At that time, Judith heard about Uzziah's decision. She was the daughter of Merari, the granddaughter of Ox and the great-granddaughter of Joseph. Joseph's ancestors were Oziel, Elkiah, Ananias, Gideon, Raphaim, Ahitub, Elijah, Hilkiah, Eliab, Nathanael, Salamiel, Sarasadai, and Israel.
Judith's husband Manasseh, who belonged to the same tribe and clan, had died during the barley harvest.
He had suffered a sunstroke while in the fields supervising the farm workers and later died in bed at home in Bethulia. He was buried in the family tomb in the field between Dothan and Balamon.
For three years and four months, Judith had lived as a widow.
In her grief she built a little shelter on the roof of her house and lived there, wearing sackcloth.
She fasted during that entire period except when fasting was forbidden: the day before the Sabbath and the Sabbath itself, the eve of the New Moon Festival and the Festival itself, and all the festivals and holidays observed by the people of Israel.
Judith was a very beautiful woman. Her husband had left her gold and silver, servants and slaves, livestock and fields. She continued to supervise the estate,
and no one ever said anything bad about Judith. She was a very religious woman.
Judith heard how the people were complaining bitterly against Uzziah, now that the water shortage had broken their morale. She learned that in answer to their complaints he had promised to surrender the town to the Assyrians after five days.
Judith sent a slave, the woman who managed her business affairs, to invite Uzziah, Chabris, and Charmis, the town officials, to her home.
When the officials arrived, Judith said to them, "Please listen to me. You are the leaders of the people of Bethulia, but you were wrong to speak to the people as you did today. You should not have made a solemn promise before God that you would surrender the town to our enemies if the Lord did not come to our aid within a few days.
What right do you have to put God to the test as you have done today? Who are you to put yourselves in God's place in dealing with human affairs?
It is the Lord Almighty that you are putting to the test! Will you never learn?
There is no way that you can understand what is in the depths of a human heart or find out what a person is thinking. Yet you dare to read God's mind and interpret his thoughts! How can you claim to understand God, the Creator? No, my friends, you must stop arousing the anger of the Lord our God!
If he decides not to come to our aid within five days, he still may rescue us at any time he chooses. Or he may let our enemies destroy us.
But you must not lay down conditions for the Lord our God! Do you think that he is like one of us? Do you think you can bargain with him or force him to make a decision?
No! Instead, we should ask God for his help and wait patiently for him to rescue us. If he wants to, he will answer our cry for help.
We do not worship gods made with human hands. Not one of our clans, tribes, towns, or cities has ever done that, even though our ancestors used to do so.
That is why God let their enemies kill them and take everything they had. It was a great defeat!
But since we worship no other God but the Lord, we can hope that he will not reject us or any of our people.
"If our town is taken by the enemy, the entire region of Judah will then fall, and our Temple in Jerusalem will be looted. And God will make us pay with our lives for allowing the Temple to be defiled.
He will hold us responsible for the slaughter and captivity of our people and for the destruction of the land we have inherited. We will be despised and mocked by the people in those nations to which we will be taken as slaves.
We are not going to win the favor of our enemies by surrendering to them now. If we do surrender, the Lord our God will see that we are put to shame.
"No, my friends, we should set an example for our own people. Not only their lives, but the fate of the Temple and the altar depend on us.
The Lord our God is putting us to the test, just as he tested our ancestors, and we should be thankful for that.
Remember how he put Abraham and Isaac to the test, and what happened to Jacob while he was working as a shepherd for his uncle Laban in Mesopotamia.
God is not testing our loyalty as severely as he did theirs. God is not sending this punishment on us as revenge, but as a warning to us who worship him."
Then Uzziah answered Judith, "Everything you have said makes good sense, and no one can argue with it.
This is not the first time you have shown wisdom. Ever since you were a child, all of us have recognized the soundness and maturity of your judgment.
But our people are dying of thirst. They forced us to say what we did and to make a solemn promise, which we cannot break.
So now, since you are a deeply religious woman, pray for our people; ask the Lord to send rain to fill our cisterns, so that we can get our strength back."
"All right," Judith replied, "I am going to do something which our Jewish people will never forget.
Tonight, the three of you must stand guard at the gate so that my slave woman and I can leave the town. And before the day comes on which you have promised to surrender, the Lord will use me to rescue the people of Israel.
But you must not ask me what I am going to do; I will explain it to you when it is all over."
Uzziah and the other officials said to her, "You have our blessing. May the Lord our God guide you as you take revenge on our enemies." Then they left Judith's rooftop shelter and returned to their posts.