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The Campaign against Bethulia

The next day Holofernes ordered his whole army and all the allies who had joined him to break camp and move against Bethulia and seize the passes up into the hill country and make war on the Israelites.(A) So all their warriors marched off that day; their fighting forces numbered one hundred seventy thousand infantry and twelve thousand cavalry, not counting the baggage and the foot soldiers handling it, a very great multitude.(B) They encamped in the valley near Bethulia, beside the spring, and they spread out in breadth over Dothan as far as Balbaim and in length from Bethulia to Cyamon, which faces Esdraelon.(C)

When the Israelites saw their vast numbers, they were greatly terrified and said to one another, “They will now strip clean the whole land; neither the high mountains nor the valleys nor the hills will bear their weight.”(D) Yet they all seized their weapons, and when they had kindled fires on their towers, they remained on guard all that night.

On the second day Holofernes led out all his cavalry in full view of the Israelites in Bethulia. He reconnoitered the approaches to their town and visited the springs that supplied their water; he seized them and set guards of soldiers over them and then returned to his army.(E)

Then all the chieftains of the Edomites and all the leaders of the Moabites and the commanders of the coastland came to him and said,(F) “Listen to what we have to say, my lord, and your army will suffer no losses. 10 This people, the Israelites, do not rely on their spears but on the height of the mountains where they live, for it is not easy to reach the tops of their mountains. 11 Therefore, my lord, do not fight against them in regular formation, and not a man of your army will fall. 12 Remain in your camp, and keep all the men in your forces with you; let your servants take possession of the spring of water that flows from the foot of the mountain,(G) 13 for this is where all the people of Bethulia get their water. So thirst will destroy them, and they will surrender their town. Meanwhile, we and our people will go up to the tops of the nearby mountains and camp there to keep watch to see that no one gets out of the town. 14 They and their wives and children will waste away with famine, and before the sword reaches them they will be strewn about in the streets where they live. 15 Thus you will pay them back with evil because they rebelled and did not receive you peaceably.”

16 These words pleased Holofernes and all his attendants, and he gave orders to do as they had said. 17 So the army of the Ammonites moved forward, together with five thousand Assyrians, and they encamped in the valley and seized the water supply and the springs of the Israelites.(H) 18 And the Edomites and Ammonites went up and encamped in the hill country opposite Dothan, and they sent some of their men toward the south and the east, toward Egrebeh, which is near Chusi beside the Wadi Mochmur. The rest of the Assyrian army encamped in the plain and covered the whole face of the land. Their tents and supply trains spread out in great number, and they formed a vast multitude.(I)

The Distress of the Israelites

19 The Israelites then cried out to the Lord their God, for their courage failed, because all their enemies had surrounded them, and there was no way of escape from them. 20 The whole Assyrian army, their infantry, chariots, and cavalry, surrounded them for thirty-four days, until all the water containers of every inhabitant of Bethulia were empty;(J) 21 their cisterns were going dry, and on no day did they have enough water to drink, for their drinking water was rationed.(K) 22 Their children were listless, and the women and young men fainted from thirst and were collapsing in the streets of the town and in the gateways; they no longer had any strength.(L)

23 Then all the people, the young men, the women, and the children, gathered around Uzziah and the rulers of the town and cried out with a loud voice and said before all the elders, 24 “Let God judge between you and us! You have done us a great injury in not making peace with the Assyrians.(M) 25 For now we have no one to help us; God has sold us into their hands to be strewn before them in thirst and exhaustion.(N) 26 Now summon them and surrender the whole town as plunder to the army of Holofernes and to all his forces.(O) 27 For it would be better for us to be captured by them.[a] We shall indeed become slaves, but our lives will be spared, and we shall not witness our little ones dying before our eyes and our wives and children drawing their last breath. 28 We call to witness against you heaven and earth and our God, the Lord of our ancestors, who punishes us for our sins and the sins of our ancestors; do today the things that we have described!”(P)

29 Then great and general lamentation arose throughout the assembly, and they cried out to the Lord God with a loud voice. 30 But Uzziah said to them, “Courage, my brothers and sisters! Let us hold out for five days more; by that time the Lord our God will turn his mercy to us again, for he will not forsake us utterly.(Q) 31 But if these days pass by and no help comes for us, I will do as you say.”(R)

32 Then he dismissed the people to their various posts, and they went up on the walls and towers of their town. The women and children he sent home. In the town they were in great misery.


  1. 7.27 Other ancient authorities add than to die of thirst