Imagine this. The nation you live in gets invaded by a foreign king. One day the new king tells you that on a particular day, you are to turn your back on the God you worship and turn your back on your traditions and culture. Then this new king informs you that you’re to worship his gods and adopt his culture. If you refuse to obey, you will face persecution, torture, or death. Maybe all three.
What would you do?
Seriously, what would your choice be? You’re a mother with young children. If you disobey, you would be killed. What then would happen to your children? Who would raise them? If you obeyed the king’s command and began to worship his gods, you would be safe from physical harm and be able to raise your children. But now you’re living a false life and raising your children to worship gods you yourself don’t believe in.
This scenario is not hypothetical. This was a real predicament the Jewish people found themselves in when the evil king Antiochus Epiphanes invaded Israel and tried to force the Jewish people to become Greeks, to worship Greek gods, and adopt Greek culture. We know from history the choice they made when faced with this scenario. They rebelled! Keep reading to learn more!
THE MACCABEAN REVOLT
Second in a Two-Part Series
by Karen Thompson
This is the second part of a two-part series on the study of the Maccabean Revolt, a time when the Jewish people had to fight for not only their lives but for their very way of being. It was a time when an evil king named Antiochus Epiphanes tried to force the entire nation of Jews to abandon their God and their culture and embrace Greek gods and Greek culture.
Sadly, it was also a time when the Jewish people themselves were divided. There were some Jewish people that no longer wanted to be Jewish. They didn’t want to worship their Hebrew God or observe their many traditions and customs. They welcomed and desired the Greek culture. They wanted to live as Greeks. But the others wanted nothing to do with anything Greek. They loved their God and their culture and determined they would fight the tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes in order to keep their way of life.
Our study of the Maccabean Revolt comes from the book of First Maccabee in the Apocrypha. It’s been said that the account of the Maccabean Revolt as told in the first and second books of Maccabee in the Apocrypha is one of the most accurate accounts available with only a few inaccuracies.
In part one of our study, we read how a priest named Mattathias became angry when the king’s officers came to his city of Modin and tried to convince him to offer a pig as a sacrifice. Being that Mattathias was a respected man in the community, the king’s officers hoped others would follow him if he sacrificed a pig. When Mattathias refused, an apostate Jew stepped forward and made the sacrifice himself. Mattathias became so angry that he and his sons ran through with their swords all the king’s officers. Mattathias then galloped throughout the city, shouting an invitation to all who were zealous for their law to follow him and his sons. They left their homes and possessions and headed into the wilderness. Word got out about what happened, and more and more people joined Mattathias and his sons in the wilderness. Together, they joined forces and began to go from city to city and pulled down pagan altars, circumcised the male babies, and got rid of the king’s officers. Mattathias appointed his son, Judah, to head up the rebellion. Shortly after, Mattathias died from old age.
Judah and his small, poorly trained, and ill-equipped group of rebels fought two of Antiochus’ generals. General Apollonius was the first to come after Judah and his men. Though Apollonius had a professional and well-trained army, Judah soundly defeated him in battle. General Seron was the next general to go after Judah. He heard how Apollonius was defeated in battle, so he reasoned that if he could take out the rebel group, he would obtain for himself a great reputation. The day Seron came against Judah was a day Judah and his men had set aside for fasting and prayer. In spite of their weakened condition, they soundly defeated Seron and his army. That is where we left off with our story.
Antiochus Epiphanes Begins to Take Rebels Seriously
When Antiochus Epiphanes heard that Judah and his rebels had defeated his mighty armies, he became “full of indignation.” Antiochus gathered a very large army to take care of these rebels once and for all. He paid each of his soldiers one year’s wage so they would be in his service whenever he needed them. But after paying out his army’s wages, he found his treasury was dangerously low. It was so low that he feared he wouldn’t be able to maintain his army or to give lavish gifts as was his habit. (1 Macc. 3:28–29)
His habit of doling out lavish gifts and rewards was prophesied in Daniel 11:24: “He shall do that which his fathers have not done, nor his fathers’ fathers; he shall scatter among them the prey, and spoil, and riches.” Also, 1 Maccabees 3:30 comments on his gift giving as well; “for he had abounded above the kings that were before him.”
To increase his treasury, Antiochus went into Persia to collect tributes from vassal city-states. He left a man named Lysias, a nobleman, to oversee his affairs. He gave him half of his forces, half his elephants, and left him in charge of Judah and Jerusalem. He was given orders to send an army to completely remove any shred of rebellion.
Antiochus told Lysias that after he brought the rebellion to an end, he was to divide up the land of the Jews by lot and move strangers into their land. (1 Macc. 3:31–36)
Seleucid Generals Ptolemee, Nicanor, and Gorgias
Lysias chose three generals for the mission: Ptolemee, Nicanor, and Gorgias. He gave them 40 thousand footmen and seven thousand horsemen to end the rebellion that Mattathias had started. The three generals came to the land of Judah and pitched their tents by Emmaus. When the surrounding nations heard of this great army descending upon Judah, merchants came from all over to buy the prospective captives to use as slaves. (1 Macc. 3:38–41)
When Judah and his men heard and saw the great army that was sent after them, they didn’t complain. Instead, they gathered together to get ready for war and prayed for God to show them mercy and compassion. They found a copy of the Holy Scriptures that the Greeks had defiled by painting over its images. After they read out of it, they prayed, “Thy sanctuary is trodden down and profaned, and thy priests are in heaviness, and brought low. And, lo, the heathen are assembled together against us to destroy us: what things they imagine against us, thou knowest. How shall we be able to stand against them, except thou, O god, be our help?” (1 Macc. 3:51–53)
Then Judah and his men pitched their tents on the south side of Emmaus. Judah told his fellow Maccabeans to arm themselves and get ready to fight in the morning against the nations that were assembled against them. He said it would be better for them to die in battle rather than to see all the calamities that were happening to their people and their sanctuary. (1 Macc. 3:57–59)
General Gorgias decided he would make a surprise attack on the Jews in the middle of the night. He took five thousand footmen and a thousand horsemen and left the camp to descend on Judah and his men while they were sleeping. But Judah found out about the plan and decided to do a surprise attack of his own. They left their tents and went over to the enemy’s camp at Emmaus to attack them while they slept. That way Judah wouldn’t have to fight the entire army all at once. (1 Macc. 4:1–3)
When Gorgias came to the Jews’ camp and found it empty, he thought they had fled to the mountains, so he went searching for them. Meanwhile Judah and his three thousand men descended upon their enemy in the middle of the night and crushed them. As the enemy fled away, Judah and his small army chased after the fleeing soldiers and managed to kill three thousand. (1 Macc. 4:5–15)
They stopped chasing after them and went back to the enemy’s camp at Emmaus to collect the spoils. But Judah told them to hold off on collecting the spoil because Gorgias was still out there looking for them. He said as soon as they took care of Gorgias, they could collect the spoils. No sooner had he spoken when Gorgias showed up. But when Gorgias saw their camp burning with smoke, he figured out that Judah had put their army to flight. The army of General Gorgias was struck with fear, and so he and all the soldiers fled. After they left, Judah and his men gathered the spoils of the camp which they desperately needed. (1 Macc. 4:16–23)
Word got back to Lysias about what had happened. He was distraught that he failed to do as the king commanded. So he spent the next year mustering another army. He came up with 60 thousand foot soldiers and five thousand horsemen. This time they pitched their tents at Bethsura. Judah met them with only ten thousand men. As was their habit, Judah and his men prayed to God asking Him to bless them in their battle. (1 Macc. 4:26–30)
Judah met them in battle and when it was over, Lysias’ army lost five thousand men. When Lysias saw how fiercely the Jewish rebels were fighting and how committed they were to either win or die trying, he decided to withdraw. He saw they didn’t have a chance against their might and fervor in battle. So Lysias went back to Antioch and began recruiting an even larger army of “paycheck warriors.” (1 Macc. 4:34–35)
And herein lies the difference between the two armies. The armies of Antiochus were paycheck warriors who went into battle for employment. The men in Judah’s army fought for their faith and for their very lives. They were motivated to save their spiritual and cultural heritage.
Rebels Take Back Jerusalem and the Temple
While Lysias was occupied in the task of raising up a larger army, Judah decided they should retake Jerusalem and cleanse the temple and rededicate it to God. (1 Macc. 4:36) The Jewish historian Josephus wrote in his book “The Wars of the Jews” that after Antiochus desecrated the temple, it remained desolate for three and a half years until Judah and his men reclaimed it.
When they went to Jerusalem, they were devastated by what they saw. The temple was desolate, the altar profaned, and the gates were burned up. There were shrubs and weeds growing in the courts like in a wild forest. The priests’ chambers were pulled down. When they saw all this, they fell to the ground on their faces and cried out to God. Then Judah appointed some of his men to go and fight with the soldiers at the garrison to run them out, and then the others began cleaning and restoring the temple. (1 Macc. 4:37–41)
He found priests who loved God and His law and got them to help restore the temple. They pulled down the defiled altar and made a new one. They replaced the holy vessels to use in the temple and refurnished the temple with all the necessary things—an altar, candlestick, incense, and the table. (1 Macc. 4:42–56) They wanted worship to begin in the temple immediately, but they didn’t have enough olive oil to light the menorah. They found in the temple a small cruse of olive oil, but it was only enough for one day. It would take eight days to make a fresh supply of olive oil. But God intervened and caused the one day’s worth of olive oil to burn for eight days until more oil was made—the miracle of lights! From that time forward, the Jewish people commemorate the event by celebrating for eight days the liberation and purification of the temple. They call this celebration Hanukkah, which means “dedication.”
The Maccabean revolt continued for several more years and they eventually won their independence. In this way Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled in that “the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits,” which happened during the Maccabean Revolt!
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