Revenge Planned Against the Western Nations.* 1In the eighteenth year,* on the twenty-second day of the first month, there was a discussion in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians, about taking revenge on all the land, as he had threatened.a 2He summoned all his attendants and officers, laid before them his secret plan, and with his own lips recounted in full detail the wickedness of all the land. 3They decided to destroy all who had refused to obey the order he had issued.
4When he had fully recounted his plan, Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians, summoned Holofernes, the ranking general* of his forces, second only to himself in command, and said to him: 5“Thus says the great king, the lord of all the earth: Go forth from my presence, take with you men of proven valor, one hundred and twenty thousand infantry and twelve thousand cavalry,b 6and proceed against all the land of the west, because they disobeyed the order I issued. 7Tell them to have earth and water* ready, for I will come against them in my wrath; I will cover all the land with the feet of my soldiers, to whom I will deliver them as spoils. 8Their wounded will fill their ravines and wadies, the swelling river will be choked with their dead; 9and I will deport them as exiles to the very ends of the earth.
10“Go before me and take possession of all their territories for me. If they surrender to you, guard them for me until the day of their sentencing. 11As for those who disobey, show them no mercy, but deliver them up to slaughter and plunder in all the land you occupy.c 12For as I live,* and by the strength of my kingdom, what I have spoken I will accomplish by my own hand.d 13Do not disobey a single one of the orders of your lord; fulfill them exactly as I have commanded you, and do it without delay.”
Campaigns of Holofernes.* 14So Holofernes left the presence of his lord, and summoned all the commanders, generals, and officers of the Assyrian forces. 15He mustered one hundred and twenty thousand picked troops, as his lord had commanded, and twelve thousand mounted archers, 16and drew them up as a vast force organized for battle. 17He took along a very large number of camels, donkeys, and mules for carrying their supplies; innumerable sheep, cattle, and goats for their food;e 18abundant provisions for each man, and much gold and silver from the royal palace.
19Then he and all his forces set out on their expedition in advance of King Nebuchadnezzar, to overrun all the lands of the western region with their chariots, cavalry, and picked infantry. 20A huge, irregular force, too many to count, like locusts, like the dust of the earth, went along with them.f
21After a three-day march* from Nineveh, they reached the plain of Bectileth, and camped opposite Bectileth near the mountains to the north of Upper Cilicia. 22From there Holofernes took all his forces, the infantry, cavalry, and chariots, and marched into the hill country. 23He devastated Put and Lud,* and plundered all the Rassisites and the Ishmaelites on the border of the wilderness toward the south of the Chelleans.g
24Then, following the Euphrates, he went through Mesopotamia, and battered down every fortified city along the Wadi Abron, until he reached the sea. 25He seized the territory of Cilicia, and cut down everyone who resisted him. Then he proceeded to the southern borders of Japheth, toward Arabia. 26He surrounded all the Midianites, burned their tents, and sacked their encampments.h 27Descending to the plain of Damascus at the time of the wheat harvest, he set fire to all their fields, destroyed their flocks and herds, looted their cities, devastated their plains, and put all their young men to the sword.i
28j Fear and dread of him fell upon all the inhabitants of the coastland, upon those in Sidon and Tyre,k and those who dwelt in Sur and Ocina, and the inhabitants of Jamnia. Those in Azotus and Ascalon also feared him greatly.*
* [2:1–13] Nebuchadnezzar commissions Holofernes to take vengeance on the vassal nations that refused him auxiliary military support (see 1:7–12).
* [2:1] Eighteenth year: 587 B.C. Most of the story is set in the catastrophic year when the historical Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, destroyed Jerusalem.
* [2:4] The ranking general: Holofernes is so identified six times in Judith. See also 4:1; 5:1; 6:1; 10:13; 13:15. Holofernes and Bagoas (12:11) are Persian names; two officers of Artaxerxes III Ochos (358–338 B.C.) were so named.
* [2:7] Earth and water: in the Persian period, offering these to a conqueror was a symbolic gesture signifying humble submission of one asking for a treaty.
* [2:12] As I live: an oath proper to God; see the promissory oath of God the divine warrior in Dt 32:39–42; cf. Is 49:18; Jer 22:24; Ez 5:11. By my own hand: in his pride, Nebuchadnezzar claims to do this by his own hand (cf. Is 10:13). In contrast, Judith claims that God will deliver Israel “by my hand” (8:33; 12:4).
* [2:14–3:10] As Holofernes attacks the western nations, terror sweeps across the empire at large (2:28), then Judea (4:1–2), and finally Bethulia (7:1). In these verses, the line of advance is from Nineveh to Damascus and all who submit are nonetheless devastated and forced to worship Nebuchadnezzar.
* [2:21] A three-day march: no ancient army could have traveled three hundred miles from Nineveh to Cilicia in three days.
* [2:23] Put and Lud: mentioned together in Jer 46:9; Ez 27:10; 30:5. Put is thought to be in Libya in Africa; Lud is usually identified with Lydia in Asia Minor. Rather than indicating definite localities here, Put and Lud add assonance and prophetic overtones to the narrative.
* [2:28] Symbolic of the completeness of the terror that descended on the area, seven towns are listed: Tyre, Sidon, Sur, Ocina, Jamnia, Ashdod, and Ashkelon.
b. [2:5] 2 Kgs 18:19, 28; 1 Mc 15:13; Is 36:4, 13; Hos 5:13; 10:6.
c. [2:11] Dt 7:2; Jos 11:20; Is 13:18.
f. [2:20] Ex 10:4, 13, 14; Jgs 6:5; 7:12; Ps 105:34; Jl 1:4.
g. [2:23] Gn 2:2; 10:6, 22; Is 66:19; Ez 30:5.
h. [2:26] Gn 37:36; Ex 2:15; Jgs 6–8.
i. [2:27] Gn 34:26; Jos 6:21; 1 Sm 15:8.