Scriptures

The Maccabees’ Struggle For Independence

Introduction

This period, which lasted from 167 to 63, B.C. might be designated as the ‘Era of the Maccabees.’ Much of what happened during this time centers around the famous Maccabees family. Mattathias, the father of five sons was a priest. He lived in Modeim, northwest of Jerusalem. His son’s names were, John, Simon, Judas, Eleazer and Jonathan.

The oppression of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes, (the king of Syria who had had profaned the Temple by offering a sow on the altar of burn offerings) produced a reaction which stunned Antiochus and surprised many of the Jews themselves.

An official of Antiochus erected a pagan altar at Modein to the Greek god Zeus in 167 A.D. As a test of loyalty to the king, certain Jews were asked to step forward and make a sacrifice to set a good example for the others. Mattathias refused to offer a sacrifice at the pagan altar. A young man probably fearing the wrath of the official stepped forward to make a sacrifice.

Mattathias was enraged. He approached the altar, slew the apostate Jew and the emissary from Antiochus. With his five sons, Mattathias destroyed the heathen altar then fled to the hills to avoid the certain reprisals, which would be expected from Antiochus. Other Jews rallied and joined the family of Mattathias.

The early days of the Maccabean revolt, their struggles against Antiochus, were days of guerrilla warfare. From their mountain strongholds, the sons of Mattathias and their allies’ raided towns and villages, killing the royal officers and the Hellenized Jews who went along with Antiochus. A religious factor, however, favoured the Syrians.

Religious scruples kept the Maccabees from fighting on the Sabbath. On one Sabbath, a band of Maccabees was surrounded and slaughtered because they would not defend themselves on the Sabbath. Sensing the gravity of the situation Mattathias then adopted the position that fighting in self-defence was permissible even on Sabbath days.

Soon after the beginning of the revolt, Mattathias died. Before his death he urged his followers to choose as their military leader his third son Judas as their leader. He was well qualified for this position and became an outstanding military leader gaining independence for the Jews from Syria.

He became known as ‘the hammer.’ This was a critical time for the Jews for many had become Hellenized and claimed loyalty to Syria. Most Jews did not follow Mattathias in his revolt. Many preferred to simply watch.

In the early days of the revolt the Syrians underestimated the strength of the Maccabees. Thinking the revolt was only a minor skirmish they sent inferior generals and small detachments of soldiers into the field.

The Maccabees, however, were able to hold their own. They defeated one after another of the Syrian armies thrown against them. Antiochus now sent his top general with an army of Syrians to defeat the Maccabean rebels. Judas, however, by a surprise night attack, annihilated the Syrian army and seized an enormous amount of supplies.

The victory at the town of Emmaus opened up the road to Jerusalem to the Maccabees. Judas and his army moved on toward Jerusalem. Menelaus (a false High Priest appointed by the Syrians) and his sympathisers fled.

The Maccabees entered the city and were able to take Jerusalem and the Temple. They entered the Temple and removed all of the signs of paganism, which had been installed. The altar dedicated to Jupiter was taken down and a new altar was erected to the God of Israel. The statue of Zeus was ground to dust.

Beginning on the twenty-fifth of December they observed an eight-day Feast of Dedication, known as ‘Hanukkah,’ or the ‘Festival of Lights.’ In this way they celebrated the end of the three-year period during which the Temple had been desecrated. This day is still observed today by Jews.

In the name of Syria, Lysias, a general of Antiochus, offered to refrain from interference in the internal affairs of Judea. Menelaus was to be removed from his office as High Priest. Lysius promised that Judas and his followers would not be punished. These terms of peace were accepted. The orthodox Jews evidently felt they had gained what they wanted, independence from Syria.

A new High Priest, Alcimus, was installed and Menelaus was executed. However, Judas and a few of his followers still left the city for fear of losing their lives. The fears of Judas proved to be correct as Alcimus the new priest had a number of the Jews who had opposed Syria seized and executed. Many loyal Jews returned to Judas again and civil war was renewed.

Judas was faced with a more formidable foe this time. Alcimus appealed to Syria for aid, and a sizeable army was sent. Judas was left with an ill-equipped army of eight hundred men. He bravely met the Syrians. He died in the battle ending the first phase of the Maccabean struggle.

Simon, Jonathan, Eleazer, and John along with several hundred Maccabean soldiers fled across the Jordan River. The Syrians looked  pon them as a band of outlaws. Johathan became their leader now. The Syrians attempted to destroy this band of patriots but were unsuccessful. Before the war was over Jonathan became High Priest and governor of Judea.

Rulership finally fell on Simon who was advanced in years when he assumed office. The question of the legitimacy of the Maccabean priesthood was settled at this time. Thus Simon was recognized as the rightful High Priest. In 142 B.C. Judea became politically independent. Thus the Maccabean revolt now ended after 25 years.

This era is covered in the Daniel 12 by the angel which appeared to Daniel. Daniel 10-12 should be considered together and cover the period between the Testaments.

AN OBSERVATION ON THE POSSESSION OF THE LAND

God made a promise to Abraham and his descendants that he would give them the land that extended from the Red Sea to the Euphrates River. Under the leadership of Joshua, they crossed the Jordan River and took possession of the land.

‘So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their fore-fathers, and they took possession of it and settled there.’ Joshua 21:43

After possessing the land Joshua gave a farewell speech to Israel.

‘Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise was fulfilled; not one promise failed.’ Joshua 23:14

Not all of Israel’s enemies were driven out of the land during the days of Joshua. Thus, their enemies retook portions of the land during the period of the Judges. During the reign of David these areas were re-acquired. Solomon reigned over all the land that God had promised Abraham. After his reign the land was divided into two separate kingdoms.

The Northern Kingdom (Israel) was deported to Assyria in 722 B.C. The southern kingdom (Judah) was carried into Babylonian captivity 136 years later. They returned beginning in 538 B.C. but would come under the control of Greece, Egypt and Syria and finally Rome who in 70 A.D. completely destroyed Israel as a nation.

The tragic truth is the Jews only possessed the entirety of the land that God had promised them for only about 80 out of all the years up to A.D. 70. None of this loss would have happened if they had remained faithful to God.

Today the Israeli government owns only a very small portion of the land God promised Abraham. Nothing in Scripture indicates they deserve the land they lost years ago as Dispensationalist claim. There will be no thousand reign of Christ in Jerusalem on the land God originally promised them.

Summary

We now enter into the era of the Maccabees. It lasted from 167 to 63 B.C. Much of what happened during this time centres around the famous Maccabees family. The father Mattathias was a priest. He had five sons; John, Simon, Judas, Eleazer and Jonathan.

The terrible oppression by Epiphanes resulted in a revolt which stunned Epiphanes, Syria and the Hellenized Jews. The attempt to Hellenize the Jews had met with much success even to accepting some of the pagan gods. The Jews would now be divided into 2 groups.

A pagan altar had been erected at Modein to the god Zeus in 167. As a test of loyalty the Jews were asked to step forward and make a sacrifice to set a good example before others. Mattathias the priest refused to do this. A young man did step forward to make a sacrifice. Mattathias was enraged. He slew the apostate Jew and also an official from Epiphanes.

With his five sons they destroyed the altar, then fled to the hills to avoid reprisals. Other Jews would rally and join the family of Mattathias. In their struggle with the Syrians the Maccabees carried out guerrilla warfare. They attacked and raided towns and villages killing royal officers and the Hellenized Jews.

A religious factor favoured the Syrians. Scruples kept the Maccabees from fighting on the Sabbath. One Sabbath a band of Maccabees were surrounded and slaughtered because they would not defend themselves on the Sabbath.

Mattathias adopted a position to fight. Mattathias died. Before his death he asked his followers to choose Judas as their leader. He qualified well in this position. He put down every attempt of the Syrians in defeat.

In the early days of the revolt the Syrians underestimated the strength of the Maccabees. Thinking the revolt would only involve minor skirmishes thus they sent inferior generals with small detachments of soldiers. Epipathanes later sent his top general with a large army. Greatly outnumbered Judas, surprised them with a night attack, annihilating the Syrian army seizing great supplies.

With a great victory at the town of Emmaus the road to Jerusalem was now open to the Maccabees. Judas and his army moved on to take Jerusalem. Menelaus a false high priest appointed by the Syrians and others fled from the city.

The Maccabees entered the Temple and removed all signs of paganism including the altar dedicated to Jupiter and erected a new altar. A statue of Zeus was ground to dust. Beginning on the 25th of December they observed an eight-day Feast of Dedication know as ‘Hanukkah’ or the ‘Festival of Lights.’ This ended a three year occupation and desecrated Temple. Day is still observed today. An interesting story about the lights.

A Syrian general in the name of Syria offered to refrain from interference in the internal affairs of Judea. Menelaus would be removed as High Priest. He promised that Judas and his followers would not be punished. The orthodox Jews evidently felt they had gained what they wanted, independence. A new High Priest was installed and Menelaus was executed. However, Judas and a few followers still left the city for fear of being killed.

Their fears proved to be correct as Alcimus the new priest had a number of Jews who had opposed Syria seized and executed. This shows that Hellenization had not been wiped out. Many Jews did not take an active part in Maccabean revolt. Some even opposed it.

More attempts were made by the Syrians to destroy this band of patriots but were unsuccessful. Many Jews returned to Judas, and civil war was renewed. Judas was now faced with a more formidable foe. Alcimus asked Syria for aid and a sizeable army was sent. With only 800 ill-equipped men Judas bravely fought the Syrians losing his life.

Simon, Jonathan, Eleazer and John and several soldiers fled across the Jordan. They were now looked upon as a band of outlaws. Johnathan became their new leader but the Syrians were still unable to destroy this loyal band of fighters.

Daniel 12 is told by an angel that Michael would stand up and lend support to the Jews. It would be a difficult time but victory would come. In 142 B.C. Judea finally became politically independent. The revolt lasted for 25 years.

The Maccabees succeeded in restoring a large portion of the Jewish nation. The Maccabees will never be forgotten as long as a history book remains. Their victories and independence lasted for almost 100 years being almost military and political miracles.

OBSERVATION ON THE POSSESSION OF THE LAND

God promised Abraham and his descendants He would give them the land from the Red Sea to the Euphrates River. Under the leadership of Joshua, they crossed the Jordan River and took the land.

‘So, the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their fore-fathers, and they took possession of it and settled there.’ Joshua 21:43

Joshua told them,

‘You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise was fulfilled; not one promise failed.’ Joshua 21:45

Not all enemies were driven out. Thus some retook portions. During reign of David these areas were re-acquired. David and Solomon reigned over all the land God had promised.

When kingdom split the Northern kingdom was deported to Assyria. The Southern kingdom was carried into Babylon. When they returned in 538 B.C. were under the control of Greece, Egypt, Syria and Rome. Sadly, they only possessed the entirety of land promised to them by God for only about 80 out of all the years leading up to 70 A.D. This would not have happened if they had remained faithful to God.

Today the Israeli government owns only a small portion of the land promised. Nothing in Scripture indices they deserve the land lost years ago as Dispensationalist claim. There will be no thousand reign of Christ in Jerusalem on the land God originally promised.

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God."

Acts 18:11

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