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.
71-2The next day Holofernes gathered his whole army together, as well as his allied forces. It was an immense army, consisting of 170,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry, not counting the support troops who took care of the equipment. He ordered them to march on Bethulia, seize the mountain passes, and attack the Israelites. So they moved out 3and set up camp beside the spring in the valley near Bethulia. The camp was so wide that it spread out towards the town of Dothan as far as Balbaim, and so long that it stretched from Bethulia to Cyamon, which faces the Valley of Jezreel.
4When the Israelites saw the size of the army, they were terrified and said to one another, “Those soldiers are going to eat up everything in sight. There's not enough food in the mountains, valleys, and hills put together to feed an army like that.” 5
But in spite of their fear, all the Israelites took up their weapons, lighted signal fires on the towers, and remained on guard duty all night. 6The next day Holofernes led out his entire cavalry so that the Israelites in Bethulia could see them. 7He inspected the approaches to the town and the springs that supplied its water. He seized the springs and stationed guards there, before returning to camp.
8All the leaders of the Edomite and Moabite forces, along with the commanders of the troops from the Mediterranean coast, came to Holofernes and said, 9“Sir, if you listen to our advice, your troops will not suffer heavy losses. 10These Israelites do not rely on their weapons for defence but rather on the height of the mountains where they live, since the mountains are not easy to climb. 11So then, General Holofernes, if you do not make a direct attack on them, your whole army will suffer no casualties. 12Stay in your camp and keep your soldiers in their quarters. Just command your men to blockade the springs at the foot of the mountains, 13because that's where the people of Bethulia come to draw their water. Then, when they are dying of thirst, they will surrender their town to you. Meanwhile, we and our men will go up to the tops of the surrounding mountains, where we will set up camp and keep anyone from leaving the town. 14Everyone will starve to death — men, women, and children. Even before we attack, the streets will be littered with their corpses. 15In this way you can make them pay for their rebellion and for refusing to surrender peacefully to you.”
16Holofernes and his entire staff were pleased with this suggestion, so he gave orders to put the plan into action. 17The Moabites and 5,000 Assyrians moved their camp into the valley to control the source of the town's water. 18The Edomites and the Ammonites went up into the mountains and set up their camp opposite the town of Dothan. They sent some of their men to the south-east in the direction of Acraba, near Chusi, which is beside the River Mochmur. The rest of the Assyrian army set up camp in the valley. Their camp was spread out over the whole countryside, because the number of tents and the amount of equipment needed for such a large army were immense.
19Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord their God for help. They had lost their courage, for with the enemy all round them there was no way to escape. 20The entire Assyrian army — infantry, chariots, and cavalry — blockaded Bethulia for 34 days until the town ran out of water. 21All the reservoirs and cisterns went dry, so that the drinking water had to be rationed, and not a day passed when there was enough water to go round. 22Children were becoming weak; everywhere throughout the town women and young people were collapsing. No one had any strength left.
23All the people of the town — men, women, and children alike — gathered round Uzziah and the town officials and shouted in protest, 24“God will punish you for what you have done to us! You are to blame for what is happening, because you did not make peace with the Assyrians. 25There is no one to help us now! God has put us in their power. We are exhausted and dying of thirst. 26Call the Assyrians now and surrender to them, and let Holofernes and his army take the town and loot it. 27We are better off as prisoners of war. They will make us slaves, but at least we will be alive, and we won't have to watch our wives and children dying before our eyes. 28Heaven and earth are witnesses against you, and so is our God, the Lord of our ancestors, who is punishing us for their sins as well as ours. We can only hope and pray that he will not let these terrible things happen to us today.”7.28 We can… today; some Greek manuscripts and ancient translations have We demand that you surrender, as we have asked you to do today.
29Everyone there began to weep loudly and to pray to the Lord their God. 30Then Uzziah said to them, “Don't give up, my friends! Let's wait five more days to see if the Lord our God will be merciful to us. Surely he will not abandon us completely. 31But if no help comes after five days, then I will do as you say.” 32So Uzziah dismissed the people. All the men returned to their guard posts on the walls and towers, while the women and children went back to their homes. The morale of the entire town was very low.
81At that time, Judith heard about Uzziah's decision. She was the daughter of Merari, the granddaughter of Ox and the great-granddaughter of Joseph. Joseph's ancestors were Oziel, Elkiah, Ananias, Gideon, Raphaim, Ahitub, Elijah, Hilkiah, Eliab, Nathanael, Salamiel, Sarasadai, and Israel. 2Judith's husband Manasseh, who belonged to the same tribe and clan, had died during the barley harvest. 3He had got sunstroke while in the fields supervising the farm workers and later died in bed at home in Bethulia. He was buried in the family tomb in the field between Dothan and Balamon.
4For three years and four months, Judith had lived as a widow. 5
In her grief she built a little shelter on the roof of her house and lived there, wearing sackcloth. 6She fasted during that entire period except when fasting was forbidden: the day before the Sabbath and the Sabbath itself, the eve of the New Moon Festival and the Festival itself, and all the festivals and holidays observed by the people of Israel. 7Judith was a very beautiful woman. Her husband had left her gold and silver, servants and slaves, livestock and fields. She continued to supervise the estate, 8and no one ever said anything bad about Judith. She was a very religious woman.
9Judith heard how the people were complaining bitterly against Uzziah, now that the water shortage had broken their morale. She learnt that in answer to their complaints he had promised to surrender the town to the Assyrians after five days. 10Judith sent a slave, the woman who managed her business affairs, to invite Uzziah,8.10 Uzziah; some Greek manuscripts do not have this word. Chabris, and Charmis, the town officials, to her home.
11When the officials arrived, Judith said to them, “Please listen to me. You are the leaders of the people of Bethulia, but you were wrong to speak to the people as you did today. You should not have made a solemn promise before God that you would surrender the town to our enemies if the Lord did not come to our aid within a few days. 12
What right have you to put God to the test as you have done today? Who are you to put yourselves in God's place in dealing with human affairs? 13It is the Lord Almighty that you are putting to the test! Will you never learn? 14
There is no way that you can understand what is in the depths of a human heart or find out what a person is thinking. Yet you dare to read God's mind and interpret his thoughts! How can you claim to understand God, the Creator? No, my friends, you must stop arousing the anger of the Lord our God! 15If he decides not to come to our aid within five days, he still may rescue us at any time he chooses. Or he may let our enemies destroy us. 16But you must not lay down conditions for the Lord our God! Do you think that he is like one of us? Do you think you can bargain with him or force him to make a decision? 17No! Instead, we should ask God for his help and wait patiently for him to rescue us. If he wants to, he will answer our cry for help. 18We do not worship gods made with human hands. Not one of our clans, tribes, towns, or cities has ever done that, even though our ancestors used to do so. 19That is why God let their enemies kill them and take everything they had. It was a great defeat! 20But since we worship no other God but the Lord, we can hope that he will not reject us or any of our people.
21“If our town is taken by the enemy, the entire region of Judah will then fall, and our Temple in Jerusalem will be looted. And God will make us pay with our lives for allowing the Temple to be defiled. 22He will hold us responsible for the slaughter and captivity of our people and for the destruction of the land we have inherited. We will be despised and mocked by the people in those nations to which we will be taken as slaves. 23We are not going to win the favour of our enemies by surrendering to them now.8.23 We are not… now; or No good will ever come out of our slavery. If we do surrender, the Lord our God will see that we are put to shame.
24“No, my friends, we should set an example for our own people. Not only their lives, but the fate of the Temple and the altar depend on us. 25The Lord our God is putting us to the test, just as he tested our ancestors, and we should be thankful for that. 26
Remember how he put Abraham and Isaac to the test, and what happened to Jacob while he was working as a shepherd for his uncle Laban in Mesopotamia. 27God is not testing our loyalty as severely as he did theirs. God is not sending this punishment on us as revenge, but as a warning to us who worship him.”
28Then Uzziah answered Judith, “Everything you have said makes good sense, and no one can argue with it. 29This is not the first time you have shown wisdom. Ever since you were a child, all of us have recognized the soundness and maturity of your judgement. 30But our people are dying of thirst. They forced us to say what we did and to make a solemn promise, which we cannot break. 31So now, since you are a deeply religious woman, pray for our people; ask the Lord to send rain to fill our cisterns, so that we can get our strength back.”
32“All right,” Judith replied, “I am going to do something which our Jewish people will never forget. 33Tonight, the three of you must stand guard at the gate so that my slave woman and I can leave the town. And before the day comes on which you have promised to surrender, the Lord will use me to rescue the people of Israel. 34But you must not ask me what I am going to do; I will explain it to you when it is all over.”
35Uzziah and the other officials said to her, “You have our blessing. May the Lord our God guide you as you take revenge on our enemies.” Then they left Judith's roof-top shelter and returned to their posts.