The wager of Rabshakeh

“Come now!

Make a wager

With my master

The king of Assyria.

I will give you

Two thousand horses,

If you are able,

On your part,

To set riders on them.

How then can you repulse a single captain

Among the least of my master’s servants?

You rely on Egypt for chariots.

You rely on Egypt for horsemen.

Moreover,

Is it without Yahweh

That I have come up

Against this land to destroy it?

Yahweh said to me.

‘Go up against this land!

Destroy it!’”

In words that are word for word from 2 Kings, chapter 18, Rabshakeh presents a wager. He said that Judah would not have enough horsemen even if he gave them 2,000 horses. How could they fight against his army? He wanted to know where the chariots and horsemen that came from Egypt were. He mocked them for saying he had not relied on Yahweh. In fact, he said that Yahweh had come to him to tell him to destroy this land of Jerusalem.

The boast of the king of Assyria (Isa 10:8-10:11)

“The King of Assyria says.

‘Are not my commanders all kings?

Is not Calno

Like Carchemish?

Is not Hamath

Like Arpad?

Is not Samaria

Like Damascus?

As my hand has reached

To the kingdoms of the idols

Whose images

Were greater than those of Jerusalem.

They were greater than those of Samaria.

Shall I not do to Jerusalem

As I have done to Samaria?

Shall I not do to her idols

As I have done to the Samarian images?’”

King Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 BCE), the king of Assyria said that he had commanders in his army that could become kings. He cited the examples of his capture of various towns or cities like Calno in 742 BCE and Carchemish, which is now on the border between Turkey and Syria, but was part of the Syrian empire that was lost in 738 BCE. There also was the capture of other western Syrian town of Hama or Hamath and Arpad that were in this same area that Tiglath-Pileser III captured in 741 BCE. Finally there was Damascus, also in Syria, that was captured in 732 BCE. King Menahem of Samaria was the king of northern Israel from 743-738 BCE, who paid tribute to the King of Assyria, as mentioned in 2 Chronicles, chapter 26, and 2 Kings, chapter 15. Now King Tiglath-Pileser III was thinking of attacking Jerusalem. What he had done to Samaria, he would the same to Judah by destroying their images, since he thought that Yahweh was just another idol god.

Yahweh and the Exodus (Ps 136:10-136:15)

“Yahweh struck Egypt through their first-born.

His steadfast love endures forever.

He brought Israel out from among them.

His steadfast love endures forever.

With a strong hand,

With an outstretched arm,

His steadfast love endures forever.

He divided the Red Sea in two.

His steadfast love endures forever.

He made Israel pass through the midst of it.

His steadfast love endures forever.

He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,

His steadfast love endures forever.”

Once again, the congregational refrain, “His steadfast love endures forever” is repeated after every verse. Just as in the preceding psalm, Yahweh led the Israelites out of Egypt. He clearly struck down the first-born of humans and animals. He led them out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. He divided the Red Sea into two parts so that the Israelites were able to pass through in the middle of it. Finally, he destroyed Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea. Throughout it all they realized that his steadfast love endures forever.

The Sabbath at Adullam (2 Macc 12:38-12:38)

“Then Judas Maccabeus assembled his army. They went to the city of Adullam. As the seventh day was coming on, they purified themselves according to the custom. They kept the Sabbath there.”

Judas Maccabeus brought his army to Adullam, which was northeast of Marisa. There, instead of fighting, they purified themselves and kept the Sabbath as a day of rest.

The battle at Carnaim with Timothy (2 Macc 12:17-12:23)

“When they had gone ninety-five miles from there, they came to Charax, to the Jews who are called Toubiani. They did not find Timothy in that region, for he had by then left there without accomplishing anything. Although in one place, he had left a very strong garrison. Dositheus and Sosipater, who were the captains under Judas Maccabeus, marched out. They destroyed those whom Timothy had left in the stronghold, more than ten thousand men. However, Judas Maccabeus arranged his army in divisions as he set men in command of these divisions. He hastened after Timothy, who had with him one hundred twenty thousand infantry and two thousand five hundred cavalry. When Timothy learned of the approach of Judas Maccabeus, he sent off the women and the children with the baggage to a place called Carnaim that was hard to besiege. It was difficult to access because of the narrowness of all its approaches. But when Judas Maccabeus’ first division appeared, terror and fear came over the enemy at the manifestation to them of him, who sees all things. They rushed headlong in every direction, so that often they were injured by their own men and pierced by the points of their own swords. Judas Maccabeus pressed the pursuit with the utmost vigor. He put the sinners to the sword. He destroyed as many as thirty thousand men.”

Once again, this is similar to the battles in Gilead in 1 Maccabees, chapter 5. Charax might be present day Kuwait. Apparently they were looking for the elusive Timothy, who had already died in chapter 10 of this book. Dositheus and Sosipater were the captains of Judas Maccabeus on the east side of the Jordan River. They had already destroyed 10,000 of Timothy’s men. However, he had an enormous amount of troops, 125,000 infantry and 2,500 cavalry. Yet he was afraid of Judas Maccabeus. He sent all the women and children with the baggage to Carnaim, because it would be difficult to besiege that place due to its narrow approaches. As usual, the men of Judas Maccabeus pressed after the men of Timothy. Those men were so afraid of the God of Judas Maccabeus and his men that they ran in every which way so that they injured their own troops with their own swords. Nevertheless, Judas Maccabeus and his troops killed 30,000 men. These numbers are enormous here.

Judas Maccabeus gives his brothers assignments (2 Macc 8:21-8:23)

“With these words Judas Maccabeus filled them with good courage. He made them ready to die for their laws and their country. Then he divided his army into four parts. He appointed his brothers also, Simon, Joseph, and Jonathan, each to command a division, putting fifteen hundred men under each. Besides, he appointed Eleazar to read aloud from the holy book. He gave the watchword.

‘God’s help!’

Then, leading the first division himself, he joined battle with Nicanor.”

Judas Maccabeus had filled his 6,000 troops with courage as they were ready to die for their laws and their country. He divided his army into 4 parts among his brothers. There was Simon, who will become the high priest from 142-134 BCE. Then there was Joseph or as he was called in 1 Maccabees, chapter 2, John. This John died in 1 Maccabees, chapter 9, at the hands of the Nabateans. Jonathan is perhaps the next most famous as he succeeded Judas and was the high priest from 160-142 BCE.   Eleazar here is asked to read the holy book of scripture. There might have been an attempt to put this Eleazar with the Eleazar of chapter 6 of this book. However, in 1 Maccabees, chapter 6, Eleazar died at the battle of Beth-zechariah, killing an elephant. Interesting enough, the cry “God’s Help!” was found in one of the 1st century Qumran War Scrolls for those returning from war. There might be a connection here.

John defeats Cendebeus (1 Macc 16:4-16:10)

“John chose out of the country twenty thousand warriors and cavalry. They marched against Cendebeus. They camped for the night in Modein. Early in the morning they started out and marched into the plain. There a large force of infantry and cavalry was coming to meet them. A stream lay between them. Then he and his army lined up against them. He saw that the soldiers were afraid to cross the stream, so he crossed over first. When his troops saw him, they crossed over after him. Then he divided the army. He placed the cavalry in the center of the infantry. The cavalry of the enemy were very numerous. They sounded the trumpets. Cendebeus and his army were put to flight. Many of them were falling wounded. The rest fled into the stronghold. At that time Judas the brother of John was wounded. However, John pursued them until Cendebeus reached Kedron that he had built. They also fled into the towers that were in the fields of Azotus. John burned it with fire. About two thousand of them fell. He then returned to Judea safely.”

John, the son of Simon, had 20,000 warriors and cavalry. This is the first mention of cavalry on the Israelite side. They stopped at Modein one night on their march to meet Cendebeus. The next day on the plain they saw a large army coming at them. There was a stream between the 2 armies. John led his troops across the stream because they seemed afraid. He put the cavalry in the middle of his foot soldiers. They sounded the trumpets. Suddenly the army of Cendebeus fled. Judas, the brother of John, was wounded. John took after the fleeing army chasing them to the fields of Azotus where he burned the fields. About 2,000 of the enemy fell. Then John returned to Judea.

The death of Jonathan (1 Macc 13:20-13:24)

“After this, Trypho came to invade the country. He wanted to destroy it. He circled around by the way to Adora. But Simon and his army kept marching along opposite him to every place he went. Now the men in the citadel kept sending envoys to Trypho urging him to come to them by way of the wilderness and to send them food. So Trypho got all his cavalry ready to go, but that night a very heavy snow fell. He did not go because of the snow. He marched off and went into the land of Gilead. When he approached Baskama, he killed Jonathan. He was buried there. Then Trypho turned back. He went back to his own land.”

Trypho came to invade and destroy Judah by way of Adora, about 5 miles southwest of Hebron. However, Simon and his army were marching opposite him. This seems strange. Who was following who? The Syrian men in the Jerusalem citadel sent messengers to Trypho to go through the wilderness. They needed food. This plan was cancelled when a strange snow storm hit. This is the first mention of snow, since it obviously was not that common. Trypho decided to head north to Gilead where he killed and buried Jonathan at Baskama, which is northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Then he went home without fighting any battle.

The death of Judas Maccabeus (1 Macc 9:14-9:18)

“Judas saw that Bacchides and the strength of his army were on the right side. Then all the stouthearted men went with him. They crushed the right wing. He pursued them as far as Mount Azotus. When those on the left wing saw that the right wing was crushed, they turned and followed close behind Judas and his men. The battle became desperate. Many on both sides were wounded and fell. Judas also fell, while the rest fled.”

Judas Maccabeus saw how strong the right side of the army was, so he decided to attack it with his stouthearted men. They crushed this right side and pursued them for 6 miles to Mount Azotus. However, the left side of the Syrian army followed behind Judas and his men. Then they had a great battle where many people died, including Judas Maccabeus himself. The rest of his men fled.

King Demetrius I sends more troops to Jerusalem (1 Macc 9:1-9:4)

“When King Demetrius heard that Nicanor and his army had fallen in battle, he sent Bacchides and Alcimus into the land of Judah a second time. He sent the right wing of the army with them. They went by the road that leads to Gilgal. They encamped against Mesaloth in Arbela. They took that town and killed many people. In the first month of the one hundred fifty-second year they encamped against Jerusalem. Then they marched off and went to Berea with twenty thousand foot soldiers and two thousand cavalry.”

Now we are back to the problem of King Demetrius I and Judas Maccabeus, since the preceding chapter 8 seems to be an insertion to show how the Romans had been kind to the Jews. With the defeat of Nicanor, the king went back to his faithful duo of Bacchides and Alcimus, who was still the chief priest in Jerusalem in 160 BCE. Gilgal was between Jericho and the Jordan River. This duo camped at Mesaloth and destroyed it. It might have been close to Samaria. Then they went out to Berea, perhaps a town about 10 miles north of Jerusalem called el-Birch. Anyway, they had a large army of 20,000 foot soldiers and 2,000 cavalry.