The various idol worship places in Gilead and Gilgal will become useless. Their iniquity will amount to nothing. The altars where they sacrificed bulls in Gilgal will become like heaps of stone in a furrowed field.
The territory of Ephraim, in the northern Israelite kingdom, multiplied the number of altars to ask for forgiveness of sins. In the eyes of Yahweh, they were actually altars of sinning. Yahweh had given them plenty of instructions, but they regarded them as strange sayings, ignoring them. They tried to offer choice sacrifice offerings and eat them. However, Yahweh would not accept them. Instead, he remembered their iniquity. He wanted to punish them for their sins. One of the punishments was to send them back to Egypt.
Yahweh told Jeremiah that the sins of Judah were written all over the place. An iron pen stylus with a diamond point made this indelible mark. Where would you find the sins of Judah? They were engraved in their hearts, but also on the altar corners or horns where sins were written. What was the main sin? Their children were going to altars and sacred totem poles by almost every green tree on the high hills, on the mountains, and in the open country. Everyone could openly see what they were doing.
Third Isaiah was also against Molech, a local Canaanite god that must have had a lot of Israelite worshippers. Apparently, many worshippers of Molech brought oils and perfumes to offer to Molech, who was sometimes associated with the Baal temples and altars. They sent messengers that were willing to go to Sheol, the afterlife underworld. However, they grew weary from their many trips. However, they were not able to say that it was useless. In fact, they rekindled their desire for Molech, instead of weakening it.
In a special nod to the birds, it is mentioned that the sparrows and the swallows live in the Temple. In fact, they have nests there so that their young can be protected. They are at the altars of Yahweh, who is king and God. Happy are those who live in the house of God. They can sing praises to God all the time. This section ends with the musical interlude meditative pause of Selah.
“Then Judas and his brothers went out and fought the descendents of Esau in the land to the south. He struck Hebron and its villages. He tore down its strongholds and burned its towers on all sides. Then he marched off to go into the land of the Philistines. He passed through Marisa. On that day some priests, who wished to do a brave deed, fell in battle, for they went out to battle unwisely. But Judas turned aside to Azotus in the land of the Philistines. He tore down their altars. He burned with fire the carved images of their gods. He plundered the towns. Finally, he returned to the land of Judah.”
Judas and his brothers decided to attack south in Edom, the land of the descendents of Esau. It is not clear why they struck down Hebron, which had been a capital of Israel at the time of David. Perhaps, more gentiles had taken over there. Hebron was only about 20 miles south of Jerusalem. Then he went west to the land of the Philistines. I guess that those Philistine just never die out. For some reason, a few unwise priests went out to do battle and were killed. Then Judas attacked Azotus in the Philistine territory. Once again, he tore down their altars and burned their idols. There is no mention of killing the males, but he did plunder the Philistine towns, before he returned to Judea. He never really got to Edom since he went southwest instead of southeast.
“Then King Antiochus wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people. Everyone should give up their particular customs. All the gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion. They sacrificed to idols and profaned the Sabbath. The king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah. He directed them to follow customs strange to the land. He forbade burnt offerings, sacrifices, and drink offerings in the sanctuary. He wanted them to profane the Sabbath and the feasts. He wanted them to defile the sanctuary and the priests. He wanted them to build altars and sacred precincts with shrines for idols. He wanted them to sacrifice swine and unclean animals. He wanted them to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane. Thus they should forget the law and change all the ordinances. He added.
‘Whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.’’’
King Antiochus IV wanted his whole kingdom unified, which included Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Asia Minor, quite a large kingdom. This might be difficult to enforce. It was later rescinded by King Antiochus V (172-161 BCE) since he was only 9 when he became king and died at the age of 11. Sometimes it is not good to be the king. King Antiochus IV was not as tolerant as his father King Antiochus III (223-187 BCE), who allowed the Israelites to follow the Mosaic Law. The Persian kings had also been tolerant towards following the Mosaic Law. King Antiochus IV wanted everyone to give up their particular customs, not a good idea in a large kingdom. The gentiles and some Israelites said okay, no big deal. He said that anyone who did not comply would be killed. He wanted them to sacrifice to idols, by building altars and shrines for his idols. He wanted them to profane the Sabbath and their own festivals. He wanted them to do away with their sanctuaries and priests. He wanted them to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals. He wanted them not to have their sons circumcised. Basically, he wanted them to forget about their own laws and just follow his ordinances.
“Yahweh said to Moses. ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites. You have seen for yourselves that I spoke with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. You need make for me only an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your offerings of well being, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. But if you make for me an altar of stone, do not build it of hewn stones. For if you use a chisel upon it you profane it. You shall not go up by steps to my altar, so that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.’”
Having the Ten Commandments with its generic prescriptions, it now became necessary to be more specific. Thus these laws presume a settled life style. The first area is about the worship cultic laws. Others will include civic and penal laws. One can find the influence of Babylonian laws also. These laws or codes, probably from the Elohist tradition, come from God via Moses, and are therefore important. God is proud and is clearly in heaven, the above. Therefore, there will be no more gods of silver or gold. However, there can be altars of earth for sacrifices. There are restrictions about this simple altar. You cannot build a stone altar of hewn stones because a chisel would profane it. Then there is the strange comment about no steps to the altar, so that your nakedness may not be exposed. The assumption was that no underwear was worn under the priestly garments.