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1 Maccabees 2, John 10:22-30 (16:32-33)

 

John 10:22-30 (16:32-33  22. It was the time of the feast of Dedication in Jerusalem. HanukkiYah - nine candles or lampsIt was winter, 23. and Yahshua was in the Temple walking up and down in the Portico of Solomon. 24. The Jews gathered round him and said, "How much longer are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us openly." 25. Yahshua replied: I have told you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father's name are my witness; 26. but you do not believe, because you are no sheep of mine.  27. The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.  28. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from my hand. 29. The Father, for what he has given me, is greater than anyone, and no one can steal anything from the Father's hand. 30. The Father and I are one.
 

1 Maccabees 2:1. Mattathias son of John, son of Simeon, a priest of the line of Joarib, left Jerusalem and settled in Modein. 2. He had five sons, John known as Gaddi, 3. Simon called Thassi, 4. Judas called Maccabaeus, 5. Eleazar, called Avaran, and Jonathan called Apphus. 6. When he saw the blasphemies being committed in Judah and Jerusalem, 7. he said, "Alas that I should have been born to witness the ruin of my people and the ruin of the set-apart City, and to sit by while she is delivered over to her enemies, and the sanctuary into the hand of foreigners. 8. 'Her Temple has become like someone of no repute, 9. the vessels that were her glory have been carried off as booty, her babies have been slaughtered in her streets, her young men by the enemy's sword.  10. Is there a nation that has not claimed a share of her royal prerogatives, that has not taken some of her spoils?  11. All her ornaments have been snatched from her, her former freedom has become slavery.  12. See how the set-apart Place, our beauty, our glory, is now laid waste, see how the gentiles have profaned it!  13. What have we left to live for?"  14. Mattathias and his sons tore their garments, put on sackcloth, and observed deep mourning.

 

   15. The king's commissioners who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of Modein for the sacrifices. 16. Many Israelites gathered round them, but Mattathias and his sons drew apart. 17. The king's commissioners then addressed Mattathias as follows, "You are a respected leader, a great man in this town; you have sons and brothers to support you. 18. Be the first to step forward and conform to the king's decree, as all the nations have done, and the leaders of Judah and the survivors in Jerusalem; you and your sons shall be reckoned among the Friends of the King, you and your sons will be honoured with gold and silver and many presents." 19. Raising his voice, Mattathias retorted, "Even if every nation living in the king's dominions obeys him, each forsaking its ancestral religion to conform to his decrees, 20. I, my sons and my brothers will still follow the covenant of our ancestors. 21. May Heaven preserve us from forsaking the Law and its observances. 22. As for the king's orders, we will not follow them: we shall not swerve from our own religion either to right or to left." 23. As he finished speaking, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein as the royal edict required. 24. When Mattathias saw this, he was fired with zeal; stirred to the depth of his being, he gave vent to his legitimate anger, threw himself on the man and slaughtered him on the altar. 25. At the same time he killed the king's commissioner who was there to enforce the sacrifice, and tore down the altar. 26. In his zeal for the Law he acted as Phinehas had against Zimri son of Salu.  27. Then Mattathias went through the town, shouting at the top of his voice, "Let everyone who has any zeal for the Law and takes his stand on the covenant come out and follow me." 28. Then he fled with his sons into the hills, leaving all their possessions behind in the town.

 

   29. Many people who were concerned for virtue and justice went down to the desert and stayed there, 30. taking with them their sons, their wives and their cattle, so oppressive had their sufferings become. 31. Word was brought to the royal officials and forces stationed in Jerusalem, in the City of David, that those who had repudiated the king's edict had gone down to the hiding places in the desert. 32. A strong detachment went after them, and when it came up with them ranged itself against them in battle formation, preparing to attack them on the Sabbath day, 33. and said, "Enough of this! Come out and do as the king orders and you will be spared." 34. The others, however, replied, "We refuse to come out, and we will not obey the king's orders and profane the Sabbath day." 35. The royal forces at once went into action, 36. but the others offered no opposition; not a stone was thrown, there was no barricading of the hiding places. 37. They only said, "Let us all die innocent; let heaven and earth bear witness that you are massacring us with no pretence of justice." 38. The attack was pressed home on the Sabbath itself, and they were slaughtered, with their wives and children and cattle, to the number of one thousand persons.

 

   39. When the news reached Mattathias and his friends, they mourned them bitterly 40. and said to one another, "If we all do as our brothers have done, and refuse to fight the gentiles for our lives and institutions, they will only destroy us the sooner from the earth." 41. So then and there they came to this decision, "If anyone attacks us on the Sabbath day, whoever he may be, we shall resist him; we must not all be killed, as our brothers were in the hiding places."  42. Soon they were joined by the Hasidaean party, stout fighting men of Israel, each one a volunteer on the side of the Law. 43. All the refugees from the persecution rallied to them, giving them added support. 44. They organised themselves into an armed force, striking down the sinners in their anger, and the renegades in their fury, and those who escaped them fled to the gentiles for safety.  45. Mattathias and his friends made a tour, overthrowing the altars 46. and forcibly circumcising all the boys they found uncircumcised in the territories of Israel. 47. They hunted down the upstarts and managed their campaign to good effect. 48. They wrested the Law out of the control of the gentiles and the kings and reduced the sinners to impotence.

 

   49. As the days of Mattathias were drawing to a close, he said to his sons, "Arrogance and outrage are now in the ascendant; it is a period of turmoil and bitter hatred. 50. This is the time, my children, for you to have a burning zeal for the Law and to give your lives for the covenant of our ancestors. 51. Remember the deeds performed by our ancestors, each in his generation, and you will win great honour and everlasting renown.  52. Was not Abraham tested and found faithful, was that not considered as justifying him?  53. Joseph in the time of his distress maintained the Law, and so became lord of Egypt.  54. Phinehas, our father, in return for his burning zeal, received the covenant of everlasting priesthood.  55. Joshua, for carrying out his task, became judge of Israel.  56. Caleb, for his testimony before the assembled people, received an inheritance in the land. 57. David for his generous heart inherited the throne of an everlasting kingdom.  58. Elijah for his consuming fervour for the Law was caught up to heaven itself.  59. Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, for their fidelity, were saved from the flame.  60. Daniel for his singleness of heart was rescued from the lion's jaws.  61. Know then that, generation after generation, no one who hopes in him will be overcome.  62. Do not fear the threats of the sinner, all his brave show must come to the dunghill and the worms. 63. Exalted today, tomorrow he is nowhere to be found, for he has returned to the dust he came from and his scheming is brought to nothing.  64. My children, be resolute and courageous for the Law, for it will bring you glory.  65. 'Here is your brother Simeon, I know he is a man of sound judgement. Listen to him all your lives; let him take your father's place.  66. Judas Maccabaeus, strong and brave from his youth, let him be your general and conduct the war against the gentiles. 67. The rest of you are to enroll in your ranks all those who keep the Law, and to assure the vengeance of your people. 68. Pay back the gentiles to the full, and hold fast to the ordinance of the Law." 69. Then he blessed them and was joined to his ancestors. 70. He died in the year 146 and was buried in his ancestral tomb at Modein, and all Israel mourned him deeply.

Alexander the Great and his Philosophy of Conquest

   In 356 B.C. there was born to Philip II, King of the tiny nation-state of Macedonia, a prince named Alexander III.  Macedonia is located in Eastern Europe north of Greece; Greece at that time was the cultural center of the world and the home of democracy.  Alexander gained his education as the protégé of the famous Aristotle, who himself had been educated by Plato, who had been educated by Socrates.  Though few know the actual philosophies of these teachers, their names are still familiar.  By the age of 18, Alexander was determined to conquer the world for Greece.  At 19, he set out.  What followed was fourteen years of constant warfare in which Alexander, soon to be known as “the Great,” conquered Europe, Egypt, Africa, the Middle East, and as far east as India, where, still in his twenties, he wept bitterly because he perceived there were no more worlds to conquer.  Alexander died at the age of thirty-three, but not in battle.  He may have been the victim of tainted pork.  And though that was the end of Alexander the Great, his impact is still felt today.

   This is why his reign was and is so influential:  When Alexander took a kingdom, he would force the people to adopt Greek customs, religion and language or they would die.  It was his intention to remake the world in his image.  It was a very successful strategy, used later by Mohammed and by the Jihad strategists today.  

   The New Testament was written 400 years after Alexander’s conquest.  You can see Alexander’s great influence even then by considering New Testament names.  Take for instance the seven deacons of Acts 6: All have Greek, not Hebrew, names, like Philip (horselover), Stephen (crown), Nicanor (overcomer), Prochorus (songleader) and the rest.  This indicates that in New Testament times, the Greek or Hellenistic culture (same thing) was deeply rooted among the people in Israel – many had by that time abandoned the Bible and gone over to myths.  Many generations had come and gone, so, especially in Galilee, culture was primarily of a secular nature tainted with Greek philosophy, institutions like the gymnasium, and pagan worship.  Greek was spoken and understood all over the world just as English is today.  Even the New Testament manuscripts are in Greek.  It’s all Alexander’s doing.

   This also explains why there was so much religious unrest all over the world.  Alexander and his successors forced the conquered people to desist from their own religions and make animal sacrifice to the Emperor and the Greek gods of mythology like Zeus and Diana.  Again, the key to controlling so many dissimilar groups was to successfully assimilate them into the Greek / Hellenist culture, keeping their puppet kings financially prosperous enough to continue the program.

 

Antiochus Epiphanes

   When Alexander died, the world was split up among three dynasties, each keeping its newly acquired Greek culture with its gods and trappings.  The Alexandrian dynasty that controlled Israel was called the Seleucid Empire.  Around 174 BC, King Antiochus IV arose over the Seleucids.  He called himself “Epiphanes,” which means “visible [god]” and declared that he must be worshiped right alongside Zeus.   Antiochus Epiphanes actually got mention in the Book of Daniel (7:8) as the “little horn” with “a mouth full of boasting.”  Much of Daniel’s vision of chapter 8 is about him.  Antiochus faced the threat of the upstart Romans, so he began a campaign to re-Hellenize all his territories, including Palestine.   Jews in Israel who were willing to give up their god, ancient law and Hebrew names quickly gained power and prominence. 

   But others considered such acquiescence to be criminal and a direct challenge to the god of Israel.  There was much Jewish resistance against Antiochus’ policies in Palestine.  This infuriated the king – he made all Jewish practices, including Bible study, the learning of the Hebrew language and the observation of Yahweh’s feasts and Sabbaths, illegal, and subject to the death penalty.  Antiochus went so far as to rob the temple of its valuable accoutrements and sacrifice swine on its altar, an abomination that desecrated that place so set-apart to Israel.  In fact, Antiochus’ sacrifice in the temple is what Daniel calls “The Abomination of Desolation” (11:31).  Something had to be done to avenge G-d.

 

Maccabees

   This is where we take up the story in the Bible book called Maccabees. About 170 years before Yahshua, in the town of Modein (Moda-een’), just north of Jerusalem, the agents of King Antiochus Epiphanes set up an altar and call the local priestly families (Levites) to administrate a pagan sacrifice.  Among the priestly families comes the elder Matthias (Matityahu) and his five sons of the Hasmonian family.  Matthias, as spokesmen for Jews still loyal to Yahweh, makes a defiant public appeal in these words:

“Even if every nation obeys [the King], each forsaking its ancestral religion to conform to his decrees, I, my sons and my brothers will still follow the covenant of our ancestors. May Heaven preserve us from forsaking the Law and its observances.  As for the king’s orders, we will not follow them: we shall not swerve from our own religion either to right or to left.” (1 Maccabees 2:19-22)

   Even as he was finishing his speech, a Levite steps forward to personally attend to the sacrifice in Matthias’ place.  In his “righteous anger” (Scripture observes), Matthias darts forward and slays this turncoat Levite with his own sacrificial knife.  Then Matthias goes for the king’s man and kills him, too.  He and his sons tear down the stone altar.  Finally, in the midst of shock and confusion, he cries out, “Let everyone who has any zeal for the Law and takes his stand on the covenant come out and follow me” (27), and off into the mountains the band of zealots scamper.  For their willingness to resort to violent overthrow, they became known as the “hammers” of Israel.  Maccabees means “hammers.”

   This was the beginning of an uprising in Israel that, over the course of years and the deaths of all the sons of Matthias, not only succeeded in expelling the armies of Antiochus Epiphanes, but also put a righteous one back on the throne of Israel’s high priesthood for the first time since before the captivity.  Historians tell us that these scattered Israelites somehow succeeded in overthrowing the greatest power in the world.  G-d must have been on their side; how else can it be explained? 

   The entire history of the Maccabean revolt is recorded in the Bible books of First and Second Maccabees, which you can read for yourself if you have a complete Bible like the New Jerusalem or the Revised Standard.

 

Matthias and Paul Hill

   I wonder how we might react to the same kind of religious pressure.  Our faith doesn’t demand much from us as that of the Maccabees.  How might we react to forced worship of some other god, say, Allah, under penalty of imprisonment or death?  What would it take for us to sacrifice Yahweh to Allah?  I dare say, most church people would do whatever it takes to avoid trouble, even if it meant renouncing Yahshua.  What do you think?  What would be your last straw?  Might zeal ever consume you to the point of violent action?  Or would you gladly acquiesce?

   When I read Maccabees I think of Paul Jennings Hill, the Presbyterian minister who gunned down two abortionists at the “Ladies Center” in Pensacola July 29, 1994.  Hill isn’t a naturally murderous or violent man – we previously knew him as a man of peace and a minister of the Gospel -- but his religious sensibilities became so offended by the fact that Pensacola is purportedly such a “church-goer” city, with so many churches and religious schools within its boundaries, so much outward show of faith and religiosity, yet its church-goers tolerate abortion mills running at full steam right in the center of town.  I think both the Maccabees and Paul Hill were so consumed by zeal and outrage at the abominable desecration of a set-apart place that Old Testament-style violence became, for them, the only alternative (review, for instance, the actions of Phineas in Numbers 25).

   Matthias’ violent act served to unite all the observant in Israel.  The cost in personal sacrifice for Matthias was his own life, the lives of all his sons and the lives of countless Israelites.  In the case of Paul Hill: No doubt he hoped to mobilize the church-goer community against those who make millions killing pre-born children.  And he knew full well what the consequences of his action might be.  He would leave behind a young wife and three children to dedicate the remainder of his time on earth to the prison system.  Now, most church-goers who haven’t forgotten Paul Hill wish to.  Others, a very few, have “deified” him as one of

 

the few brave men, heroes who have become political prisoners for defensive acts protecting unborn children.”

 

Our feelings about those such as Paul Hill and other freedom fighters who resort to terror are admittedly ambivalent.  We waver as to whether Hill, or Matthias for that fact, are heroes or just plain murderers.  We definitely consider Yahshua’ violent acts in overthrowing the money changers’ tables in the court of the Gentiles as something good and decent, yet we would appeal to his compromising nature if we were ever called on to act with violence.  As yet, zeal for his house has not consumed any church-goers I know.  (Except, perhaps, Paul Hill.)

 

Back to the Mac

   When the Maccabees finally liberated Jerusalem, they went immediately for the Temple, which the Greeks had defiled with offensive sacrifices and images of their king and gods.  The temple had to be re-consecrated for worship in an eight-day ritual.  These ceremonies required the “mercy drops” of olive oil that had been consecrated by the former priests for the rekindling of the great menorah, or lamp stand, in the set-apart place.  No other oil but the consecrated mercy drops would do.  But all the jars of this oil had been contaminated but one, and one jar was only enough for one day’s burning.  And it was December, so the first fruits of the Olive harvest were simply not available for anyone to make more.  The priests thought that if this were all the oil they had, it would simply have to do.  G-d would make a way where there seemed to be none.  So the miracle of the rededication of the temple was that one-day’s supply of oil lasted for all eight days of the ceremony.  The set-apart temple in the set-apart city once again became the house of prayer for all nations.  This rededication and the miracle of the oil has been celebrated ever since as Hanukkah.  “Ha Nukkah” means “the dedication.”

 

Yahshua at Hanukkah

   We find Yahshua attending this eight day Hanukkah or “Dedication” according to John 10:22-25, 30.  It’s in this passage and at this festival that he actually reveals his identity to the temple authorities.  So the story goes:

It was the time of the feast of Dedication in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Yahshua was in the Temple walking up and down in the Portico of Solomon. The Jews gathered round him and said, “How much longer are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Anointed One, tell us openly.”  Yahshua replied: “I have told you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name are my witness [that] the Father and I are one.”

In a turn-around of the original Maccabees story, after Yahshua makes this declaration, the faithful of the temple take up stones to throw at him since, in their opinion, he was not only blaspheming but desecrating the temple anew with his outrageous claims.  However, Yahshua, even through the violent symbolic acts of overthrowing the moneychangers, even through his many signs and words, even through the witness of his willingness to be a “zealot for the Law,” could not convince these unrighteous priests of his identity.  In the name of Matthias the Maccabee, these, his successors, lift rocks against the light of the world.

 

Feast of Lights

   Hanukkah is also called the Feast of Lights; a lamp is lit for each of the eight days of the rededication of the temple.  You may now be able to make a connection between the lights of Hanukkah and the Advent candles.  (We use candles simply because they’re more convenient than oil lamps.)  But since Hanukkah and Advent always happen about the same time, indeed, Hanukkah points to Advent in so many ways, the Jewish tradition of lights bleeds over into the modern church-goer tradition of lighting candles one by one, marking time until the advent of the One Light of the World.  We remember that the Maccabean hope was that the land and temple of Israel might be liberated, cleansed and renewed by the coming of a more righteous priesthood, even if that hope could only be realized through violent overthrow.  Likewise, our Messianic hope is that our Righteous Priest and King will descend and liberate not just Israel, but all of creation, cleansing the entire earth of the systematic destruction wrought by Satan and all those who assimilated his evil ways.  This too will be through violent acts, as prophesied.  But, when He finally arrives, the Light of the reign of Yahweh will enlighten the entire world to the extent that no sun need even shine anymore nor candle burn.  He will be all the light the world needs.

 

We Watch and Wait

   In the meantime, as we watch and wait, we do so in darkness not so unlike the dark days of Antiochus Epiphanes’ rule over Israel.  We are bid and commanded that, as we watchfully wait, we be the origin of light and goodness, the city set upon the hill, the candle that can’t be smothered by the bushel, the lamp that the darkness can’t overcome or master.  Friend, can you be that kind of light?  Can you be a zealous advocate for light and goodness?  Can you change your evil ways?  Dare you be a zealot for the law?  Do you have the courage to publicly claim that you belong to Yahshua’ kingdom?  Are you willing to risk aligning yourself (in this secular, idolatrous culture) with a counter-cultural movement that’s likely to put you in conflict with the great and mighty powers of the enemy in upcoming years?  This is not only worth thinking about now, but planning for in the future.  What will you do?

  

Jackson Snyder