’re inherently inferior and that’s just our fate.  It’s because we have not discovered what God had in mind for who and what we are, and how to make the best of it.


(I’m resisting making any puns about Holoferne’s losing his head over her.  I’m sure you’re there already.)



9) She rolled his body off the bed and took the canopy from its posts. Soon afterward, she came out and handed over the head of Holofernes to her maid,


COMMENTARY:  Remember, that canopy was a prize of Holoferne’s authority.  So she’s taking both his head (his life) and his canopy (his power.)



10) who put it into her food bag. Then the two went out together for prayer as they were accustomed to do. They passed through the camp, and skirting that valley, went up the mountain to Bethulia, and approached its gates.


COMMENTARY:  All without any oversight from guards, who assumed that by now she’d be bathing in the spring and it’d be worth their own heads to catch a glimpse of a naked woman desired by their general.



11) From a distance, Judith shouted to the guards at the gates: “Open! Open the gate! God, our God, is with us. Once more he has shown his strength in Israel and his power against the enemy, as he has today!”


COMMENTARY:  And thus the victor returns home in triumph—a triumph that nobody expected, from a quarter that nobody foresaw.



12) When the citizens heard her voice, they hurried down to their city gate and summoned the elders of the city. 13) All the people, from the least to the greatest, hurriedly assembled, for her return seemed unbelievable. They opened the gate and welcomed the two women. They made a fire for light and gathered around the two.


COMMENTARY:  All of this echoes and counters the earlier gathering of the people begging to surrender.



14) Judith urged them with a loud voice: “Praise God, give praise! Praise God, who has not withdrawn his mercy from the house of Israel, but has shattered our enemies by my hand this very night!” 15) Then she took the head out of the bag, showed it to them, and said: “Here is the head of Holofernes, the ranking general of the Assyrian forces, and here is the canopy under which he lay in his drunkenness. The Lord struck him down by the hand of a female!


COMMENTARY:  I am reminded of a time in my childhood when, after a hard day of being bullied, I came home in tears, grabbed the Bible off of the coffee-table, and flipped it open at random to see if there was any consolation for me.  I felt like I had no worth at all!  The first line that my eyes fell on was one I had never heard before:  “The stone that was rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.”


That is what goes through the mind of this woman, in a patriarchal time, who has dealt with second-class citizenship her entire life, when she shouts, “The Lord struck him down by the hand of a female!”  It is my earnest belief that God has never created second-class souls.  No matter who rejects us, for whatever reason, we have a place in God’s plan, or we wouldn’t be here.  If we do behave in an inferior manner, it is on us, from our own decisions, not something made in us.  And being on us means that it is in our power to ask God’s guidance to become instead who we were always meant to be.



16) Yet I swear by the Lord, who has protected me in the way I have walked, that it was my face that seduced Holofernes to his ruin, and that he did not defile me with sin or shame.”


COMMENTARY:  Her face, not her body.  An important clarification, because otherwise people could easily leap to conclusions.  It’s not condemnation that Judith fears, but the setting of a bad example.  We might serve God by tossing aside our pride, but not our self-respect.



17) All the people were greatly astonished. They bowed down and worshiped God, saying with one accord, “Blessed are you, our God, who today have humiliated the enemies of your people.”


COMMENTARY:  Remember that, from the beginning, the narrative has emphasized the pridefulness of Holofernes and Nebuchadnezzar.  They needed their boasts punctured.  This contrasts their pride with Judith’s self-respect.



18) Then Uzziah said to her, “Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the leader of our enemies.


COMMENTARY:  Uzziah blesses her as a woman.  We Catholics believe that this blessing applied to her specific time, and that later the woman blessed above all others was Mary.  We believe that Mary was the answer to Eve.  As one woman gave permission for sin to enter the world, the other gave permission for salvation to enter the world, and salvation is greater than sin.



19) Your deed of hope will never be forgotten by those who recall the might of God.


COMMENTARY:  I’m trying to do my part in making sure of that.



20) May God make this redound to your everlasting honor, rewarding you with blessings, because you risked your life when our people were being oppressed, and you averted our disaster, walking in the straight path before our God.” And all the people answered, “Amen! Amen!”


COMMENTARY:  Let us not forget that what she did, though not on a battlefield, put her in grave danger indeed.  Someone could have surprised her at any moment, no matter how carefully laid her plans.  Something can go wrong with any of our plans, at any time; it takes courage to go forward anyway.



I want to add one additional comment.  I chose the illustration for this chapter for a reason.  I had many to choose from, most of them prettier, with Judith daintily holding up the head.  But I chose the only one painted by a female artist: Artemisia Gentileschi.  She was also the successful plaintiff in a landmark rape case in Renaissance Italy, one that nobody, at first, thought she had a chance of winning.  She put feeling into this painting that other artists couldn’t approach.

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