Reading 140/341, Judith 9-12

...Judith...

Judith fell upon her face, and put ashes on her head, and uncovered the sackcloth with which she was clothed, and about the time that the incense of that evening was offered in Jerusalem in the house of the Lord, Judith cried with a loud voice, and said, “O Lord God of my father Simeon, to whom you gave a sword to take vengeance on the foreigners who loosened the girdle of a virgin to defile her, and uncovered the thigh to her shame, and polluted her womb to her reproach, (for you said, ‘This shall not be so’ yet they did so), then you handed over their rulers to be slain, so that they dyed their bed with blood, being deceived, and smote the servants with their lords, and the lords upon their thrones, and gave their wives for prey, and their daughters to be captives, and all their spoil to be divided among your dear children, who were moved with your zeal, and abhorred the pollution of their blood, and called upon you for aid, O God, O my God, hear me also a widow. For you have wrought not only those things, but also the things which came before, and which ensued after; you have thought upon the things which are now, and which are to come. Whatever you decided is ready at hand, and says, ‘Lo, we are here”, for all your ways are prepared, and your judgments are in your foreknowledge. Behold, the Assyrians are multiplied in their power; they are exalted with horse and man; they glory in the strength of their footmen; they trust in shield, and spear, and bow, and sling, and know not that you are the Lord that breaks the battles: ‘Lord’ is your name. Throw down their strength in your power, and bring down their force in your wrath, for they have purposed to defile your sanctuary, and to pollute the tabernacle where your glorious name rests and to cast down with sword the horn of your altar. Behold their pride, and send your wrath upon their heads, give into my hand, I who am a widow, the power that I have planned. Smite by the deceit of my lips the servant with the prince, and the prince with the servant, break down their stateliness by the hand of a woman. For your power is not in numbers nor your might in strong men, for you are a God of the afflicted, a helper of the oppressed, an upholder of the weak, a protector of the forlorn, a savior of the hopeless. I pray to you, I pray to you, O God of my father, and God of the inheritance of Israel, Lord of the heavens and earth, Creator of the waters, king of every creature, hear my prayer, and make my speech and deceit to be their wound and stripe, who have purposed cruel things against your covenant, and your hallowed house, and against the heights of Zion, and against the house of the possession of your children. And make every nation and tribe acknowledge that you are the God of all power and might, and that there is no other who protects the people of Israel but you.”

Now after that she had ceased to cry unto the God of Israel, and had made an end of all these words. She rose where she had fallen down, and called her maid, and went down into the house in which she dwelt in the Sabbath days and on her feast days, and pulled off the sackcloth which she had on, and took off the garments of her widowhood, and washed her body all over with water, and anointed herself with precious ointment, and braided the hair of her head, and put on a diadem upon it, and put on her garments of gladness, with which she was clad during the life of Manasseh her husband. And she took sandals upon her feet, and put on her bracelets, and her necklaces, and her rings, and her earrings, and all her ornaments, and decked herself bravely, to allure the eyes of all men that should see her. Then she gave her maid a skin of wine, and a jug of oil, and filled a bag with roasted grain and lumps of figs and with fine bread; so she wrapped all these things together, and laid them upon her maid. Thus they went forth to the gate of the city of Bethulia, and found standing there Uzziah and the elders of the city: Chabris and Charmis. And when they saw her, that her countenance was altered, and her apparel was changed, they wondered at her beauty greatly, and said unto her, “The God, the God of our fathers give you favor, and accomplish your enterprises to the glory of the children of Israel, and to the exaltation of Jerusalem.” Judith worshipped God, and she said unto them, “Command the gates of the city to be opened for me, that I may go forth to accomplish the things of which you have spoken with me.” So they commanded the young men to open for her, as she had spoken. And when they had done so, Judith went out, she, and her maid with her, and the men of the city looked after her, until she had gone down the mountain, and had passed the valley, and they could see her no more.

Thus they went straight forth in the valley, and the first watch of the Assyrians met her. They took her, and asked her, “Of what people are you? From whence do you come and where are you going?” And she said, “I am a woman of the Hebrews, and have fled from them, for they shall be given to you to be consumed. I have come to see Holofernes, the chief captain of your army, to declare words of truth, and I will show him a way, whereby he shall go, and win all the hill country, without losing the body or life of any of his men.” Now when the men heard her words, and beheld her countenance, they wondered greatly at her beauty, and said to her, “You have saved your life, since you have hurried to come down to the presence of our lord. Now therefore come to his tent, and some of us shall conduct you, until they have delivered you to his hands. And when you stand before him, be not afraid in your heart, but show unto him according to your word, and he will entreat you well.” Then they chose from among themselves a hundred men to accompany her and her maid, and they brought her to the tent of Holofernes. Then there was a bustle throughout all the camp, for her coming was told among the tents, and they came around her, as she stood outside the tent of Holofernes, until they told him of her. And they wondered at her beauty, and admired the children of Israel because of her, and everyone said to his neighbor, “Who could despise this people, that have among them such women? Surely it is not good that a single man of them be left, lest they beguile the whole earth.”

Then those who lay near Holofernes went out, and all his servants, and they brought her into the tent. Now Holofernes rested upon his bed under a canopy, which was woven with purple, gold, emeralds, and precious stones. So they showed her to him, and he came out to the front of his tent with silver lamps preceding him. And when Judith had come before him, and his servants all marveled at the beauty of her countenance, she fell down upon her face, and did reverence to him, and his servants helped her up. Then Holofernes said to her, “Woman, be of good comfort; fear not in your heart, for I never hurt anyone willing to serve Nebuchadnezzar, the king of all the earth. As for your people who dwell in the mountains, if they had not insulted me, I would not have lifted up my spear against them, but they have done these things to themselves. But now tell me why you have fled from them and have come to us, for you have come for safety. Be of good comfort, you shall live this night, and hereafter. No one shall hurt you, but treat you well, as they do the servants of King Nebuchadnezzar, my lord.”

Then Judith said to him, “Receive the words of your servant, and suffer your handmaid to speak in your presence, and I will declare no lie to my lord this night. And if you will follow the words of your handmaid, God will perfectly accomplish something through you, and my lord shall not fail in his purposes.” As Nebuchadnezzar, king of all the earth lives, and as his power lives, who has sent you for the upholding of every living thing, for not only men shall serve him by you, but also the beasts of the field, and the cattle, and the birds of the air live by your power under Nebuchadnezzar and all his house. For we have heard of your wisdom and your policies, and it is reported in all the earth, that you alone are excellent in all the kingdom, and mighty in knowledge, and wonderful in feats of war. Now as concerning the matter which Achior did speak in your council, we have heard his words, for the men of Bethulia saved him, and he declared to them all that he had spoken to you. Therefore, O lord and master, do not disregard his word, but lay it up in your heart, for it is true: our nation shall not be punished, nor can sword prevail against them, except when they sin against their God. Now, that my lord may not be defeated and frustrated in his purpose, death has now fallen upon them, and their sin has overtaken them, by which they will provoke their God to wrath. They shall do what is not fit to be done, for their supplies fail them, and all their water is scant, and they have determined to lay hands upon their cattle, and intend to consume all those things, that God has forbidden them to eat by his laws, and are resolved to use the firstfruits of the tenths of wine and oil, which they had sanctified, and reserved for the priests that serve in Jerusalem before the face of our God, which things are not lawful for any of the people so much as to touch with their hands. For they have sent some to Jerusalem to bring back permission from the senate, because those who dwell there have also done the same. Now when they bring back this word, they will do it, and they shall be given to you to be destroyed the same day. Therefore, I your handmaid, knowing all this, have fled from their presence, and God has sent me to work things with you, at which all the earth shall be astonished, whosoever shall hear of it, for your servant is religious, and serves the God of heaven day and night. Now therefore, my lord, I will remain with you, and I, your servant, will go out by night into the valley, and I will pray to God, and he will tell me when they have committed their sins, and I will come and reveal it to you. Then you shall go forth with all your army, and there shall be no one who shall resist you. And I will lead you through the midst of Judea, until you come before Jerusalem, and I will set your throne in the midst of it, and you shall drive them as sheep that have no shepherd, and a dog shall not so much as open his mouth at you, for these things were told me according to my foreknowledge, and they were declared unto me, and I have been sent to tell you.”

Her words pleased Holofernes and all his servants, and they marveled at her wisdom, and said, “There is not such a woman from one end of the earth to the other, both for beauty of face, and wisdom of words.” Likewise Holofernes said to her, “God has done well to send you before the people, that strength might be in our hands and destruction upon them who lightly regard my lord. You are both beautiful in your countenance, and intelligent in your words. Surely, if you do as you have spoken, your God shall be my God, and you shall dwell in the house of King Nebuchadnezzar, and shall be renowned through the whole earth.” Then he commanded that she be brought in where his plate was set, and bade them to prepare for her of his own meat, and that she should drink of his own wine. And Judith said, “I will not eat thereof, lest there be an offense, but provision shall be made for me of the things that I have brought.” Then Holofernes said to her, “If your provision should fail, how would we give you the like? For there are none with us from your nation.” Then Judith unto him “As your soul lives, my lord, your handmaid shall not spend those things that I have before the Lord works by my hand the things that he has determined.” Then the servants of Holofernes brought her into the tent, and she slept till midnight, and she arose when it was toward the morning watch, and sent to Holofernes, saying, “Let my lord now command that your handmaid may go forth to prayer.” Then Holofernes commanded his guard that they should not stop her. Thus she dwelt in the camp three days, and went out in the night into the valley of Bethulia, and washed herself in a fountain of water by the camp. And when she came out, she sought the Lord God of Israel to direct her way to the raising up of the children of her people. So she came in clean, and remained in the tent, until she ate her food at evening.

On the fourth day Holofernes made a feast exclusively for his own servants, and called none of the officers to the banquet. Then he said to Bagoas the eunuch, who had charge over all that he had, “Go now, and persuade this Hebrew woman who is with you, that she come to us, and eat and drink with us. For, behold, it would be a shame for our person, if we shall let such a woman go, not having had her company. If we do not draw her to us, she will laugh us to scorn.” Then Bagoas went from the presence of Holofernes, and came to her, and he said, “Let not this fair damsel fear to come to my lord, and to be honored in his presence, and drink wine, and be merry with us and be made this day as one of the daughters of the Assyrians, who serve in the house of Nebuchadnezzar.” Then Judith said to him, “Who am I now, that I should refuse my lord? Surely whatever pleases him I will do speedily, and it shall be my joy to the day of my death.” So she arose, and decked herself with her apparel and all her womanly attire, and her maid went and laid soft skins on the ground for her next to Holofernes, which she had received from Bagoas for her daily use, that she might sit and eat upon them. Now when Judith came in and sat down, Holofernes’ heart was ravished with her, and his mind was moved, and he desired greatly her company, for he had been waiting to deceive her, from the day that he had seen her. Then Holofernes said to her, “Drink now, and be merry with us.” So Judith said, “I will drink now, my lord, because my life is magnified in me this day more than all the days since I was born.” Then she took and ate and drank before him what her maid had prepared. And Holofernes took great delight in her, and drank more wine than he had drunk at any time in one day since he was born.

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