December 09, 2002 Copyright © by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
- The following day Holofernes ordered his whole army, and all the allied troops that had come to his support, to move against Bethulia, seize the mountain passes, and engage the Israelites in battle.
- That same day all their fighting men went into action. Their forces numbered a hundred and seventy thousand infantry and twelve thousand horsemen, not counting the baggage train or the men who accompanied it on foot-a very great army.
- They encamped at the spring in the valley near Bethulia, and spread out in breadth toward Dothan as far as Balbaim, and in length from Bethulia to Cyamon, which faces Esdraelon.
- When the Israelites saw how many there were, they said to one another in great dismay: "Soon they will devour the whole country. Neither the high mountains nor the valleys and hills can support the mass of them."
- 1 Yet they all seized their weapons, lighted fires on their bastions, and kept watch throughout the night.
- On the second day Holofernes led out all his cavalry in the sight of the Israelites who were in Bethulia.
- He reconnoitered the approaches to their city and located their sources of water; these he seized, stationing armed detachments around them, while he himself returned to his troops.
- All the commanders of the Edomites and all the leaders of the Ammonites, together with the generals of the seacoast, came to Holofernes and said:
- "Sir, listen to what we have to say, that there may be no losses among your troops.
- These Israelites do not rely on their spears, but on the height of the mountains where they dwell; it is not easy to reach the summit of their mountains.
- Therefore, sir, do not attack them in regular formation; thus not a single one of your troops will fall.
- Stay in your camp, and spare all your soldiers. Have some of your servants keep control of the source of water that flows out at the base of the mountain,
- for that is where the inhabitants of Bethulia get their water. Then thirst will begin to carry them off, and they will surrender their city. Meanwhile, we and our men will go up to the summits of the nearby mountains, and encamp there to guard against anyone's leaving the city.
- They and their wives and children will languish with hunger, and even before the sword strikes them they will be laid low in the streets of their city.
- Thus you will render them dire punishment for their rebellion and their refusal to meet you peacefully."
- Their words pleased Holofernes and all his ministers, and he ordered their proposal to be carried out.
- Thereupon the Moabites moved camp, together with five thousand Assyrians. They encamped in the valley, and held the water supply and the springs of the Israelites.
- The Edomites and the Ammonites went up and encamped in the mountain region opposite Dothan; and they sent some of their men to the south and to the east opposite Egrebel, near Chusi, which is on Wadi Mochmur. The rest of the Assyrian army was encamped in the plain, covering the whole countryside. Their enormous store of tents and equipment was spread out in profusion everywhere.
- The Israelites cried to the Lord, their God, for they were disheartened, since all their enemies had them surrounded, and there was no way of slipping through their lines.
- The whole Assyrian camp, infantry, chariots, and cavalry, kept them thus surrounded for thirty-four days. All the reservoirs of water failed the inhabitants of Bethulia,
- and the cisterns ran dry, so that on no day did they have enough to drink, but their drinking water was rationed.
- Their children fainted away, and the women and youths were consumed with thirst and were collapsing in the streets and gateways of the city, with no strength left in them.
- All the people, therefore, including youths, women, and children, went in a crowd to Uzziah and the rulers of the city. They set up a great clamor and said before the elders:
- "God judge between you and us! You have done us grave injustice in not making peace with the Assyrians.
- There is no help for us now! Instead, God has sold us into their power by laying us prostrate before them in thirst and utter exhaustion.
- Therefore, summon them and deliver the whole city as booty to the troops of Holofernes and to all his forces;
- we would be better off to become their prey. We should indeed be made slaves, but at least we should live, and not have to behold our little ones dying before our eyes and our wives and children breathing out their souls.
- We adjure you by heaven and earth, and by our God, the Lord of our forefathers, who is punishing us for our sins and those of our forefathers, to do as we have proposed, this very day."
- All in the assembly with one accord broke into shrill wailing and loud cries to the Lord their God.
- But Uzziah said to them, "Courage, my brothers! Let us wait five days more for the Lord our God, to show his mercy toward us; he will not utterly forsake us.
- But if those days pass without help coming to us, I will do as you say."
- Then he dispersed the men to their posts, and they returned to the walls and towers of the city; the women and children he sent to their homes. Throughout the city they were in great misery.
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1  Lighted fires on their bastions: to serve as signals for alerting the neighboring towns. Reference to fire signals in time of siege is made in the Lachish ostraca at the beginning of the sixth century B.C. Kept watch throughout the night: to prevent a surprise attack.
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