If this is your first visit, please see my introduction to these Lenten readings.
19 February. Judith chapters 5-7
In these chapters we see different approaches to warfare. Holofernes the Assyrian general believes in sheer weight of numbers: he trusts in his 120,000 men to overcome the Israelites in battle as he has the other subject peoples of the empire. The Moabites however (relatively near neighbours of Israel, and their historic enemies) have a more practical suggestion which involved far fewer troops: lay siege to the hilltop towns by cutting off access to food and water. It’s a strategy that many military commanders have used in the course of history, and Holofernes takes their advice. By the end of chapter 7 things are looking desperate for the Israelites in Bethulia as their water has virtually run out.
There is another perspective, though: Achior, “leader of the Ammonites” (another ancient enemy of Israel) knows the history of Israel and how God has repeatedly delivered them. He bravely tells Holofernes that not all the troops and horses in the world will help, unless God has chosen to let his people be defeated on this occasion. Not surprisingly the pagan Holofernes, who is willing to worship his own emperor as a god, rejects such advice. But he gives Achior a chance by having him handed over to the Israelites, saying that he will meet his fate with them. When he explains to the men of Bethulia what has happened, he is welcomed as an honoured guest. Achior, then, represents the “god-fearers” who are found throughout Scripture, those who are not Jews by descent nor converts through circumcision, but who believe and trust in the one God.
These three approaches to human conflict are universal, and pretty much cover every situation: trust in human strength, or in human cunning, or in God’s will. That’s not to say that strength and cunning never have their place, but unless they are offered as subservient to God’s will, they will not be enough on their own.