Biblical Studies

The Book of Judith

Judith Beheading Holofernes
Judith Beheading Holofernes

I recently received an email from a friend, who asked me to comment on the Book of Judith, this is my reply to him…….

My friend,

While studying the book of Judith we must keep in mind three things;

  1. Its history
  2. The people it represents
  3. The events it documents in mind.

Without a thorough understanding of this the book will not make any relevant sense.

We must understand that the book was written sometime after the Israelites came back from captivity, most properly at the hands of Ezra and Nehemiah.

They chose for themselves Judea to encamp in and worship the Lord. What was unique about Judea was that it was in the hill country with little room to enter as it was on top of a mountain. As we see in the book, the entrance was wide enough to fit only two people side by side. As a result it was highly secure and was very hard to attack as was realized by Holofernes the leader of the army who came to attack the people of the lord.

However Judea had a major flaw in that all water supply was to be found only in wells outside the city, and as such Holofernes captured all the wells when he came to wage war on the Israelities. This was a very strategic move and one that Judith acknowledged later on when she told him that the Israelites would give up their lord and break his covenants because they had no supply of food or fresh water.

Now returning to Judith and her actions we must make a few quick statements on the personality of this woman.

  1. She was a widow for about three years after her husband Manasseh died and she wore the close of a widow and did not marry anyone else after his death and more importantly with the fame she would receive after saving the people of the lord, she would remain a widow unto her death at the age of 105 even though many people desired her as is written in the final chapters. Moreover her days were spent in fasting only breaking the fast for the Jewish Feasts.
  1. She lived a very spiritual life and grew in stature and wisdom. This is extremely evident when she speaks to the high priest and brings him to account because of his agreement to test the lord by giving him five days to save his people or they would rebel against their God. Chapter 8 accounts the wisdom of this great woman who truly understood the ways of the Lord.
  1. Her bravery is unparalleled, while all the men of the city where in fear she knelt to the lord and poured out her heart unto him, that he may guide her in what she was planning to do. While it appears later that her plans where deceitful she did not keep any of it hidden from the lord and in actual fact she prayed that the lord bless her words of deceit. We must not forget that the army outside of Judea would have ravished Judith if it wasn’t for the lord who held her in safety. This in itself is a great miracle that she was not killed by the guards who captured her. Moreover we cannot blame Judith for her looks but it is wise to acknowledge that the soldiers themselves are to blame for falling into the sin of Lust.
  1. We need to understand here that the army that was set to attack Judea were pagans and they did not believe in the Lord of the Israelites.

The key verse in understanding the book of Judith is found in Chapter 5 verse 21 where Achior informs the army of  Holofernes of the following.

“But if there is no transgression in their nation, then let my lord pass them by; for their Lord will defend them, and their God will protect them, and we shall be put to shame before the whole world.”

As we can see the book of Judith is so powerful and deep in its meaning as it magnifies the power of the Lord to conquer the enemies of his chosen people, Israel. Holofernes thought he could destroy the Israelites but what resulted was the Israelites glorifying their lord through the works of Judith.

Another crucial point which may seem out of context is how Judith actually played around with the guards and Holofernes himself, with skillful words and what appears as provocative moves that made him sin the sin of lust.

Again we must mention that Judith could not blame herself for her looks for they were given to her by the Lord, but we must blame the guards themselves for sinning.

The decapitation is truly a sign of the power of the Lord and serves as a lesson to us all that he does not need to come down in lightning and thunder to rescue his people, but he can use any means even a humble women to achieve what he desires.

The miracle of the book of Judith, is Judith herself – how could a women who being a widow leave the safety of Judea and conquer an army of 120000 soldiers and a cavalry of 12000 with a few words, and return to her people with the head of Holofernes.

The book of Judith was canonised in the council of Nicea and many of the church fathers including Origen and Jerome refer to it frequently in their commentaries.

Moreover it may be interesting to speak to Ehab Wahib about this book as he has recently released a commentary on it. Unfortunately it is yet to be translated into English.

To conclude, the book of Judith is a war between God and his enemies on Earth. Judith was just the means to an end, a simple woman who was devout to the lord, made supreme with the lord’s majesty. God used her to achieve his ultimate aim, safety, security and protection for his people Israel.

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