If this is your first visit, please see my introduction to these Lenten readings.
20 February. Judith chapters 8-10
These chapters introduce the main protagonist in the story, and show us various different aspects of her complex character. In chapter 8, Judith is shown as a widow who has been mourning her late husband for several years: a pitiable figure, though she had been left riches. When the siege reaches crisis point, though, she comes out of her shell and takes part in the discussions.
In ‘democratic’ Britain it is only in the last few decades that we have had elected women leaders (though of course we have had a hereditary Queen for more than half of the last two hundred years). Before that, misogyny ruled. But the Bible, written so long ago, shows us that women can be born leaders. Judith is not the only example – Miriam and Deborah (and as we shall see, also Jael) would have been her inspiration. In the presence of the male elders, Judith comes across as a good orator and a courageous leader: the Margaret Thatcher or Angela Merkel of her day, if you like (without comment on their policies). Except that unlike them, she was also beautiful, which was an extra string to her bow in what she was planning.
In chapter 9, Judith is seen as a holy woman, willing to cast aside any privilege and pride and humble herself before God. Her prayer is in the Hebrew tradition of praising God for his mighty acts of the past, before petitioning him for present needs, although she starts with reference to some recent incident when the enemy’s use of rape as a tactic of war resulted in God (through the men of her tribe, presumably) taking vengeance on them. At the core of her prayer is a statement of dependence on God which has echoes of Mary’s Magnificat: “Your strength does not lie in numbers, nor your might in violent men: since you are the God of the humble, the help of the oppressed, the support of the weak, the refuge of the forsaken, the saviour of the despairing” (9:11).
Then in chapter 10, she becomes the Mata Hari figure, the glamorous double-agent who charms her way into the enemy camp as a friend while actually being a spy. So this complex woman – widow, orator, politician, intercessor, beauty and spy – takes her place ready to let God work through her.
Each of us will have been given a different mix of gifts by God, but not all of them may seem to be used all the time. There might only be one time in our lives when all that we are will come together to achieve something for him that no-one else could. But as Judith acknowledges in her prayer, all we can do is make ourselves available to be used.