The Sword of Judith
When it first started, Judith wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or horrified. She was leaning toward horrified. First it was the city council members bringing their questions and ideas and disputes, as if they had not enough wisdom in their own heads to do their jobs; then it was the suitors. It was really the suitors that were the problem. Well, to be truthful, they were generally one and the same.
“You’re going to have to find your own solution to the matter of the water dispute, Carmi,” she told the latest one swiftly before having her maid shoo him out the door. Ever since she put fine garments on one time, all the men’s eyes had followed after her when she’d been so shunned as a young girl, it had been almost a mercy Manasseh had noticed her at all.
Manasseh, ah. He had been a worthy man, godly and righteous, and he had always loved and treated Judith well, but all things came to pass and it was Judith now and her maid and household.
Judith considered the matter carefully. She needed to do something to make things get back to normal for herself. “They’re starting to call me another Deborah!” she muttered to herself. Judith had certainly not set herself up under a palm tree and started hearing cases for Israel, but if she wanted to ensure nobody else ensconced her there, she needed a plan.
It had been three months since the people returned from Jerusalem and three months since she had had something of a normal life. So Judith thought and considered and went in by herself to pray and fast, refusing all visitors for several days.
Some wondered to themselves if something was wrong, an illness perhaps, or if Judith had some sort of vow to perform that she had promised to God for His strength and protection in slaying Holofernes. Very few in the city could guess that she was praying for wisdom concerning what to do about those pesky suitors who kept coming in a steady stream to her household and taking up all hours of the day that should have been devoted to her own duties. The house didn’t run itself even with what help she had—which was considerable.
Her maid—who was over all her household, remember—certainly didn’t have to guess what Judith was about. They discussed the matter over freely together until they decided what to do. Judith took her maid with her one night and disappeared quietly back to Jerusalem. Traveling together with just the two of them was quite a relief and Judith slowly relaxed back into comfortable conversation with a worthy companion.
“Do you want your freedom now?” Judith asked her long-time friend, as she had often asked her. It was Manasseh that had purchased the girl, but they were both getting past girlhood and Judith would have been pleased to grant her maid freedom.
“Not yet,” the maid said with a soft, quiet smile to herself.
Judith accepted this and they went on to Jerusalem. There, the two women went into a respectable part of the city and visited a smith rarely patronized by women. The smith took some convincing to do as she wished, but eventually, they managed to convince him and then waited together in their room within the city.
“I will take my freedom when you put away your sword,” the maid finally said.
Judith laughed and agreed readily. “There. I will hold you to it.” And she wrote it down on parchment and sealed it with her household seal.
It took the smith several days to complete the assignment and for the maid to retrieve it, and then the women returned to Bethulia install Judith’s purchase in its rightful place.
When next the gentleman of Bethulia arrived to “consult” with Judith (while they fell to perusing her loveliness instead and court her if they could), those men stopped short in the courtyard of her house and stared at the finely wrought sword hanging on the wall with Judith’s name engraved into its hilt.
“My sword,” Judith replied with a small smile and a nod. “Welcome. Come in and sit and we will talk.”
So they sat under her sword as others had sat generations past beneath Deborah’s palm tree and consulted while they fell at times to gazing at the weapon overhead rather than their hostess’ pretty face. Perhaps it was a good thing to remember she had taken Holofernes’ head from his shoulders when he thought to claim Judith for his own. Perhaps it was good to remember the wise widow was not without resources of her own—her prayers, her maid, her sword. The council members went away much more soberly than they had come.
And when Judith did finally grow old, in wisdom and fame, unwed to any other than her first beloved husband Manasseh, she asked her maid to take down the sword and bury it with her. “Now, my friend, you are free,” she whispered.
The maid laughed and caught Judith’s hands in hers. “I was always free.”
The women smiled, sharing one last moment together. Men may have prayed their gratitude to be men of Israel and not women, but few had greater wisdom or friendships than Judith and her own overseer, whom they called a mere maid. “Sometime, you write our story,” Judith whispered. “You would do a better job than that man who came here with his scribe’s table and listened to hardly a word I said.”
They laughed together and spoke quietly in what time remained to them. Eventually, that maid did write their story, but she shared it only with the women of Bethulia and did not pass the story to be bandied about by men.
For Judith remained famous for years, the woman who took up a sword for God when the men of her village were trembling in the knees. And for a while, all was well, and Israel was at peace.0