The new fertile land (Ezek 36:34-36:36)

“The land

That was desolate

Shall be tilled.

Instead of being

The desolation

That it was

In the sight of all

Who passed by.

Now they will say.

‘This land

That was desolate

Has become

Like the garden of Eden.

The wasted towns,

The desolate towns,

The ruined towns,

Are now inhabited.

They are fortified.’

‘Then the nations

That are left

All around you

Shall know

That I,

Yahweh,

Have rebuilt

The ruined places.

I have replanted

That which was desolate.

I,

Yahweh,

Have spoken.

I will do it.’”

Yahweh, via Ezekiel, said that the desolate land would be tilled. Everyone passing by would notice the difference. The former desolation would be gone. Now they will say that this land is like the Garden of Eden, as in Genesis, chapter 3. All those wasted, desolate, and ruined Israelite towns would be inhabited and fortified. All the nations and countries around Israel would know that Yahweh had rebuilt and replanted these various ruined and desolate places. What Yahweh had spoken about, he would actually do.

The high priest Simon the builder (Sir 50:1-50:4)

“Simon the high priest,

Son of Onias,

Was the leader

Of his brothers.

He was

The pride of his people.

In his life

He repaired the house.

In his time,

He fortified the temple.

He laid the foundations

For the high double walls.

These were

The high retaining walls

For the temple enclosure.

In his days,

A water cistern was dug.

He made a reservoir

Like the sea in circumference.

He considered

How to save his people

From ruin.

He fortified the city

Against any siege.”

Sirach ends his work with a whole chapter about the high priest Simon, son of Onias. Who is this guy and why is he important? This high priest Simon is Simeon the just or the righteous one. He may have been one of the last members of the questionable Great Assembly. There is a question whether he was Simeon I (310-273) or Simeon II (220-195) since both their fathers were called Onias. The general consensus today is that it is the later which would make him a contemporary of Sirach. Maybe that is why he got so much ink. He certainly was a leader among his fellow priests and a source of pride for the people. He repaired and fortified the Temple, always a good thing to do. He put down some foundations to make the walls higher around the Temple. He helped to build a large reservoir of water for the city. He tried to save his people from ruin so that he fortified the city against any kind of siege.

King Hezekiah (Sir 48:17-48:22)

“King Hezekiah fortified his city.

He brought water into its midst.

He tunneled the sheer rock

With iron tools.

He built cisterns for the water.

In his days,

Sennacherib invaded the country.

He sent his commander from Lachish.

He departed.

He shook his fist against Zion.

He made great boasts in his arrogance.

Then their hearts were shaken.

Their hands trembled.

They were in anguish,

Like women in labor.

But they called upon the Lord

Who is merciful.

They spread out their hands

Toward him.

The Holy One quickly heard them

From heaven.

He delivered them

Through Isaiah.

The Lord struck down

The camp of the Assyrians.

His angel wiped them out.

King Hezekiah did

What was pleasing to the Lord.

He kept firmly to the ways

Of his ancestor King David.”

Of all the kings from King Solomon to the captivity, Sirach singled out King Hezekiah (716-687 BCE) of Judah, based on the stories in 2 Kings, chapters 18-20, and 2 Chronicles, chapters 29-32. He was the king who followed Yahweh’s commandments, during the time of the prophet Isaiah. Just before his reign, the northern kingdom of Israel at Samaria fell to the Assyrians. During his reign the population grew from 5,000 at the time of King Solomon to about 25,000 people because of the many migrant Israelites from the north. Thus King Hezekiah fortified Jerusalem by building walls around it with tunnels to get water that has been verified by archeological discoveries. Ten years later, King Sennacherib decided to invade Judah. He sent his general Rabshakeh from Lachish to negotiate a deal, but King Hezekiah went to the prophet Isaiah for advice. Despite the fears of the folks in Jerusalem, Isaiah said not to yield. King Hezekiah prayed to Yahweh. King Sennacherib of Assyria decided not to invade the city, but 185,000 of his troops were wiped out by an angel of the Lord. Thus King Hezekiah was pleasing to the Lord like King David.

The attack of Judas Maccabeus on Caspin (2 Macc 12:13-12:16)

“Judas Maccabeus also attacked a certain city that was strongly fortified with earthworks and walls. Inhabited by all sorts of gentiles, its name was Caspin. Those who were within, relying on the strength of the walls and on their supply of provisions, behaved most insolently toward Judas Maccabeus and his men. They railed at them, even blaspheming and saying unholy things. But Judas Maccabeus and his men, calling upon the great Sovereign of the world, who without battering-rams or engines of war overthrew Jericho in the days of Joshua, rushed furiously upon the walls. They took the town by the will of God. They slaughtered untold numbers, so that the adjoining lake, a quarter of a mile wide, appeared to be running over with blood.”

This Caspin may be the same as Chaspho in 1 Maccabees, chapter 5. The only apparent reason for attacking this strongly fortified town was because they had some gentiles there. However, for some reason, the people in this town were insolent to Judas Maccabeus and his men. They blasphemed and said unholy things. Judas Maccabeus, after calling on the sovereign Lord, rushed the walls of this town named Caspin. Once again, by the will of God, they took this town like in the days of Joshua at Jericho. Here they killed so many people that a lake a quarter of a mile wide looked like it was running over with blood.

The peace of Simon (1 Macc 14:35-14:37)

“The people saw Simon’s faithfulness.

They saw the glory

That he had resolved to win for his nation.

They made him their leader and high priest.

Because he had done all these things,

Because he had been justice and loyal toward his nation,

He sought in every way to exalt his people.

In his days things prospered in his hands.

The gentiles were put out of the country.

He put out the men in the city of David in Jerusalem,

Who had built themselves a citadel

from which they used to sally forth.

They defiled the environs of the sanctuary.

They did great damage to its purity.

He settled Jews in it.

He fortified it for the safety of the country and of the city.

He built the walls of Jerusalem higher.”

This proclamation continued. Simon clearly joined his political and religious power as leader and high priest. Simon brought religious and political peace. He was faithful, just, and loyal. He exalted the people as everyone prospered. He got rid of the gentiles and those who had been in the citadel in Jerusalem. He cleaned up the sanctuary and put Jews in it and the citadel. He fortified the city with higher walls. He protected the safety of the country.

The gathering at Bethbasi (1 Macc 9:62-9:64)

“Then Jonathan, with his men and Simon, withdrew to Bethbasi in the wilderness. He rebuilt the parts of it that had been demolished. Then they fortified it. When General Bacchides learned of this, he assembled all his forces. He sent orders to the men of Judea. Then he came and encamped against Bethbasi. He fought against it for many days as he made machines of war.”

Jonathan and his men went southeast of Bethlehem to Bethbasi in the wilderness marshes along the Jordan River, near Tekoa. They rebuilt their stronghold and fortified it. When General Bacchides heard of this, he assembled his forces and camped out against the forces of Jonathan for many days. He kept building his war machines.

The fortifications of Bacchides (1 Macc 9:50-9:53)

“Then Bacchides returned to Jerusalem. He built strong cities in Judea. He built the fortress in Jericho, Emmaus, Beth-horon, Bethel, Timnath, Pharathon, and Tephon, with high walls, gates, and bars. He placed garrisons in them to harass Israel. He also fortified the city of Beth-zur, Gazara, and the citadel. He put troops and stores of food in them. He took the sons of the leading men of the land as hostages. He put them under guard in the citadel at Jerusalem.”

General Bacchides returned to Jerusalem. Then he built strong cities around Jerusalem with high walls and gates in Jericho, Emmaus, Beth-horon, Bethel, Timnath, Pharathon, and Tephon. He also put garrisons in them to harass and keep the Jewish guerrillas from attacking. He put troops and food storage in Beth-zur, Gazara, and the Jerusalem citadel. Then he took the sons of the leading men as hostages as he guarded them in Jerusalem.

Judas and his men see the camp of Gorgias (1 Macc 4:6-4:11)

“At daybreak, Judas appeared in the plain with three thousand men. However, they did not have armor and swords as much as they desired. They saw the camp of the gentiles, strong and fortified, with cavalry all around it. These men were trained in war. But Judas said to those who were with him.

‘Do not fear their numbers!

Do not be afraid when they charge!

Remember how our ancestors were saved at the Red Sea.

When Pharaoh with his forces pursued them?

Now let us cry to heaven,

To see whether he will favor us

Whether he will remember his covenant with our ancestors?

Will he crush this army before us today?

Then all the gentiles will know

That there is one who redeems and saves Israel.’”

Judas appeared on the plain with 3,000 of his men that did not have armor or swords. They saw the camp of Gorgias with the cavalry surrounding it. Judas then encouraged his troops. He told them not to fear the numbers of the enemy. He told them to remember what happened at the Red Sea when Pharaoh was pursuing their ancestors. He wanted them to cry to heaven to seek the favor of God. Notice he always speaks about heaven and not the God of their ancestors. God would remember his covenant with them and thus redeem and save Israel from the gentiles.

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.

Holofernes hears of the Israelite preparations (Jdt 5:1-5:4)

“It was reported to Holofernes, the general of the Assyrian army, that the people of Israel had prepared for war. They had closed the mountain passes. They had fortified all the high hilltops. They had set up barricades in the plains. He was very angry. He called together all the princes of Moab, the commanders of Ammon, and all the governors of the coastland. He said to them.

‘Tell me, you Canaanites,

What people is this that lives in the hill country?

What towns do they inhabit?

How large is their army?

What does their power or strength consist of?

Who rules over them as king?

Who leads their army?

Why have they alone,

Of all who live in the west,

Refused to come out and meet me?’”

When General Holofernes heard that the Israelites were preparing for war, he called all the local princes and commanders of the coastland, Moab, and Ammon together. Moab and Ammon were east of Israel on the other side of the Jordan. The Moabites and Ammonites were the traditional enemies to the east of Judah. Why had the Israelites closed the mountain passes, fortified the hilltops, and set up barricades? Who are they guys? He wanted to know about them. How big was their army? Who was their leader? Why were they the only ones resisting in the Canaanite territory, when everyone else had come out to meet and greet him?