Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Judah the Hammer

I teach a Ladies Bible class at least once a week.  It is a great pleasure to me.  Not only do I get out of my house to eat food someone else cooked, but I get to talk to these wonderful godly Christian ladies: SAHMs dream.  But if there was none of that, I would still love it for the joy of digging into the Word to find things I have either forgotten or never knew. Recently in my research for class I came across a reference to the Feast of Dedication. I vaguely recalled from a long ago bible class and more recently from one of my daughter's favorite library books that the story of Hanukkah was the story of the rededication of the temple but the details escaped me. 

So I got back online and found a copy of 1st Maccabees (you can find a free online copy here under the heading "Deutrocanonical." You can also download it for 99 cents on your kindle).  If you're unfamiliar the apocrypha (AKA the deutrocanon) it is the collection of books that were religious in nature but were not included in the Hebrew Old Testament.  This doesn't make them bad any more than "The Purpose Driven Life" is bad because it's not included in our Bibles.  1 Maccabees especially is a historical accounting of some major political/religious upheaval in the intertestamental period.  My nerdy heart was content as I poured over the unfamiliar literature.  The question was would I learn things that would help my class?

The first six chapters of the book especially were not only fascinating but meaningful.  I learned the history of Antiochus Epiphanes who as king enforced extreme policies to reduce the cultural diversity in his kingdom.  He not only stopped the Sabbath observance, the practice of circumcision, and the sacrifices, he also had a pig (an unclean animal) sacrificed on the altar in the temple to his god, Jupiter (168 BC).  You can imagine how well that went over in Judea.  What was most interesting to me is that all of this is prophesied in detail in Daniel 9-12, called there the "Abomination of Desolation."  It's such a detailed prophecy that incredulous scholars have insisted that Daniel must have been written AFTER the time of Antiochus because they don't believe in God's predictive power.  This argument might have been more convincing if Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meschah and Abednego weren't mentioned in 1 Maccabees by their Hebrew names!  (And of course if I didn't know that God is omnipotent!)

WLA jewishmuseum Bauhaus Seven branch Candelabrum
The story goes on to detail the Jewish resistance starting with an old man named Matthias. Too old to see the rebellion to its end, he appoints two of his sons as its leaders.  One was particularly wise, Simon and the other became a powerful war leader known as Judah* Maccabee (Maccabee is not a family name but a descriptor that means "Hammer"  If you are thinking that this would make a good stage name from the WWE - "Now for the heavy weight title, Judah the Hammer!" - you and I are on the same page). Eventually through a series of battles, Judah retook the defiled Jerusalem (165 BC) He tore down the altar, stacked up the stones and brought in new uncut stones to rebuild an altar.  They wanted to restore the menorah in the temple to provide the eternal light before God, however they had only a single day's supply of pure oil and needed another 7 days to process and purify more.  In an act of faith they lit the menorah anyway.  As the story goes, God let one day's supply burn for the 7 days needed to make more.  To be honest there is some question about the miracle; not only is not recorded in scripture, it is not mentioned in 1 Maccabee which is almost entirely historical.

Although I knew the bones of the story, those first six chapters made wonderfully interesting reading (the military descriptions that followed bored me).  One of the things that struck me was that the people knew so clearly that there was no prophet in Israel (1 Maccabees 9:27 and 14:41). For example, when they tore down the stones of the altar, they piled them on a hill and waited for a prophet to tell them what to do.  It's no wonder that John the Baptist was greeted so enthusiastically.  God had been silent for 400+ years and now he was at work in the world again. It also explains why 1 Maccabees was not included in the Old Testament.  Those books are full of the confidence a prophet has when he says, "Thus says the Lord." This book not only doesn't claim to have a fresh word from God, but it says no one in the days of the Maccabees was inspired!

I enjoyed this first hand accounting of the period between the testaments.  I loved the look backward at Daniel and the way his very specific prophecies were fulfilled.  I loved the look forward at the New Testament.  We were studying John 10 and for the first time I began to see the way the setting of the Feast of Dedication set Jesus up to give some not so subtle political hints about who the robbers (Herod and his sons were descendants of the Maccabees) might be.  

I would never encourage you to neglect your Bible, but if there is room on your plate for a little more ancient literature, go read at least the first half of 1st Maccabees and see how it might enlighten your own Bible study!


* In some English translations Judah is transliterated "Judas"

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