Dec 21, 2006

The History of Hanukkah VI

(Start with part one first.)

Daniel: And those of the people who understand shall instruct many; yet for many days they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plundering. Now when they fall, they shall be aided with a little help; but many shall join with them by intrigue. And some of those of understanding shall fall, to refine them, purify them, and make them white.

In the first year spent organizing to fight, Mattathias’ group of people expanded. Some of the Hasideans joined them. They went to many villages, undoing what Antiochus’ men had done. They tore down the Greek altars and circumcised all the uncircumcised boys, often by force. Many Jews greatly feared Antiochus and his Syrian army. Others had been hellenized. But Mattathias and his followers demanded obedience from all Jews to the Laws of Moses.

With persistent effort, Mattathias found and trained recruits and expanded his force. During that first year, this small band of Jews would strike out from time to time at a Syrian patrol, or disrupt ceremonies the Syrians were trying to hold in other villages.

The aged Mattathias never lived to see the outcome of his resistance. He died during that first year. But the revered priest and fighter helped make a vital military decision: Even though it was against the Jewish law to fight on the Sabbath, the Jews decided that they would defend themselves if attacked. They wouldn’t initiate an attack, but they would not be passive under attack, either. Also, before Mattathias died, he appointed his successors – his sons, Simon and Judah. "Arrogance and scorn have now become strong; it is a time of ruin and furious anger. Now, my children, show zeal for the law, and give your lives for the covenant of our ancestors. Remember the deeds of the ancestors, which they did in their generations; and you will receive great honor and an everlasting name. Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness? Joseph in the time of his distress kept the commandment, and became lord of Egypt. Phinehas our ancestor, because he was deeply zealous, received the covenant of everlasting priesthood. Joshua, because he fulfilled the command, became a judge in Israel. Caleb, because he testified in the assembly, received an inheritance in the land. David, because he was merciful, inherited the throne of the kingdom forever. Elijah, because of great zeal for the law, was taken up into heaven. Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael believed and were saved from the flame. Daniel, because of his innocence, was delivered from the mouth of the lions. And so observe, from generation to generation, that none of those who put their trust in Him will lack strength. Do not fear the words of sinners, for their splendor will turn into dung and worms. Today they will be exalted, but tomorrow they will not be found, because they will have returned to the dust, and their plans will have perished. My children, be courageous and grow strong in the law, for by it you will gain honor. Here is your brother Simon who, I know, is wise in counsel; always listen to him; he shall be your father. Judah Maccabees has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army for you and fight the battle against the peoples. You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people. Pay back the gentiles in full, and obey the commands of the law."

Maccabee was Judah’s nickname. Maccabee means “hammer,” and in battle after battle, Judah dealt “hammer blows” to the Syrian army. The name stuck to describe all five brothers.

Judah had about 3000 soldiers under his command, while the Syrian army was more than ten times that size.

Not only was Judah’s army outnumbered by the Syrians, it was outweaponed as well. Antiochus’ army had the latest arms: ballistas, which threw large stones, rams that battered the walls of the cities, bows and arrows, javelins, spears, and armor. They had foot soldiers, cavalry, and warrior elephants. The Jews had only farm animals and farm tools, which they converted into crude weapons. They used sticks and stones and whatever arms they were able to capture. It was like David fighting Goliath.

Judah was a brilliant fighter and an inspiring leader. He never lost sight of the Jewish goal – to regain control of the Temple of Jerusalem. Through centuries of foreign rule, the Temple had symbolized the right of the Jews to worship freely by the Laws of the Torah. This freedom was so essential to the Jews that they continually risked their lives to fight for it.

Judah encouraged his men against great odds saying, "It is easy for many to be hemmed in by a few, for in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between saving by many or by a few. It is not on the size of the army that victory in battle depends, but strength comes from Heaven. They come against us in great insolence and lawlessness to destroy us and our wives and our children, and to despoil us; but we fight for our lives and our laws. He himself will crush them before us; as for you, do not be afraid of them."

The Maccabees’ men trained well to fight. They knew the hills better than the Syrians did, but they didn’t all hide in the mountains waiting for a chance to attack. That wasn’t really possible since there was no way to feed so many soldiers. For much of the time the fighters stayed in their villages, farming or doing whatever they normally did. When it was time to wage a battle, they’d be sent for by a local leader.

It was a good system. While the soldiers were in their villages, they could keep their eyes and ears tuned for helpful information. The basic tactic of Judah’s force was to attack and then retreat, jabbing constantly at the opposing troops. As more and more fighters joined the cause, the attacks became more harassing to Antiochus’ forces, and Antiochus got more aggressive in his campaign.

Four large battles were waged before the Jews regained control of the Temple. The first of these battles took place when a large army commanded by General Appolonius marched into the territory where Judah and his men were organized.

(To be continued tomorrow.)

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