41The people of Judah heard what Holofernes, the commander of King Nebuchadnezzar's armies, had done to the other nations. They heard how he had looted and destroyed all their temples, 2and they were terrified of him and afraid of what he might do to Jerusalem and to the Temple of the Lord their God. 3They had only recently returned home to Judah from exile and had just rededicated the Temple and its utensils and its altar after they had been defiled. 4So they sent a warning to the whole region of Samaria and to the towns of Kona, Beth Horon, Belmain, Jericho, Choba, and Aesora, and to the Valley of Salem. 5They immediately occupied the mountaintops, fortified the villages on the mountains, and stored up food in preparation for war. It was fortunate that they had recently harvested their fields.
6The High Priest Joakim, who was in Jerusalem at that time, wrote to the people in the towns of Bethulia and Betomesthaim, which face the Valley of Jezreel near Dothan. 7He ordered them to occupy the mountain passes which led into the land of Judah, where it would be easy to withstand an attack, since the approach was only wide enough for two people at a time to pass. 8The Israelites carried out the orders given to them by the High Priest Joakim and the Council which met in Jerusalem.
9The leaders of Israel prayed earnestly to God and fasted. 10
They put on sackcloth — they and their wives, their children, their livestock, and every resident foreigner, every slave and hired labourer. 11-12They also covered the altar with sackcloth. Then all the men, women, and children in Jerusalem lay face down on the ground in front of the Temple; they lay there in the Lord's presence, all in sackcloth, their heads covered with ashes. They joined together in earnest prayer to the God of Israel, begging him not to let their children be captured, their wives carried off, or their home towns destroyed. They pleaded with him not to give the Gentiles the satisfaction of destroying the Temple and dishonouring it. 13
The Lord heard their prayers and saw their distress. For many days the people of Judah and Jerusalem continued their fast in front of the Temple of the Lord Almighty. 14
The High Priest Joakim, the priests, and all the others who served in the Lord's Temple, wore sackcloth when they offered the daily burnt offering, the freewill offerings of the people, and the offerings made to fulfil a vow. 15They put ashes on their turbans and cried out in prayer to the Lord, begging him to have mercy on the whole nation.
51When Holofernes, the Assyrian general, heard that the Israelites had prepared for war, blocked the mountain passes, fortified the mountaintops, and set up roadblocks in the plains, 2he boiled over with anger. He called together all the Moabite rulers, all the Ammonite generals, and all the governors of the region along the Mediterranean coast 3and said to them, “You live in Canaan, so tell me about the people who live in these mountains. Which cities do they occupy? How large is their army? What is the source of their power and strength? Who is the king who leads their army? 4Why have they alone, of all the people in the west, refused to come out and surrender to me?”
5Then Achior, the leader of all the Ammonites, answered Holofernes, “Sir, if you will please be so kind as to listen to me, I will tell you the truth about these people who live in the mountains near your camp. I will not lie to you. 6These people are the descendants of some Babylonians 7-8who abandoned the ways of their ancestors in order to worship the God of heaven. Finally, they were driven out of their land because they refused to worship their ancestors' gods. Then they fled to Mesopotamia, where they settled and lived for a long time.
“Afterwards, their god told them to leave Mesopotamia and go to the land of Canaan, where they settled and became very rich in gold, silver, and livestock. 10
Later, when a famine struck all the land of Canaan, these Israelites, as they were later called, went down to Egypt and stayed there as long as there was enough food. While they were there, they became a large nation with so many people that they could not be counted. 11
So the king of Egypt turned against them. He took advantage of them and put them to work making bricks. He oppressed them and made them slaves. 12
But they prayed to their god, and he sent disasters that left the Egyptians helpless. When the Egyptians drove them out of the country, 13
their god dried up the Red Sea in front of them, 14and then led them along the way to Sinai and Kadesh Barnea.
“The Israelites drove out all the people who lived in the southern part of Canaan, 15occupied the land of the Amorites, wiped out the people of Heshbon, crossed the River Jordan, and took possession of the entire mountain region. 16They drove out the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Shechemites, and all the Girgashites. The Israelites have now lived in these mountains for a long time.
“Their god hates wickedness, and as long as they did not sin against him, they prospered. 18But when they disobeyed him, they suffered heavy losses in many wars and were finally taken away as captives to a foreign country. The temple of their god was levelled to the ground and their cities were occupied by their enemies. 19But now that they have returned to their god, they have come back home from the countries where they had been scattered. They have again taken possession of the city of Jerusalem, where their temple is, and have resettled in the mountains that had remained uninhabited.
20“Sir, if these people are now sinning against their god, even unknowingly, and if we can be sure that they are guilty of some offence, we can successfully attack them. 21But if they have not disobeyed the law of their god, then you should leave them alone, or he will defend them, and we will be disgraced before the whole world.”
22When Achior had finished his speech, all the people standing round the tent began to protest. Holofernes' own senior officers, as well as the Moabites and those from the Mediterranean coast, demanded that Achior be put to death.
23“Why should we be afraid of these Israelites?” they asked. “They are weak; they can't put up a strong defence. 24Let's go ahead! General Holofernes, your great army will slaughter them easily.”
61When the noise of the crowd round the council had subsided, Holofernes spoke to Achior in front of the entire group, those from the Mediterranean coast, the Moabites, and the Ammonite mercenaries.6.1 the Ammonite mercenaries; some manuscripts do not have these words.
2“Achior6.2 Achior; some manuscripts add you and your hired soldiers from Ephraim; others add you and your mercenaries from Ammon., who do you think you are, acting like a prophet? Who are you to tell us not to go to war against the Israelites because some god will defend them? Nebuchadnezzar is our god, and that's all that matters. He will send his army and wipe these Israelites off the face of the earth. Their god can't help them. 3But we serve Nebuchadnezzar, and we will beat them as easily as if their whole army were one man. They will not be able to hold their ground against our cavalry; 4it will overwhelm them. The mountains will be soaked with their blood, and the valleys will be filled with their corpses. After our attack, they will be completely wiped out; not a trace of them will be left. This is the command of Nebuchadnezzar, the lord of the whole earth, and he doesn't speak idle words. 5Achior, you are nothing but an Ammonite mercenary, and you talk like a traitor. You will not see me again until I come and punish this race of runaway slaves. 6And when I do, my soldiers will put you to death. You will be just another name on the casualty list.
7“Now my men will take you into the mountains and leave you in one of the Israelite towns, 8and you will die with the people there. 9Why look so worried, Achior? Don't you think the town can stand against me? I will carry out all my threats; you can be sure of that!”
10Then Holofernes ordered his men, who were waiting in his tent, to seize Achior, take him to Bethulia, and hand him over to the Israelites. 11So the men seized Achior and took him out of the camp into the valley. From there they led him into the mountains, as far as the spring which was below Bethulia.
12When the men of that town saw them approaching, they picked up their weapons and ran to the top of the hill. Every man who used a sling as a weapon rained stones down on Holofernes' soldiers, and this stopped them from coming any farther up the mountain. 13The Assyrians were forced to take cover along the mountainside, where they tied Achior up and left him lying at the foot of the mountain. Then they returned to Holofernes.
14Later, when the Israelites came down from Bethulia, they untied Achior, brought him into the town, and took him before the town officials, 15who at that time were Uzziah son of Micah, of the tribe of Simeon, Chabris son of Gothoniel, and Charmis son of Melchiel. 16The officials called together the town elders, and all the women and the young men also ran to the assembly. Achior was brought before the people, and Uzziah began questioning him. 17Achior told them what had been said at Holofernes' war council, what he himself had said to the Assyrian officers, and how Holofernes had boasted about what he would do to the Israelites. 18When the people heard this, they fell on their knees and worshipped God. They prayed: 19“O Lord God of heaven, look how our boastful enemies have humiliated your people! Have pity on us and help us.” 20Then they reassured Achior and praised him for what he had done. 21After the assembly was over, Uzziah took Achior home with him, and gave a banquet there for the elders. All that night they prayed to the God of Israel for help.