Chapter II, The Days of the Maccabees

For a long time there had been two main parties striving for the domination in Judea. One, and that the weaker company, clinging tenaciously to the law and its observance, though continually adding to it, and becoming more and more legal. These eventually became known as the Pharisees (from a root meaning to separate), and whom the apostle Paul describes long after this as “the straitest sect of our religion,” and whose self-righteousness and hypocrisy the Lord had to condemn so severely in His days on earth. Only by degrees, of course, and after a long time did the Jewish party reach the condition depicted in the New Testament. It was the result of holding the truth in a carnal way—contending for what was divine while neglecting spirituality and self-judgment. They thus became censorious judges of others and complacent condoners of themselves.

On the other hand, the dominant party in the days of Simon II and Onias III was the Hellenizing faction—bringing in Grecian ways and customs. They saw no deliverance for the Jews save in following the ways of the nations. They cried, “Let us go and make a covenant with the heathen” (1 Mace. 1:11), and sought to popularize as far as possible the new ways. Greek philosophy, Greek games, and even tolerance of Greek religion were persistently advocated. Even Onias II, the high-priest, had been suspected of thus trying to break down the middle wall of separation; and later priests openly confessed their desire to see all that was distinctively Jewish replaced by what was Grecian. These were the predecessors of the polished, but infidel Sadducees.

Besides these two great parties, there was a third, if it be right to stigmatize them by the appellation party. They were a feeble and afflicted people, “the poor of the flock,” who abhorred the ways of the heathen, yet refused the legal pretensions of the Nationalists, and clung devotedly to the word of God and the promise of the coming Messiah. From these sprang, in after-years, the Essenes—a sect whose actual tenets are difficult to define, but who placed spirituality above outward conformity. They have been called the Quakers of Judea, and by others the Pietists.

But there were also purely political factions disturbing the peace of Judea. An “Egyptian” and a “Syrian” party had been gradually developed among the Jews, the names plainly indicating the object of each. In addition to these features of unrest, corruption had made sad inroads among the priesthood and the heads of the people. Avarice and covetousness, love of power and of ease, were eating the very life out of the great families and those who should have been examples to the flock.

We have already mentioned Joseph, the son of Tobias, who first bought the privilege of farming the taxes from Ptolemy Eurgetes. This lucrative office was held by him and his sons for many years, giving them thereby an importance almost as great as that of the high-priest. But the love of money is a root for all evils, and it brought disaster to the house of Tobias. Joseph was the husband of two wives, one of whom bore him seven sons; the other, but one, who was named Hyrcanus. The father’s own character was thoroughly reproduced in this youth, in greed and cunning. In his father’s old age, he was sent by him to Egypt to congratulate the king and queen on the birth of a son. Hyrcanus used the opportunity to bribe the king with money obtained from his father’s agent, and by these unworthy means secured the royal authority to become collector of revenues on the east of Jordan. This greatly enraged his father Joseph and his brothers, who waylaid Hyrcanus and sought to kill him. They were themselves defeated, however, and two of them slain, while Hyrcanus escaped unharmed. Joseph did not long survive this event. After his death matters went from bad to worse.

The strife overleaped the family of Tobias and became a national affair. Some of the people, amongst whom was Simon the high-priest, espoused the cause of the five brothers, while others supported Hyrcanus, who retreated beyond Jordan, and seven years later committed suicide, fearing the wrath of Antiochus, the Syrian king, who then held sway over the land. Before he died, he appears to have obtained the favor of Onias III, the last hereditary high-priest (who succeeded Simon his father, 195 B.C), for the ill-gotten treasure of Hyrcanus was deposited in the temple, and Onias described the publican as “a man of great dignity.”

At this time the governor of the temple was a Simon who is supposed to have been the eldest brother of Hyrcanus. Between him and Onias a bitter feud developed, and in 176 B. C, Simon, finding Onias too powerful for him to cope with in Jerusalem, went to Apollonius, governor of all that region (under Seleucus Philopater, the “raiser of taxes,” of whom we have spoken in the previous chapter), and told him of the immense treasure of Hyrcanus and others deposited for safe-keeping in the sanctuary.

Apollonius lost no time in acquainting the king with the welcome news, and the needy monarch at once sent Heliodorus, his treasurer, to take possession of the money. In some way he was hindered, and the treasure was not removed. The story told in 2 Mace. 3:5-40 is that Heliodorus came to Jerusalem and made inquiry of Onias, who informed him that the treasure was indeed there, but that it would be sacrilege to touch it. The king’s treasurer, however, demanded the money, and upon his being denied he attempted to enter the temple to secure it, when he saw an apparition in the form of “a horse with a terrible rider upon him, and adorned with a very fair covering, and he ran fiercely, and smote at Heliodorus with his forefeet, and it seemed that he that sat upon the horse had complete harness of gold. Moreover two other young men appeared be- fore him, notable in strength, excellent in beauty, and comely in apparel, who stood by him at either side, and scourged him continually, and gave him many sore stripes” (2 Mace. 3:25, 26). This turned the treasurer from his purpose, and he departed to his master without the object of his quest.

It is related, however, that Simon was not so credulous as Heliodorus, but boldly insinuated trickery, and declared that Onias was responsible in some way for the supposed apparition. Bitterness and strife increased; partisans were assassinated, and dissension grew so intolerable that Onias departed on a mission to the king, determined to secure his intervention. Things had fallen to a low ebb indeed when a heathen monarch had thus to be appealed to with a view to settling a dispute among the descendants of those zealous Jews returned out of Babylonish captivity in the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah.

Seleucus, the king, died, however, before Onias reached him, and the king’s brother, Antiochus, who surnamed himself Epiphanes (the illustrious), was declared king. He is called by an opposite designa-in Daniel 11:21, R. V., namely, “a contemptible person.” His own courtiers evidently concurred in this last appellation, for they changed one Greek letter in this self-assumed name, which made it Epimanes (the madman).

This wretched king is the persecuting “King of the North,” a synopsis of whose history had been pre-written in Daniel 11:21-35. He has been well-named “The Antichrist of the Old Testament.” At first he came in peaceably, and by flatteries sought to gain the confidence of the Jews, but afterwards became their bitterest persecutor, and the profaner of the temple. Ere Onias could gain his ear, Joshua, the high-priest’s brother, offered this Antiochus four hundred and forty talents in all if he would sell him the high-priestly position, and set aside his venerable brother. Joshua further promised to do all in his power toward Grecianizing the Jews, even to the changing their name to “Antiochians.” This offer delighted the avaricious ruler, who declared Onias no longer high-priest, but gave the office to Joshua, who at once began to carry out his pledges, giving up his own honored name for that of Jason, after a Greek hero. He constructed a gymnasium, and furthered in every way the adoption of Greek learning, fashions and games; even going “so far as to send special messengers from Jerusalem to Tyre bearing money for offerings to Melcarth, the Phoenician Hercules, on the occasion of the games in his honor” (see 2 Mace. 4:18-20).

Thus was the rationalistic pre-Sadducean party completely in power, and it seemed as though both the national and the spiritual parties were thoroughly crushed, if not ready to be annihilated. The first chapter of the first book of the Maccabees gives us a vivid picture of the wretched estate of the Jews, who had begun so well under Ezra and his coadjutors.

Four years passed, and Jason, the pseudo-priest, sent a younger brother named Onias, to Antioch, bearing the tribute-money for Antiochus. Jason now was to prove that “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” He had sown deceit and treachery-through flattery and bribery. He reaped the same. For Onias determined to obtain the lucrative and honorable title of high-priest for himself. He therefore flattered and fawned upon the vain, covetous king, and offered him three hundred talents more than Jason for the position. He was successful, therefore, and returned to Jerusalem, bearing the royal commission, with the intention of ousting his brother from the office. The “sons of Tobias” rallied to his support, but Jason and his friends refused to relinquish their place and power, so that Onias was forced to retire to Antioch, temporarily outwitted. There he besought the king’s aid, pledging himself to go further than his brother in Grecianizing the Jews, and changing his own name to Menelaus. This won the king to hearty support of his cause, and he returned once more to Jerusalem with a royal escort. At this Jason fled in terror and Menelaus held the priesthood.

The senior Onias, the last legitimate high-priest, still lived, and “vexed his righteous soul” as he saw the evil deeds of the apostate party. Finally, when Menelaus, in order to make up the tribute-money, robbed the temple of its golden vessels, selling them at Tyre and elsewhere, Onias sternly spoke out, calling the false priest to account for his unhallowed ways. For this he was hated by the sacrilegious wretch whom he had reproved, and he appointed Andronicus to assassinate him. The aged pontiff was foully murdered, and Menelaus congratulated himself on having his stern reprover out of the way. But the vile deed inflamed many lovers of Israel, and so great a protest was made to Antiochus, that he felt compelled to interfere by causing Andronicus to be put to death, though Menelaus himself escaped. As time went by he became more and more abandoned, reveling in shameful iniquity, and guilty of horrible enormities—yet wearing the sacred mitre inscribed with “Holiness unto the Lord!”

Again he laid hands on other of the holy vessels, but this time the mass of the people, among whom were ever found many who “looked for redemption in Israel,” rose up in their wrath, determined to defend the house of God against this sacrilegious plunderer. They joined battle with three thousand of the partisans of Menelaus, led by Lysimachus his brother. Lysimachus was killed and his party defeated. Menelaus chagrined and disgraced appealed to the king, sending a delegation of rationalistic members of the Sanhedrim bearing the most potent of arguments—money in abundance. The people protested, but all their complaints were ignored at the sight of Menelaus’ gold, and the king acquitted the high-priest and slew his accusers.

Antiochus Epiphanes invaded Egypt, about 171 B. C, and soon a rumor reached Jerusalem that he was dead. Upon the circulation of this report there was great rejoicing, and the Jason party again gathered courage, knowing that the people detested Menelaus. With a thousand men they carried the walls, slew their opponents, and drove Menelaus into the castle. But a sudden turn of affairs enabled the latter to get the upper hand, and Jason was driven out and retreated to a strange land, where he died “detested by all,” as one historian says, and as we can well believe.

News that Jerusalem had been overjoyed to hear of his death reached Antiochus in Egypt and threw him into a fury. The troubles between Jason and Menelaus were reported as though there had been a popular uprising and a revolt against the royal authority. In a paroxysm of rage he led his armies like an overwhelming flood through the land, and assaulting Jerusalem with wrathful energy, took the city by storm, upon which followed a fearful sack and carnage. Over 40,000 persons were slain in three days, and an equal number torn from their homes and led away as captives. Nor was this all. Guided by the wretched apostate Menelaus, he forced his way into the Holiest of all, carried off the golden candlestick, the table, the incense altar, and other vessels; destroyed the books of the law, and set up the “abomination of desolation” by erecting an idol-altar upon the holy altar of burnt-offerings, upon which he sacrificed a great sow, and with a broth made of its unclean flesh, sprinkled and defiled all the temple.

The horror with which a godly Jew regarded this terrible desecration is almost beyond our conception. Never till the personal Antichrist sits in the temple of God yet to be erected in Jerusalem, in the days of the coming tribulation, will such dreadful scenes be repeated. Both are called by the same name.

In Daniel 11:31 the past deed is depicted years before the event: “And armed men going forth from him shall pollute the sanctuary, the fortress, and shall take away the continual sacrifice, and they shall set up the abomination that maketh desolate.” In Daniel 9:26, 27, the future is before us, when the Antichrist will again defile the temple, “and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate.” This is what Daniel 12:11 refers to, and is the passage to which our Lord directed the attention of His disciples in Matt. 24:15, as a sign of the end of the age.

The impious acts of Antiochus became a signal for the revival of the ancient spirit in a remnant, according to Daniel 11:32: “And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries; but the people that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits.” Thus the Maccabean period is introduced—the time of the great Jewish war of independence. Then it was that the following verses, 33 to 35, were literally fulfilled:4 “And they that have understanding among the people shall instruct many; yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil many days. Now when they shall fall they shall be helped with a little help: but many shall join themselves to them with flatteries. And some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purify, and to make them white, even to the time of the end: because it is yet for a time appointed.”

For twenty-three hundred days, or about six and a half years, the temple was to be polluted, according to the same prophet Daniel. Then the sanctuary was to be cleansed and divine service re-instituted. And so it was. In 171 B. C. the abomination that made desolate was set up. In 165-4 B. C. the temple was purified and re-dedicated by command of Judas Maccabeus. The intervening 2300 days were the strenuous times of which we now proceed to take note.

For a time the Jews were utterly disheartened, yet a remnant cried to God: “O Lord, how long?” and hoped in Him who had ever been the Helper of Israel.

In 169 B. C. Antiochus made another inroad against Egypt, and was at first successful, until met by a Roman embassage demanding that he return to his own land. The decree of the Roman senate was handed to the haughty tyrant, who asked for time to consider it; but with his rod, Popillius, one of the ambassadors, drawing a circle around Antiochus, demanded an answer of yes or no before he left the circle. Antiochus, alarmed, submitted and left Egypt, determined to vent his rage on Palestine again. He sent an army under Apollonius to destroy the already ruined city of Jerusalem, the name of which signifies “Foundation of peace,” but which has known more sieges and bloodshed than any other existing city—having been sacked twenty- seven times already, and God’s word clearly predicts two fearful sieges for the future.

Apollonius fell upon the defenseless people in a manner worthy of the madman he served. Pretending peace, he entered unopposed, and on the holy Sabbath day fell upon the wretched inhabitants, slaying the men by thousands, and carrying the women and children captive. The houses and walls were demolished and the city set on fire. Thus, in the pathetic language of 1 Mace. 1:39, “Her sanctuary was laid waste like a wilderness; her feasts were turned into mourning, her Sabbaths into reproach, her honor into contempt.”

And over and above all this an Act of Uniformity was passed compelling all the people in the dominions of Antiochus to worship his gods and no others. Athenaeus was sent to Jerusalem to dedicate the temple to Jupiter Olympus, in whose honor sacrifices were instituted, and the miserable Jews still remaining among the ruins of their old homes were forced to take part in the horrid services and to eat of the unclean sacrifices. Defilement could not further go. Israel had been made to know to the full the tender mercies of the heathen, whose culture and brilliancy had been so attractive to the rationalizers among them. The outward contamination was but the manifestation of what God’s holy eye had seen long since; even as the leprosy on king Uzziah’s forehead had but made known before all the corruption that had been working within.

Antiochus and his minions knew no mercy. They spared neither age, sex, nor condition. Young and old, men and women, priests and people, rich and poor, suffered alike in those fearful days of vengeance. Women who attempted to keep the law and circumcise their sons, were led publicly through the city with their babes at their breasts and flung bodily from the city walls, thus being literally broken to pieces. Any who were discovered observing the Sabbath day were apprehended and burnt alive.

Josephus’ account of those dire and sorrowful times remarkably coincides with the epistle to the Hebrews’ account of former saints’ sufferings. Says the Jewish historian: “They were whipped with rods, and their bodies were torn to pieces, and were crucified while they were still alive and breathed.” The apostle wrote of the same heroes of faith: “They were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented {of whom the world was not worthy); they wandered in deserts and mountains, and dens and caves of the earth” (Heb. 11:35-38).

One incident will show how truly these words applied to the faithful among the Jews in this time of trouble. One woman and her seven sons were apprehended together and dragged before the vile and infamous king, who commanded them to cast off their faith and to become worshipers of his gods. As they boldly refused, the first son was seized in the presence of his heroic mother and his six brethren, his tongue torn out, his members cut off, and he burned alive over a slow fire. Again the alternative was presented to worship the demon-gods and live, or be faithful to Jehovah and die. Unyielding, the second son was taken and flayed alive before the eyes of the rest. And so the horrid trial went on till but one son was left, and he the youngest. The king personally pleaded with him to renounce his faith and bow to the gods, promising riches, ease and honor for himself and his mother if he obeyed. Fearing he might weaken, the devoted woman encouraged his heart in the Lord, saying, “O my son, have pity upon me that bare thee … I beseech thee, my son, look upon heaven and earth, and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not; and so was mankind made likewise. Fear not this tormentor, but be worthy of thy brethren; take thy death, that I may receive thee again in mercy with thy brethren” (2 Mace. 7:27-29). How strong was this testimony to the Jewish faith in the resurrection when uncorrupted by Sadducean influence!

The youth, thus encouraged, defied the king, rebuked him for his iniquity, and predicted his final judgment, till the wretched monarch was so enraged that, we are told, he “handled him worse than all the rest,” and “this man died undefiled, and put his whole trust in the Lord” (chap. 7:39, 40). The mother was then despatched, and the eight faithful spirits rested together in Abraham’s bosom.

It would only be soul-harrowing to dwell longer on details such as these. The night was indeed dark; the storm raged relentlessly; hope almost died within the breasts of the faithful; when, like the shining forth of the star of morning, arose Mattathias who dwelt in Modin.

This man was the father of five sons, and he and his sons are the Maccabees of everlasting renown. The name means, “The hammer of God,” and was originally the appellation given to the third son Judas, but is generally now applied to them all.

It is not possible at this late day to locate the village of Modin, where dwelt this devoted family of priestly descent. Mattathias was of the house of Asmonaeus, of the course of Joarib, so his family are called Asmonaeans. They were among those who bewailed before God the corruption and violence of the times, and in secret were being prepared by the mighty One in whom they trusted, for public service.

There came one day to Modin, Apelles, king Antiochus’ commissioner, to force all the inhabitants to conform to the heathen rites. Recognizing in Mattathias a ruler and an honorable man, Apelles came first to him, demanding that he set the example by sacrificing on the heathen altar which had been set up in the midst of the village. Mattathias indignantly refused, and declared without reservation that neither he nor his sons would harken to the king’s words. As he spoke, a renegade Jew pressed through the throng to offer before the idol. This so stirred the venerable old man that he ran forward and slew not only the transgressor himself, but ere the astonished commissioner realized his danger, he also was slain by Mattathias, who then destroyed the altar. Thus had a second Phinehas arisen in Israel.

The breach was made; the king was openly defied. So, crying, “Whosoever is zealous of the law, and maintaineth the covenant, let him follow me,” the aged Mattathias fled from the city into a mountain retreat, leaving all his goods behind him. Unto him, as to David in the hold, a company of devoted men gathered, his own sons leading the way. So had God again visited the Jews, even in the days when they were still under the Lo-ammi sentence—“Not My people”—because of their sins. The flame of insurrection spread far and wide, and as of old, the “discontented, in debt, and distressed,” rallied to the standard of Mattathias.

From Jerusalem an army of Syrians was at once despatched to crush the rebellion in its very inception. They fell upon a heterogeneous mass of Jews who were encamped in the wilderness, on their way to the hiding place of Mattathias. It was the holy Sabbath, and the patriotic band felt they dared not violate its sanctity by armed resistance, so a thousand were butchered like defenseless sheep. But this led to a change of judgment, and decided the Jews never again to refuse to defend their country and their families on the holy day, but to fight manfully for all that was dearer to them than life itself, even on the Sabbath, the rest of which had been so rudely disturbed by the ferocious heathen.

The most devoted Jews joined Mattathias; those known as the Assidaeans or Chasidim (i.e., the Pious), who detested all that savored of idolatry, and clung tenaciously to the old paths, as well as the nationalist party, who were actuated more by mere patriotism than true piety.

From place to place this band of insurrectionists went through the country, daily augmented by fresh recruits, tearing down idol-altars, overthrowing heathen temples, circumcising the children who were without the covenant-sign, and proclaiming the triumph of the law of God.

For less than a year was Mattathias spared, the intensity of the times being too much for his years; and in 166 B.C. the venerable old patriarch died. Ere he resigned his laborious work he gathered his sons about him, and charged them not to turn aside from the service he now committed to them till the land and the temple were cleansed of the pollutions of the heathen. His son Judas, “Maccabeus” (the hammer of God), he appointed to succeed himself as leader of the revolutionary army, while he called upon all to weigh well the wise counsels of his son Simon, who was noted for his sagacity and singleness of purpose. The aged leader was buried in Modin, amid great lamentation, and at his tomb the people consecrated themselves anew to the service of God and their brethren.

Victory everywhere crowned the efforts of Judas. He surprised the enemy time after time, bursting in upon their encampments in the middle of the night, spreading terror and confusion among them, and causing himself to be dreaded by them all.

Apollonius, the governor of Samaria, went out against him with a great host, but was ignominiously defeated, and at last himself slain, while his army was scattered and their arms and accoutrements left in the hands of the Jews. With the sword of Apollonius the great Maccabean chieftain fought ever afterwards.

Another and greater army, commanded by Seron, was sent by king Antiochus to annihilate the Jewish company. The two forces met at Beth-horon. Seron, haughty and defiant, at the head of a vast host; Judas, intrepid and strong in faith, but leading a small company, who had been obliged to fast all that day, and were weak and discouraged as they beheld their insolent foes. “How,” they asked, “shall we be able, being so few, to fight against so great a multitude, and so strong?” Like a second Asa, Judas replied: “With the God of heaven it is all one to deliver with a great multitude, or a small company.” Nor was his faith disappointed. Encouraged by the remembrance of the past mercies of Jehovah, the Jews threw themselves, in the apparent recklessness of faith, upon their disdainful foes, and under the daring leadership of Judas, scattered them like chaff before the flails, and completely defeated the Syrians, who fled wildly in all directions, leaving a vast number of dead and wounded on the bloody field. Thus was it demonstrated that one should chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, in reliance upon God their strength.

News of these events threw Antiochus into a fury; he raged like a maniac as report of success after success on the part of Judas and his bands reached the Syrian capital. A great army was at once planned, to be led by the king in person, which would utterly annihilate the detested Jews. But money was lacking; the treasury being practically empty, the angry king set off to Persia to collect tribute, and with other means to raise the much-needed funds. Meantime, half of the army was sent to Palestine, headed by Lysias, one of his mightiest generals, who was charged to completely extirpate all Israel, and blot out of the land every memorial in existence of the insolent nation that had dared to defy so mighty a king!

It seems to have been Satan’s great effort to destroy the seed of Abraham, and so to nullify the Messianic promise. Often had he sought thus to tiring to nought the word of God in the past, but had been divinely defeated on every occasion; and he, the great arch-enemy of God and men, was again to find that he was powerless against the fiat of the Eternal.

Lysias divided the army among three generals, Ptolemy, Nicanor, and Gorgias, with 40,000 foot and 7,000 horsemen, sending this great host into Judea to preclude all possibility of defeat. So certain were the Syrians of victory that Nicanor had it publicly proclaimed that upon his return ninety Jews would be sold for one talent; thus arousing the cupidity of the dealers in slaves, whose money it was supposed would soon be pouring into the coffers of Antiochus.

Against this mighty army Judas could only oppose a visible force of 6,000 men; but can we doubt that the armies of heaven, visible only to faith, were encamping round about the little Jewish band, as of old in the mountains surrounding Dothan?

The Syrians pitched at Emmaus, and at Mizpeh was the camp of the Jews. With ashes on their heads and sackcloth on their bodies, they fell down before God in prayer and confession. Eleazar, the brother of Judas, read from the Holy Scriptures as they fasted and humbled themselves before the mighty One who had been their Help in ages past. He was their reliance in the hour of trial then approaching. For their battle-cry they took the words, “The help of God;” and with hearts strong in the Lord and the power of His might, they waited for the morrow.

And while they waited, they watched. Faithful sentries noted every move of the over-confident Syrians. Ere daylight scouts came to Judas to tell him that the division of the enemy under Gorgias was already preparing to march, hoping by an early attack to surprise the sleeping Jews and to carry all before them. The little army of Israel were roused at once. When Gorgias arrived at the Jewish camp he found it deserted, for Judas and his men were already marching down upon the Syrians by a different road. Suddenly the cry of Judas, “Fear ye not!” rang out on the still air, and a loud blast of trumpets sounded the assault. Like men who knew neither fear nor danger the Jews flung themselves upon the great army before them, and in a few moments the enemy were scattered in all directions. Three thousand Syrians fell, and when Gorgias returned, in ignorance of the events of the early morning, he imagined the Jews were in retreat. “These fellows flee from us,” he cried, and led his band on in haste to the plain, only to find the tents on fire and the Syrians fleeing in disorder on every side. Amazed and disheartened, Gorgias and his men turned and fled as a company of Jews bore down upon them.

Thus was the battle ended, and the army of Lysias disgracefully defeated. The Jews gathered the spoil together, then rested for the Sabbath, praising God for His marvelous ways and mercy to Israel.

Determined to retrieve the good name of his army, Lysias gathered a force of nearly twenty thousand more men the following year and again descended upon Judea. But the army of Judas was now ten thousand strong, and with these zealots, relying on “the Saviour of Israel,” he boldly met the 65,000 Syrians in Idumea, and drove Lysias in defeat and disgrace to Antiochia. So overwhelming was this blow, that it was years before the Syrian army recovered from its effects, and in the meantime (164 B.C.), less than a year after the triumph of Judas, the vile Antiochus Epiphanes died a horrible death, raving in madness and foul with an evil disease that rotted the flesh upon his bones while life was yet in his filthy body. He had reigned eleven years, and came to his end as he was hastening home from Persia to avenge the defeat of his generals upon the exultant Jews.

But ere the king’s death, an event of great importance occurred at Jerusalem: the cleansing of the temple, as predicted by Daniel, at the expiration of

the 2,300 days of defilement. It was in 171 B. C. that the sanctuary was first polluted. In 165 and 164, the holy place was purified, and the ancient service reestablished amid the joyful acclamations of the Chasidim and the enthusiastic shouts of the nationalists.

When Judas and his brethren went up to Jerusalem it was a dreadful sight that greeted them. The holy city was in ruins, the temple disfigured and desolate, the courts overgrown with shrubs, the sacred altar profaned, the beautiful gate burned, and the entire place a scene of desolation. Rending their garments, the people gave way to wailing and tears, but the sound of the trumpet called them to labor, not to weep; and with a small armed company set aside to keep the Syrian garrison in the fortress in check, the rest began the labor of repairing the sanctuary and cleansing the building and the hallowed vessels. The altar was set aside altogether as too unclean for purification, and a new one built in its place. The temple was renovated and decorated, and at last, all was in readiness for its re-dedication. This took place on the 25th Chisleu, 165 B. C, exactly three years from the day when the first offering had been made on the altar to Jupiter, and some six and a half years after it had been first polluted by Antiochus. Ever after, the Jews kept “The Feast of the Dedication” as a yearly festival (see John 10:22), in the wintry month of Chisleu, or December. Ere the next year, 164 B. C, was well advanced, the temple service was going on again as before the desecration.

For the greater part of the next three years the work of ridding the land of its enemies and restoring the cities of Israel was vigorously carried on by the heroic Judas. He fortified Mount Zion and placed a Jewish garrison there, rebuilt the walls, and rehabilitated the waste places, bringing order out of chaos, and changing despair to hopeful contemplation of the future. Upon an uprising of Israel’s ancient foes, the Idumeans, or Edomites, and the Ammonites, Judas and his brother Jonathan led an army into their territories and discomfited them at every turn, till they were glad to make peace and refrain from further interference. Simon, a brother of Judas, commanded an army that overran Galilee, subjugating lawless bands which were inflicting terror by pillaging and slaying the defenseless people who had sought refuge there. Wherever the Maccabean brothers were in command victory followed; but on several occasions, when led by rash and misguided men, the Jews were defeated.

Antiochus Epiphanes was succeeded by his nine-year-old son, known as Antiochus Eupator; Lysias, the old enemy of the Jews, was regent, and again he determined to wipe out the stain upon his honor by crushing Judas and his forces. He invaded the land, therefore, with an army vastly greater than that commanded by Judas. The two hosts met in Judea, and, for the first time, the Jews suffered a serious reverse. Eleazar, the brother of Judas, was slain while attempting to destroy what he supposed was the king’s beast. He observed a large elephant, gorgeously bedecked, and thought it was ridden by the boy-king and his guards. Thinking to win undying renown, and to stem the assault of the foe, he cut his way through a company of Syrians, got underneath the mighty beast and thrust his spear into its belly. The great creature fell, crushing Eleazar by its weight. It was not the king’s beast, however, and nothing was really accomplished by the indiscretion of Eleazar. His death greatly discouraged the Jews, while it did not hinder the progress of the invaders, who drove their stubborn foes before them, so that they retreated to Jerusalem.

Lysias laid siege to the city, and cutting off all supplies, threatened all the inhabitants with death by famine if they attempted to hold out against him. But the God of Israel intervened again, and caused the purpose of Lysias to be frustrated by the breaking out of rebellion in Syria: Philip, a rival of Lysias, having attempted to overthrow the government in the latter’s absence.

This made it imperative for Lysias to raise the siege and to return in haste to the capital; which he did, after concluding peace with the Jews, guaranteeing them protection. But when the king was admitted to the city and his officers saw the strength of the walls, the pledge was partially violated by the destruction of the defenses. The army then marched away in haste to Antiochia, where Philip was outwitted and the rebellion crushed.

It will be remembered that the treacherous high- priest Menelaus was in office when Mattathias first rose against the Syrians. He continued to hold the title through all the stormy years of revolution, but met his death at this time. Lysias, declaring that he was the real cause of the revolt, impeached him before the king. He was slain, then, and the high-priesthood conferred upon one named Alcimus, who, unfortunately, was every whit as vile as his infamous predecessor. This was in 163 B. C.

The rest of the story of Judas is soon told. During the next year he labored earnestly for the blessing of Israel, though he it was who first formed the Roman alliance as a result of which Judea became eventually a Roman province. The circumstances were these: In 162 B. C, Demetrius, son of Seleucus Philopater, and therefore nephew of Antiochus Epiphanes and cousin of Eupator, appeared in Syria to contest the authority of the boy-king. He had been carried to Rome as a hostage some years before, but had escaped and made his way to Tripolis in Syria, where he gave out that the Roman senate had authorized him to take over the kingdom from his cousin. Many rallied to his standard, and after a desperate conflict the king and Lysias were apprehended by the pretender and put to death. Demetrius then ascended the throne, taking the title Soter, meaning Saviour.

Alcimus, the newly-appointed high-priest, bought his favor with a present of a golden crown and other gifts, and thus his office was confirmed to him. This hypocritical, self-seeking prelate lost no time in slandering Judas Maccabaeus and his followers to the king, and command was given to Nicanor, the old enemy of the Jewish commonwealth, to advance against Judas, put him to death, and destroy his army. But Nicanor knew from past experience that this was easier said than done. Instead of engaging Judas in battle, therefore, he entered into a peace compact with the Jews, which seemed honorable and satisfactory to both sides. This did not suit the policy of Alcimus, and he boldly accused Nicanor to the king, who sent instructions that the original plans or orders must be carried out. Upon this Nicanor, much against his own judgment, advanced upon the army of Judas, who had been apprized of the violation of the compact in time to be prepared for war. At Beth-horon and Adasa the opposing hosts encamped, and, joining battle, Judas was again triumphant, and the king’s soldiers beat an ignominious retreat. Nicanor was killed, and his head and right hand were carried to Jerusalem in triumph. “For this cause,” says the author of 1 Maccabees (chap. 7:48-50), “the people rejoiced greatly, and they kept that day a day of great gladness. Moreover they ordained to keep yearly this day, being the thirteenth of Adar. Thus the land of Judea was in rest a little while.”

But it was evident to Judas that the era of quiet could not last long, for the Syrian king would not be likely to allow this dishonor to his army to pass unavenged. The stern old warrior, Judas, therefore, determined to make an alliance with Rome, which was now the dominant power of the West, and already making her influence felt in the East. Had Judas read and understood the words of Daniel as to the rise of the fourth empire, and realized that the third was doomed? It can scarcely be doubted. He knew, too, how potent had been the word of a Roman senator in the days of Epiphanes; so it was natural enough that he should seek an alliance with the “beast dreadful and terrible, having great iron teeth.” Better be a friend than a foe of such a power, he may have thought. Yet it is evident that Judas had dropped to a lower level than he had occupied in days gone by when his reliance had been alone upon the God of Israel. Rome was but an arm of flesh, and the Jews were to find in her an oppressor beyond all others ere the fruit of this pact had fully been gathered.

Negotiations were entered into with the Roman senate, and a treaty drawn up and signed, which seemed likely to ensure peace to Israel. But Judas was not to live to see it, nor indeed did the wished-for peace prove as lasting as he had hoped. Before Demetrius could be notified of the alliance with Rome and warned to beware of harming or acting unjustly toward her “friends and confederates the Jews,” the energetic Syrian monarch had dispatched a force of 22,000 men against Judas, led by Bacchides and the infamous high-priest Alcimus. The army of patriots numbered but 3000. The old spirit of confidence in God seemed to be gone. Judas was anxious and troubled; his men were in fear, and urged a retreat. The worthy old warrior could not consent to this, and, because of his stern refusal, his force was farther reduced by numerous desertions.

Yet he led the forlorn hope when the Syrians came upon him, and fought bravely and doggedly to the last; but ere the battle ended the hero of Israel was no more. Judas, “the hammer of God,” was overwhelmed and slain!

What his death meant to the Jews, words fail to express. They were broken hearted and in despair, though God had not left them without a leader, for his brother Jonathan at once took his place as captain-general of the little army. This was in the year
161 B.C.

The troubles of the Jews were multiplied. The “Syrian party,” headed by Alcimus, endeavored with all its power to defeat the Roman alliance and re-establish the Syrian sway; and for a time there was distress and civil war. But the wretched Alcimus died the next year (160 B.C.), and a measure of quiet was restored. But there were other distresses; a great famine brought fearful suffering to many, and the activity of Bacchides kept Jonathan’s little army continually on the defensive until withdrawing to the wilderness of Tekoa, he managed to wear out by guerilla tactics the trained soldiers of his opponent who sought again and again to capture him, only to be repulsed and outwitted each time

For two years there was comparative quiet; then in 158 B.C. Bacchides came again into Judea to seek the destruction of Jonathan. He was defeated however, and favorable terms of peace concluded between the two armies.

Troubles in Syria, in connection with the claims of a pretender to the throne named Balas, caused king Demetrius to desist from further efforts to subjugate the Jews, and for several years there was quiet in Judea, while both Demetrius and Balas sought the favor and support of Jonathan and his army. In vain Demetrius offered him privilege after privilege; Jonathan could not or would not trust him. Balas, who took the name of Alexander, offered to confer the high-priesthood upon him if Jonathan would espouse his cause. After months of negotiations his offer was accepted, and at the Feast of Tabernacles, 153 B. C, Jonathan was solemnly robed in the high-priestly garments, which he assumed for the good of his people. Yet it is clear that all this was opposed to the plain word of God. Trusting to or acting in the flesh to procure a desirable end, can never be of the Holy Spirit.

When Alexander Balas and Demetrius met, the latter was defeated and slain while in retreat. Thus was Alexander confirmed as king of Syria, and to strengthen himself he entered into an alliance with the king of Egypt, who gave him his daughter as wife. Balas professed to be the natural son of Antiochus Epiphanes, and, because it served their purpose, he got the Romans to own his claim.

It seemed now as though all must be well with the Jews: a Maccabean was high-priest; the foreign party was crushed; a Roman puppet was on the Syrian throne; and a Roman-Jewish alliance was in force. What more could be needed to secure peace and prosperity? Alas, that which was most important of all now seemed to be lacking—simple trust in the living God!

The future was to prove that “vain is the help of man,” and that no human arrangements can stand, or procure the end in view, if they be opposed to the word of the Lord, and spring from expediency in place of faith.

In 148 B.C. trouble again loomed large on the horizon of the Jews. The son of Demetrius, afterwards known as Nicator (the Conqueror), who had been in hiding since his father’s death, determined to regain the throne and kingdom. This prince first attacked Jonathan as a supporter of the usurper Balas, but was defeated, though not until Ptolemy, the king of Egypt, had come into Palestine with an army to assist Alexander, his son-in-law. While engaged in thus helping the Jews, he learned of a plot against his own life, laid by one of Alexander’s officers. Ptolemy demanded that the offender be delivered up to him. Upon Alexander’s refusal, he justly concluded that the upstart-king had sanctioned the attempt to destroy him. This caused him to demand the return of his daughter and the severance of the Syro-Egyptian alliance. Ptolemy now espoused the cause of Demetrius against Alexander, and the wife of the latter was given to Demetrius, his rival.

Alexander was soon defeated and slain. His head was sent to Ptolemy, who, however, only lived three days after receiving it. In 146 B. C. Demetrius was proclaimed king of Syria and hailed as “Nicator.” A rather flimsy compact existed for a time between this prince and Jonathan, but when in 144 B. C. Antiochus, the son of Balas, arose to contest the crown with Demetrius Nicator, Jonathan severed all relations with the latter, and threw his influence on the side of Antiochus, who confirmed his right to the high-priesthood and sent him a present of golden vessels for use in the temple; also giving him permission to be clothed in purple and to wear a golden buckle, only worn by those of royal blood.

Jonathan proved an able ally. He led his army in person against Demetrius, defeating his forces; and renewing the alliance with Rome, cast all his influence on the side of the son of Balas, who was triumphantly hailed king of Syria and Palestine. He was an able and generous prince and a real friend of the Jews, who appreciated fully the part Jonathan had taken in aiding his cause; but he was destined to reign for a very short season, falling a victim to the treachery of Tryphon, one who was largely instrumental in placing him upon the throne. Ere Antiochus fell, Jonathan was also fated to die by the machinations of the same traitorous commander.

Tryphon coveted the crown for himself, and realizing that the son of Mattathias was as a bulwark of the throne, he craftily sought to obtain possession of his person. Under a pretence of inviting him for friendly conference, Jonathan was prevailed upon to enter the city of Ptolemais, accompanied by less than a thousand men. These troops were cruelly massacred and their leader imprisoned. Upon this news reaching the surrounding nations, they prepared to invade Judea now that the veteran leader was powerless to aid his people. Tryphon also set out at the head of an army to overrun the land, deter- mined to subjugate the “eternal” nation. Fear filled the souls of the men of Israel, and they were in despair until Simon, the brother of Jonathan, came to the front, encouraged their hearts by recounting the deeds of valor performed of old, and was unanimously chosen as captain of the host.

Hearing this, Tryphon notified Simon that Jonathan had been apprehended and imprisoned because of his failure to pay the tribute-money, and that if he, Simon, would send two hundred talents of silver and two sons of the high-priest and commander as hostages, their father would be released. Simon had little faith in the traitor’s promises, but he thought it best to comply, hoping thereby to save his brother’s life. All was of no avail, however; for after receiving the money and securing the hostages, Tryphon had Jonathan brutally murdered, and resumed operations against the Jews. This was in 144 B. C.—seventeen years after Jonathan had become the leader of his people. His body was later recovered, and buried at Modin, his former home.

Tryphon shortly afterwards secretly slew the youthful king Antiochus and laid hands on the crown, declaring himself king. He was a relentless enemy of the Jews, and during his troublous reign caused them much discomfort.

Demetrius Nicator, the deposed king, who had been driven out by the armies of Antiochus, was still alive and plotting to regain the royal dignity. It seemed to Simon that he was much to be preferred to the detestable Tryphon, so he decided to espouse his cause. Sending him a crown of gold and a robe of scarlet, Simon sought to make a treaty with him which would insure peace between them. This greatly pleased Demetrius, who readily agreed and confirmed the high-priesthood to Simon, forgave the Jews all tribute, and declared all past faults forgiven. He really surrendered his title to Palestine as a whole, so that Simon was virtually governor of a free people, if able to hold their own against Tryphon. Thus the Syrian servitude of 170 years came to an end in that year, 143 B. C. At the same time the Romans confirmed their former league on plates of brass, and the Lacedemonians also entered into a peaceful alliance with Israel, so that Tryphon dared no longer molest them.

For a brief period the land enjoyed rest and prosperity under the wise leadership of Simon. The cities were rebuilt, the lands tilled, and the arts of peace pursued. So pleased were the people of the Jews with Simon, that they held a general assembly in his third year, 141 B. C, when they conferred the priesthood and the government upon him and his heirs forever, engraving their decision in brass and fixing it upon pillars in Mount Zion.

But again misfortune loomed darkly on the horizon; for in the same year they became involved once more in the quarrels of the rival claimants to the Syrian throne. Demetrius Nicator had been captured by the king of Persia, and his brother Antiochus Pius usurped the kingly title and prepared to contest his claim with Tryphon. Obtaining permission from Simon to pass through his lands in order to recover the territories ruled over by his father, he led an army against Tryphon, whom he defeated, thus obtaining the dominion he sought. Though he had confirmed all the pledges given by his brother to Simon, he became jealous of the latter’s power and liberty, and sent an army to invade Judea, with orders to seize the government and carry captive all who opposed his authority.

Simon, though very old, roused himself to the defense of his people in true Maccabean spirit, and putting his sons Judas and John (known as Hyrcanus) in command of the army, met the foe in bloody conflict and defeated him, to the great elation of the Jews. But their joy was turned into mourning when very soon afterwards Simon and two of his sons were assassinated at a banquet, and that through the treachery of his son-in-law, named Ptolemy. Thus died the last of the famous sons of the stern old God-fearing patriot Mattathias, in 135 B.C.

For us, who are seeking to learn lessons of practical value from all this, one thing stands out as a solemn warning: the people of the Jews had largely lost that godly separation and dependence which should have been their sanctification. In their distresses, in place of implicit reliance on the God of their fathers, they turned to alliances with the heathen, depending on an arm of flesh that often failed them, and was to be their ruin in the end. Who that is even ordinarily familiar with the history of the Church, can fail to see that the same snare has ever been the bane of every movement which in its early beginnings was marked by devot- edness to Christ and reliance upon the living God, but which as the freshness of early days passed away, and numbers were added who had obtained the truth at little cost (often coming into it almost by natural birth), lost this peculiar link with the Divine, and depended more and more on what was merely human? This is the weakness of practically every religious society, and no company of Christians can afford to be indifferent to the danger of such a course. Power and blessing, victory and spiritual freshness are the portion of those who cleave to the Lord alone. Weakness and barrenness as surely follow upon amalgamation with the world, as in the case of the Jews in the days upon which we have been dwelling.

4 The reader will observe that this concludes the past history of the Jews in Daniel 11. Verse 36, which has not yet come to pass, refers to the days of Antichrist. (See the author’s Lectures on Daniel.)