Synopsis Judith 9:12-10:10 10/23/2020
Judith finished her prayer for the success of her ruse against the Assyrians.
And then, she abandoned her widow’s dress. Then she washed with water, oil and perfume. After this, she put on festive clothes and arranged her hair.
She gathered choice foods and other supplies and went out to the city gate. Everyone there marveled at her beauty as they bid her farewell. And then she departed out the gate and descended down the mountain.
Judith’s Suffering and Determination
In her besieged hometown, there was no water. The invading Assyrian forces had blocked it all up. Yet Judith used what little water remained as an offering to further the kingdom of God. She did not drink to satisfy her thirst. Instead she washed in accordance with the will of God.
Suffering and Determination to Love
To love like God means to give away without an anticipation of personal return. So, “we love because He first loved us”.
But giving away without the anticipation of personal return means that we are always giving without necessarily receiving anything from the person we have gifted. For me, this is an insight. God’s love is perpetually unrequited. And it seems there is always a certain, unavoidable pain associated with unrequited love.
Of course, the truth is I don’t much like pain. And this is why, at least for me, authentic love is always more of a decision than an affection.
So, it’s good for me to accept this basic fact of The Way – while I am still along the way.
“But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” Matt 6:17
Synopsis Judith 8:36-9:11 10/22/2020
The Assyrian army besieged Bethulia, Judith’s hometown. The Israelites who lived there despaired because of their lack of water. So, they petitioned the city’s leaders to surrender.
But Judith approached the leaders and castigated them for listening to the people. Despite their weakness, she gained permission from the leaders to single-handedly deliver the city and break the siege. And then, she went home to pray.
Judith prayed to the Lord for deliverance. Specifically, she recounted how Simeon, her tribal father, had once slain the Shechemites because their leader had raped Dinah, his sister. Accordingly, she prayed that God would similarly deliver Israel from the Assyrian siege through deception.
The Simeonite Ruse
In the book of Genesis, there is the story of Dinah. A man named Shechem raped Dinah. But Dinah was Jacob’s daughter. And Shechem was a prince from a nearby community.
Shechem was captivated by Dinah’s beauty. So, he raped her with the intention of making her his wife. However, because he had failed to marry first, Dinah’s brothers (Jacob’s sons) became indignant. And so two of the brothers, Simeon and Levi, tricked Shechem into a deal whereby he would circumcise himself in exchange for getting Dinah as his wife. Additionally, he agreed to convince all the other men of his community to do likewise.
So, the Shechemites circumcised themselves. Afterward, Simeon and Levi went into the community and killed all the men as retribution for Dinah’s rape. They also captured all the women from that community, and their belongings. These they kept as booty.
In her prayer, Judith recalled this ruse and asked God to deliver the Assyrian forces besieging Bethulia in a similar way.
Deception is a curious thing. It’s different than my merely making a mistake. Instead, it works when another person appeals to my perceived value of an object instead of the object’s real value. In other words, this kind of appeal tends to by-pass my rational ability by relating to my affections – according to the flesh.
So, a tempter comes with a deal that would bring immediate satisfaction. My affection for what’s being offered is so great that I don’t really scrutinize the offer. The failure is to see the offer only in terms of how it might satisfy my desires – especially my most basic, fleshly desires.
So, when I succumb to deception, it is because someone has knowingly offered me something, with the hopeful intention that I won’t scrutinize the details. And, in the end, the offer is always to exchange some greater value for something less valuable but more immediate.
In war, this kind of deceit is called a ruse.
So, keep up the good fight. Avoid falling for the alluring deception of easy money and no-cost relationships.
“For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.” Eph 6:12
Synopsis Judith 8:21-35 10/21/2020
Judith lived in the besieged city of Bethulia. Hearing that the leaders had put God to the test by demanding his action within five days, she reproached them.
She reminded Uzziah and the other leaders that if Bethulia fell, Jerusalem would likely soon follow. Accordingly, she made clear that the residents of Bethulia would specifically retain the shame of this failure.
Furthermore, she encouraged the leaders to rejoice in their present moment of testing. It was, from her perspective, a moment of great opportunity.
Lastly, she asked them for permission to allow her to pass through the gate that night. And she promised that God would deliver Israel by her hand within the five days.
Bethulia Tested By God
Judith reminded them that mere human beings are in no position to put God to the test. Instead, human beings should be willing to accept the challenges of life as testings that come from God. As an example, she recounted Abraham’s story where he offered Isaac as a sacrifice to God. This, she reminded him, was a turning point in Abraham’s self-understanding and the affirmation of his faithfulness.
Tested By God
Would I be faithful?
Sometimes I reflect upon the lives of the saints. And, I wonder if I would be faithful in difficult trials, as so many of them were.
Of course, it’s then I remember that my next testing will probably come in 15 or 20 minutes.
“Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the devil will throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Rev 2:10
Synopsis Judith 8:7-20 10/20/2020
Judith was a childless widow who had remained faithful to the Law of Moses. She lived in Bethulia during the time the city was besieged by the Assyrian army.
As a result of the siege, there was no water left in the city. And so, the people had panicked. Specifically, they forced the leaders to agree to deliver the city to the Assyrians if God did not provide relief from the siege in five days.
Judith castigated Uzziah and the other leaders of the city for putting God to the test. She told them that challenging God to deliver them in five days violated the Law of Moses.
In their distress, the people had forced their leaders into a rash response. As a result, they had inadvertently agreed to put God to the test.
Testing God is an infantile effort to assure myself that God loves me and will solve my problems in exactly the manner I think best. It’s like a small child who threatens by saying, “If you loved me you would give me what I wanted.”
As an earthly parent, I intuitively respond to this threat in a fearful convulsion that my child might conclude they are unloved. And perhaps more specifically, I convulse at the possibility that perhaps they might not love me in return.
God bears no such anxiety. He just loves.
You shall not put the LORD, your God, to the test, as you did at Massah.” Deut 6:16
Synopsis Judith 7:25-8:6 10/19/2020
The Assyrian army was led by the great general Holofernes. And Holofernes was besieging the Israelite city of Bethulia because it controlled access to Jerusalem. At the advice of a Moabite general participating in the siege, Holofernes captured the city’s water supply. As a result, the city quickly ran out of water.
After many days, the people became thirsty. So much so, they demanded to meet with Uzziah, the city’s chief. At the assembly, the people demanded Uzziah to give the city over to Holofernes. They knew that if he did, they would be killed or enslaved. But they didn’t care because their thirst was driving them mad.
Uzziah prevailed upon the people to wait five more days to see if God would somehow break the siege.
After Uzziah made this agreement with the people, a woman named Judith heard about it. Judith was a childless widow who lived faithfully in accordance with the Law of Moses.
The Bethuliaites were willing to trade anything and everything for water. The lack of water was so acute and their need for water so great, that nothing else seemed to matter.
Water and Spirit
The great Jewish King David once wrote, “O God, you are my God—it is you I seek! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, In a land parched, lifeless, and without water.” (Psa 63:2)
I need water. My body needs it to physically survive. And when I don’t have enough, I’ll do most anything to find some.
But I need God’s spirit even more than I need water. And yet, my awareness of this need is somehow tied to the depth of my relationship with Jesus. It is hard to miss that which I’ve never had. But once had, the longing for God sometimes seems to eclipse everything – even water.
“But whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John4:14
Synopsis Judith 6:19-7:12 10/15/2020
Holofernes directed his forces to siege Bethulia. And, in collaboration with Moabite forces, took control of the springs of water that supplied the city.
The Israelites feared as they observed the vast Assyrian army up close. However, they remained steadfast and kept watch.
The Israelites at Bethulia felt the overwhelm. They knew that their only hope was that God might save them.
How many times have I surveyed the world around me and felt like everything I valued was under attack?
There is no answering this fear. If, by myself, I had to simultaneously fight every force that wished to destroy me, then I would quickly be overwhelmed and perish.
But the victory is the Lord’s. So, all I need to do is follow. I need to simply remain in this present moment with the circumstances immediately before me. And meet this, moment by moment, with love for God and love for the neighbor He has placed next to me.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.” Prov 3:5-6
Synopsis Judith 6:5-18 10/14/2020
Holofernes was the prime general over the Assyrian army. And he was threatening Israel with his vast army located near the Israelite city of Bethulia.
After an Ammonite leader named Achior warned him against attacking the Israelites, he raged against the God of Israel. And he punished Achior by binding his hands and feet. Then, he had his soldiers deposit the Ammonite near the wall of Bethulia. In this way, Achior would suffer the same fate as the Israelites once the battle began.
At the time, Uzziah was the leader of the city. So, when Achior was brought to him and the elders, they heard his story and welcomed him.
The same truth made Holofernes rage and the Israelites rejoice. The Assyrian general hated the truth and cast it away. But the Israelites loved the truth and embraced the witness.
Embracing the Truth Teller
I’m often blind to my many faults. So, it is usually a shock when friends call out my bad habits and other behavioral failures.
It hurts. And I don’t like pain. In fact, I usually try to avoid pain whenever possible.
But the problem comes when I associate the pain of my own failures with the person who pointed out my failure. I want to blame the messenger because I felt no pain until they spoke.
Of course, the true cause of the pain was my own failings. And invariably my failings will eventually be exposed. And without friends around, the exposure is often far more devastating than need be.
So, I’m learning to trust in the good intent of even a painful word when it comes from a friend. And I’m learning that truth tellers are good candidates to cultivate as friends.
“Trustworthy are the blows of a friend, dangerous, the kisses of an enemy.” Prov 27:6
Synopsis Judith 5:19-6:4 10/13/2020
After Achior told Holofernes about Israel’s protective God, the great general became angry. Holofernes subscribed to the belief that King Nebuchadnezzar was god. So, he condemned Achior for blaspheming. And he predicted his army’s victory in gory detail.
Achior’s explanation and warning offended Holofernes. Of course, it was the great general who ordered Achior and other regional leaders to attend his council. But, Achior told the truth and warned the general of his impending defeat by the hand of God. And this was the worst part for Holofernes. Achior’s claim exposed Holoforernes’ fundamental belief that Nebuchadnezzar was god.
Achior’s truth exposed Holofernes’ lie.
Exposing the Truth
Mother Theresa of Calcutta is quoted, “We must never be afraid to be a sign of contradiction for the world”.
So, in the end, the light for this age is manifest in the way that you and I choose to live our lives. It follows, that if the truth is to be made evident, it will be so because of the testimony of our lives.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” John 3:21
Synopsis Judith 5:6-18 10/7/2020
Holofernes asked Achior and other Canaanite leaders about Israel. He wanted some insight that would help him defeat the Israelites at Bethulia.
However, Achior delivered a condensed version of Israelite history. In this way, he showed how the Israelites were protected by God. And so, the only way they could be defeated was if God was working against them. Otherwise, God would protect them no matter how badly they might be outnumbered.
For this, Holofernes was furious at Achior. And so, he sent Achior with his guards to Bethulia. His intention was that Achior would suffer the same fate as the Israelites. So, the guards dropped him near the entrance to the city.
Knowing Israelite History
Israel’s strength was in their relationship with God. Accordingly, they could not be understood without understanding the history of their relationship with God.
Knowing Comes From Context
Every claim has some context. And every episode is a moment in a larger epic.
But my tendency is to think in terms of first impressions. Uncovering the truth means wanting to understand the other person’s story.
“But the LORD said to Samuel: Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance. The LORD looks into the heart.” 1Sam 16:7
Synopsis Judith 4:9-5:5 10/6/2020
Holofernes was the Prime General of King Nebuchadnezzar’s army. He moved his army near the Israelites at Bethulia. As a result, the Israelites were alarmed and cried out to God. To a man, they repented in sackcloth and ashes.
But Holofernes was enraged when he learned that the Israelites had prepared for war. So, he called in leaders from among Israel’s worst historical enemies. So, the leaders of Ammon, Moab and other regional nations came to meet with the general.
Holofernes questioned them to better understand why Israel would dare to go to war.
Israel’s Historic Enemies
Holofernes was an evil man. With Nebuchadnezzar his king, he wanted to control the entire world. And, in order to do so, he was willing to use one enemy against another.
Most people don’t wake up in the morning hoping to cultivate an enemy.
And yet, somehow, I still have enemies.
The pope says that “gossiping is a plague worse than COVID”. Maybe this is a clue.
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain.” James 1:26