“When the Jews heard of Nicanor’s coming and the gathering of the gentiles, they sprinkled dust upon their heads. They prayed to him who established his own people forever. He always upholds his own heritage by manifesting himself. At the command of the leader, they set out from there immediately and engaged them in battle at a village called Dessau. Simon, the brother of Judas Maccabees, had encountered Nicanor, but had been temporarily checked because of the sudden consternation created by the enemy.”
Once again this is similar to 1 Maccabees, chapter 7. Here the Jews sprinkled their heads with dust and prayed, while there was no mention of that in 1 Maccabees. Here they are battling at Dessau and not Caphar-salama as in 1 Maccabees. Simon, the brother of Judas Maccabeus seems to have suffered a minor setback because of some consternation.
“Then Judas and his brothers said.
‘Behold, our enemies are crushed.
Let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary
Let us go up to dedicate the sanctuary.’
All the army assembled and went up to Mount Zion. There they saw the sanctuary desolate. The altar was profaned. The gates were burned. In the courts they saw bushes springing up as in a thicket, or as on one of the mountains. They saw also the chambers of the priests in ruins. Then they tore their clothes. They mourned with great lamentation. They sprinkled themselves with ashes. They fell face down on the ground. When the signal was given with the trumpets, they cried out to heaven.”
Judas Maccabeus with his brothers decided that since they had defeated their enemies, they would cleanse the Jerusalem sanctuary. Thus the whole army when to Mount Zion, Jerusalem. There they saw the sorry state of affairs. The altar was profaned. The gates were burned. The courtyards were full of thick bushes. The priestly chambers were ruined. Therefore, they did what any good man would do. They tore their clothes as a sign of mourning and upset. To get the mood right, they sprinkled ashes on themselves and fell to the ground. When the trumpets sounded they prayed to God in heaven.
“When Mordecai learned all that had been done, he tore his clothes. He put on sackcloth and sprinkled himself with ashes. Then he rushed through the streets of the city, shouting loudly.
‘An innocent nation is being destroyed.’
He got as far as the king’s gate. There he stopped. No one was allowed to enter the royal courtyard clothed in sackcloth and ashes. In every province, where the king’s proclamation had been posted, there was a loud cry of mourning and lamentation, as well as fasting and weeping among the Jews. Most of them put on sackcloth and ashes.”
When Mordecai heard about the decree to eliminate the Jews, he was very upset. The typical way to express this discontent was to wear the cloth of what people carried things in, sacks. Thus we get the name of sack cloth. Secondly, they would put ashes on their head. Then he went through the streets crying out that an innocent nation was going to be destroyed. He did not go into the royal courtyard because no one was allowed in there with sackcloth on. They had to be better dressed. At the same time, the reaction in the various provinces was not much different. The Jewish people in the various exiled areas went into fasting, weeping, lamenting, wearing sack cloth and ashes on their head.