Judith 7

Siege of Bethulia

Chapter 7

Holofernes’s Maneuvers To Blockade Bethulia. 1 The following day Holofernes issued orders to his whole army and all the allies who had joined him to initiate action against Bethulia, seize the passes up into the hill country, and engage the Israelites in battle. 2 That same day their troops went into action, an army numbering one hundred and seventy thousand infantry and twelve thousand cavalry, not to mention the baggage train and the foot soldiers charged with its maintenance—an immense multitude. 3 They encamped in the valley near Bethulia close to the spring, and they spread out in breadth toward Dothan as far as Balbaim, and in length from Bethulia to Cyamon, which faces Esdraelon.

4 When the Israelites caught sight of this vast force, they were greatly terrified. “These men will now devour the whole country,” they said to one another. “Neither the high mountains nor the valleys nor the hills will ever be able to support their weight.” 5 Even so, they all took up their weapons, lit fires on their towers, and remained on guard throughout the night.

6 On the second day Holofernes led out all his cavalry in full view of the Israelites in Bethulia. 7 He reconnoitered the approaches to the town and located the springs that were the source of their water supply. He seized these and stationed detachments of soldiers to guard them before he returned to his main force.

8 All the chieftains of the Edomites and all the leaders of the Moabites, together with the commanders of the coastal region, jointly approached him. 9 “Please listen to our suggestion, my lord,” they said, “and your army will not sustain a single loss. 10 These Israelites do not rely on their spears but on the height of the mountains where they dwell, for it is extremely difficult to reach the peaks of the mountains. 11 Therefore, my lord, do not employ a regular formation to attack them, and in this way not a single one of your troops will be lost.

12 “Remain in your camp, and keep all your troops there with you. Station some of your soldiers to maintain control of the spring flowing from the base of the mountain, 13 since that is where all the people of Bethulia obtain their water. When they start dying of thirst, they will surrender their town. Meanwhile, we and our troops will ascend to the summits of the nearby mountains and set up camp there to ensure that not a single person will escape from that town. 14 They and their wives and children will waste away with hunger, and even before the sword strikes them their corpses will be strewn in the streets of their town. 15 In this way you will make them pay dearly for their defiance and their refusal to receive you peacefully.”

16 Their words pleased Holofernes and all his attendants, and he gave orders for their proposal to be carried out. 17 Accordingly, the army of the Moabites moved forward, together with five thousand Assyrians. They encamped in the valley and seized the water supply and the springs of the Israelites. 18 The Edomites and the Ammonites went up and encamped in the hill country opposite Dothan, and they sent some of their forces to the southeast opposite Egrebel, near Chusi, beside the Wadi Mochmur. The remainder of the Assyrian army took up positions in the plain; they filled the entire countryside, forming an immense encampment with the great multitude of their tents and supply trains.

19 The Israelites under Siege. The Israelites cried out to the Lord, their God, greatly disheartened at the realization that their enemies had surrounded them and cut off every avenue of retreat. 20 For thirty-four days the entire Assyrian army, with infantry, chariots, and cavalry, kept them surrounded, until all the water jars possessed by the inhabitants of Bethulia were empty. 21 Their cisterns were also running dry, so that there was no day on which they had enough to drink, and their drinking water began to be rationed. 22 Their children fainted away, and the women and young men grew weak with thirst. They collapsed in the streets and the gateways of the town, for they had no strength left.

23 Then all the people, including the young men, women, and children, gathered around Uzziah and the rulers of the town. They raised a great clamor of protest and said in the presence of all the elders: 24 “May God judge between you and us. You have perpetrated a grave injustice on us by refusing to sue for terms of peace with the Assyrians. 25 Now we have no one to help us. God has delivered us into their power, and they will find us lying prostrate before them from thirst and exhaustion. 26 Therefore, surrender to them even now. Deliver the entire town as booty to the army of Holofernes and to all his forces. 27 For it would be preferable for us to be conquered by them. Even though we would become their slaves, at least we would be alive and not have to witness our little ones dying before our eyes, and our wives and children gasping their last breath. 28 By heaven and earth, and by our God, the Lord of our ancestors, who is punishing us for our own sins and those of our ancestors, we adjure you to do this very day what we have proposed.”

29 The entire assembly then wailed bitter lamentations and called on the Lord God with loud cries. 30 In response, Uzziah said to them: “Have courage, my people! Let us continue to hold out for five more days. By that time the Lord, our God will show his mercy toward us. He will not abandon us completely. 31 At the end of that period, if no help has reached us, I will do as you say.”[a] 32 Then he dismissed the men to their posts, and they returned to the walls and towers of their town. The women and children were sent to their homes. Throughout the town there was a sense of impending doom.

Footnotes

  1. Judith 7:31 It appears that Uzziah considers the town to be impregnable and is expecting help from Jerusalem or help from God in the form of a great rain that will fill all the cisterns of the town.

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