The divine intervention at Beth-zur (2 Macc 11:5-11:12)

“Invading Judea, Lysias approached Beth-zur, which was a fortified place about five stadia from Jerusalem. He pressed it hard. When Judas Maccabeus and his men got word that Lysias was besieging the strongholds, they and all the people, with lamentations and tears, prayed the Lord to send a good angel to save Israel. Judas Maccabeus himself was the first to take up arms. He urged the others to risk their lives with him to aid their kindred. Then they eagerly rushed off together. There, while they were still near Jerusalem, a horseman appeared at their head, clothed in white and brandishing weapons of gold. Together they all praised the merciful God. They were strengthened in heart, ready to assail not only humans, but the wildest animals or walls of iron. They advanced in battle order, having their heavenly ally, for the Lord had mercy on them. They hurled themselves like lions against the enemy. They laid low eleven thousand of them and sixteen hundred cavalry. They forced all the rest to flee. Most of them got away stripped and wounded. Lysias himself escaped by disgraceful flight.”

Beth-zur was about 20 miles south of Jerusalem, on the way to Hebron. Here, like 1 Maccabees, chapter 4, Judas Maccabeus prayed for a heavenly angel to help him. Although he had prayed in 1 Maccabees, there was no divine intervention. Here a heavenly horseman with a gold weapon led them to victory as they were lions in battle. Here they killed 11,000 infantry instead of 5,000 as in 1 Maccabees. In both versions of the story, Lysias escaped, either as here in “disgraceful flight” or simply withdrawing to Antioch as in 1 Maccabees.

The anger of King Antiochus IV (2 Macc 9:1-9:4)

“About that time, as it happened, King Antiochus had retreated in disorder from the region of Persia. He had entered the city called Persepolis. He attempted to rob the temples and control the city. Therefore the people rushed to the rescue with arms. King Antiochus and his army were defeated. The result was that he was put to flight by the inhabitants as he beat a shameful retreat. While he was in Ecbatana, news came to him of what had happened to Nicanor and the forces of Timothy. Transported with rage, he conceived the idea of turning upon the Jews the injury done by those who had put him to flight. He ordered his charioteer to drive without stopping until he completed the journey. But the judgment of heaven rode with him! In his arrogance he said.

‘When I get there,

I will make Jerusalem a cemetery of Jews.’”

A similar story can be found in 1 Maccabees, chapter 6, where the beginning of the story is the same. Some of the details are different. The town with the temple was called Elymais in 1 Maccabees, but magnificent former capital Persepolis here. Instead of returning to Babylon in 1 Maccabees, here it is the summer capital of Persia, Ecbatana. In 1 Maccabees, it is Lysias who seemed to be in charge, while here it appears to be Nicanor and Timothy. However, there is a major difference in the reaction of King Antiochus IV. In 1 Maccabees, when King Antiochus IV heard the news about the Jewish victory, he was depressed and fell sick. He then had deathbed repentance for all that he had done to the Jews. Here instead of that, he got angry and wanted to make Jerusalem a Jewish cemetery. However, it is later in this chapter that he has his deathbed repentance. On top of that, there are more details about his illness here.

Judas Maccabeus rallies his troops (2 Macc 8:16-8:18)

“But Judas Maccabeus gathered his men together, to the number six thousand. He exhorted them not to be frightened by the enemy. They were not to fear the great multitude of gentiles who were wickedly coming against them. But they were to fight nobly. They were to keep before their eyes the lawless outrage that the gentiles had committed against the holy place. They were to keep before their eyes the torture of the derided city, and besides, the overthrow of their ancestral way of life. He said.

‘They trust to arms and acts of daring.

But we trust in the Almighty God.

He is able with a single nod to strike down

Those who are coming against us

And even the whole world.’”

Like in 1 Maccabees, Judas Maccabeus was able to keep all his 6,000 troops together despite some minor defections. They were not to fear the wicked gentiles who were coming against them, but to fight nobly. They were to remember the evil acts of the gentiles against the holy place and the tortured city of their ancestors. They were to trust in the Almighty God who could strike down those coming against them, and even the whole world. He tried to calm their fears by saying that the powerful God was on their side.

The proclamation about Simon and Jonathan (1 Macc 14:29-14:34)

“Since wars often occurred in the country,

Simon son of Mattathias,

A priest of the sons of Joarib,

And his brothers

Exposed themselves to danger.

They resisted the enemies of their nation,

In order that their sanctuary

And the law might be preserved.

They brought great glory to their nation.

Jonathan rallied the nation.

He became their high priest.

He was gathered to his people.

When their enemies

Decided to invade their country

And lay hands on their sanctuary,

Then Simon rose up and fought for his nation.

He spent great sums of his own money.

He armed the soldiers of his nation.

He paid them wages.

He fortified the towns of Judea,

And Beth-zur on the borders of Judea,

There formerly the arms of the enemy had been stored.

He placed there a garrison of Jews.

He also fortified Joppa, which is by the sea

He fortified Gazara, which is on the borders of Azotus.

There the enemy formerly dwelt.

He settled Jews there.

He provided in those towns

Whatever was necessary for their restoration.”

Ever since there were wars in Judah, Simon and his brothers risked danger to fight the enemies of their nation. They wanted to protect the sanctuary and the law. They brought great glory to their nation. Jonathan was the high priest who rallied the people when the invasions took place. Simon, on the other hand, spent his own money to build up the military. There is no indication where he got this money. He also fortified the towns of Beth-zur and the borders of Judea. He set up Jewish garrisons to protect the arms that they had. He also fortified the sea ports of Joppa and Gaza, where he put Jewish settlers there. Interesting, there is no mention of Judas Maccabeus in this decree.

Jonathan and the commanders of army of the deposed King Demetrius II (1 Macc 12:24-12:32

“Jonathan heard that the commanders of Demetrius had returned with a larger force than before, to wage war against him. So he marched away from Jerusalem. He met them in the region of Hamath, so that he gave them no opportunity to invade his own country. He sent spies to their camp. They returned and reported to him that the enemy was being drawn up in formation to fall upon the Jews by night. So when the sun set, Jonathan commanded his troops to be alert. He commanded them to keep their arms at hand so as to be ready all night for battle. He stationed outposts around the camp. When the enemy heard that Jonathan and his men were prepared for battle, they were afraid. They were terrified at heart. So they kindled fires in their camp and withdrew. But Jonathan and his troops did not know it until morning, for they saw the fires burning. Then Jonathan pursued them, but he did not overtake them. They had crossed the Eleutherus River. So Jonathan turned aside against the Arabs who are called Zabadeans. He crushed them and plundered them. Then he broke camp and went to Damascus. He marched throughout that region.”

The old commanders of the deposed King Demetrius II returned with a larger force to wage war against Jonathan. However, Jonathan wanted to fight them not in his own country so he went out to Hamath, a city in Syria. Then he sent spies, who returned to tell him that they were going to attack him at night. Jonathan had all his men ready that night. When the commanders of the deposed King Demetrius II saw that Jonathan was waiting for them, they were afraid and left. When morning came, Jonathan realized that they were gone. He tried to overtake them, but it was impossible. Instead, he decided to fight against the Zabadean Arabs. He crushed them and took their spoils. Then he headed out of the region towards Damascus.

King Demetrius I seeks peace with Jonathan (1 Macc 10:1-10:6)

“In the one hundred and sixtieth year Alexander Epiphanes, son of Antiochus, landed and occupied Ptolemais. They welcomed him. He then began to reign there. When King Demetrius heard of it, he assembled a very large army. He marched out to meet him in battle. King Demetrius sent Jonathan a letter in peaceable words to honor him. He said to himself.

‘Let us act first to make peace with him

Before he makes peace with Alexander against us.

He will remember all the wrongs which we did to him

And to his brothers and his nation.’

So Demetrius gave Jonathan authority to recruit troops, to equip them with arms, and to become his ally. He commanded that the hostages in the citadel should be released to him.”

About 7 years later, in 152 BCE, we see the struggle of the son of King Antiochus IV, Alexander versus Demetrius I, the son of King Seleucus IV.   Alexander was also the brother of King Antiochus V, who died in battle at a young age. Alexander occupied Ptolemais, which is the modern day 5,000 year old city of Acre, near Haifa, in northern Israel on the Mediterranean Sea. When King Demetrius I heard about this, he wanted to get Jonathan on his side against Alexander. He knew that he had done wrong to his family and nation. He gave Jonathan the authority to recruit troops and arm them as his ally. Somehow there was still some captives in the Jerusalem citadel that he released.

A copy of the letter of the Romans to the Jews (1 Macc 8:22-8:30)

“This is a copy of the letter that the Romans wrote in reply on bronze tablets. They sent these bronze tablets to Jerusalem to remain with them there as a memorial of peace and alliance.

‘May all go well with the Romans!

May all go well with the nation of the Jews

At sea and on land forever.

May sword and enemy be far from them.

If war comes first to Rome

Or to any of their allies in all their dominion,

The nation of the Jews shall act

As their allies wholeheartedly,

As the occasion may indicate to them.

To the enemy who makes war

They shall not give or supply grain, arms, money, or ships,

Just as Rome has decided.

They shall keep their obligations without receiving any return.

In the same way,

If war comes first to the nation of the Jews,

The Romans shall willingly act as their allies,

As the occasion may indicate to them.

To their enemies,

There shall not be given grain, arms, money, or ships,

Just as Rome has decided.

They shall keep these obligations.

They shall do so without deceit.

Thus on these terms

The Romans make a treaty with the Jewish people.

If after these terms are in effect

Both parties shall determine to add or delete anything,

They shall do so at their discretion.

Any addition or deletion that they may make shall be valid.’”

The treaty was written on bronze tablets because it was important since bronze was used for all important documents. This continues the trend of the post-exilic Jews dependence on written documents from kings and other groups. It almost treats Rome and the Nation of the Jews on equal terms as sovereign states, which they were not. After the friendly greetings, the treaty calls for each party to protect the other as they see fit. They cannot offer any grain, arms, money, or ships to the enemy of the other. Why would the Romans enter such a treaty? They wanted to start rebellions in the various eastern areas without being involved and this was a way to have a rebellious group in the Seleucid Empire.

The Jewish defeat at the battle of Beth-zechariah (1 Macc 6:40-6:47)

“Now a part of the king’s army was spread out on the high hills. Some troops were on the plain. They advanced steadily and in good order. All heard the noise made by their multitude. All heard the marching of the multitude and the clanking of their arms. Everyone trembled for the army was very large and strong. But Judas and his army advanced to the battle. Six hundred of the king’s army fell. Eleazar, called Avaran, saw that one of the beasts was equipped with royal armor. It was taller than all the others. He supposed that the king was on it. So he gave his life to save his people and win for himself an everlasting name. He courageously ran into the midst of the phalanx to reach it. He killed men right and left. They parted before him on both sides. He got under the elephant. He stabbed it from beneath and killed it. However, it fell to the ground upon him and he died. When the Jews saw the royal might and the fierce attack of the forces, they turned away in flight.”

The king’s army was in the hills and on the plains. They marched in a steady good order. They made a great noise by marching with their clanking arms. Everyone was afraid of this large and strong army. However, Judas and his men attacked the king’s men and killed 600 of them. Then Eleazar, the brothr of Judas, decided to attack the elephant who he thought was carrying the king because of the royal armor. He set out to kill people as they got out of his way. He went under the elephant and then stabbed it. However, the elephant fell on him as it died and crushed him to death. Now when the Jews saw this and the fierce attack of the king’s men, they fled.

King Antiochus got the bad news about Judah (1 Macc 6:5-6:7)

“Then someone came to King Antiochus in Persia. He reported that the armies which had gone into the land of Judah had been routed. Lysias had gone out with a strong force, but had been turned away. He fled before the Jews. The Jews had grown strong from the arms, supplies, and abundant spoils which they had taken from the armies they had cut down. They had torn down the abomination that he had erected upon the altar in Jerusalem. They had surrounded the sanctuary with high walls as before, and also Beth-zur, his town.”

King Antiochus IV was in Persia, probably Ecbatana the former capital when he got word about the failure of Lysias in Judah. The Jews had taken the spoils from his army and grew stronger. They had taken down his statue of a god in Jerusalem. The biblical author calls it an abomination. They had taken back the town of Jerusalem.

King Antiochus attacks Jerusalem (1 Macc 1:29-1:35)

“Two years later, the king sent to the cities of Judah a chief collector of tribute. He came to Jerusalem with a large force. Deceitfully, he spoke peaceable words to them so that they believed him. However, he suddenly fell upon the city as he dealt it a severe blow. He destroyed many people of Israel. He plundered the city as he burned it with fire. He tore down its houses and its surrounding walls. They took captive the women and children. They seized the cattle. Then they fortified the city of David with a great strong wall and strong towers as it became their citadel. They stationed there a sinful people, men who were renegades. These strengthened their position. They stored up arms and food. They collected the spoils of Jerusalem and stored them there. They became a great menace.”

Around 167 BCE, King Antiochus IV again attacked Jerusalem. This time he sent mercenaries with a leader who was to collect tribute for the king. Instead of just collecting the tribute, he and his men attacked the city of Jerusalem. They killed people and plundered the city. They destroyed the houses and walls. They took the women, children, and cattle. Somehow, then they rebuilt the wall around the city of David and made it a citadel or fortress.   Here they put those renegades, those terrible Jews who sided with Syria. They collected the spoils of Jerusalem and stored them there. This citadel will become the home of the army garrison for controlling Judea.