“Then Bacchides returned to Jerusalem. He built strong cities in Judea. He built the fortress in Jericho, Emmaus, Beth-horon, Bethel, Timnath, Pharathon, and Tephon, with high walls, gates, and bars. He placed garrisons in them to harass Israel. He also fortified the city of Beth-zur, Gazara, and the citadel. He put troops and stores of food in them. He took the sons of the leading men of the land as hostages. He put them under guard in the citadel at Jerusalem.”
General Bacchides returned to Jerusalem. Then he built strong cities around Jerusalem with high walls and gates in Jericho, Emmaus, Beth-horon, Bethel, Timnath, Pharathon, and Tephon. He also put garrisons in them to harass and keep the Jewish guerrillas from attacking. He put troops and food storage in Beth-zur, Gazara, and the Jerusalem citadel. Then he took the sons of the leading men as hostages as he guarded them in Jerusalem.
“Now Nicanor went out from Jerusalem. He encamped in Beth-horon where the Syrian army joined him. Judas encamped in Adasa with three thousand men. Then Judas prayed and said.
‘When the messengers from the king spoke blasphemy,
Your angel went out.
He struck down one hundred eighty-five thousand of the Assyrians.
So also crush this army before us today.
Let the rest learn
That Nicanor has spoken wickedly against the sanctuary.
Judge him according to this wickedness.’”
Nicanor went to Beth-horon where he met up with his Syrian army. Beth-horon was on the border between the old territories of Benjamin and Ephraim, north of Jerusalem. Judas was camped at Adasa was about 7 miles north of Jerusalem with about 3,000 men. Judas prayed that the angel of God would come down as he had done in 2 Kings, chapter 19, against the Syrian King Sennacherib who had also mocked Yahweh. He explicitly mentioned the amazing 185,000 Assyrians who died that night. Judas made the comparison between that event and what was happening to him.
“The Israelites sent word to every district of Samaria, especially to Kona, Beth-horon, Belmain, Jericho, Choba, Aesora, and the valley of Salem. They immediately seized all the high hilltops. They fortified the villages on them. They stored up food in preparation for war, since their fields had recently been harvested. The high priest Joakim, who was in Jerusalem at the time, wrote to the people of Bethulia and Betomesthaim, which faces Esdraelon opposite the plain near Dothan. He ordered them to seize the mountain passes, since by them Judea could be invaded. It would be easy to stop any who tried to enter, for the approach was narrow, only wide enough for two at a time to pass. So the Israelites did as they had been ordered by the high priest Joakim and the senate of the whole people of Israel, in session at Jerusalem.”
The Israelites were aware that Holofernes was coming. They warned the people of Samaria. However, Judah was always separate from Samaria and Holofernes was already there in northern Israel. There were a series of towns in Benjamin named, some of which are difficult to locate except for Beth-horon and Jericho. The valley of Salem may refer to the area around Jerusalem since that might have been ancient name, Jeru-Salem. They took all the high places and fortified them. They stored up food since the harvest had just taken place. The 2 towns of Bethulia and Betomesthaim are difficult to find. They must have been near Dothan, which as far as any identification is possible, was north of Shechem in Manasseh territory. Their high priest Joakim is also hard to identify, since the only priest with that name was after the exile in Nehemiah, chapter 12. This would put it 200 years after King Nebuchadnezzar. There also was no Senate in Jerusalem until the 2nd century BCE. Thus the story has a lot of problematic areas when it comes to specifics about places, peoples, and events in any sort of timeframe.
“But the men of the army whom King Amaziah sent back, not letting them go with him to battle, fell on the cities of Judah, from Samaria to Beth-horon. They killed three thousand people in them. They took much booty.”
This may have been the start of the war between Israel and Judah. Certainly the disgruntled Ephraimites were looking for some place to fight. However, Samaria was the capital of Israel so Judah had no control of it. Beth-horon was in Benjamin or disputed territory with Ephraim. Actually this group did not stray far from their own area of Ephraim. They killed 3,000 people and took the spoils of war with them. This was some kind of strange punishment for King Amaziah for asking and then refusing these Ephraimites.
“The Levites were given the cities of refuge. Shechem with its pasture lands in the hill country was from Ephraim. Gezer with its pasture lands, Jokmeam with its pasture lands, Beth-horon with its pasture lands, Aijalon with its pasture lands, Gath-rimmon with its pasture lands. Out of the half-tribe of Manasseh, Aner with its pasture lands, and Bileam with its pasture lands, for the rest of the families of the Kohathites.”
The cities of refuge were outlined in Joshua, chapter 20, which refers back to Numbers, chapter 35, and Deuteronomy, chapter 19, when Moses put forward this proposal of refuge cities. The inadvertent killer had a place of refuge to be judged. He had to explain his case to the elders of the town. The avenger of blood could not kill the killer there. The killer would be let free at the death of the high priest. Then he was able to return home. There were to be 6 cities, 3 on the west and 3 on the east Jordan side as outlined in Deuteronomy, chapter 4. Each tribe on the east side of the Jordan had their own refuge city. However, only Judah, Ephraim, and Naphtali had their own refuge city, while the other 6 tribes did not have their refuge town. Interesting Hebron, Kedesh, Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan are not mentioned. Only Shechem from the 6 in Joshua is mentioned here. However, 8 other cities are mentioned. The new refuge cities are (1) Gezer, (2) Jokmeam, (3) Beth-horon, (4) Aijalon, (5) Gath-rimmon, (6) Aner, and (7) Bileam.