The following is an excerpt from The Drama of Scripture, 2nd Edition, by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen.
It began with an elderly priest, Mattathias ben Johanan, who had been ordered to offer up an unclean sacrifice to one of the pagan gods. Mattathias refused to do this. Instead, he killed both the compromising Jew who did offer the sacrifice and the Greek soldier who was there to see that his government’s law was carried out.
After this brave and dangerous act of defiance, Mattathias fled to the desert with his five sons and there organized a band of rebels. When in the next year the old priest died, his third son Judah assumed leadership of these guerrilla warriors. Judah was nicknamed Maccabee, “the hammer,” for hammering at the enemy, and so the rebels loyal to him came to be called Maccabeans.
Though hopelessly outnumbered by the opposing Seleucid army, the Maccabeans achieved many remarkable victories. On the twenty-fifth of December, 164 BC, three years to the day from Antiochus’s desecration of the temple, Judah Maccabee (also known—especially from Handel’s oratorio about him—by the Latinate form of his name, Judas Maccabaeus) rode into Jerusalem to shouts of “hosanna” and the waving of palm branches.
He cleansed the temple, removing from it the images of Greek gods, the foreign altars, and the other despised trappings of pagan worship, and rededicated the whole of the temple to the Lord. A new feast, Hanukkah, was established to memorialize this remarkable deliverance of the Jews from their pagan overlords (1 Macc. 4:41–61)….
It is important for us to know about these events—the Seleucid oppression of the Jewish people under Antiochus and the subsequent Maccabean revolt against the occupying pagan rulers—if we are to understand the ongoing story of Israel. This event, like the exodus, became for the Jews a defining moment in their history: God had acted to deliver his people, restore his temple, and vindicate his law.
©2014 by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
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