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.

Simon’s speech in Jerusalem (1 Macc 13:1-13:6)

“Simon heard that Trypho had assembled a large army to invade the land of Judah and destroy it. He saw that the people were trembling and fearful. So he went up to Jerusalem. He gathered the people together. He encouraged them, saying to them.

‘You yourselves know

What great things

My brothers and I

And the house of my father

Have done for the laws and the sanctuary.

You know also the wars

And the difficulties

That my brothers and I have seen.

By reason of this,

All my brothers have perished for the sake of Israel.

I alone am left.

Now, far be it from me

To spare my life

In any time of distress.

I am not better than my brothers.

But I will avenge my nation

And the sanctuary

And your wives and children.

All the nations have gathered together out of hatred to destroy us.’”

Simon, who was the governor of the coastal states, saw how afraid the Israelites were. He knew that Trypho had a large army that was attempting to destroy the people of Judah. He went to Jerusalem to gather the people there in a great assembly. He spoke to the people to encourage them to keep going. He reminded them of what his family had done. His father and all his brothers had died fighting for Judah and the law. He was the only one left, even though he was not better than his brothers. Simon had assumed that Jonathan was dead and not captured. He wanted to avenge all the nations that had attacked the Jewish people. He was going to defend the sanctuary, their wives, and their children.

The dire message from the north (1 Macc 5:14-5:20)

“While the letter was still being read, other messengers, with their garments torn, came from Galilee. They made a similar report. They said that the people of Ptolemais, Tyre, Sidon, and all Galilee of the gentiles had gathered together against them, ‘to annihilate us.’ When Judas and the people heard these messages, a great assembly was called to determine what they should do for their kindred who were in distress. They were being attacked by enemies. Then Judas said to his brother Simon.

‘Choose your men.

Go and rescue your kindred in Galilee.

Jonathan my brother and I will go to Gilead.’

But he left Joseph son of Zechariah, and Azariah, a leader of the people, with the rest of the forces, in Judea to guard it. He gave them this command.

‘Take charge of this people.

But do not engage in battle with the gentiles until we return.’

Then three thousand men were assigned to Simon to go to Galilee, and eight thousand to Judas for Gilead.”

Suddenly, there is a problem to the north and west. Ptolemais, Tyre, and Sidon were seacoast towns that had not been involved in wars with Israel previously. Galilee had mostly Samaritans who were Israelites. Thus it was a surprise that this group should be picking on Israelites, especially to annihilate them. Judas Maccabeus made a decision. His brother Simon would go to Galilee with 3,000 troops, while he and his brother Jonathan would go to Gilead with 8,000 troops. Joseph and Azariah would be in charge in Judea, but they would not fight in any battles.