About 150 years before Christ was born, the land of Israel was ruled by an evil man named Antiochus Epiphanes. History tells us that Antiochus Epiphanes hated the Jews and did everything he could to purge their country of all Jewish influence. He made it punishable by death to read scripture, to observe the Sabbath, or to circumcise children. He also slaughtered a pig on the Jewish altar and commanded the people to worship a statue of the Greek god Zeus.
After Antiochus Epiphanes established these laws, he sent his soldiers throughout the land to inforce them. Priests who served in local synagogues were commanded to sacrifice pigs before the people. The Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy stated that pigs were to be considered as ‘unclean animals’ and therefore to offer them as sacrifices would be sacrilegious. When the soldiers came to a village of Modin, something unexpected happened. The local priest named Mattathias not only refused to sacrifice the pig, he slew the solider who gave the order. Thus began what the Jews call the Maccabean Revolt.
Once Mattathias and his sons had taken their stand against the cruel orders of Antiochus Epiphanes, others in Israel came to join them. Thus a small Jewish army was formed, which became known as the Maccabees. Being vastly outnumbered by the Greeks, the Maccabees used guerrilla warfare tactics to strike at small groups within the enemy army. They also tore down the pagan altars and encouraged the Jewish people to remain true to God.
Not long after their revolt began, Mattathias grew ill and died. Just before his death he gave his sons a stirring challenge by reminding them of the courage of other Jewish men like Joshua, Caleb and David. He also encouraged them to make their brother Judah their new leader. Judah was often called – ‘Judah the Maccabee.’ In the Hebrew language, the word maccabee means ‘hammer.’ Being nicknamed ‘the hammer’ tells us a lot about his courageous character.
One of the reasons I am so fascinated with this story is because it inspires me to be a courageous Christian. Shortly before his death, the Apostle Paul wrote these words to young Timothy –
2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all patience and sound teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Join me again tomorrow as we continue our story.