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, painted by Cristofano Allori, 1613 (Royal Collection, London). image from Wikipedia.
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.