1) Very soon afterward,
Lysias, guardian and kinsman of the king and head of the government, being
greatly displeased at what had happened,
COMMENTARY: Actually, this didn’t happen
very soon after, but in fact before the cleansing of the Temple, not only
according to 1 Maccabees but by all other historical references. But putting the cleansing of the temple first
underlined God’s hand in protecting His people by making apparent their return
2) mustered about eighty thousand
infantry and all his cavalry and marched against the Jews. His plan was to make
their city a Greek settlement;
COMMENTARY: Everybody thinks that their
own culture is the best. Some are
content to bask in self-satisfaction, but others talk themselves into believing
that they’re doing others a favor by imposing their own ways on them—especially
if the conquerors can profit from it.
3) to levy tribute on the temple, as he
did on the shrines of the other nations; and to put the high priesthood up for
sale every year.
COMMENTARY: Officially the King was
supposed to ratify a high priest impartially, but in practical terms it went to
whoever could promise the biggest bribe.
4) He did not take God’s power into
account at all, but felt exultant confidence in his myriads of foot soldiers,
his thousands of cavalry, and his eighty elephants.
COMMENTARY: The ban on elephants expired
with the last king, in theory. Later on
it became apparent that Rome didn’t agree.
And what lesson can we take from this?
When do we fail to take God’s power into account and instead rely on
whatever’s tangible and obvious? And how
easily we despair when the tangible and obvious seems insufficient to see us
through a crisis! But we must never
forget that God is there, beyond our comprehension, and He is full of
5) So he invaded Judea, and when he
reached Beth-zur, a fortified place about five stadia from Jerusalem, launched a strong attack against it.
COMMENTARY: A stadium was supposedly 200
yards long, and that would make this 10, 000 yards or about a mile and a half,
but different parts of the Greek world measured by different feet. This could mean the “itinerary stadium” used
to measure journeys: 172 yards or 157 meters per stadium, Olympic stadium (192
yd/176 m), Ptolemaic stadium (202 yd or 185 m), Babylonian-Persian (214 yd/196
m) or Phoenician-Egyptian (229 yd/209 m) none of which comes close. Beth-zur is about twenty miles away.
However, you can see from all this that nobody took
precise measurements all that seriously.
It wasn’t just Bible writers. And
yes, a stadium was supposed to be the length of a stadium, as in sports place.
6) When Maccabeus and his companions
learned that Lysias was besieging the strongholds, they and all the people
begged the Lord with lamentations and tears to send a good angel to save
COMMENTARY: This is a reference to
Exodus 23:20-22. “See,
I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to
the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and obey him.
Do not rebel against him, for he will not forgive your sin. My authority is
within him. If you obey him and carry out all I tell you,
I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes.”
7) Maccabeus himself was the first to
take up arms, and he exhorted the others to join him in risking their lives to
help their kindred. Then they resolutely set out together.
COMMENTARY: Human beings, like bees,
meerkats, yaks, wolves and other pack animals, have an instinct to protect the
pack that can overpower the instinct for self-preservation. What made Jesus transcendent was embracing
all of humanity as His pack. Judas
Maccabee could, with a great exertion of charisma, summon up this instinct to
inspire men on the battlefield to save their own people, but those of us who
desire to emulate Jesus must offer a love greater than love of country, love of
family, love of neighborhood, gang, fraternity or any other allegiance, and embrace
the stranger, even our enemies. It is
said that we love Jesus exactly as much as we love our worst enemy, and no
further; that is hard to hear, but true.
8) Suddenly, while they were still near
Jerusalem, a horseman appeared at their head, clothed in white garments and
brandishing gold weapons.
COMMENTARY: 1 Maccabees doesn’t have
these angelic visions. It makes me
wonder if some could see them and others not, even as some, at the baptism of
Jesus could hear the voice of God declaring, “This is my Son, in whom I am
well-pleased” while others only heard thunder.
1 Maccabees made a reference to the time of the prophets having passed,
but I wonder if that only meant that, as a defeated people, they no longer had
schools of prophecy for people of a natural visionary bent, no one to pass on
the lineage. In truth, the Bible does
not record the visions of many who studied in such schools, but does record the
prophecies of men like Amos who never did, so I’m not sure how much good they
were. I just wonder if the people were
as abandoned as they thought.
9) Then all of them together thanked the
merciful God, and their hearts were filled with such courage that they were
ready to assault not only human beings but even the most savage beasts, or even
walls of iron.
COMMENTARY: Personally, and totally
sidetracking, I’d rather deal with a savage beast than a savage human. At least, most of the time, they will leave
human beings alone (having lived among javalinas, coyotes, rattlesnakes and
bobcats, I can attest from personal experience that these don’t aggress
needlessly, though you need to show them some respect.) But an anger-crazed human being, man, those
critters scare me!
10) Now that the Lord had shown mercy
toward them, they advanced in battle order with the aid of their heavenly ally.
COMMENTARY: And even if most of them had
not seen the angel, merely hearing about him would go far to inspire good
11) Hurling themselves upon the enemy like
lions, they laid low eleven thousand foot soldiers and sixteen hundred cavalry,
and put all the rest to flight. 12) Most
of those who survived were wounded and disarmed, while Lysias himself escaped
only by shameful flight.
COMMENTARY: Alexander the Great once
quelled rebellion in the ranks by, among other things, displaying that all of
his scars were on the front of his body, none upon his back. And by pointing out that not a man of them
had ever suffered a back wound, either.
This was a big deal in the ancient world.
Unlike Hollywood and the glorious tales they were based on, actual
pre-munitions battles (and early gunpowder battles) consisted of lines of
soldiers trying to breach the other line’s safety in numbers. A man could keep his courage up with shields
locked with his neighbors. But once an
enemy breached that line, you suddenly had a gap in your defenses, so you’d
have to clump with whomever you could to watch each other’s backs. If you lost them you had no recourse but to
run. If you saw your fellows running,
you’d join them because you sure as heck couldn’t take on the whole opposing
army by yourself. But while running you’d
keep an eye out for the standards of generals and captains, so that you’d have
a rallying point to recoup, getting brothers in arms around you again. If those fell, you had no hope except in scrambling
out of there any way you could, as fast as you could.
The measure of a general was his ability to hold his men together no matter
what, inspire men to leap into breaches and repair them before the damage got
too far, or if it did, to rally the troops at a new point and give them a
chance to fight their way out alive. If
your general fled, that ended the battle right there. And back-scars were a permanent reproach to
your commanding officer.
13) But Lysias was not a stupid man. He reflected on the
defeat he had suffered, and came to realize that the Hebrews were invincible
because the mighty God was their ally. He therefore sent a message 14) persuading them to settle everything
on just terms, and promising to persuade the king also, and to induce him to
become their friend. 15) Maccabeus, solicitous for the
common good, agreed to all that Lysias proposed; and the king granted on behalf
of the Jews all the written requests of Maccabeus to Lysias.
COMMENTARY: That he came to realize he
couldn’t defeat them was probable. The
“because” was more likely the viewpoint of the Jews.
These are the terms of the letter which Lysias wrote
to the Jews: “Lysias sends greetings to the Jewish people. 17) John and Absalom, your envoys, have
presented your signed communication and asked about the matters contained in
it. 18) Whatever had to be
referred to the king I called to his attention, and the things that were
acceptable he has granted.
COMMENTARY: This would have taken a long
time to arrange, with no fighting in the meantime. Both sides would know that this could give
themselves—and the other side—time to build up a bigger and better-equipped
army if negotiations failed. So it would
have been a watchful peace.
19) If you maintain your loyalty to the
government, I will endeavor to further your interests in the future.
COMMENTARY: This makes me wonder if the
message from Judas finally made it clear that the Jewish people had not
originally rebelled as thought, but only rose up against unjust punishment for
a rebellion that hadn’t yet happened.
20) On the details of these matters I have
authorized my representatives, as well as your envoys, to confer with you. 21) Farewell.” The one hundred and
forty-eighth year, the
twenty-fourth of Dioscorinthius.
COMMENTARY: That’s 164 BC.
22) The king’s letter read thus: “King
Antiochus sends greetings to his brother Lysias.
COMMENTARY: Guardian, actually, but even
a nine year old king knows better than to say that in public.
23) Now that our father has taken his
place among the gods, we wish the subjects of our kingdom to be undisturbed in
conducting their own affairs.
COMMENTARY: Thus he shows formal respect
to his father, right before undoing his policies. There is no particular evidence that
Antiochus Sr. was ever elevated to the Greek pantheon, but it seemed proper
that his own son at least should pretend to see it so.
However, since his father’s death was by now old news,
the main reason to mention this at all is to establish that he does not feel
obligated to follow in his father’s footsteps, making the same mistakes. The King is dead—long live the King!
24) We have heard that the Jews do not
agree with our father’s change to Greek customs but prefer their own way of
life. They are petitioning us to let them retain their own customs.
COMMENTARY: Talk about playing up the
naif child role! As if he just now
learned that Judea was getting a wee bit annoyed, and hey, he was only a
prince, he has no idea till now that Daddy had lost a lot of soldiers and
resources into the black hole of Judean outrage.
25) Since we desire that this people too
should be undisturbed, our decision is that their temple be restored to them
and that they live in keeping with the customs of their ancestors.
COMMENTARY: Apparently Antiochus of the
Good Father doesn’t agree with Daddy either, having just inherited a bankrupt
treasury and a diminished military force (even if he did manage to add
elephants, which as it turns out the Romans still considered banned, even if
Greek custom allowed for the contract to expire.) This also shows that the author knows full
well that he told events out of order and that the temple had not yet been
restored. He’s probably quoting the letter
verbatim here, which doesn’t quite fit the retconned version.
26) Accordingly, please send them messengers to give them
our assurances of friendship, so that, when they learn of our decision, they
may have nothing to worry about but may contentedly go about their own
COMMENTARY: And hopefully forget all
about waging any further war.
27) The king’s letter to the people was as
follows: “King Antiochus sends greetings to the Jewish senate and to the rest
of the Jews.
COMMENTARY: An interesting dodge,
there. He’s not writing from king to
king, but to a civilian ruling group: the senate, AKA Sanhedrin.
28) If you are well, it is what we desire.
We too are in good health.
COMMENTARY: So don’t get any ideas about
this king keeling over in battle, should it come to it.
29) Menelaus has told us of your wish to
return home and attend to your own affairs.
COMMENTARY: Thus he makes the Jewish
victory sound just a little bit like a surrender. Either he is one very clever nine-year-old or
somebody wrote this letter for him.
30) Therefore, those who return by the
thirtieth of Xanthicus will have our assurance of full permission
COMMENTARY: “This is a limited time
offer...” Very limited, in fact. He sent this on the 15th of Xanthicus
(roughly April) and I have no idea how long it took to get to Judea. The kid may be surrendering, but he’s doing
it in as tough a manner as he can muster.
Or is he? Historians seem to think that this date was a
mistake, transferred onto this letter from a different one.
31) to observe their dietary and other
laws, just as before, and none of the Jews shall be molested in any way for
faults committed through ignorance.
COMMENTARY: I’m not sure if he’s
attributing Jewish customs to ignorance, or if he’s trying to pass off the
whole rebellion as a misunderstanding.
32) I have also sent Menelaus to reassure
COMMENTARY: Oh great! The assimilado High Priest who looted the
temple and started the whole uprising in the first place! Or that’s what I thought at first.
out he’s not asking Menelaus to say reassuring things to his people. He’s turning him over to be executed, and
hopes by this act to placate the Judeans.
Historians say that he blamed Menelaus for starting the whole mess, which
of course he did.
33) Farewell.” In the one hundred and
forty-eighth year, the fifteenth of Xanthicus.
COMMENTARY: Historians say that this
date is wrong, since the peace treaty didn’t happen till a year later. They speculate that this letter got confused
with the following Roman one.
34)The Romans also sent them a letter as
follows: “Quintus Memmius and Titus Manius, legates of the Romans, send
greetings to the Jewish people.
COMMENTARY: This writer left out the
politics involved in contacting the Romans in the first place.
35) What Lysias, kinsman of the king, has
granted you, we also approve.
COMMENTARY: Reassuring the Jewish people
that they stand to lose nothing by throwing their lot in with the Romans.
36) But for the matters that he decided
should be submitted to the king, send someone to us immediately with your
decisions so that we may present them to your advantage, for we are on our way
to Antioch. 37) Make haste, then,
to send us those who can inform us of your preference.
COMMENTARY: They want to know what King
Antiochus Eupator offers so that they can outbid him.
38) Farewell.” In the one hundred and
forty-eighth year, the fifteenth of Xanthicus.
That would be March 12, 164 BC.