THE MACCABEAN REVOLT

Greetings, Fellow Eschatologists!

From the beginning of time, the annals of history are filled with kings conquering other nations. It’s a common story. But what is not common is for a king to conquer a nation and then try to transform that nation into something else. That’s what Antiochus Epiphanes tried to do with the Jewish people. He tried to force the Jewish people to become Greeks. The whole nation of people! He gave them two years to prepare for the day when they would all become Greeks. When the day arrived, everyone became a Greek. They were forced to give up their Hebrew God, their traditions, and their culture and were forced to worship Greek gods and adopt Greek culture. No other king in history had ever attempted such a thing. No other king attempted such a thing because it was a stupid idea. Did he really think a whole nation of people would submit to this? They didn’t. The Jewish people rose up in rebellion against this tyrant. The rebellion was called the Maccabean Revolt. That’s the subject of our new two-part series. Keep reading to learn more about the rebellion.

THE MACCABEAN REVOLT

First in a Two-Part Series
by Karen Thompson

We just finished a series entitled, “Daniel Chapter 11: A Real Life Game of Thrones,” where we studied the first 35 verses of Daniel chapter 11. The events prophesied in Daniel chapter 11 are like a real life version of the television series “The Game of Thrones,” describing the back and forth wars between the kings of the north and the kings of the south.

The series ended with the account of the Grecian Seleucid king known as Antiochus Epiphanes, a vile king that tried to force the Jewish people to abandon their God and culture and adopt Greek gods and Greek culture. He was cruel in his efforts to Hellenize Jerusalem and the Jewish people. The Jewish people quickly reached their breaking point with this foul king and rose up in rebellion against him. This two-part series will delve into a more in-depth study on this period of Jewish history. Your heart will race as you read how a tiny, ill-equipped, and poorly trained Jewish army, with God’s help, was able to dispel mighty armies.

Let’s set the stage for what led up to the Maccabean Revolt. It all started when the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes issued an edict that said the Jewish people must become Greeks and the city of Jerusalem would become a Greek city. This edict was for all the Jewish people—both young and old. The edict was forced on them. No one could “opt out.” All Jewish people—men, women, and children—were commanded to abandon their Hebrew God and their culture. On the appointed day, they were expected to embrace Greek gods and Greek culture. Jerusalem was to be stripped of its Jewish heritage and identity and become a Greek city exclusively. To that end, Jewish worship and culture was to be completely obliterated. They were forbidden to enter into the temple for worship. They could not worship their God, pray to their God, or sacrifice to their God. They were forbidden to observe their Sabbaths or festivals. They could no longer circumcise their sons. They were forbidden to have possession of the Holy Scriptures.

To ensure that none of the Jews could worship their God or observe His sabbaths and ordinances, everything that was Judaic was destroyed and replaced with paganism. The sacred altar was defiled by the deliberate sacrifice of a pig on it. A mixture of boiled pig’s flesh and its blood was poured throughout the temple. The temple was then dedicated to the Greek god Zeus and a statue of his image was erected in it. The edict didn’t just apply to Jerusalem alone. It was for every city in Judah and all the Jewish people. But most of them didn’t want to become Greeks.

So they rebelled.

The rebellion came to be known as The Maccabean Revolt, which is recorded in the book of 1st Maccabees. It tells us how the revolt was started by a priest named Mattathias. When Mattathias saw the blasphemies that were happening in Judah he said, “Woe is me! Wherefore was I born to see this misery of my people, and of the holy city, and to dwell there, when it was delivered into the hand of the enemy, and the sanctuary into the hand of strangers? Her temple is become as a man without glory. Her glorious vessels are carried away into captivity, her infants are slain in the streets, her young men with the sword of the enemy. What nation hath not had a part in her kingdom, and gotten of her spoils? All her ornaments are taken away; of a free woman she is become a bond slave. And, behold, our sanctuary, even our beauty and our glory, is laid waste, and the Gentiles have profaned it” (1 Maccabees 2:7–12). Afterward, Mattathias and his five sons tore their clothes, put on sackcloth, and mourned.

Eventually, officers of Antiochus came into the city of Modin for their monthly inspection and to compel its citizens to make sacrifices to a pagan god. They summoned everyone in the city to come together. When the king’s officer saw Mattathias on his horse, they thought if they could get him to submit to the king’s new edict, then everyone else in the village would follow him and do likewise. Because he was a highly respected ruler in his community, they tried to persuade Mattathias to come forward and be the first to sacrifice a pig on the altar. If he came forward, the others in the city would follow. They tried to convince him by saying all of Judah and Jerusalem had already done so. They even tried to tempt him with riches saying the king would reward him and his children with silver and gold and other various rewards. (1 Macc. 2:17–18)

A furious Mattathias shouted at the officer, “Though all the nations that are under the king’s dominion obey him, and fall away every one from the religion of their fathers, and give consent to his commandments: Yet will I and my sons and my brethren walk in the covenant of our fathers. God forbid that we should forsake the law and the ordinances. We will not hearken to the king’s words, to go from our religion, either on the right hand, or the left” (1 Macc. 2:19–22).

After Mattathias refused to sacrifice the pig to the pagan god, an apostate Jew came forward to make the sacrifice as an example to encourage others to follow him. As he watched the apostate Jew offer up the sacrifice, Mattathias was filled with so much rage that the reigns of his horse he held in his hands trembled (1 Macc. 2:24). Mattathias then lunged forward on his horse and ran through the apostate Jew and all the king’s officers with his sword.

Mattathias and Sons Begin the Revolt

After such a blatant act of defiance, Mattathias then galloped throughout the city shouting to his fellow Jews saying, “Whosoever is zealous of the law, and maintaineth the covenant, let him follow me” (1 Macc. 2:27). He and his five sons immediately fled to the mountains leaving behind them their homes and possessions. And many God-fearing Jews followed them into the wilderness. (1 Macc. 2:28–29)

When word got back to the king’s officers in Jerusalem of what had happened, they went looking for the Jews in the wilderness. They found a thousand of them hiding in a cave. The king’s men called out to them and gave them a second chance to reconsider their decision and obey the king’s edict. If they obeyed the king’s command, they would let them live. The Jews hiding in the cave replied that they would not come out, and they would not do as the king commanded. So the king’s men killed them all—one thousand men, women, and children. Sadly, because it was the Sabbath, they would not defend themselves. They were so determined not to abandon their faith that they refused to violate the Sabbath laws by defending themselves even in the face of death. (1 Macc. 1:31–38)

When Mattathias and those with him heard what had happened, they were grieved. They came to the determination that if they did as their brothers did and not defend themselves, “They will root us out of the earth.” So they agreed that if it were necessary, they would defend themselves even on the Sabbath. (1 Macc. 1:39–41) More and more like-minded Jews joined Mattathias and his sons in the wilderness. They joined forces and went from city to city to pull down altars to pagan gods, circumcised the male children, and recovered the law out of the hands of the Gentiles. (1 Macc. 1:43–48)

Mattathias Appointed Judah as Captain Before He Died

Then came the time when the elderly Mattathias was about to die. He encouraged his sons to be zealous for the law and to give their lives for the covenant of their fathers. He appointed his son, Judah, to be captain and to fight the battle. He told Judah to continue avenging the wrongs done to their people. Then Judah, who was nicknamed Maccabeus (meaning “the hammer”), took his father’s place as captain of the revolt. I like what it says about Judah in 1st Maccabees chapter three:

4 In his acts he was like a lion, and like a lion’s whelp roaring for his prey. 5 For he pursued the wicked, and sought them out, and burnt up those that vexed his people. 6 Wherefore the wicked shrunk for fear of him, and all the workers of iniquity were troubled, because salvation prospered in his hand. … 8 Moreover he went through the cities of Judah, destroying the ungodly out of them, and turning away wrath from Israel: 9 so that he was renowned unto the utmost part of the earth, and he received unto him such as were ready to perish. (1 Macc. 3:4–6, 8–9)

Commanders Apollonius, Then Seron Take on the Rebels

One of the generals of Antiochus, named Apollonius, decided to do something about this renegade rebel group, so he got up an army to fight Judah. Judah got wind that Apollonius was coming, so Judah went out to meet him and engaged him in battle. Judah was not only outnumbered but he and his men were crudely armed. In spite of it, they defeated Apollonius and his well-trained and well-equipped army! When the army fled, Judah and his men gathered up the badly needed spoils. When Apollonius was killed in battle, Judah took his sword and fought with it in every battle for the rest of his life. (1 Macc. 3:10–12)

Next to challenge the small group of renegades was Seron, a commander in the army of Syria. He had heard about the outcome of Apollonius. He thought if he could take out Judah and his rebels, he would obtain a great reputation. Seron gathered up a large army and went out after Judah. Seron’s army had arrived on a day that Judah and his men had set aside for prayer and fasting. When they saw how many soldiers Seron had with him, they wondered how they were going to fight them when they were so weak from fasting all day.

Judah encouraged them in the Lord and reminded them that strength comes from heaven. As soon as he was done speaking, he led his men out to meet Seron in battle. Judah and his men proved to be too fierce for them, so they turned tail and fled but not before Judah and his men killed eight hundred of Seron’s men. (1 Macc. 3:13–24) After that, the reputation of Judah went out across the land, even to the neighboring nations. Judah had become not only famous but feared. When Antiochus Epiphanes heard about what was happening, he became “full of indignation.” (1 Macc. 3:25–27)

To be continued in part two…

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