Many women in the Old Testament were heroes for Israel. The three most famous were Deborah, Esther and Judith. Judith is the one who rallied the people of Israel in a moment of terror. The army of Holofernes numbered one hundred and twenty thousand soldiers in the infantry, with another twenty thousand in the cavalry. To make matters worse, the enemy cut off the water supply.
The people suffered unbearable thirst and were ready to surrender to Holofernes. Judith got angry with them for being weak and faithless. She reminded her fellow Israelites not to be surprised when God tests our faith: “God tested our ancestors. He is now testing us. Remember how he treated Abraham, all the ordeals of Isaac, all that happened to Jacob in Mesopotamia while he kept the sheep of Laban. These ordeals were intended by God to search their hearts. Now, in the same way, this is not vengeance that God is exacting on us, but a warning inflicted by the Lord on those who are near to his heart.”
God often tests us to see if we really trust him. He is not interested in making us suffer. But he does allow bad things to happen to us, for a time, to “reveal the secret thoughts of our hearts”.
It is not God who needs to know. He already knows everything. As it says in the Book of Psalms: “Yahweh, you examine me and know me, you know when I sit, when I rise, you understand my thoughts from afar. You watch when I walk or lie down, you know every detail of my conduct. A word is not yet on my tongue before you, Yahweh, know all about it.”
This business of “searching hearts” is for our sake. We get to see, and everyone else gets to see, whether we truly believe that God is the Lord of heaven and earth, Master of all things past, of all things yet to come. In easy times, people can fool themselves, thinking they believe. Only the one who perseveres in hard times wins God’s favour.
To prove her point, Judith told the Israelites that God would give her strength to conquer the enemy. After worshipping God and asking him to stand by her, she left the city and went out to meet Holofernes.
To cut a long story short, Judith walked back into the city five days after she left. She was holding the head of Holofernes, the general of the Assyrian army. The people fell on their knees and worshipped Yahweh saying: “Blessings on you, O God, for confounding your people’s enemy today!”
The story of Judith has a simple lesson: No matter how bad it gets, trust God.