The thanksgiving canticle of Judith (Jdt 15:14-16:4)

“Judith began this thanksgiving before all Israel. All the people loudly sang this song of praise. Judith said.

‘Begin a song to my God with tambourines!

Sing to my Lord with cymbals!

Raise to him a new psalm!

Exalt him!

Call upon his name!

The Lord is a God who crushes wars.

He sets up his camp among his people.

He delivered me form the hands of my pursuers.

The Assyrian came down from the mountains of the north.

He came with myriads of his warriors.

Their numbers blocked up the Wadis.

Their cavalry covered the hills.

He boasted that he would burn up my territory.

He would kill my young men with the sword.

He would dash my infants to the ground.

He would seize my children as booty.

He would take my virgins as spoil.’”

This appears to be a canticle of Judith. In a sense, it is like the summary canticle in Tobit, chapter 13. Yet all the people seem to sing this song. This beautiful hymn harkens back to Exodus, chapter 15, where there is a victory chant of Moses after they got out of Egypt. This also seems like the short victory chant of Miriam, the sister of Moses. This song is to be sung with tambourines and cymbals. Once again, there is a correlation to the psalms also. You are to exalt the Lord because he crushes or decides wars. God delivered Judith from the hands of her enemies. The mighty Assyrian strong northern warrior blocked the brooks, the valleys, and the mountains. They were going to burn our territory, kill our young men and infants, and seize our children and virgins. The enemy is always portrayed in the worst light.

The victory chant (Ex 15:1-15:21)

“Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to Yahweh. 

I will sing to Yahweh, for he has triumphed gloriously.  Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

Yahweh is my strength and my might.  He has become my salvation. This is my God.  I will praise him, my father’s God and I will exalt him.

Yahweh is a warrior.  Yahweh is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea.  His picked officers are sunk in the Red Sea. The floods cover them.  They went down into the depths like a stone.

Your right hand, Yahweh, glorious in power, your right hand, O Yahweh, shattered the enemy.

In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries.  You sent out your fury.  It consumed them like stubble.

At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up.  The floods stood up in a heap.  The deeps congealed in the heart of the sea

The enemy said, `I will pursue.  I will overtake.   I will divide the spoil. My desire shall have its fill of them.  I will draw my sword.  My hand shall destroy them.’

You blew with your wind.  The sea covered them.  They sank like lead in the mighty waters.” 

The parting of the Red Sea is the great miracle or wonder of Moses.  It is part of our imagination. This is a poetic song of worship, praise and thanksgiving.  The victorious warrior God, Yahweh is to be feared because of his power over all, especially the wind and the sea, as well as Israel’s enemy, the Egyptians.

“Who is like you, O Yahweh, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders? 

You stretched out your right hand, the earth swallowed them. 

In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed.  You guided them by your strength to your holy abode.

The peoples heard.  They trembled.  Pangs seized the inhabitants of Philistia.

Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed.  Trembling seized the leaders of Moab.  All the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.

Terror and dread fall upon them.  By the might of your arm, they became still as a stone. Until your people, O Yahweh passed by, until the people whom you acquired passed by.

You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession, the place, O Yahweh that you made your abode, the sanctuary, O Yahweh, that your hands have established.

Yahweh will reign forever, and ever.

When the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his chariot drivers went into the sea, Yahweh brought back the waters of the sea upon them.  But the Israelites walked on dry ground.”

The second half of this song of praise shows how Yahweh is greater than any other gods, as if there is some sort of competition among the gods.  In fact, it assumes that they are in their new home, since it talks about the Philistines, the Canaanites, the Edomites, and the Moabites. God is more protective than merely powerful.

“Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing.  And Miriam sang to them.  Sing to Yahweh, for he has triumphed gloriously, horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

Now for the first time we hear explicitly about Miriam, the sister of Aaron and Moses.  In fact, she is called a prophet like her brother Aaron, pretty high praise for a woman, as she leads the women in praising God.  This is the first instance of women worshiping God, since it was all men until this time. Many believe that parts of this chant may have been composed by her.