Chapter 13

2 Maccabees 13:

1) In the one hundred and forty-ninth year, Judas and his men learned that Antiochus Eupator was invading Judea with a large force,

COMMENTARY:  163 or 162 BC.



2) and that with him was Lysias, his guardian, who was in charge of the government. They led a Greek army of one hundred and ten thousand foot soldiers, fifty-three hundred cavalry, twenty-two elephants, and three hundred chariots armed with scythes.


COMMENTARY:  You will recall that Antiochus Eupator was still a child at this point.  But just because Lysias “was in charge of the government” doesn’t mean the boy was a mere puppet.  Lysias had the task of teaching the young king how to rule, and that meant including him on all decisions in an observer capacity, asking his opinion, and if the young king counseled something rash, explaining why that wouldn’t work.  But Antiochus knew what was going on, and his opinion mattered.


As for the numbers of their forces, it has been translated as “They led” but the original said something closer to “They each led”, meaning double the force.  The translators, however, decided that this would have been improbable and unwieldy.  Regardless, Romans be hanged, we’ve got elephants!



3)  Menelaus also joined them, and with great duplicity kept urging Antiochus on, not for the welfare of his country, but in the hope of being established in office.

COMMENTARY:  You remember Menelaus, the official hereditary High Priest who held Jewish culture and religion in contempt.



4) But the King of kings aroused the anger of Antiochus against the scoundrel. When the king was shown by Lysias that Menelaus was to blame for all the trouble, he ordered him to be taken to Beroea and executed there in the customary local method.

COMMENTARY:  Part of the aforementioned lessons in kingship includes learning to recognize when a courtier’s trying to pull your strings.  And considering the tremendous cost of this war already, in terms of loss of life, territory, cash, and international reputation, demanding the execution of Menelaus shouldn’t surprise anyone.


Would the King of kings arouse anybody’s anger in a reality which includes free will?  God could arrange that Lysias spoke to Antiochus at precisely the right time to outrage him against Menelaus, perhaps after getting bad news about the destructive effects of this war upon his kingdom, for instance.  Arousing anger does not take away free will, because we all decide what to do with our anger once it arises.

The modern name for Beroea is Aleppo.  It’s still important enough to fight fiercely over, and to shipwreck the presidential aspirations of the Libertarian candidate in the 2016 presidential election, when he answered a question about it by asking what a leppo was.



5) There is at that place a tower seventy-five feet high, full of ashes, with a circular rim sloping down steeply on all sides toward the ashes.

COMMENTARY:  This was probably one of the fire-towers of the Zoroastrians, although other religions also used sacred fire in their rituals (including the Jews.)  The Zoroastrians would have built this tower within a temple open to the sky, with a “mound” beside it enabling the priests to light and tend the fire inside it, with the goal to keep the ashes smoldering till they became pure white.  They would then use these ashes as a sacramental for purification.  So these were hot, smoldering ashes.



60) Anyone guilty of sacrilege or notorious for certain other crimes is brought up there and then hurled down to destruction.

COMMENTARY:  The idea being that certain crimes needed expurgation as well as execution.  While the ancients had no concept of germs, they did know that burning infectious materials made them cease to spread disease, and so they apparently applied this to moral corruption as well.



7) In such a manner was Menelaus, that transgressor of the law, fated to die, deprived even of burial.

COMMENTARY:  The smoldering ash would do such a thorough job that there would be nothing left to bury.  This was a great disrespect for the Jews.  For the Greeks whose culture Menelaus so prized, it was even worse, leaving the dead to wander the shores of the River Styx looking for the long way into Hades, as opposed to being sufficiently provided for to pay for a boat-ride across.



8) It was altogether just that he who had committed so many sins against the altar with its pure fire and ashes, in ashes should meet his death.

COMMENTARY:  Personally, I wouldn’t wish a death like that on my worst enemy!  Yet I can see a certain poetic justice, since the job of High Priest included primarily burning holocausts to God (which Menelaus had neglected in favor of other religions) that he would himself become a holocaust in somebody else’s religion.



9) The king was advancing, his mind full of savage plans for inflicting on the Jews things worse than those they suffered in his father’s time.

COMMENTARY:  Young boys can indeed be savage-minded.  And one who could order someone burned the way he did Menelaus certainly would make anyone uneasy about getting on his bad side.



10) When Judas learned of this, he urged the people to call upon the Lord day and night, now more than ever, to help them when they were about to be deprived of their law, their country, and their holy temple; 11) and not to allow this people, which had just begun to revive, to be subjected again to blasphemous Gentiles. 12) When they had all joined in doing this, and had implored the merciful Lord continuously with weeping and fasting and prostrations for three days, Judas encouraged them and told them to stand ready.

COMMENTARY:  If one fights merely for land, property or power, why should the Divine choose one side over the other as both sides pray?  But if you fight for the right to serve the Divine in the way that you believe, with all your heart, is most pleasing to God, then it makes sense that He would intervene on your behalf.



13) After a private meeting with the elders, he decided that, before the king’s army could invade Judea and take possession of the city, the Jews should march out and settle the matter with God’s help.

COMMENTARY:  It is far better to choose your battlefield than to wait and let the enemy choose it.



14) Leaving the outcome to the Creator of the world, and exhorting his followers to fight nobly to death for the laws, the temple, the city, the country, and the government, he encamped near Modein.

COMMENTARY:  There comes that crucial moment when one has to let go of a vexing problem.  Worry won’t get you any farther.  You run out of time to nitpick your plans and have to put whatever you’ve got into action.  At that point, if you don’t leave it in the hands of God, the stress would sap your strength right when you need it most.  There’s a great peace in finally accepting that there’s no more great decisions to make, only the immediate moves, moment by moment, in the chaos of engagement.



15) Giving his troops the battle cry “God’s Victory,” he made a night attack on the king’s pavilion with a picked force of the bravest young men and killed about two thousand in the camp. He also stabbed the lead elephant and its rider.

COMMENTARY:  Imagine you’re a young boy expected to lead an army.  Even though you ride in the center of an army, surrounded all day by hand-picked warriors whose primary duty is to keep you safe, you still feel fear.  But you remember your duty to your heritage and you keep on riding towards the inevitable, watching every day, all day, for the enemy’s attack.  You can make yourself do this while the sun shines.  Each night you can hardly wait for the refuge of sleep and oblivion, putting the fear aside for the evening.


Because of course people wage wars by daylight.  This era has no electric light, no tracer-bullets, and the nights get very, very dark.  Most modern city-dwellers awash in a glow of streetlamps mitigating the shadows indoors, can barely even conceive of how dark.

Now imagine waking up to screams and shouts and an incomprehensible Hebrew battle-cry, to realize that the enemy isn’t just attacking your army, they’re attacking your tent!  Yours, personally!  That’s where they start.

Obviously those hand-picked soldiers succeeded in whisking the boy away, but this would be one of those events that could traumatize someone for life.  Even an adult would find it hard to process.



16) Finally they withdrew in triumph, having filled the camp with terror and confusion.

COMMENTARY:  1 Maccabees says they fled.  I suppose it’s all in one’s perspective.



17) Day was just breaking when this was accomplished with the help and protection of the Lord.

COMMENTARY:  So they attacked sometime before daybreak, right when their targets would be in their deepest, most dreamful sleep, most easily disoriented, with empty bellies and full bladders.



18) The king, having had a taste of the Jews’ boldness, tried to take their positions by a stratagem.

COMMENTARY:  So, however frightened, we can’t count the kid out yet.



19) So he marched against Beth-zur, a strong fortress of the Jews; but he was driven back, checked, and defeated.

COMMENTARY:  Still, men with the morale knocked out of them don’t do their best fighting.  Especially with a juvenile king trying desperately to hold it all together.



20) Judas sent supplies to the men inside, 21) but Rhodocus, of the Jewish army, betrayed military secrets to the enemy. He was found out, arrested, and imprisoned.

COMMENTARY:  Bible scholars speculate that Rhodocus told the Greeks that Beth-Zur had a shortage of food, but that doesn’t jibe with Judas supplying them.  It seems more likely to me that Rhodocus betrayed how Judas got the food into the city.



22) The king made a second attempt by negotiating with the people of Beth-zur. After giving them his pledge and receiving theirs, he withdrew

COMMENTARY:  Negotiation!  What a novel idea!  How different history would have been if all sides had started right there.



23) and attacked Judas’ men. But he was defeated. Next he heard that Philip, who was left in charge of the government in Antioch, had rebelled. Dismayed, he negotiated with the Jews, submitted to their terms, and swore to observe all their rights. Having come to this agreement, he offered a sacrifice, and honored the sanctuary and the place with a generous donation.

COMMENTARY:  One could attribute the rebellion of Philip to divine intervention.  Not that it would have involved an override of free will; more like a suggestion to a willing heart.



24He received Maccabeus, and left Hegemonides as governor of the territory from Ptolemais to the region of the Gerrhenes.

COMMENTARY:  The Gerrhenes were probably the people of Gerar, southeast of Gaza.



25) When he came to Ptolemais, the people of Ptolemais were angered by the peace treaty; in fact they were so indignant that they wanted to annul its provisions.

COMMENTARY:  However absolute the monarchy, all rulers still can only rule by the consent of a critical mass of the people (granted, that critical mass doesn’t need to outnumber the rest, if they’re better armed.)  Underage monarchs especially have a vulnerable position, and many have come to a bad end.

Typically, the people passing judgment on his decisions are the ones who weren’t there and who have no idea what he faced.  Nothing much has changed since then.



26) But Lysias took the platform, defended the treaty as well as he could and won them over by persuasion. After calming them and gaining their goodwill, he returned to Antioch. That is the story of the king’s attack and withdrawal.


COMMENTARY:  Fortunately, stung pride gave way to facts.  And here is the hope for even the most ignorant populace, that they might listen and give the opposition a fair chance to make their case.

Back Index Forward