The future destruction of Israel (Am 3:13-3:15)

“‘Hear!

Testify

Against the house of Jacob!’

Says Yahweh God!

The God of hosts!

‘On the day

That I punish Israel

For its transgressions,

I will punish

The altars of Bethel.

The horns of the altar

Shall be cut off.

They shall fall

To the ground.

I will tear down

The winter house,

As well as the summer house.

The houses of ivory

Shall perish.

The great houses

Shall come to an end.’

Says Yahweh.”

Amos has this oracle of Yahweh, the God of many hosts or heavenly armies, about the future destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. Yahweh wanted them to hear and testify against the house of Jacob. On the day that he was going to punish them, he was going to destroy the altars at Bethel, the holy shrine, with its altar horns. He also was going to tear down the many great houses in Israel, including the winter and summer homes of the officials of the northern kingdom, even the ivory houses.

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The numerous useless false idol gods (Jer 11:12-11:13)

“Then the cities of Judah,

The inhabitants of Jerusalem,

Both will go out.

They will cry out to the gods

To whom they make offerings.

But these gods will never save them

In the time of their troubles.

Your gods have become

As many as your towns.

O Judah!

Your gods have become

As many as the streets of Jerusalem.

These altars

That you have set up

Shame you.

These altars make offerings to Baal.”

Then Yahweh continues to call our Jerusalem and Judah for their behavior. They have cried out to their gods and made offerings to them. However, Yahweh reminds them that these gods will never save them in their times of trouble. They appear to have as many gods as there are towns in Judah. Each town seems to have its own god. The same is true of Jerusalem, where practically every street has its own god. These are the altars that shame them, since they made offerings to Baal, the Canaanite god, on these altars.

The end of idolatry (Isa 17:7-17:8)

“On that day

People will regard their Maker.

Their eyes will look

To the Holy One of Israel.

They will not have regard

For the altars,

The work of their own hands.

They will not look

To what their own fingers have made,

Either the sacred poles

Or the altars of incense.”

The end of idolatry and the turning to the Holy One of Israel will take place on this day of destruction. On that day, they will turn away from the altars that they made with their own hands. They will not look at the idols that they made with their own fingers.   They will turn away from the sacred or holy poles or sticks, like totem poles, and the altars with incense on them. Idolatry will become a thing of the past.

Purification of the Temple (2 Macc 10:1-10:4)

“Now Judas Maccabeus and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city. They tore down the altars which that had been built in the public square by the foreigners. They also destroyed the sacred precincts. They purified the sanctuary. They made another altar of sacrifice. Then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices. After a lapse of two years, they burned incense. They lighted lamps. They set out the bread of the Presence. When they had done this, they fell prostrate. They implored the Lord that they might never again fall into such misfortunes. If they should ever sin, they might be disciplined by him with forbearance and not be handed over to blasphemous and barbarous nations.”

This purification of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus took place earlier in 1 Maccabees, chapter 4, about a year before the death of King Antiochus IV. Here it is 2 years after the desecration of the Temple. In fact, the description in 1 Maccabees was more elaborate, but pretty much the same as here. There was no lamentation and mourning for the city and the Temple here. The Lord led them on here as the altars were in the public square. In 1 Maccabees, they saved the old stones. Here they just made another altar. They offered sacrifices, burned incense, lighted lamps, and set out the bread of Presence as in 1 Maccabees. Here there is a prayer to be more lenient next time if they do sin.

The organization and activity around Mattathias (1 Macc 2:42-2:48)

“Then there united with them a company of Hasideans, the mighty warriors of Israel. All offered themselves willingly for the law. All who became fugitives to escape their troubles joined them and reinforced them.   They organized an army. They struck down sinners in their anger. They struck down renegades in their wrath. The survivors fled to the gentiles for safety. Mattathias and his friends went around and tore down the altars. They forcibly circumcised all the uncircumcised boys that they found within the borders of Israel. They hunted down the arrogant men. This work prospered in their hands. They rescued the law out of the hands of the gentiles and the kings. They never let the sinner gain the upper hand.”

Mattathias was joined by the Hasideans. These were “the pious ones,” the saints, the holy ones, the religious ascetics. They were strict followers of the Mosaic Law. They may have come out of the Nazarene movement of earlier times. These Hasideans may have merged into the Essences of the first century CE. Perhaps the Pharisees with their emphasis on the letter of the law may have developed from these Hasideans also. They were the mighty warriors of Israel, clearly against the creeping Hellenism of the 2nd century BCE. Anyone who had trouble with the law also joined Mattathias just as David had gathered around him those who had trouble with King Saul in 1 Samuel, chapter 22. This rugged group attacked Jewish sinners and renegades, those mentioned in chapter 1 of this book, who did not follow the Mosaic Law. They went around tearing down the pagan gentile altars. They forcibly circumcised any boy they found in Israel. They were like a righteous terrorist bully group that punished those who disagreed with them. However, they seem to have been succeeding.