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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.