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160's B.C.:  God Easily Discerns and Exposes the Secret Sins of Some Maccabean Soldiers!

  Some Protestants may be familiar with the term 'the 400 silent years'.  It is used at times to refer to the 400 years preceding the coming of Christ.  It relates to the view that God was relatively inactive during those roughly 400 years, or that the Bible does not speak about them.

  But, that's not necessarily correct.  Tht Protestants chose to call 66 books 'canonical' and to include them in the Bible.  But, there are other books not chosen for inclusion in the Protestant Bible which are in the 'canon' accepted by the Catholic and Orthodox Christian Churches and included in their Bibles which tell of many happenings during those 400 years.   

  Two such books are 1st and 2nd Maccabees.  They focus on the Jewish rebellion and revolt against the Seleucid Kings and Empire, which ruled their land during much of this 400 year period, oppressively at times. 

  As for those books, some Protestant denominations had no great objection to them, called them Biblical Apocryphae, and termed them 'useful reading'.  The Church of England termed them 'useful, but not a basis for doctrine, and not necessary for salvation'. 

  I only wanted to lightly describe the historical context for a portion of 2nd Maccabees so that you can read a certain few verses that Christians might find interesting.  Essentially, Mattathias, a Jewish Priest that had several sons, set off a Jewish national rebellion against these 'Greek' occupiers of Israel, who after a period of fairly hands off rule had later prevented them from exercising their religion and had even disdainfully treated their temple and God Almighty by placing idolotrous statues or plaques in the temple (supposedly honoring 'Jupiter Olympias') and even slaughtering a pig in the Holy of Holies portion of the temple at one point in time. 

  When Mattathias died, his son Judas Maccabee (soon nicknamed 'the Hammer') became the leader of the Jewish revolt against Seleucid rule, and he turned out to be a wiley guerilla fighter.  As his rebel soldiers grew in number he showed himself to also be quite capable of meeting trained armies head to head.  But Judas was very openly reliant on God for his victories and very thankful when they were granted.  He had many military successes, and became greatly feared by the enemy.  The soldiers under Judas had God so much on their side that they sometimes fought very significant battles with the loss of hardly any soldiers at all.  It was like the days of Moses and Joshua were at times, when they had enjoyed God's favor in battle!  Below is a reputed likeness of Judas Maccabee:

Judas Maccabeaus

  Because the Maccabees were so formidably tough to beat militarily, the Seleucids eventually came to terms with them, giving them much religious freedom in return for peace.  Hannukah (dedication) refers to the cleansing and rededication of the temple of God after it was polluted by Seleucid leader Antiochus Epiphanes the IV.  

  So, this rededication had become possible partially through God's direction of the exploits of this Hasmonean family (Mattathias and his sons), who have often generally been referred to as the Maccabees, founders of the Hasmonean Dynasty in Israel.  'Hasmonean' is a slightly different pronounciation of the word Asmonaean - a name stemming from Mattathias' great grandfather, Asmonaeus, who had been an important Jewish priest.  So Asmonaeus' descendents had come to be known by his name, were referred to as Asmoneans, and eventually as Hasmoneans. 

  After Mattathias and Judas and his brothers had ruled for quite a long time, and then their descendents after them, the Romans finally defeated and broke up the Hasmonean kingdom (Israel and more) but left them as a vessal state in 63 B.C.  Then Herod the Great (a non-Jew) grew in importance and pleased and flattered the Romans so much that they gave him the government of most of the former Hasmonean kingdom in 37 B.C.     Below is a reputed likeness of Herod the Great:

                                  Herod the Great

  This is the Herod that ordered the attempted execution of the baby Jesus when informed by visiting wisemen from the East that a great king would be born from within his kingdom.  Herod had the Hebrew scriptures searched, and he learned that the birth of a great Jewish king was propheseyed to occur in Bethlehem, so before too long had passed he ordered his soldiers to go there and kill all babies two years old and younger, hoping that this group of dead babies would include this propheseyed king that might threaten his rule or dynasty one day.  Targeted baby Jesus escaped this infanticide.  God the Father warned Jesus' earthly dad Joseph, in a dream, to flee to Egypt.  Joseph believed, and fled quickly, and did not return until he heard that Herod the Great was dead.    

  From his earliest years as their ruler, Herod knew that the local Jews still felt very loyal to the Hasmoneans, so to shore up the popularity and legitimacy of his dynasty he tried to please the Jews by improving upon the Holy Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem.  He also married the incredibly beautiful (says Josephus) woman named Miriamne, who was one of the few surviving Hasmonean descendents, and at her insistence, made her unusually handsome young brother Aristobulus (says Josephus) to be the High Priest of Israel. 

  According to Jewish historian Josephus Herod later drowned the young Aristobulus in a sneaky and underhanded fashion.  Herod invited the young High Priest to a night time palatial party where there were swimming or bathing pools to luxuriate in.  At a certain time at the party that night, pretending to be horsing around with Aristobulus in the pool in a friendly fashion when no one was very near to them (but actually intent on disposing of the most significant of the potentially remaining Hasmonean heirs) Herod held Aristobulus under water until he drowned.  Then he slipped away from the pool, letting others at the party find the supposedly 'accidentally drowned' body, and acting as surprised as everyone else.  Some servants had seen Herod's act, though they didn't dare speak out openly.  But the rumor eventually got around.  Herod was a man of many talents and abilities, but many wickednesses. 

  Herod eventually had so much trouble with his Hasmonean wife Miriamne that he had her tried and executed, though he loved her hopelessly.  Other members of his family poisoned his opinion against her, and he went off on potentially dangerous enterprises leaving behind word to a trusted servant that if he was to die, Miriamne was to be killed.  He did not want another man to ever posess her, and because of her beauty, he feared it. 

  He had already had his two sons from her womb (sons of he and Mariamne) executed because he became convinced that they conspired against him secretly.  Miriamne was Herod's second wife, and Herod's previous family was very hateful towards Mariamne, and jealous of her, and desirous that her descendents through Herod would not be preferred to their own.

  Additionally, Herod also had two daughters by Miriamne. 

  Herod had terrible - just deadly awful - relationships with his wife and children.  It was a Sicilian tragedy, as they say.  And in the end, Herod died a grisly death, his intestines rotted out, decaying, and prolapsed.  God did not have him go out easily!!  But, long story short...this important Israelite government, the Hasmonean dynasty / the Maccabean dynasty, ended in Herod the Great's time.    

  Below is chapter 12 of 2nd Maccabees, it deals with a period when Judas Maccabee was leading the Jewish rebels, and it contains, at the end, an interesting act of God, and tells of Judas Maccabee's response to it.  Read it to the end and you will see that, then as now, we have to try to be pure in God's service.  God cannot or will not always bless the efforts of impure hands, impure men or women, or impure soldiers.  It is a reminder that we may think we're hiding our wrong doings, at least from other people, but God sees them quite clearly and easily, and sometimes chooses to expose them and us both.  Hypocrisy is not a hard sin to fall into, but it is a sin.  This same type of discernment is spoken of in the Book of Joshua, concerning the sin of Achar.

  Read on about the sins of the Maccabean soldiers, which is in bold towards the end of the chapter!  2 Maccabees  Chapter 12: 

2) but some of the governors in various places, Timothy and Apollonius the son of Gennaeus, as well as Hieronymus and Demophon, and in addition to these Nicanor the governor of Cyprus, would not let them live quietly and in peace.

[3] And some men of Joppa did so ungodly a deed as this: they invited the Jews who lived among them to embark, with their wives and children, on boats which they had provided, as though there were no ill will to the Jews;
[4] and this was done by public vote of the city. And when they accepted, because they wished to live peaceably and suspected nothing, the men of Joppa took them out to sea and drowned them, not less than two hundred.
[5] When Judas heard of the cruelty visited on his countrymen, he gave orders to his men
[6] and, calling upon God the righteous Judge, attacked the murderers of his brethren. He set fire to the harbor by night, and burned the boats, and massacred those who had taken refuge there.
[7] Then, because the city's gates were closed, he withdrew, intending to come again and root out the whole community of Joppa.
[8] But learning that the men in Jamnia meant in the same way to wipe out the Jews who were living among them,
[9] he attacked the people of Jamnia by night and set fire to the harbor and the fleet, so that the glow of the light was seen in Jerusalem, thirty miles distant.

When they had gone more than a mile from there, on their march against Timothy, not less than five thousand Arabs with five hundred horsemen attacked them.

[11] After a hard fight Judas and his men won the victory, by the help of God. The defeated nomads besought Judas to grant them pledges of friendship, promising to give him cattle and to help his people in all other ways.
[12] Judas, thinking that they might really be useful in many ways, agreed to make peace with them; and after receiving his pledges they departed to their tents.

He also attacked a certain city which was strongly fortified with earthworks and walls, and inhabited by all sorts of Gentiles. Its name was Caspin.

[14] And those who were within, relying on the strength of the walls and on their supply of provisions, behaved most insolently toward Judas and his men, railing at them and even blaspheming and saying unholy things.
[15] But Judas and his men, calling upon the great Sovereign of the world, who without battering-rams or engines of war overthrew Jericho in the days of Joshua, rushed furiously upon the walls.
[16] They took the city by the will of God, and slaughtered untold numbers, so that the adjoining lake, a quarter of a mile wide, appeared to be running over with blood.

When they had gone ninety-five miles from there, they came to Charax, to the Jews who are called Toubiani.

[18] They did not find Timothy in that region, for he had by then departed from the region without accomplishing anything, though in one place he had left a very strong garrison.
[19] Dositheus and Sosipater, who were captains under Maccabeus, marched out and destroyed those whom Timothy had left in the stronghold, more than ten thousand men.
[20] But Maccabeus arranged his army in divisions, set men in command of the divisions, and hastened after Timothy, who had with him a hundred and twenty thousand infantry and two thousand five hundred cavalry.
[21] When Timothy learned of the approach of Judas, he sent off the women and the children and also the baggage to a place called Carnaim; for that place was hard to besiege and difficult of access because of the narrowness of all the approaches.
[22] But when Judas' first division appeared, terror and fear came over the enemy at the manifestation to them of him who sees all things; and they rushed off in flight and were swept on, this way and that, so that often they were injured by their own men and pierced by the points of their swords.
[23] And Judas pressed the pursuit with the utmost vigor, putting the sinners to the sword, and destroyed as many as thirty thousand men.

Timothy himself fell into the hands of Dositheus and Sosipater and their men. With great guile he besought them to let him go in safety, because he held the parents of most of them and the brothers of some and no consideration would be shown them.

[25] And when with many words he had confirmed his solemn promise to restore them unharmed, they let him go, for the sake of saving their brethren.

Then Judas marched against Carnaim and the temple of Atargatis, and slaughtered twenty-five thousand people.

[27] After the rout and destruction of these, he marched also against Ephron, a fortified city where Lysias dwelt with multitudes of people of all nationalities. Stalwart young men took their stand before the walls and made a vigorous defense; and great stores of war engines and missiles were there.
[28] But the Jews called upon the Sovereign who with power shatters the might of his enemies, and they got the city into their hands, and killed as many as twenty-five thousand of those who were within it.

Setting out from there, they hastened to Scythopolis, which is seventy-five miles from Jerusalem.

[30] But when the Jews who dwelt there bore witness to the good will which the people of Scythopolis had shown them and their kind treatment of them in times of misfortune,
[31] they thanked them and exhorted them to be well disposed to their race in the future also. Then they went up to Jerusalem, as the feast of weeks was close at hand.

After the feast called Pentecost, they hastened against Gorgias, the governor of Idumea.

[33] And he came out with three thousand infantry and four hundred cavalry.
[34] When they joined battle, it happened that a few of the Jews fell.
[35] But a certain Dositheus, one of Bacenor's men, who was on horseback and was a strong man, caught hold of Gorgias, and grasping his cloak was dragging him off by main strength, wishing to take the accursed man alive, when one of the Thracian horsemen bore down upon him and cut off his arm; so Gorgias escaped and reached Marisa.

As Esdris and his men had been fighting for a long time and were weary, Judas called upon the Lord to show himself their ally and leader in the battle.

[37] In the language of their fathers he raised the battle cry, with hymns; then he charged against Gorgias' men when they were not expecting it, and put them to flight.

Then Judas assembled his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the seventh day was coming on, they purified themselves according to the custom, and they kept the sabbath there.


On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers.

[40] Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen.
[41] So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden;
[42] and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen.
[43] He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection.
[44] For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.
[45] But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.

  End Quote

  One of the reasons that church fathers didn't want Maccabees included in the Bible was this idea that praying for the dead, or making offerings for their sins, was approved of by God.  They weren't convinced about that being good doctrine.  But...who doesn't go to a funeral and pray that God will forgive the sins of the deceased person.  God says that the prayers of a righteous person can have great affect.  Well, I think that we should live like sin can't be forgiven easily, but pray like sin can potentially be forgiven for the deceased and the living both, and should ask God directly and through the Holy Spirit to forgive the sins of each.  Even if a person dies in sin, we should pray for their souls.  What God does, He does, and how He actually feels about it is how it is.  He placed our souls in jars of clay and blew His spirit into us, away we go on our journey, and in the end, all things pertaining to us will be in His hands through Jesus.  

  To a God who sees ALL things, even the little sins that we knowingly commit are laid bare before his eyes.  But, on the bright side, even the little good things we do are noticed.  Doing good things to purposely compensate for intentionally doing bad things is a thought we humans sometimes have.  God, to our great misfortune, does not play that game.  We have to keep it in mind as we go through life that God and Jesus want us to hate sin, even the little sins.  We can't always win that battle....we simply can't.  Jesus' act of atonement for us is therefore totally necessary for even the most minor sinful offender.  But, we have to dig deep and earnestly into our thoughts and consciousness, and take stock often.  Where we find sin in ourselves, we are supposed to turn away from it, quit doing it, cut it away, scrape it out, avoid our co-conspirator, etc., ...whatever it takes!! 

  We aren't allowed to continue on in a few of our favorite sins, large or small, as this and other scriptural examples show us plainly.  It just isn't tolerated by God.  He knows which ones of us stumble while trying to do what He approves of, and which of us hope to do a little sinning without being caught.  And He holds our eternity in His hands.  Scary thought, but true.     

©2017 Daniel Curry & 'Deeds of God' Website