The Holy Bible – Knox Translation
The Book of Judith
Next day, Holofernes ordered his troops to march on Bethulia.
He had a hundred and twenty thousand foot and twenty-two thousand horse under his command, besides forced levies from the manhood of all the regions and cities he had overrun.
This whole army now prepared to attack the Israelites, advancing up the mountain-slopes to a height which commands the Dothian plain, all the way from Belma to Chelmon, near Esdrelon.
Face to earth the men of Israel bowed down, and threw dust on their heads, as they saw the enemy’s numbers, beseeching God with one accord to grant his people deliverance;
then, taking up their arms, they mounted guard over the approaches of the narrow defile that leads between the mountains, where they kept watch day and night.
Holofernes, looking for a devious path to circumvent them, came upon the springs which fed their aqueduct, south of the city and beyond its enclosure; so he gave orders that their supply of water should be cut off.
A few springs remained, not far from the wall, from which they still drew water, enough to revive their spirits but scarce enough to quench their thirst. This they did by stealth, but not unobserved;
and now the men of Ammon and Moab offered their advice to Holofernes. Not in bow or lance, said they, do the Israelites put their trust; it is the hill-country that befriends them; these mountains with their headlong slopes are all the defence they need.
Wouldst thou defeat them without battle joined? Then set a guard over these springs of theirs, and let them draw water no longer. Either thou wilt compass their deaths, and no blood shed, or, worn down at last, they will yield into thy hands the city they think impregnable.
This advice commended itself to Holofernes and his lords, and he set a hundred men to guard each of the wells all about.
When this watch had been kept for twenty days together, the people of Bethulia had no water left in tank or cistern, not a full supply for one day; for now a daily allowance was made to each.
Thereupon all of them, husbands and wives, young men and children, gathered about Ozias, all uttering a single cry of complaint.
God give judgement, they said, between us and thee; an ill turn thou hast done us, in refusing to come to terms with the Assyrians. Now God has given them the mastery over us;
none brings aid; we lie at their mercy, cruelly undone by thirst.
Come, muster all the citizens, and let us all surrender at discretion to the army of Holofernes.
Better we should be prisoners, still thanking the Lord for our lives spared, than ourselves be slaughtered, first winning the whole world’s reproaches by letting our wives and little ones be slaughtered before our very eyes.
We adjure you by heaven and earth, and by the God of our fathers, who now takes such vengeance on us for our sins, to surrender the town to Holofernes’ army. If we must die, let it be a swift death at the sword’s point, not a lingering death from this parching thirst.
All this was said, and with that the whole throng fell to weeping and lamenting bitterly; and for many hours together they cried out to God as with a single voice:
We have taken part in our fathers’ sins; we are guilty men, rebels against thee.
Do thou, in thy great love, take pity on us; or if punished we must be, let it be under thy own rod; do not abandon us, that still acknowledge thy name, to the mercy of men who never knew thee!
Wouldst thou have the heathen asking, What has become of their God?
At last they grew weary of their clamour; they had wept enough; and when silence was restored,
Ozias rose from his place, bathed in tears, and spoke to them. Brethren, said he, be calm and patient. These five next days, let us still look to the Lord for deliverance;
perhaps his anger will relent, perhaps he means to win himself fresh renown.
If at the end of those five days no help has reached us, rest assured we will act on the counsel you have given.
The Holy Bible