1)Then his son Judas, who was called Maccabeus, took his
COMMENTARY: The place of Mattathias, his father, who died
in the last chapter.
2) All his brothers and all who had joined his father
supported him, and they gladly carried on Israel’s war.
COMMENTARY: Emphasizing the value of this specific family
here, because eventually, they usurped the throne of David, possibly the most
controversial aspect of Maccabees.
spread abroad the glory of his people,
and put on his breastplate
like a giant.
He armed himself with
weapons of war;
he fought battles and
protected the camp with his sword.
COMMENTARY: I have no idea why a giant would put a
breastplate on differently from any other size of person, but the point is that
the author of 1 Maccabees considers him a really big deal.
his deeds he was like a lion,
like a young lion roaring
COMMENTARY: Adding the second line is a dig at the line
of David, because of the reputation of young lions for overthrowing old
has-been leaders of the pride.
pursued the lawless, hunting them out,
and those who troubled his
people he destroyed by fire.
COMMENTARY: This doesn’t mean literally that he burned
people to death. Rather, he had a style
of fighting as swift, total and overwhelming as a fire sweeping through a city
before the invention of firefighting beyond the limits of a bucket brigade.
On a different level, fire also made a popular metaphor for utter
transformation (as St. John the Baptist used it when referring to how the
Messiah would baptize people in fire.)
Fire turned wood into ash, dough into bread, ore into metal, crumbly
clay into stone-hard ceramic. Everything
it touches changes. Judas Maccabee swept
through the countryside transforming a people who had been beaten down for
generations, accustomed by now to belonging to various empires, changing hands
like loot stolen back and forth between several crews of pirates. He reminded them that they had begun as an
independent nation, and could be one again.
lawless were cowed by fear of him,
and all evildoers were
By his hand deliverance
was happily achieved,
COMMENTARY: And he was well on his way to succeeding! For the first time in living memory Israel saw
a chance to become an independent nation once more! And eventually (as you will later see) he did
This factored critically
in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.
Had Judea been the long-broken subject people that they had been for
centuries, like pretty much the rest of the Asian nations that Rome conquered,
they would have simply cooperated with the conqueror du jour in order to
negotiate their freedom to follow their customs (and Rome was pretty clever in
knowing how adamant Jews were about keeping the old ways; they exempted them
from burning incense to the Emperor and similar requirements imposed on other
nations, “because of their antiquity and scholarship” Rome said officially, but
really because of their history.
Christians did not get the same exemption because they splintered off
from the Jewish fold.)
Instead everybody in Judea and the Diaspora knew that, a mere century before,
one revolutionary family had thrown off the yoke of a mighty empire. What had happened before could happen
again. And so Judea seethed with
Maccabee wannabes, violence broke out periodically, and the Romans had to
regard Jesus not just as a religious leader but as a potential military threat,
since in this country the two tended to go hand in hand.
he afflicted many kings.
He gave joy to Jacob by
and his memory is blessed
COMMENTARY: “Many kings” would refer to all of the other
subject nations obeying their Greek masters in trying to suppress these
“Joy to Jacob” refers to the ancestor of the Israelites, Jacob, who changed his
name to Israel. Some people get sloppy
and call it “ancestor worship” every time a people consider the ancestors a
real and present force in the life of the living, but the Jews practiced regard
rather than worship: an awareness of the dead witnessing the actions of the
living, having opinions on it, and occasionally giving advice through dreams
and visions. Necromancers like the Witch
of Endor were not condemned for believing in the possibility, but for forcing
it—a violation of the rights of the dead to not contact the living except when
and how they decided and—most importantly—how God permitted.
8) He went about the cities of Judah
destroying the renegades
He turned away wrath from
COMMENTARY: We’ve discussed how post-exilic theology
taught that Israel lost its sovereignity due to departing from the exclusive
worship of the God of Israel and the neglect of old customs. Now Judas extrapolated from that that if you
forced reforms, you could end the subjugation.
So restoring customs became not only a goal, but part of his plan for
This is not foreign to me. The Yaqui
people were promised by the Talking Tree (who warned them about the coming
invader) that if they wanted to defeat the Spaniards in battle they would need
to embrace the Spanish religion, on the grounds that the Spaniards were serving
Jesus badly. Serve Him better, the Tree
said, and Jesus would switch sides! And
so it happened.
9) was renowned to the ends of the earth;
and gathered together
those who were perishing.
of the earth” in the Bible generally
means, “All the lands that we know about.”
10) Then Apollonius gathered together the Gentiles, along with a large
army from Samaria, to fight against Israel.
Apollonius is the Mysian general mentioned in the first chapter.
Samaria was, at this point, the last remnant of that portion of Israel that
split off from then-Judah, and did things rather differently but still
considered themselves Jews, though not quite considered so by the Jews of
Judea. They could be induced to march
against Judea because they considered the Judeans every bit as heretical as the
Judeans considered the Samaritans.
Samaritans still exist today, in dwindling numbers, though one tribe of them
finally died out recently. Mainstream Jews
tend to regard them rather similarly to how mainstream Christians tend to
regard Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses—disputing as to what extent they still
qualify as being in the same category.
The Samaritans believe that they alone practice the true Israelite religion
from before the Babylonian Captivity, according to their scriptures, the
Samaritan Pentateuch (which they consider the unchanged version; among other
things, they consider Moses the only prophet.
They omit pretty much everything later than Joshua.) Israel’s Rabbinic Council does recognize them
as a branch of Judaism, but the Chief Rabbinate of Israel does not consider
them Halakhic Jews (fully Jewish) and requires conversion.
11) When Judas learned of it, he went out
to meet him and struck and killed him. Many fell wounded, and the rest fled. 12) They took their spoils, and Judas took the sword of
Apollonius and fought with it the rest of his life.
Taking the sword is a way of saying to his enemies, “I will turn against
you everything that you think is yours.”
13) But Seron, commander of the Syrian
army, heard that Judas had mustered an assembly of faithful men ready for war. 14) So he said, “I will make a name for
myself and win honor in the kingdom. I will wage war against Judas and his
followers, who have despised the king’s command.”
COMMENTARY: People too often think that attack will
automatically scare the other side into submitting. But in fact the mightier the warrior, the
more glory in taking him down. The competitive
instinct complicates everything.
15) And again a large company of renegades advanced with
him to help him take revenge on the Israelites.
These are not cravens who simply changed their beliefs in order to side
with those in power. They wanted to be
who they became. And Judas Maccabee has
not exactly offered them gentle persuasions to win them over. That’s another problem with conversions at
swordpoint—you can shift people from merely disagreeing to having a grudge
16) When he reached the ascent of
Beth-horon, Judas went out to meet
him with a few men.
made at the highly strategic pass of Beth-horon have changed the tided of
history before this, and will again after this.
Joshua won one of his most important victories there in establishing the
Nation of Israel to begin with. Years
later revolutionaries would trap and massacre a Roman force in the same spot.
17) But when they saw the army coming
against them, they said to Judas: “How can we, few as we are, fight such a
strong host as this? Besides, we are weak since we have not eaten today.”
you looked at strength or numbers alone, they’d be right. But Beth-horon’s bottleneck can become a
great equalizer of armies, especially for whoever takes the high ground.
Food would matter more. Fans of “Survivor” have some inkling of just
how much poor nutrition can drain the strong and stupify the wise. Napoleon was not wrong when he said that “an
army marches on its stomach”. A favorite
strategy throughout history has been to cut supply-lines to an army, and so
Americans won their revolution against a militarily superior force, through a
series of calculated defeats that lured the British deeper and faster into
enemy territory than their supplies could go.
The Viet Cong used similar tactics successfully against Americans in
18) But Judas said: “Many are easily
hemmed in by a few; in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between
deliverance by many or by few;
the first part of this sentence he reminds his army of the properties of the
pass, but the rest is theological.
19) for victory in war does not depend
upon the size of the army, but on strength that comes from Heaven.
Jesus might have had this in mind when, shortly before His arrest, He
told his apostles to obtain swords, but when they could get only four, said
that it would be enough. I suspect that by
this means He left the door open to God giving Him the go-ahead to fight His
way out of the coming crucifixion.
After all, at the very inception of Judaism, Abraham
received a command to sacrifice his only legitimate son, Israel. But when he got to the place of sacrifice, he
received a last minute reprieve, finding a ram tangled in the thorns by his
horns, to be sacrificed in Israel’s stead.
Couldn’t history repeat itself?
But no, as it turned out, the ram, not Israel, symbolized Jesus. A long and terrible night of prayer—crying
out loudly and desperately to God, sweating blood—convinced him that no
reprieve awaited: He WAS the reprieve, for everybody else. And so he ordered that the swords not see
use, and rebuked Peter for attempting to come to His rescue by violence.
20) With great presumption and lawlessness
they come against us to destroy us and our wives and children and to despoil
us; 21) but we are
fighting for our lives and our laws.
Reminding the troops what they fight for, as a general should.
22) He will crush them before us; so do not fear them.”
Judas chooses to use pronouns, or sometimes euphemisms, for God rather
than naming Him, as a devout Jew should.
23) When he finished speaking, he rushed
suddenly upon Seron and his army, who were crushed before him. 24) He pursued Seron down the descent of
Beth-horon into the plain. About eight hundred of their men fell, and the rest fled to the land of
hundred” is symbolic rather than literal.
If anybody who reads this knows Jewish numerical symbolism, please let
As for the rest, pursuing Seron into the plain matters. This shows that they did not win by the
properties of the pass alone, but continued to succeed on level ground in a
broad plain that would favor the larger army.
Big armies always want to fight on plains and small ones always prefer
25) Then Judas and his brothers began to
be feared, and dread fell upon the Gentiles about them. 26)
His fame reached the king,
and the Gentiles talked about the battles of Judas.
the Maccabees no longer have the advantage of underestimation.
27) When King Antiochus heard these
reports, he was filled with rage; so he ordered that all the forces of his
kingdom be gathered, a very strong army. 28)
He opened his treasury, gave his soldiers a year’s
pay, and commanded them to be prepared for anything.
governments go all-out like this. In the
next verse you will see why.
29) But then he saw that this exhausted
the money in his treasury; moreover the tribute from the province was small
because of the dissension and distress he had brought upon the land by
abolishing the laws which had been in effect from of old.
Antiochus is less wise than the conquerors who came before him, not only
in failing to consider whether he could actually afford what he wanted to do,
but also because his bad policies cut into his revenue. Alexander and the Ptolemies took care to
leave as much political infrastructure intact in conquered nations as possible. The Seleucids were not so wise.
Wanting too much to impose your own stamp causes
unnecessary complications. This matters
whether you’re a king, a businessman, a realtor, an heir or a step-parent. Don’t start from scratch if you don’t have
30) He feared that, as had happened once
or twice, he would not have enough for his expenses and for the gifts that he
was accustomed to give with a lavish hand—more so than all previous kings.
COMMENTARY: This sounds frivolous, but it’s not. Sagas abound praising the generosity of good
leaders and the benefits of submitting to them.
“Compliance will be rewarded.”
People follow leaders to
the extent that they can expect something in return for their loyalty. I don’t intend cynicism; the payoff might be
loyalty in return, love, self-respect, enlightenment, becoming part of
something larger than oneself, all kinds of things. But sheer material gain also matters because at
the end of the day soldiers, subjects and politicians also have mouths to feed,
especially if their leaders keep them too busy to till their own fields.
31) Greatly perplexed, he decided to go to Persia and levy
tribute on those provinces, and so raise a large sum of money.
(modern day Iran) was a whole lot richer than Greece, having much more generous
agriculture but also strategically situated for trade with the rest of
Asia. Greeks had to go through Persia to
obtain silk, spices, and a variety of precious and semiprecious stones.
32) He left Lysias, a noble of royal
descent, in charge of the king’s affairs from the Euphrates River to the
frontier of Egypt, 33) and commissioned
him to take care of his son Antiochus until his return.
This must be quite some noble to be entrusted not only with the kingdom,
but the royal heir!
34) He entrusted to
him half of his forces, and the elephants, and gave him instructions concerning
everything he wanted done. As for the inhabitants of Judea and Jerusalem, 35) Lysias was to send an army against
them to crush and destroy the power of Israel and the remnant of Jerusalem and
efface their memory from the place.
Greek imperialist policy was to show generosity to those who surrendered
without a fight, fairness to those who surrendered after battle, and
mercilessness to those who rebelled after surrender.
36) He was to settle foreigners in all
their territory and distribute their land by lot.
would make a great motivator for Greeks, who built their military muscle on
centuries of squabbling over tiny strips of arable land between rocks,
mountains, and salty shores.
king took the remaining half of the army and set out from Antioch, his capital,
in the year one hundred and forty-seven; he crossed the Euphrates River and
went through the provinces beyond.
would be the Spring of 165 BC.
Spoiler: He doesn’t succeed. But Lysias can only act on the assumption
that King Antiochus will bring back funding.
chose Ptolemy, son of Dorymenes, and Nicanor and Gorgias, powerful men among
the King’s Friends, 39) and with them
he sent forty thousand foot soldiers and seven thousand cavalry to invade and
ravage the land of Judah according to the king’s orders.
Nicanor might be the same man who also led an attack against the Jews
four years later.
40) Setting out with their whole force,
they came and pitched their camp near Emmaus in the plain.
COMMENTARY: This is probably not the same Emmaus
mentioned in Luke, but a place twenty miles west of Jerusalem, on the edge of
the hill country. Yes, it is confusing
to have several places with the same name in the same country. And have you any idea how many towns are
named Springfield in the United States of America?
41) When the merchants of the region heard of their
prowess, they came to the camp, bringing a huge sum of silver and gold, along
with fetters, to buy the Israelites as slaves. A force from Edom and from
Philistia joined with them.
Unfettered capitalism usually winds up with somebody in fetters, one way
or another. It’s like what they say
about fire: “Good servant, bad master”.
42) Judas and his brothers saw that evils
had multiplied and that armies were encamped within their territory. They
learned of the orders which the king had given to destroy and utterly wipe out
COMMENTARY: See, that’s the problem with military
solutions; they tend to escalate. I’m
not a pacifist; I do believe that some situations exist that one has no other
way to deal with. But (in my opinion) we
should regard it as a last and dangerous resort.
43) So they said to one another, “Let us raise our people
from their ruin and fight for them and for our sanctuary!”
assembly gathered together to prepare for battle and to pray and ask for mercy
COMMENTARY: They’re backed in a corner now, no way out
45) Jerusalem was uninhabited, like a wilderness;
not one of her children
came in or went out.
The sanctuary was trampled
and foreigners were in the
it was a habitation for
Joy had disappeared from
and the flute and the harp
easy it is to say, in the same breath, that a place is “uninhabited, like a
wilderness” and “it was a habitation for Gentiles”. It’s like the old classic, “Nobody goes to
Atlantic City anymore; it’s too crowded.”
People who aren’t like us don’t count, in our own minds. This attitude had to change in our spiritual
they assembled and went to Mizpah near Jerusalem, because formerly at Mizpah
there was a place of prayer for Israel.c
Mizpah was where the Prophet Samuel used to lead and pass judgment,
before the Temple existed.
47) That day they fasted and wore
sackcloth; they sprinkled ashes on their heads and tore their garments.
They did penance for any faults that might otherwise alienate God from
giving them aid.
48) They unrolled the scroll of the law,
to learn about the things for which the Gentiles consulted the images of their
deliberate jab at the Greeks, who prided themselves on their learning—at least
among the upper classes. But in fact all
adult male Jews were literate and most Greeks were not. The Greeks regularly resorted to augeries
before battle, often engineered with predetermined results to impress the
49) They brought with them the priestly
garments, the first fruits, and the tithes; and they brought forward the
nazirites who had completed the
time of their vows.
Nazirites belonged to a holy order dedicated to prayer, mysticism and
study. Male and female alike, they lived
amid the rest of the community, but they kept certain taboos specific to them,
such as abstaining from anything made from grapes or from cutting their
hair. They might be Nazirites for life,
or take vows for a set period of time.
The latter would conclude their vows with sacrifices in the Temple at
50) And they cried aloud to Heaven: “What
shall we do with these, and where shall we take them? 51) For your sanctuary has been trampled
on and profaned, and your priests are in mourning and humbled.
Throughout the Bible you will often see a form of prayer not taught in
Sunday School: the challenge. They’re
saying to God, “What do you mean to make a requirement of us, and then let it
become impossible to do? So what are you
going to do to fix it, huh?”
People today too often fear prayers like this, the
presumptiousness of it, the possible lack of faith. Who is humankind to question God? Yet paradoxically a challenge prayer shows a
deeper level of faith: one dares to ask because one dares to hope that God has
an answer. Many people make the
breakthrough from being a good little follower of rules to a devout and
passionate believer in a personal relationship with God, because, in a crisis,
they dared to challenge God—and listened for the answer.
52) Now the Gentiles are gathered together
against us to destroy us. You know what they plot against us. 53) How shall we be able to resist them
unless you help us?”
COMMENTARY: However insolent it might seem to question
God, they ultimately show their humility by acknowledging their utter
dependence upon Him.
54) Then they blew the trumpets and cried out loudly.
not satisfied, in the context, that “trumpets” is a good translation. I don’t doubt those who translated this from
Greek, but maybe the unknown translator from the unproven and hypothetical
Hebrew text got it wrong, having no proper Greek equivalent. Because the Jews used the Shofar, a ritual
instrument made from a ram’s horn, both for religious purposes and summoning to
55) After this Judas appointed officers
for the people, over thousands, over hundreds, over fifties, and over tens.
Like every other major political leader in the Bible. At this point that’s exactly what he becomes,
and ceases to be a mere rebel general.
He’s exercising the authority of a king—and he’s not of the line of
Jesse. (A prophet could also wield this
authority, but he hasn’t claimed to utter anything told to him by God.)
This sets up an interesting irony. The defender of law and custom has, in his
desire for power, broken a major law and custom.
He could have set the rightful king upon the throne and waged war on his
behalf; a prudent monarch would not have second-guessed the moves of so
successful a general. The Jews had kept
meticulous records of all of David’s descendants, enough to be able to document
Jesus’s descent a century later. Men of
the line of Jesse played a leadership role in every community; all he had to do
was pick one and throw military backing behind him. The other contenders, having no armies of
their own, would have let him.
This matters because contention hounded the Maccabeean
line for the rest of its short duration, due to the illegitimacy of its
succession. These divisions weakened
Judea and made it easy for Rome to conquer later. At the time of Christ people popularly
believed that this hubris cost Judas Maccabee the favor of God. They would agree that this let in the Roman
conquest, but for the different reason of ritual incorrectness.
And so Jesus was not just any preacher, in the eyes of
both the Jews and the Romans. He was a
direct descendant of King David—the long-lost King returning! The one to finish what Judas Maccabee
started, and this time do it right.
People believed that if He led an army, nothing could stop it. But, as He said, “My kingdom is not of this
56) He proclaimed that those who were
building houses, or were just married, or were planting vineyards, and those
who were afraid, could each return home, according to the law.
These rules come from Deuteronomy.
It’s interesting that one of the exemptions from the draft is being
afraid. We tend to think, brutally,
today, “Well, of course, anyone in their right mind would be afraid of battle—whip
the cowards into line and make them go anyway!”
But there is more than one kind of fear, natural self-preservation
versus a certain psychological vulnerability that could cause one to break on the
battlefield, not only endangering oneself but one’s comrades in arms. People had the insight to do soul-searching
and find out which kind they had.
Letting the fearful go safely home—no more judged than a newlywed or
builder of a house—probably prevented a lot of PTSD and related complications.
57) Then the army moved off, and they
camped to the south of Emmaus. 58)
Judas said: “Arm yourselves and be brave; in the
morning be ready to fight these Gentiles who have assembled against us to
destroy us and our sanctuary. 59)
It is better for us to die in battle than to witness
the evils befalling our nation and our sanctuary. 60) Whatever is willed in heaven will be
If they were completely fearless, they would not need this pep-talk. But they were brave, not insane.