The test of the Sabbath in the wilderness (1 Macc 2:29-2:38)

“At that time, many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the wilderness to live there. They, their sons, their wives, and their livestock, went into the wilderness because troubles pressed heavily upon them. It was reported to the king’s officers, and to the troops in Jerusalem the city of David, that men who had rejected the king’s command had gone down to the hiding places in the wilderness. Many pursued them. They overtook them. They encamped opposite them. They prepared for battle against them on the Sabbath day.  They said to them.

‘Enough of this!

Come out and do what the king commands,

Then you will live.’

However they said.

‘We will not come out,

Nor will we do what the king commands.

We will not profane the Sabbath day.’

Then the enemy quickly attacked them. But they did not answer them or hurl a stone at them or block up their hiding places. They said.

‘Let us all die in our innocence.

Heaven and earth testify for us that you are killing us unjustly.’

So they attacked them on the Sabbath. They died, with their wives and children and cattle, to the number of a thousand persons.”

Here there is a movement to the wilderness instead of away from it. More and more people were going out to the wilderness. The Syrian officials found out about this and began to pursue them. They caught a group of about 1,000 people with wives, children, and livestock. Since it was the Sabbath, the Jewish group would not fight. Thus 1,000 people were wiped out because they wanted to die in their innocence. They believed that they died unjustly so that we have 1,000 Jewish martyrs.

Mattathias kills the Jew offering a sacrifice (1 Macc 2:23-2:26)

“When Mattathias had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice upon the altar in Modein, according to the king’s command. When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal. His heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger. He ran and killed him on the altar. At the same time he killed the king’s officer who was forcing them to sacrifice. He tore down the altar. Thus he burned with zeal for the law, as Phinehas did against Zimri the son of Salu.”

I guess that I did not see this coming. This is real dramatic. This Jew, Israelite, or Judean was willing to offer the sacrifice to the idol. Mattathias was filled with righteous anger. Wow! What would unrighteous anger be like? He killed the man offering the sacrifice and the Syrian inspector official. Then he tore up the whole altar. The reference to Phinehas is to Numbers, chapter 25. In Numbers, Moses said that God wanted them to kill anyone who had sex with the women of Peor who were Baal worshippers. Phinehas saw an Israelite with a Median woman, so he killed both of them. Somehow that killing stopped a plague. Maybe he thought that this killing would stop the Syrians.

The inspectors at Modein (1 Macc 2:15-2:18)

“The king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the city of Modein to make them offer sacrifice. Many from Israel came to them. Mattathias and his sons were assembled. Then the king’s officers spoke to Mattathias as follows.

‘You are a leader,

Honored and great in this city,

Supported by sons and brothers.

Now be the first to come.

Do what the king commands,

As all the gentiles

And the men of Judah

And those that are left in Jerusalem have done.

Then you and your sons

Will be numbered among the friends of the king.

You and your sons will be honored with silver, gold, and many gifts.’”

These inspectors of the king were zealous. They came to Modein to make sure that the Israelites there were offering the correct sacrifices. Mattathias and his sons were assembled there. These inspectors spoke specifically to Mattathias and his sons. They said that he and his sons were honored and great. They should be the first to follow the king’s command to sacrifice to the idols since everyone elsewhere had done the same. If they were to be first in Modein, they would become friends of the king, a special title that the Persian kings often used. They would be honored with silver, gold, and other gifts.

The great day of execution arrives (Esth 9:1-9:4)

“In the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, the king’s command and edict were about to be executed. On the very day that the enemies of the Jews had hoped to gain power over them. However, it had been changed to a day when the Jews would gain power over their foes. That day, the Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Artaxerxes to lay hands on those who had sought their ruin. No one could withstand them because the fear of them had fallen upon all the people. All the officials of the provinces, the satraps, the governors, and the royal officials were supporting the Jews because the fear of Mordecai had fallen upon them. Mordecai was powerful in the king’s house. His fame spread throughout all the provinces. The man Mordecai grew more and more powerful.”

When the 13th day of Adar arrived, the edict and decree of the king was to be executed. Originally, this was to have been a day set up by Haman to exterminate all the Jews. There must have been some hostility towards the Jews to make this seem plausible. Now, however, it had been changed to a day when the Jews would retaliate against their enemies. There must have been some real enemies of the Jews. Earlier a great fear had spread among the Jews. Now all the people were afraid of the Jews. Moreover, the royal and provincial officials were also afraid of Mordecai as he became more powerful in the Persian kingdom. These satraps were like ambassadors of the king.