It is Christmas season, 2006. We celebrate the birth of Jesus and look upon a helpless baby, cradled in his mother’s arms, sleeping peacefully in a manger. But what if Jesus had never come; never been born?
The setting is over 2100 years ago. Hannah, bound and held firmly by armed guards, watches as the first of her seven sons refuses the king’s command to eat the swine and bow to the idol’s altar.
7:3. Then the king being angry, commanded fryingpans and brazen caldrons to be made hot: which forthwith being heated,
7:4. He commanded to cut out the tongue of him that had spoken first: and the skin of his head being drawn off, to chop off also the extremities of his hands and feet, the rest of his brethren and his mother looking on.
7:6. And when he was now maimed in all parts, he commanded him, being yet alive, to be brought to the fire, and to be fried in the fryingpan: and while he was suffering therein long torments, the rest, together with the mother, exhorted one another to die manfully,
7:41. And last of all, after the sons, the mother also was consumed.
(From the Book of II Maccabees)
The king was Antiochus IV; one of four rulers of the empire established by Alexander the Great. He had conquered Judea, outlawed circumcision or worship in the temple and decreed that any who followed the laws of Judaism would die. Most of the priests converted to the “new” religion and maintained their position of prominence in the “new” society. To publicly demonstrate his authority, Antiochus himself had performed the sacrifice of a pig in the temple, closing the ceremony by urinating on the altar and smashing the temple vessels. Those Jews in rebellion under the leadership of a renegade priest named Mattathias were to be exterminated.
Mattathias and his beleaguered band of faithful were hiding in the wilderness. Upon his death, Mathathias turned the command of his rebels over to one his sons, Judas, with this admonition: “You therefore, my sons, take courage, and behave manfully in the law: for by it you shall be glorious. …. And Judas Maccabees who is valiant and strong from his youth up, let him be the leader of your army, and he shall manage the war of the people.” (I Maccabees 2: 64 and 66.)
Antiochus had fortified the city of Jerusalem and the army of Jehovah faced a formidable foe. The Greek empire owned the largest fighting force in the world and contingents of war elephants, the armored divisions of that time, bolstered its cavalry. They had already faced one group of Jews who refused to fight on the Sabbath and slaughtered them along with their wives and children. One thousand families lay dead. There would be no mercy.
I’m certain that Judas was well aware of these happenings and Hannah’s fate had become the rallying cry, much like “Remember the Alamo!” But, given the relative strength of the opposing forces, only the hand of God could save the Maccabees from the same end as the defenders of that small fort in San Antonio.
Judas attacked! After a bloody battle lasting several days and nights, the temple was reclaimed. The first order of business was to give thanks to the God who had preserved them with the traditional eight days of worship. Unfortunately, there was only enough oil left to keep the candles lit for one night. Using that one night’s supply, the valiant men of God and their families began their prayers and praise. The candles burned. The second night the candles burned. The candles continued burning day and night. On the eighth night, at the conclusion of the feast, the lights went out.
The lineage of our Savior is given in both Matthew and Luke. The bloodline in Luke is through the father, a line of perfection. The devil was well aware of God’s promise made to Adam and Eve in the garden of a forthcoming redeemer. Satan tried to break that bloodline and thwart God’s promise through Haman three hundred years earlier. His goal; exterminate the Jews. God raised up Esther and preserved that precious bloodline.
Antiochus also tried to eradicate the Jew and any remembrance of Jehovah or His laws from the face of the earth. I find it somewhat ironic that the man who saved the bloodline bore the same name as the Lord’s betrayer. By the time Jesus was born to Mary, the name Judas was common and honored among Jews. You see, the name Judas Maccabees means, “The Hammer of God.”
Today, we are in the same position as those brave men and women who lived in fear for their lives under the yoke of a murderous tyrant. Oh, nobody is likely to kill you in America. You might suffer an equally unacceptable fate. Mentioning the Lord and his imminent return, the event we await, might make you unpopular.
If you’re thinking right now about the Great Commission, ………. You know. …… That part about preaching in or out of season (and it definitely IS the season), you might find an extra shot of courage in a glance at the Menorah, the eight candlesticks of Hanukkah.
Mattathias is in the bloodline of Jesus as is Semein, the brother of Judas. Just as God raised up a man for his time, Judas Maccabees, He put you and me here for a reason too.
The big question that led me to the Lord was, “What is my purpose in life?” I doubt that Judas, Semein or their brave followers foresaw any of the tremendous ramifications of their uncommon valor. They were willing to die for their God. Just as our God was willing to die for us, can we live for Him and vocally remember what Christmas is all about. It’s not just the winter holiday.
Jehovah raised up Judas Maccabees as “The Hammer of God!” Look to the Menorah and become His Voice!
My thanks to Helen and Thomas for their thoughts.
I agree that the events depicted in the books of the Maccabees are gruesome. However, Jesus himself warned that even worse is to come before His return. If not for that great event, "no flesh would be saved."
Just as the Judas sounded the trumpet to battle, the trumpet now blows for us. The Maccabees did not know the date of our Savior's impending birth. We do not know the date of His return.
We are asked to remember the trust in God and the stalwart bravery of those who went before us and prepare an ever more desperate world for the return of the King of Kings.
A Merry Christmas to all and "Come soon, Lord Jesus."
12 Dec 2006
I just wanted to let you know that I glanced at this, Austin. I know it is from the book of the Maccabeas, as I have attempted to read this book before; however, I find it hard to read. It is too gruesome, even though I believe it to have happened. Thank the Lord that Jesus has come and is our Saving Jesus. Sorry, I have no further comments, as I am timid to read horrid happenings.