Chapter 8 is where the story really begins. Judith is a widow who is constantly fasting, and apparently has a good reputation for being a wise woman. So she pulls the elders aside and admonishes them for making a pact with the governor- either God saves us, or we surrender when God doesn’t, and they give a timetable for when this should be accomplished.
Despite Judith making a clear case, the elders have found themselves in a position where they have made this pact, and feel they can’t do anything now to impact the situation one way or another. Having put the problem on God, they feel the only option is to get Judith to pray for rain.
In some measure, I can see this line of thought being influenced by the sacrifice Jephthah makes in Judges 11. He makes a promise to God that if he is able to claim victory over his enemy, then he’ll offer as a burnt offering the first thing that he sees when he gets home…and that ends up being his Daughter. At a later date, I’ll talk about this story, but for now one of the interpretations of that story is that once you create a contract with God, you cannot back out of it. The scholars which believe Jephthah actually offered his daughter as a burnt offering believe that it’s entirely possible God hates oath breakers more than human sacrifice.
Back to the story, Judith has her own idea. Possibly inspired by another story in Judges, the story of Deborah and Jael. She tells the elders that the Lord will visit Israel by her hand. In Chapter 9, she prostrates herself before God and prays that what she has said will come true. She makes grand statements, pleading that God’s might will shine through and illustrate that only God can and does protect Israel.
There are certainly interesting points to bring up. On the surface, she seems to be mirroring Hezekiah, who asked similar things. But the difference is that she determines before God speaks anything that she’ll be the hand of justice. Hezekiah asks for God’s deliverance, and seeks God’s answer before really doing anything. In her defense, she doesn’t seem to have a high priest or prophet which can tell her God’s plans. But the predetermined nature of her request puts her at the center of this story, rather than God at the center of it.
Then you have the difference between her and Deborah. Deborah was a prophetess. We are led to believe, by virtue of the title, that God was the one who told her Sisera’s life would be taken by the hand of a woman. Furthermore, despite the fact that Deborah went into battle with Israel, it wasn’t actually Deborah who would take the life of Sisera, but instead a woman he believed his ally, Jael. The orchestration by God to have someone other than Deborah exact justice would be further evidence of Deborah’s prophecy, rather than one which could be seen as a self-fulfilled prophecy.
So far, Judith’s story is playing out as though she’s pushing God to bend to her will, rather than following His. But she’s not the only one in this town that is doing so- the elders seem to be following after the will of the people as well. Instead of turning to God first, they are orchestrating man-centered demands and ultimatums. It’s such a subtle difference that it would be difficult to discern, I’m sure, if it had been included in the canon. Who knows, perhaps there is more to the story that will redeem it?
For now I leave you with these things to consider:
Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain is about saying attributing God’s will for something you believe it to be, and it’s also about your heart. Hezekiah seems to be earnest in his request that God do something about his enemies, because Hezekiah loves God- he also had garnered favor with God by working to restoring the faith. But here, the elders seem to demand God affirm Himself through a miracle of some kind. And while Judith at least makes the effort to be pious, she seems to presumes much about her standing with God, speaking to Him and the group, as though she’s on par with a prophet.
*picture by Anthony VanArsdale