Today the Bible opened to the book of Judith. My first thought was “Oh no — Old Testament” — and, at first glance, it looked like a lot of historical genealogy about the, son of Ox, son of Joseph, son of Oziel and son of Elkiah — the sort of stuff that normally quickly puts me to sleep. I was pleasantly surprised when I quickly landed on this passage:
All the men of Israel cried to God with great fervor and humbled themselves. They, along with their wives, and children, and domestic animals, every resident alien, hired worker, and purchased slave, girded themselves with sackcloth. And all the Israelite men, women, and children who lived in Jerusalem fell prostrate in front of the temple and sprinkled ashes on their heads, spreading out their sackcloth before the Lord. The altar, too, they draped in sackcloth; and with one accord they cried out fervently to the God of Israel not to allow their children to be seized, their wives to be taken captive, the cities of their inheritance to be ruined, or the sanctuary to be profaned and mocked for the nations to gloat over. The Lord heard their cry and saw their distress.
Judith 4: 9-13
It is always good to be reminded that in times of distress we need to call out to God. In Judith, the Israelites were being threatened with war by the Assyrians. I thought I would just write about this, but then I read further (an advisor to the Assyrians told the leader):
“As long as the Israelites did not sin in the sight of their God, they prospered, for their God, who hates wickedness, was with them. But when they abandoned the way he had prescribed for them, they were utterly destroyed by frequent wars, and finally taken as captives into foreign lands. The temple of their God was razed to the ground, and their cities were occupied by their enemies. But now they have returned to their God, and they have come back from the Diaspora where they were scattered. They have reclaimed Jerusalem, where their sanctuary is, and have settled again in the hill country, because it was unoccupied. “So now, my master and lord, if these people are inadvertently at fault, or if they are sinning against their God, and if we verify this offense of theirs, then we will be able to go up and conquer them. But if they are not a guilty nation, then let my lord keep his distance; otherwise their Lord and God will shield them, and we will be mocked in the eyes of all the earth.”
Judith 5: 17-21
What a prescription for life! We make ourselves weak when we sin. When we abandon the way God prescribes for us, we are utterly destroyed. Hmmm. Could our country learn something from this?
We make ourselves strong when we stand with God.
I thought this would be all I wrote, but then I read further — surprisingly it was actually quite riveting (the Israelites were about to give up until Judith stepped in and said):
Who are you to put God to the test today, setting yourselves in the place of God in human affairs? And now it is the Lord Almighty you are putting to the test, but you will never understand anything! You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or grasp the workings of the human mind; how then can you fathom God, who has made all these things, or discern his mind, or understand his plan? “No, my brothers, do not anger the Lord our God. For if he does not plan to come to our aid within the five days, he has it equally within his power to protect us at such time as he pleases, or to destroy us in the sight of our enemies. Do not impose conditions on the plans of the Lord our God. God is not like a human being to be moved by threats, nor like a mortal to be cajoled.
“So while we wait for the salvation that comes from him, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our cry if it pleases him.
How many times do I try to bargain with God or cajole him. Judith’s words from thousands of years ago, strike pure today. We cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or grasp the workings of the human mind; how then can we fathom God, who has made all these things, or discern his mind, or understand his plan? Who are we to think we can even try. We just need to accept God’s plan. And know that it is for our good. He knows. And no matter how we try, it is not humanly possible for us to fully grasp the reasons why. Judith went on to say:
“Therefore, my brothers, let us set an example for our kindred. Their lives depend on us, and the defense of the sanctuary, the temple, and the altar rests with us. Besides all this, let us give thanks to the Lord our God for putting us to the test as he did our ancestors. Recall how he dealt with Abraham, and how he tested Isaac, and all that happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia while he was tending the flocks of Laban, his mother’s brother. He has not tested us with fire, as he did them, to try their hearts, nor is he taking vengeance on us. But the Lord chastises those who are close to him in order to admonish them.”
Read this passage again. I find it amazingly uplifting. First, our kindred’s lives depend on us. Now that could seem burdensome, but I find it to be great guidance on how to live life when troubles seem to abound. What better way to forget your own troubles than to focus on those around you? Our kindred, our faith, our church depend on us, each of us. What would happen if we all gave up?
And more importantly thank God for putting us to the test — thank God for the struggles — why — because He chastises those who are close to Him in order to admonish or warn them — in order to help guide us! God loves us. The tests, the struggles, the burdens are not to harm us — but to strengthen us and make straight our path to Him. All of those close to Him have suffered in some fashion — indeed, we all suffer, we all go through dark times. But God has given us kindred to help and like a good parent gentle reminders of the path we need to be on when we stray. Sometimes the reminders may not be as gentle as we would like — but they are what we need to bring us back to the path to God.
Thank you for all of the gentle reminders you throw my way, and even for the not so gentle reminders. Strengthen me so that I may help others. Guide me in the path to you. Help me to be patient when I do not understand your ways or the path that I am on. Help me to trust and let go in you.