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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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!”
thus the victor returns home in triumph—a triumph that nobody expected, from a
quarter that nobody foresaw.
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.
of this echoes and counters the earlier gathering of the people begging to
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.