(Start with part one first.)
(Enter General Appolonius.)
Judah’s force ambushed them, killing many of the soldiers and forcing the rest to flee. The Jews collected many weapons and a great deal of armor from that skirmish. Judah himself had killed General Appolonius and he kept the general’s sword. Judah used that sword in battle for the rest of his life.
“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts…”
(Enter General Seron.)
Another general, General Seron, heard about Appolonius’ defeat. He decided to avenge this loss. His army was twice the size of Appolonius’ army. He marched his army along the coast, heading south toward Jerusalem. They turned inland finally, and, in a pass in the mountains were attacked by Judah and his men who had been carefully watching their approach. Judah’s men killed over 800 soldiers; the rest fled.
“Not by might…”
As news of the Maccabees’ successes spread, more and more people joined the cause. Antiochus was furious. He was on his way to Persia to collect some tribute money, but before he left, he assigned half his army and elephants to the man he trusted most in the world, Lysias.
Antiochus told Lysias, “Destroy the strength of Israel and the remnant of Jerusalem.”
Lysias planned to do so. He chose his highest ranking generals to head the battle campaign. Altogether there were about 20,000 foot soldiers and cavalry. They didn’t make the mistake of being ambushed in the mountains. They stuck to the plains where they could maneuver in the formations they were trained for. Besides, they knew that Judah’s forces were more practiced at fighting in the hill country. They felt sure they would win. So were the slave dealers who came along in hopes of buying the defeated Jews, to sell later for a profit.
Judah and his men saw the army make their camp on the plains. They were struck with fear at the odds against them. But Judah was a persuasive leader who was able to instill great pride in his troops. "Do not fear their numbers or be afraid when they charge. Remember how our ancestors were saved at the Red Sea, when Pharaoh with his forces pursued them. And now, let us cry to God, to see whether He will favor us and remember His covenant with our ancestors and crush this army before us today. Then all the Gentiles will know that there is one who redeems and saves Israel. It is better for us to die in battle than to look upon the evils that have come upon our nation and our sanctuary.”
The plan of the Syrian generals was to split their army and send half the soldiers to wage a surprise attack in the night on Judah’s sleeping troops. The famous General Gorgias was to lead the attack. When the Maccabees’ effective spy system learned of this plan, Judah had his men desert their camp. But they left fires burning as if they were really still there and asleep. Then Judah led his forces down to where the other half of the Syrian army was waiting and, before dawn, they attacked those sleeping soldiers. They were successful.
(Enter General Gorgias.)
Meanwhile, Gorgias and his men had found the empty Jewish camp. He thought that Judah and his men were fleeing in retreat. He returned to his own camp, feeling triumphant. When Gorgias found a ruin of a campsite and all his dead soldiers, he realized that he had been outwitted.
“Not by might…”
The defeated survivors returned to Lysias. Lysias decided that he had to take care of this situation himself. He would lead the next attack on the Jews. He planned carefully, organizing 20,000 foot soldiers and over 3000 cavalry. When Judah saw their military strength, he offered this prayer: "Blessed are you, O Savior of Israel, who crushed the attack of the mighty warrior by the hand of your servant David, and gave the camp of the Philistines into the hands of Jonathan son of Saul, and of the man who carried his armor. Hem in this army by the hand of your people Israel, and let them be ashamed of their troops and their cavalry. Fill them with cowardice; melt the boldness of their strength; let them tremble in their destruction. Strike them down with the sword of those who love You, and let all who know your name praise You with hymns."
Lysias took the same route as the other army, but he didn’t want to fall into the same battle pattern. So he continued further on that route into more hilly country. This was more than Judah could have hoped for. He and his men were so well trained to fight in the hills that even though there were so many fewer Jews, they slaughtered 5000 of Lysias’ solders and caused many others to desert and flee. Lysias was surprised at the intensity and determination in the way the Jews fought. He ordered a retreat and planned to go and enlist more soldiers for his army.
“Not by might…”
After this battle, even though the Jews knew that Lysias would attack again, they also knew they had won a major victory. They felt strong enough to march into Jerusalem and seize the Temple. The symbol of Jewish freedom had been held by the Syrians for 3½ years, and it had been in the hands of the hellenizers for many more.
Some of Judah’s troops went ahead and fought off the enemy soldiers who were stationed at the Temple. When the rest of the troops arrived, they were horrified by what they saw. Their once beautiful Temple was in shambles. The gates of the Temple were charred from fire. Weeds grew in the courtyard. The altar was broken. The sanctuary was bare. Statues of Greek idols were everywhere.
(To be continued tomorrow.)