Israel Prepares for War.* 1When the Israelites who lived in Judea heard of all that Holofernes, the ranking general of Nebuchadnezzar king of the Assyrians, had done to the nations, and how he had looted all their shrines* and utterly destroyed them, 2they were in very great fear of him, and greatly alarmed for Jerusalem and the temple of the Lord, their God. 3Now, they had only recently returned from exile, and all the people of Judea were just now reunited, and the vessels, the altar, and the temple had been purified from profanation.* a 4So they sent word to the whole region of Samaria, to Kona, Beth-horon, Belmain, and Jericho, to Choba and Aesora, and to the valley of Salem.* 5The people there secured all the high hilltops, fortified the villages on them, and since their fields had recently been harvested, stored up provisions in preparation for war.
6Joakim, who was high priest* in Jerusalem in those days, wrote to the inhabitants of Bethulia and Betomesthaim, which is opposite Esdraelon, facing the plain near Dothan,b 7and instructed them to keep firm hold of the mountain passes, since these offered access to Judea. It would be easy to stop those advancing, as the approach was only wide enough for two at a time.* 8The Israelites carried out the orders given them by Joakim, the high priest, and the senate of the whole people of Israel, in session in Jerusalem.c
Israel at Prayer. 9All the men of Israel cried to God with great fervor and humbled themselves. 10They, along with their wives, and children, and domestic animals, every resident alien, hired worker, and purchased slave, girded themselves with sackcloth.* d 11And all the Israelite men, women, and children who lived in Jerusalem fell prostrate in front of the temple* e and sprinkled ashes on their heads, spreading out their sackcloth before the Lord.f 12The altar, too, they draped in sackcloth;* and with one accord they cried out fervently to the God of Israel not to allow their children to be seized, their wives to be taken captive, the cities of their inheritance to be ruined, or the sanctuary to be profaned and mocked for the nations to gloat over.
13The Lord heard their cry* and saw their distress. The people continued fasting for many days throughout Judea and before the sanctuary of the Lord Almighty in Jerusalem.g 14Also girded with sackcloth, Joakim, the high priest, and all the priests in attendance before the Lord, and those who ministered to the Lord offered the daily burnt offering, the votive offerings, and the voluntary offerings of the people.h 15With ashes upon their turbans, they cried to the Lord with all their strength to look with favor on the whole house of Israel.i
* [4:1–7:32] In this section the focus narrows to Judea and specifically the little town of Bethulia. The scenes alternate between the Assyrian camp (5:1–6:13; 7:1–3, 6–18) and Judea/Bethulia (4:1–15; 6:14–21; 7:4–5, 19–32).
* [4:1–15] Here the scene shifts to Judea where Israel hears and is greatly terrified about Holofernes’ destruction of the neighboring places of worship. At Joakim’s instruction they take defensive measures and then pray fervently that God will not allow their sanctuary to be destroyed.
* [4:1] Shrines: the Greek word hiera is used only here and may mean holy places or things. By contrast, the sanctuary in Jerusalem is naos, “temple” (v. 2); oikos, “house” (v. 3); and hagia, lit., “holy things” (v. 12).
* [4:3] Returned from exile…purified from profanation: conflated historical references associated with events in 538 B.C. (return from exile) and 515 B.C. (dedication of the Second Temple) or perhaps even 164 B.C. (the rededication of the Second Temple in the Maccabean period).
* [4:4] Of the eight cities listed, only the locations of Beth-horon, Jericho, and Samaria are known. Salem, mentioned in Gn 17:17, is thought to be an ancient name of Jerusalem.
* [4:6] Joakim, who was high priest: see also vv. 8, 14; 15:8. Joakim exercises religious and military authority comparable to that of Jonathan in Maccabean times (cf. 1 Mc 10:18–21). Bethulia and Betomesthaim: unknown locations mentioned only in Judith. Bethulia may mean “House of God” (byt ‘l/yh) or “House of Ascent” (byt ‘lyh), perhaps a reference to either Bethel or Shechem.
* [4:7] Only wide enough for two at a time: such a narrow pass near Esdraelon cannot be identified.
* [4:10] Sackcloth: traditional sign of penitence and supplication is here taken to the extreme. Cf. Jon 3:8.
* [4:11] Fell prostrate in front of the temple: for a parallel to this ceremony of entreaty see Jl 1:13, 14; 2:15–17.
* [4:12] The altar…draped in sackcloth: attested nowhere else in the Bible.
* [4:13] The Lord heard their cry: this anticipates the role of Judith, the instrument of deliverance (chap. 16), though the people believe God has abandoned them (7:25).
a. [4:3] 1 Mc 4:36–61; 2 Mc 10:3–5.
b. [4:6] Dn 13:1, 4, 28, 29, 63.
c. [4:8] 2 Mc 11:27.
d. [4:10] Neh 9:1; Est 4:1–4; Jl 1:13, 14; Jon 3:5, 6, 8.
e. [4:11] 1 Chr 29:20; 2 Mc 3:15.
f. [4:11] 2 Sm 21:10.
h. [4:14] Ex 29:38–46; Nm 28:1–8; Ezr 3:4.