18 Aug 2016

Judith and the Blessing of Trials: Spiritual Wisdom from the Apocrypha

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Apocrypha, Family, Holding On, Judith, Kingdom Come, Spiritual Disciplines, Suffering, Worship

Judith, Old English Illuminated manuscript

Reading the Story of God

I don’t usually talk about our daily Bible reading as I usually post our Psalm pray time from the morning. But I read the whole Bible cover to cover each year and it is easy to do. Sometimes more than once. The real inspiration for doing this came from James A. Harding. My Bible has 1223 pages that cover the Old Testament, Middle Testament and the New Testament. To read the whole book in a year I read between 3 and 4 pages a day. Usually mid day about 15 minutes is taken up with this and certainly easy to do (John Mark Hicks and I cover various ways of reading the Bible in Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James A. Harding). 

Classic Bibles, even Protestant ones, have historically included not only the “Middle Testament” but cross references and lectionary readings for the daily edification of God’s People.  It is a shame that American Evangelicals have deprived themselves from what David DeSilva has termed the greatest body of “devotional literature in history.”  William Tyndale’s NT and Old Testament included “epistles” for daily reading that included translated portions of the “Apocrypha.”  You can look at the Tyndale Lectionary HERE.  So since 2011 my yearly run through the Bible has included the “Middle Testament.”

About a week ago we finished the Hebrew Bible and began the “Middle Testament” and have worked my way through Tobit reaching Judith 6-8. Judith 8 is an amazing chapter. Judith shatters stereo types of a woman’s place. After learning that the elders of Bethulia have basically put God in a box she rebukes them soundly, “who are you to put God to the test, and to set yourselves up in place of God in human affairs?

Judith, Blessed Above all Women on Earth

The Book of Judith falls into two basic parts.  The first part describes the war of the “Assyrians” against the Jews (chapters 1-7); the second relates the deliverance wrought by God through the widow Judith (chapters 8-16).
Hostilities had broken out between the Assyrians and the Medes.  Nebuchadnezzar, who is pictured as ruling the Assyrians, calls on the western nations to help him against his enemies, however, they refused (1.7-11).  Angry and vowing to take revenge on them – including the Jews.  After defeating the Medes (1. 12-16) Nebuchadnezzar decides to destroy those who wished his downfall in the west.  He sends out his General, Holofernes, with 120.000 men and a further 12,000 cavalry.  Soon the nations were frightened into submission.
Meanwhile in Bethulia the citizens, fearful that the Assyrians would defile the holy Temple of God, decide they will not acquiesce to Nebuchadnezzar.  They store provisions in anticipation of siege.  They seek God’s favor through prayer and fasting in sackcloth (4.1-15).  After thirty four days of siege, however, with supplies running low the inhabitants of Bethulia began to loose heart and call upon the city elders to surrender to the Assyrians.  A leader, Uzziah, plead with them to hold out five more days, “By that time the Lord our God will show us mercy, for he will not forsake us utterly” (7.30).  Nevertheless, he agreed to capitulate to the Assyrians should help not come (7.19-32).
Thank God for Trials! Shows we are Loved!! Reveals who we are!!!

Judith shows herself to be a true sage. After rebuking the elders, she says some of the most challenging words to hear and and even more challenging to live. She admonishes Israel by claiming we have a responsibility to set an example even in hard times. So she says,

Therefore, my brothers, let us set an example for our kindred, for their lives depend upon us, and the sanctuary … In spite of everything let us give thanks to the Lord our God, who is putting us to the test as he did our ancestors. Remember what he did with Abraham, and how he tested Isaac, and what happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia … For he has tried us with fire, as he did them, to search our hearts, nor has he taken vengeance on us; but the Lord disciplines those who are close to him in order to admonish them.” (Judith 8.24-27)

Trials are hard to thank God for. But Judith says what all Spirit seekers indicate in Scripture. “It was good for me to be afflicted” says the Psalmist in 119.71. The Hebrews Preacher sounds remarkably like his female counterpart Judith.

for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves
and chastises every child whom he accepts
(Hebrews 12.6, citing Proverbs 3.11-12)

Moses informed the Israelites that God led them “these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments” (Deuteronomy 8.2).

Even Jesus himself was driven by God’s Spirit into the wilderness to be tested.  As he wandered around in the deserted places Jesus meditated on Israel’s own sojourn and the quotes the very next sentence from Moses revealing the content of his own heart, “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8.3)

Going thru trials rather than showing the absence of God in our lives just may be the proof the Lord is working overtime in us. That is why Judith suggests we “give thanks” for them!

Judith may be in the Apocrypha, or what I playfully call the Middle Testament, but she challenges me to the bottom of my being and how we conceive our walk with the Lord. Trials are good!! So join Judith in praising and thanking God …

In spite of everything let us give thanks to the Lord our God, who is putting us to the test as he did our ancestors.

I have not arrived! But I am trying to be like Judith.

For more thought on Judith, prayer and praise see my blog linked here, Prayer in the Apocrypha 3: Judith’s Psalm of Praise.  It is a beautiful and inspiring sacrifice of worship to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Judith Postscript

One of the greatest movies of the “silent movie” era was Judith of Bethulia made in 1914 starring Blanche Sweet (by D. W. Griffith).  It is one of the cultural legacies of one of the greatest stories of a woman in the world.   Perhaps you would like to watch it …

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