The Book of Judith: Trusting in God’s Plan

One of the sweetest discoveries I’ve found since embarking upon the challenge of reading through the whole Bible, is the book of Judith.

It’s a deuterocanonical book only found in the Catholic translations of the Bible, and excluded by everyone else, possibly because of historical inaccuracies, which lead some to believe this is more of a parable. But Catholics believe it is inspired by God as much as the other books, and includes it in the canon.

Why this book isn’t mentioned more in Catholic liturgies is beyond me. In the first place, it’s got a strong female role model, in the widow Judith, who as a true servant of God, does a job that needs doing. In the middle of a siege that is leaving her town of Bethulia without their water supply, she fasts, prays, lays aside her mourning clothes for her finest garments and dresses like an empress, goes outside of her town and straight to the siege commander’s tent pretending to be a defector and collaborator, gets him drunk, and in a brutal scene, cuts off his head. After that, she returns to her home and her widow’s clothes, having completed the task that God has asked of her, and her town is saved! Now that’s a woman who gets the job done!

But secondly, the book features probably one of the strongest messages on trusting in God’s plan and in His timing, that I’ve ever read.

Judith with the Head of Holophernes

<<< Judith with the Head of Holophernes, painted by Cristofano Allori, 1613 (Royal Collection, London). image from Wikipedia.

The background:
Assyrian commander Holofernes surrounds Judith’s town of Bethulia, cutting off their water. It’s been 34 days and people are collapsing in the streets, and clamoring to their elders to give up. They would all rather be slaves than die of thirst. One elder, Uzziah says in 7:30-31: “Let us wait five days more for the Lord our God to show His mercy toward us; He will not utterly forsake us. But if those days pass without help coming to us, I will do as you say.”

Hedging his bets? Playing it safe? Whatever made Uzziah say that showed just how much trust he had in God. It’s as if he were saying: Let’s give God five days to save us, and just in case He doesn’t, then we have plan B. There’s a Filipino word for this kind of playing-it-safe character trait: segurista.

At which point, the God-fearing Judith enters the scene and rebukes the elders in several beautiful verses, saying in Judith 8:12:

“Who are you, then, that you should have put God to the test this day, setting yourselves in the place of God in human affairs?”

And then again in 8:14-17:

“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, discern his mind, and understand his plan? No, my brothers, do not anger the Lord our God. For if he does not wish 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 face of our enemies.

“It is not for you to make the Lord our God give surety for his plans. “God is not man that he should be moved by threats, nor human, that he may be given an ultimatum.

“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 is his good pleasure.”

Judith reminds them that God is Lord and we are servants, not the other way around. Our role is to trust in God’s plan for His people: that He will carry out His plan, which has our goodness in mind, in His own time. Meanwhile, we are to stay faithful. As servants and His adopted children, we pray that His will be done in our lives, and that we may all learn from the circumstances he places us in, no matter how painful.

Judith says in 8:25-27:

“Besides all this, we should be grateful to the Lord our God, for putting us to the test, as he did our forefathers. Recall how he dealt with Abraham, and how he tried Isaac, and all that happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia while he was tending the flocks of Laban, his mother’s brother. Not for vengeance did the Lord put them in the crucible to try their hearts, nor has he done so with us. It is by way of admonition that he chastises those who are close to him.”

It’s a message that can take several “repeat plays” in the playlist of our lives: Trust in God. Thank Him for what you have right now. Pray that you do His will. And like the message of James 1:2-4, consider the trials in your life as God’s refining fire that will purify us till we are spotless.

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19 thoughts on “The Book of Judith: Trusting in God’s Plan

  1. Hi Lionel! Thanks for visiting my blog. :)

    I’ve tried reading the whole Bible when I was in gradeschool but I couldn’t quite understand it then so I just gave up. Plus, I got scared when I read Revelations. I haven’t read the Bible since.

    Thanks for sharing the story of Judith, she truly is one empowered woman. Just goes to show that faith should be complemented with action. :D

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  2. i tried reading the bible from cover to cover when i was in high school and i had the mini one then; but when i reached the last few pages i simply stopped. i dont really know why i did though. but i dont remember reading about judith, thanks for sharing this.

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  3. wow you reminded me of my seminary days. It’s been so long since I posted a biblical entry like this in my blog.

    thanks for visiting my blog bro. add kita sa blogroll ko ha.

    Pax et Bonum

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  4. I read the bible when I was in Catholic school. Obviously Judith was not discussed much then, so thanks for sharing this. Then again, that was a long time ago and never read the bible from cover to cover again.

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  5. hi lionel! to quote bluep, i say “wow!”.. talk about divine inspiration.. it’s a long entry, but i read it through and through..very good post…more of this in the future please.. anyway, i’m not that familiar with judith as well, but knowing her story now makes me want to read through the entire book of judith and more.. and for a man to honor “girl power” is just noble and worthy of admiration.. have a nice day lionel!

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  6. Inspiring story indeed, however here’s why I think that it wasn’t included in other versions.

    For one, given how impressionable a society can be, her actions, noble as they are, is the very same attitude terrorsts use in the name of their respective religions. And the very same “Semper Fidelis” mantra soldiers can use to commit murder during war.

    While any reasonable and educated person can selectively derive what “lessons” should really be learned from the tale, we all know how majority of the faithful tend to take the Bible down hook line and sinker, which is just downright dangerous if you ask me.

    We can’t even use the argument “obvious naman sino mali sa terrorism… because they killed people.” – but then, so did Judith (also, wasn’t there a commandment against killing?) So why did God even condone such an action to begin with?

    So the question would really be this: if you would experience a person who did what seemed to be a bone-headed action (e.g. a terrorist); but then remember that they are doing what THEY truly believe in… as well as trusting in THEIR god absolutely. Does it excuse their actions? I’d have to say “of course not.”

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    1. Carlo, as Catholics, we’re supposed to take the Sacred Scriptures in its entirety as a source of faith, but also not forget the other 2 pillars of the Catholic church: Sacred Traditions passed down by the apostles, and the teaching authority of the Church (aka the Magisterium). Therefore if any disagreement occurs over scriptures, the Magisterium has final say.

      The book doesn’t say “go out and behead your tormentors.” It does say, however, to trust in the Lord.

      As to terrorists and killing: yes killing is against the 5th commandment (Deuteronomy 5:17) . But wouldn’t her action constitute self defense? As in, she took it upon herself to protect her city and its people from death. Makes her actions much different from terrorists who wreak havoc on innocents.

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      1. We seem to forget why there ARE “terrorists” in the first place. While I’m sure there are just plain loony people; but for most of them, why do you think the US has been singled out for most of the cases? If they just want indiscriminate carnage in general – shouldn’t there be more cases in all parts of the world of similar magnitude?

        The way I see it, to them, their actions are precisely defending THEIR homes as well. We are in agreement it’s certainly a twisted way to justify something; but we have to admit that this fact is quite compelling even if it hurts to admit it.

        Like you said the magisterium says not necessarily wreak havoc on evildoers but trust in God. The latter argument of self defense in context of that trust is precisely the thing that gives those people a reason to go through with their actions… just like Judith. The difference is that Judith did the deed out of a pure heart and trust… but it begs the question, who are we to say the “terrorists,” in context of their lives, aren’t doing the same?

        Whether we or they end up doing something good or bad, we can’t deny that they are trusting in their respective God(s) – whether their god is the right or wrong god to be following is irrelevant. The fact is that scriptures from ANY creed can be interpreted in many ways, and most of the time it’s the wrong way.

        If you take out the questioning and scrutiny of them and simply “trust” then we end up with what’s happening in the world around us today… and maybe that’s fine. I’m just saying :)

        I’m not saying that terrorism is justified under any circumstance, nor am I saying if judith was right or wrong… but the whole point i’m trying to say is we are given brains with the ability to REASON… not just blindly follow. If we “question” anything, I’m sure God will understand that we question it in a pure manner and not because we’re finding ways to go against Him – I see nothing wrong in scrutinizing something that is ultimately interpreted by MAN down generations.

        I’m obviously one who wont benefit from the beatitudes hahahah, but I can live with that.

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      2. Great points, Carlo.

        To scrutinize is good, is biblical. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 tells us to test everything, and hold on to what is good. But you do still need an objective standard to measure those things against. The ancient Jews had only the 10 commandments. Protestants have the Bible. Catholics have Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium to guide them.

        Of course even with standards, man will still often fail to interpret creeds correctly, as we are all sinful, imperfect creatures.

        To question though… that word (to me) implies that you know more than the person giving you the order. (Which is why soldiers never question commanding officers, I assume?) The truth is we don’t know better than God. Even Job who lost his family, riches and health never dared to question why, but merely praised God for His situation, no matter how difficult.

        Yes, we were given brains to reason, to scrutinize, to decide. We were also given hearts to follow in humility, and ultimately, to love. If our “creed”, our belief system, our faith, does not lead us to that love but lash out in hate, then we’re doing something very wrong.

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  7. Patience is a virtue I’m still in the process of learning these days.
    It’s a good thing my (older) sister never stops reminding me to have faith, trust in His plan and know that everything that happens is necessary to fulfill His plans for us.

    It’s true, there are stories in the bible relating about courageous roles of women but in church I often hear only about Mary, Mary Magdalene, Sara (Abraham) and Ruth (at times)

    I haven’t read the whole bible. hmmm…maybe I should. Anyway back in the days … I happen to know some stories in the bible because of this children series: Super book and Flying house. In elementary, I was able to complete a children version of the old testament (interesting photos included). My parents wondered why I kept asking them about giants stealing the town’s harvest and raping women and handsome angels in the bible back then, til they saw that the book I have finished reading is a Jehovah Witnesses version.

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    1. God bless wise elder sisters!

      Some other interesting women in the Bible if you’re inclined to read. Check out the four women in Jesus’ genealogy: Tamar (Genesis 38:1 onwards), Rahab the Harlot, from Joshua 2:1 to 2:16, Ruth (she’s got her own book), and of course the Blessed Virgin Mary.

      Super Book and Flying House were cool!

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  8. ang dami ko ng articles dito sa blog na di nabasa. :)

    i wrote the names you mentioned and will search them sa bible. bago sa pandinig ko ang mga names na un !

    anyway, i find your discussion with Carlo interesting :) it made me think … good one! its good to know that blogs like yours existed — may content. :D

    i’m trying my best to read most of your articles…hala since 1999 pa pala! di na ko makakapagblog-hopping nyan. hahahaha.

    God bless!

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    1. Eyna: There’s so much to discover in the Bible. And strong women abound.

      Thank you for the compliments on the content. Don’t rush to read everything on the blog though! Blog indigestion! :D
      Peace and joy!

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  9. I have a miniature ‘The Book of Judith’ with an inscription inside dated 1st March 1915, it was printed in London by George G. Harrap & Co. and is one of their Sesame Booklets. This little book has a green suede cover.

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