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In Memory of Grace

Judith and Holofernes
©2011 Gibbens/Weston

I’ll sing a noble general
Of skill forged in battle,
Proven in mettle and zeal,
And a high-born widow
Whose daring matched her beauty,
A star in all her neighbours’ eyes
Since her cunning saved their lives.
Judith was she,
Holofernes he,
Who came to lay the Hebrews waste
With the Babylonian host.

In the hills of Judaea
He came up to Bethulia.
Folk prepared to make their stand.
Said he, Since they’ve done this thing,
Not shown obedience to my king
Nor thrown themselves upon my mercy,
I will run this people through.
Captain Alchior,
Renowned in peace and war,
Said to Holofernes then,
Careful of this race of men.

Lord, though weak they have a god,
A present and a fearful god,
Maker of all things and souls,
And if they live by him
He will take their part,
All our force will not prevail
And we shall be brought to shame.
But for a wicked heart
He’ll break them apart,
We shall be his scourge and flail,
That the earth may know his name.

Let us first consider then
Whether they live as upright men.
If they do, then pass them by.
Who could be on their side,
Holofernes replied,
Mightier than one beyond measure,
For who is god but King Nebuchadnezzar?
But since you believe it not,
With them you shall have your lot
And on the day they are destroyed
The sword will also pass through your side.

Then they bound up Alchior
And laid him at Bethulia’s door,
And the people took him in.
Judith stoutly prayed,
Lord, show me some way
To turn the Babylonians’ curse,
Now your people starve and thirst.
She took off widow’s garb,
Put on silk and pearls,
Went down to the city gate,
old the watchmen, Let me out.

She went to her enemies
And asked for Holofernes,
And made the sentries wonder at her beauty.
General, I have fled
A people who are surely dead.
For the sin they’ll soon commit,
I would have no part of it.
Since hunger presses them,
They write to Jerusalem
And ask that they may have permission
To eat of our God’s sacred things.

The same day they do it,
God will make them rue it.
I’ll be here to show you how and when.
She kept him at arm’s length
Till the third night with them,
Wined and dined in Holofernes’ tent,
He drank so much that out he went.
The servants left them both.
She took down his great sword,
Took him by the hair of the head.
Two strokes left his body on the bloody bed.

She crept back to her people
With the head of the general
And her virtue undefiled.
Dawn brought dismay and terror
To the armies of Nebuchadnezzar.
When they saw their leader dead,
This way and that they fled.
And when he saw it done
With the blood of just one man,
Alchior of Babylon,
Alchior believed the Lord.

Then that righteous captain
Fell at the feet of the widow,
Calling her the best of women.
And giving thanks to God,
Judith piled her spoils,
Who was more blessed than anyone alive
And lived upright to a hundred and five.

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