The Apocrypha is a wealth of devotional reading that remains largely untouched by Protestants. No longer, I say! Martin Luther said of the Book of Judith (in the Apocrypha): “[T]his is a fine, good, holy, useful book, well worth reading by us Christians. For the words spoken by the persons in it should be understood as though they were uttered in the Holy Spirit by a spiritual, holy poet or prophet who, in presenting such persons in his play, preaches to us through them” (cited in The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition With Notes, 5-6). It should be noted that Luther is not suggesting that the Apocrypha is on par with the sacred canon. Instead, his view of the office of the ministry is that those ministering are speaking through the spirit. He and others view the book of Judith as a piece of historical fiction, made clear to its readers that it was fictional by its commingling of names from different cultural backgrounds and its generally ahistorical nature. Although it is fiction, that does not undermine the possibility of spiritual truths.
Here, we’ll explore the Prayer of Judith in Judith 9:1ff and see how it points to God as transcendent Lord of all creation.
[Y]ou have designed the things that are now and those that are to come. Yea, the things you intended came to pass, and the things you decided presented themselves and said, ‘Lo, we are here’; for all your ways are prepared in advance, and your judgment is with foreknowledge. (Judith 9:5ff, ESV translation of the Apocrypha)
Judith here acknowledges that all which God plans comes to be. Note that here, Judith does not affirm that God specifically intends for each and every thing that occurs. Rather, this passage reveals that God is in control over all things, accomplishing His plan in such a way that the things He intends will come to pass. Yet the author does not imply that God intends for all things which do happen. Judith does not pray thanking God for causing evil–such would be wildly inappropriate. Instead, Judith focuses upon God’s comprehensive plan which takes into account all things. God has “prepared in advance” all His ways. His judgment and execution of plans is “with foreknowledge.” God’s plans are with absolute foreknowledge of what occurs, and we can trust in God to execute rightly.
[T]hey [the Assyrians] trust in shield and spear, in bow and sling, and know not that you are the Lord who crushes wars; the Lord [YHWH] is your name. (9:7b)
One of my favorite lines in the entire book of Judith: “the Lord who crushes wars.” Think about the implications there: it is God who is control of the destinies of nations. Although the weapons of humanity may be raised against each other, the Lord crushes the war itself. We are reminded in Revelation that there will be a day with no more tears (Revelation 21:4). One day, God will crush the very possibility of war.
Furthermore, it should be noted that in context, Judith is not suggesting that God is against any type of war per se; after all, Judith goes on to behead the leader of the Assyrians and the Israelites pursue the Assyrians from their land. Instead, it is the trust in human invention that is under assault here. The Assyrians put their trust into their own weapons instead of God. Rather, it is God who should be trusted, for it is God who has the power not only to wage war but to destroy war itself.
[C]rush their arrogance by the hand of a woman. (9:10b)
God uses the unexpected for His ends. Women were not the expected leaders; deliverance was more likely to have come from a great general–a man. Yet God uses the weak to bring down the strong.
[C]ause your whole nation and every tribe to know and understand that you are God, the God of all power and might and that there is no other who protects the people of Israel but you alone! (9:14)
Judith continues her prayer, exhorting God to bring His message to all peoples across the whole earth. Such is our own call as Christians. We are to carry out God’s plan in this mortal realm and bring God’s message to the whole earth. Yet we cannot forget that it is God alone who is our unfailing protector. We can trust only in God, not our weapons, not our might: we must trust in God who is far beyond such earthly powers.
The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition With Notes (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2012).
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To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and strife, but others out of good will. These do so out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, seeking to cause me anxiety in my imprisonment. (Philippians 1:15-17 HCSB)
“Why do I defend the faith?”
I encourage all Christian philosophers and apologists to ask themselves this question. It is a question, I admit, with an answer I’ve been ashamed to discover at times. Sometimes, the answer is “I defend the faith because I feel smart doing so” or “I defend the faith because it makes me look good.”
The defense of the faith is not about yourself. The focus is, and should always be, on Christ. Troubles come the way of the defender of the faith. It is not easy to continue to press on towards knowledge and truth. The Christian philosopher faces the scorn of his fellows, and the Christian apologist the ridicule of those who disagree. Yet in such striving, one can rejoice in the salvation of Christ and His glory alone.
It is often too easy to get wrapped up in yourself when you are defending the faith. Look at the people discussing the arguments you make! Look at those who think you are so strong; so faithful; so spiritual! I tell you, Christian brothers and sisters, such glory is nothing to be had in comparison to the glory of Christ crucified.
Further, do we preach the Gospel in such a way as to gainsay others? Paul experienced those who did this very thing; such people are in our midst to this day. Let us not use the Gospel to slander or attack. Rather, let us preach the grace of God.
So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13 HCSB)
Thus, it is not by ourselves that we spread the Good News. It is God’s work in us, empowering us and enabling us to do His work. We cannot take credit for this, but should always turn our victories back to God. When we are tempted to delight in our own wisdom or knowledge, we must ask for forgiveness and acknowledge that it is from God.
Paul’s warnings ring home to me. I have too often congratulated myself with a successful argument, a sound rebuttal. These things matter not if we do not advance the Kingdom. Let us unite with each other, build each other up, and encourage one another. By doing these things, we can work together, each with his or her strength covering another’s weakness. Let us together hold firmly to the message of life (Phil. 2:16).
Read Philippians 1 and 2. Reflect on Paul’s joy in the spread of the Gospel and his own striving to keep the focus on Christ, not on himself.
Dear Lord God,
Help us to keep our focus always only on you. Please forgive us for the times we struggle and delight in the admiration of others. Forgive us for using your message for our own ends. Help us to forgive others when they stumble, and grant us the grace to lift them up. We work for your glory, oh Lord.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
There are so many verses, chapters, and books in the Bible which resonate with me as a Christian philosopher/apologist. Ecclesiastes ranks near the top, however, due to its wonderfully philosophical message and style. The underlying theme of Ecclesiastes is that without God, everything is meaningless.
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.’… What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (1:2, 9).
The book starts with the idea that there is “nothing new under the sun.” The theme of “under the sun” is important to note. Consistently, “under the sun” is used to refer to “on earth.” It is in stark contrast to the “permanence of heaven” (TLSB). The theme contrasting life here on earth with heaven does not become apparent until very late in the book, so we too shall leave it until the end.
Solomon continues to explore the idea that that which we do “under the sun” is utterly meaningless. “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (1:18). The more we know, the more we sorrow. We can see themes like this in atheists like Albert Camus or Sartre, whose exploration of a world without God lead them to question whether suicide may be the only valid option.
“For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity [also translated “meaningless”]. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (3:19-20). The Teacher/Preacher goes on to contemplate our end: “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? …Who can bring [man] to see what will be after him?” (3:21, 22b). It is death itself which makes life meaningless. Who knows what happens after death? Everything “appears utterly futile” (Waltke).
However, the Preacher/Teacher does not want us to collapse into despair. Without God, under the sun, all is meaningless. But with God, there is hope, joy, and meaning. This theme is sown in chapter 5 (verses 2-3; 7; and 19-20). Yet before fully developing this theme, Solomon returns to a life (and death) under the sun.
The existential life under the sun is absurd. “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun” (9:5-6). Again the theme is “under the sun”. Without God, the life under the sun is meaning. We die, we pass away forever, we know not what comes after death, and even our actions pass away from under the sun. We no longer have a “share” in what is done under the sun.
The theme repeats throughout the book. “Under the sun”, all is meaningless, there is nothing new, and life itself passes away. Even a constant search for pleasure can only be meaningless.
Yet the conclusion to Ecclesiastes radically re-imagines the book. Solomon’s point so far has been that “you cannot make sense of life” (Waltke). Life under the sun is meaningless, futile, and vain. Existentially, the more we know, the more despair we can find. The more we explore life “under the sun,” the more we realize that it will be extinguished, and our actions will no longer impact that life.
The story does not end there, however. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13-14). The final verses of the book turn the meaning of the entire work about. The Preacher/Teacher comes to the conclusion: without God, all is meaningless; with God, there is good and evil, there is judgment, and there is duty. Rather than striving for nothing, we should strive for God. Rather than despair and futility; there is duty and good. Without God, life is meaningless; with God, there is meaning.
Bruce Waltke, “Understanding the Old Testament.” Institute of Theological Studies. 2009.
The Lutheran Study Bible. (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009).
The picture is from The Lutheran Study Bible.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.