The Israelites fasting in sack cloths (Jdt 4:9-4:12)

“Every man of Israel cried out to God with great fervor. They humbled themselves with much fasting. They, their wives, and their children put sackcloth around their waist. Their cattle, every resident alien, every hired laborer, and purchased slaves, all put sackcloth around their waists. All the Israelites, men, women, and children, living at Jerusalem, prostrated themselves before the Temple. They put ashes on their heads. They spread out their sackcloth before the Lord. They even draped the altar with sackcloth. They cried out in unison, praying fervently to the God of Israel not to allow their infants to be carried off and their wives to be taken as booty. They did not want their towns to be destroyed. They did not want the sanctuary to be profaned and desecrated by the malicious joy of the Gentiles.”

The Israelite men cried out to God. They humbled themselves. Fasting was a key element of prayer preparation. Their whole family, including wives and children put on sackcloth. However, the text says that the cattle put on sackcloth, but I do not understand why. They apparently were well to do since they had resident aliens, hired laborers, and slaves working for them. They all prostrated before the Temple with ashes on their heads. They even draped the altar in sackcloth. There was this insistence on sackcloth and ashes. They did not want their children and wives taken as booty. They did not want their so-called inherited towns taken away. They finally did not want their sanctuary desecrated by the Gentiles. All of this prayer sounds post-exilic in tone.

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