General Holofernes reconnoiters the city of Bethulia. His commanders suggest avoiding direct battle. Instead, they should stop the water supply so Bethulia dies of thirst. Meanwhile, Israel prays.
1. The next day Holofernes commanded all his army and all the people who had come to be his allies, that they should move their camp toward Bethulia, take beforehand the ascents of the hill country, and make war against the children of Israel.
Bethulia. The name “Bethulia” in Hebrew translates to “a virgin.”
Some people have imagined that it is a pseudonym for “Jerusalem.” However, the topographical details in the Book of Judith would say otherwise. In our day, scholars have not yet arrived at consensus. As of this writing, the most likely location is modern-day Jenin.
make war against the children of Israel. This is the beginning of the battle.
2. Every mighty man of them moved that day. The army of their men of war was one hundred seventy thousand footmen, plus twelve thousand horsemen, besides the baggage, and the men that were on foot among them: an exceedingly great multitude.
one hundred seventy thousand footmen. Since being sent out by King Nebuchadnezzar, General Holofernes has increased the size of his army.
3. They encamped in the valley near Bethulia, by the fountain. They spread themselves in breadth over Dothaim even to Belmaim, and in length from Bethulia to Cyamon, which is near Esdraelon.
4. But the children of Israel, when they saw the multitude of them, were troubled exceedingly, and everyone said to his neighbor, “Now these men will lick up the face of all the earth. Neither the high mountains, nor the valleys, nor the hills will be able to bear their weight.
5. Every man took up his weapons of war, and when they had kindled fires upon their towers, they remained and watched all that night.
they remained and watched all that night. Even though they are hopelessly outnumbered, they stayed at their posts. They remained alert and watchful.
6. But on the second day Holofernes led out all his cavalry in the sight of the children of Israel which were in Bethulia,
7. viewed the ascents to their city, and searched out the springs of the waters, seized upon them, and set garrisons of men of war over them. Then he departed back to his people.
he departed back to his people. General Holofernes has already devastated Put, Lud, the Rassisites, the Ismaelites, Mesopotamia, the Wadi Abron, Cicilia, Japheth, the Midianites and Damascus.
Now he faces tiny Israel. He has an immense army, “too many to count.” Yet he is unusually cautious. What is holding him back?
8. All the rulers of the children of Esau, all the leaders of the people of Moab, and the captains of the sea coast came to him and said,
9. “Let our lord now hear a word, that there be not losses in your army.
that there be not losses in your army. The commanders and generals realize that their immense army might loose a lot of lives in this battle against tiny Israel.
10. For this people of the children of Israel do not trust in their spears, but in the height of the mountains wherein they dwell, for it is not easy to come up to the tops of their mountains.
11. And now, my lord, don’t fight against them as men fight who join battle, and there will not so much as one man of your people perish.
12. Remain in your camp, and keep every man of your army safe. Let your servants get possession of the water spring, which flows from the foot of the mountain,
Let your servants get possession of the water spring. Their plan is to stop up the water supply.
13. because all the inhabitants of Bethulia get their water from there. Then thirst will kill them, and they will give up their city. Then we and our people will go up to the tops of the mountains that are near, and will encamp upon them, to watch that not one man gets out of the city.
14. They will be consumed with famine, they and their wives and their children. Before the sword comes against them they will be laid low in the streets where they dwell.
15. And you will pay them back with evil, because they rebelled, and didn’t meet your face in peace.”
16. Their words were pleasing in the sight of Holofernes and in the sight of all his servants; and he ordered them to do as they had spoken.
17. And the army of the children of Ammon moved, and with them five thousand of the children of Asshur, and they encamped in the valley. They seized the waters and the springs of the waters of the children of Israel.
18. The children of Esau went up with the children of Ammon, and encamped in the hill country near Dothaim. They sent some of them toward the south, and toward the east, near Ekrebel, which is near Chusi, that is upon the brook Mochmur. The rest of the army of the Assyrians encamped in the plain, and covered all the face of the land. Their tents and baggage were pitched upon it in a great crowd. They were an exceedingly great multitude.
19. The children of Israel cried to the Lord their God, for their spirit fainted; for all their enemies had surrounded them. There was no way to escape out from among them.
The children of Israel cried to the Lord their God. They do not fall into despair. Instead, they pray. They call out to the LORD God.
20. All the army of Asshur remained around them, their footmen and their chariots and their horsemen, thirty-four days. All their vessels of water ran dry for all the inhabitants of Bethulia.
thirty-four days. This is very long time for the army to sit around and wait.
21. The cisterns were emptied, and they had no water to drink their fill for one day; for they rationed drink by measure.
22. Their young children were discouraged. The women and the young men fainted for thirst. They fell down in the streets of the city, and in the passages of the gates. There was no longer any strength in them.
23. All the people, including the young men, the women, and the children, were gathered together against Ozias, and against the rulers of the city. They cried with a loud voice, and said before all the elders,
24. “God be judge between all of you and us, because you have done us great wrong, in that you have not spoken words of peace with the children of Asshur.
25. Now we have no helper; but God has sold us into their hands, that we should be laid low before them with thirst and great destruction.
26. And now summon them, and deliver up the whole city as prey to the people of Holofernes, and to all his army.
27. For it is better for us to be made a plunder to them. For we will be servants, and our souls will live, and we will not see the death of our babies before our eyes, and our wives and our children fainting in death.
it is better for us to be made a plunder. That is, “We would be better off to become their prey. We should indeed be made slaves, but at least we should live” (NAB translation).
They have lost their identity. They have forgotten who they are. They are children of God. They are inheritors of The Promise. They are sons and daughters of Abraham. But now they consider themselves worth so little that they should become slave labor!
28. We take to witness against you the heaven and the earth, and our God and the Lord of our fathers, who punishes us according to our sins and the sins of our fathers. Do what we have said today!”
29. And there was great weeping of all with one consent in the midst of the assembly; and they cried to the Lord God with a loud voice.
30. And Ozias said to them, “Brethren, be of good courage! Let us endure five more days, during which the Lord our God will turn his mercy toward us; for he will not forsake us utterly.
31. But if these days pass, and no help comes to us, I will do what you say.”
32. Then he dispersed the people, every man to his own camp; and they went away to the walls and towers of their city. He sent the women and children into their houses. They were brought very low in the city.
Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.