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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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.
One thing I’ve noted throughout my involvement in apologetics and philosophy is a constant need and desire for good devotions. I’ve written some guidelines for how to go about a devotional life here, but I’ve noticed that many readers are coming to my site looking for actual devotions themselves. Thus, I’ve decided to start this series of devotions for the Christian Philosopher or Apologist.
Job and Natural Theology
Recommended reading: The book of Job, a chapter or book on natural theology
Often, I find myself struggling, as I am so enmeshed in abstract concepts of God and philosophy, to maintain that personal connection with my Lord. Nowhere do I find a better place to reignite this personal connection than the book of Job. It appeals to me on a number of levels–it has verses which demonstrate the greatness of faith, the horrors of evil, and the greatness and existence of God.
As Christian philosophers/apologists, we can smile and nod along with such passages as Job 12:7-10″
“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”
We can note how often we echo these very words, pointing to such things as the teleological argument or arguments from design. Scripture preaches what we teach! We are told here that creation itself witnesses the Creator! But these aren’t the only verses in Job which help affirm the tasks to which we have set ourselves, for we are told in Job about the attributes of God (He is unchangeable 23:13, almighty chapters 25-26, majestic 37:1ff, omnibenevolent 34:10 [though note that we must be careful to assertain doctrinal truths from Job’s friends, who are often mistaken about the works of God], and sovereign 1:21) we are informed that religious experience can convey knowledge (4:12, but again note that this is a friend of Job’s, so be careful with interpretation), and we discover that there will be a physical resurrection (19:25).
Already, we have experienced many of the parts of Job which speak directly to us as apologists and philosophers. But there is so much more here! We are to focus upon faith. As I said before, I often lose sight of my personal relationship with God in the midst of the abstract arguments, but Job (the book) calls us towards such a strong relationship with God.
Job 5:8-27 can give us great comfort. It is God to whom we commit our cause (5:8). God does great and unsearchable things, providing for our every need (5:9-16). Furthermore, we are comforted in times of trouble. God may allow us to be wounded, but he binds us, we may be shattered, but God heals us (5:18).
Finally, within Job we have a stirring account from God. Another struggle I can find myself involved in is an inflated view of my knowledge. Job struggled with this same issue, as he complained to God about his sufferings. God’s response is not to explain suffering, but to reassert His greatness and unlimited knowledge (see the dialogue in chapters 38 and following). We are then shown what our proper response is to God’s great majesty, Job 42:1-6:
Then Job answered the LORD and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? ‘Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job understands how our lives should reflect our commitment to God. We too often utter what we do not understand, when we encounter God, we realize that compared to His great glory, we can only repent of inability to always be perfect ambassadors of Christ. Yet, along with Job, we know that our redeemer lives (Job 19:25). What a great blessing it is to know that we will walk with him, in the flesh, upon the earth!
God’s grace and peace to you, my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. I hope this devotion will be helpful in your studies. I’d appreciate any feedback you can give me to help improve any future devotions I may share.
The image in this post was a (very unprofessional) photograph by me of the Lutheran Study Bible and the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology
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.