what if Jesus died for God’s honor?
I realize this thesis has never been proposed before so bear with me…
In reading through what Jarvis Williams calls “martyrdom theology” I come across Eleazar of 2 Maccabees:
Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes, a man advanced in age and of noble appearance, was being forced to open his mouth to eat pork. 19 But preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement, he went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture, 20 spitting out the meat as they should do who have the courage to reject food unlawful to taste even for love of life.
21 Those in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside, because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring his own provisions that he could legitimately eat, and only to pretend to eat the sacrificial meat prescribed by the king. 22 Thus he would escape death, and be treated kindly because of his old friendship with them. 23 But he made up his mind in a noble manner, worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age, the merited distinction of his gray hair, and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood. Above all loyal to the holy laws given by God, he swiftly declared, “Send me to Hades!”
24 “At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many of the young would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion. 25 If I dissemble to gain a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me, while I would bring defilement and dishonor on my old age. 26 Even if, for the time being, I avoid human punishment, I shall never, whether alive or dead, escape the hand of the Almighty. 27 Therefore, by bravely giving up life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, 28 and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.”
He spoke thus, and went immediately to the instrument of torture. 29 Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed, now became hostile toward him because what he had said seemed to them utter madness. 30 When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned, saying: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.” 31 This is how he died, leaving in his death a model of nobility and an unforgettable example of virtue not only for the young but for the whole nation.
Note specifically v.26-28. There is a connection between honor and blasphemy. If Jesus died as martyr, or with the theology of martyrdom on his side, then he died in response to the honor of God.
I don’t necessarily believe that is the case, as you should know by now; however, the story does give us a sense that there exists a connection, just as in suicide, for a chosen death and a sense of honor. Eleazar dies devoted to God — as a devotion to God — to avoid dishonoring God.
notes, not done. shoot, not even edited. going through the OT/Jewish writings looking for self-inflicted deaths.
Another suicide is found in 2 Maccabees, this time at 14.37–46, in which Razis, a loyal Jew who was soon to be arrested, killed himself because, “εὐγενῶς θέλων ἀποθανεῖν, ἤπερ τοῖς ἀλιτηρίοις ὑποχείριος γενέσθαι, καὶ τῆς ἰδίας εὐγενείας ἀναξίως ὑβρισθῆναι.” The phrase “εὐγενῶς θέλων ἀποθανεῖν” is immediately noticeable especially because of the praise it gives the suicidal Jew. The details of the story must be examined almost minutely. Razis is a title, rather than a name, possible derived derived from Isaiah 14.16–18 or 24.16 and related to his good standing in the community (2 Maccabees 14.17). As with Abimelech before him, a tower is involved (although it is doubtful the tower has a significance beyond the literary). He is intent, as with King Saul, refusing to allow any one or thing to stop him. It is 14.46, however, that gives us more pause. After the horrific self-inflicted death, he dies with his entrails in hands proclaiming vindication in the Resurrection: “παντελῶς ἔξαιμος ἤδη γινόμενος, προβαλὼν τὰ ἔντερα καὶ λαβὼν ἑκατέραις ταῖς χερσίν, ἐνέσεισε τοῖς ὄχλοις· καὶ ἐπικαλεσάμενος τὸν δεσπόζοντα τῆς ζωῆς καὶ τοῦ πνεύματος τὰ αὐτὰ αὐτῷ πάλιν ἀποδοῦναι, τόνδε τὸν τρόπον μετήλλαξεν.”
Though only loosely related at best, see Aristotle’s Ethica Nicomachea 1115b.5. A better connection — linguistically and contextually — can be found in Dionysius of Halicarnassus’s work, Roman Antiquities, 10.46.5–6 (c. 30 BCE).
Both Jewish and Christian theologians have struggled with this passage. “The nobility was that of feeling, since nobility of birth was not recognized among the Jews. The justification and laudation of self murder, which here comes to light, is not only anti-Jewish, but has also been justly urged by Protestant theologians as directly militating against the canonicity of the present book. To this objection Roman Catholics have never been able to make a satisfactory answer. The cases of Saul and of Samson, sometimes cited as parallel, are in quite another category” in John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, and Edwin Cone Bissell, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Apocrypha (Logos, 2008), 611.
Not done. Just notes. And notes make good blog posts.
As we will see below, the Maccabean books provides the early Christians with a great wealth of material for theological reflection as well as understanding the role of martyrdom. The first self-inflicted death in this series of books occurs when Eleazar rushes into a crowd of elephants to assassinate king Antiochus V (1 Maccabees 6.43–44): “καὶ εἶδεν Ἐλεαζὰρ ὁ Σαυαρὰν ἓν τῶν θηρίων τεθωρακισμένον θώραξιν βασιλικοῖς, καὶ ἦν ὑπεράγον πάντα τὰ θηρία, καὶ ὤφθη ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐστιν ὁ βασιλεύς. καὶ ἔδωκεν ἑαυτὸν τοῦ σῶσαι τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ, καὶ περιποιῆσαι αὑτῷ ὄνομα αἰώνιον.” In a less-than-ironic twist, the rather short episode accomplishes exactly what Eleazar meant to do, which is to preserve his name although we know that the sacrifice did nothing for his people. But, the story does not end there. In 4 Maccabees 1.7–10, Eleazar is held up as the example of a virtuous martyr. This may be in response to 3 Maccabees wherein the author recounts the story of Eleazar, but in a gander cosmic sense. In 3 Maccabees 6.16–19, Eleazar is pictured as piously recounting God’s promises — specifically the promise to never abandon Israel — just before the attack. Only instead of the quick dash by the Jew, the battled is enjoined by God and the heavenly host (3 Macc. 6.18). The story moves from a suicide for an unsuccessful but valiant reason (something like a noble death) to part of a rather dramatic cosmic battle of the gods (a martyrdom) (see figure 3.1 below).
|καὶ εἶδεν Ἐλεαζὰρ ὁ Σαυαρὰν ἓν τῶν θηρίων τεθωρακισμένον θώραξιν βασιλικοῖς, καὶ ἦν ὑπεράγον πάντα τὰ θηρία, καὶ ὤφθη ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐστιν ὁ βασιλεύς. καὶ ἔδωκεν ἑαυτὸν τοῦ σῶσαι τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ, καὶ περιποιῆσαι αὑτῷ ὄνομα αἰώνιον. (1 Maccabees 6.43–44)|
|Τοῦ δὲ Ελεαζαρου λήγοντος ἄρτι τῆς προσευχῆς ὁ βασιλεὺς σὺν τοῖς θηρίοις καὶ παντὶ τῷ τῆς δυνάμεως φρυάγματι κατὰ τὸν ἱππόδρομον παρῆγεν. καὶ θεωρήσαντες οἱ Ιουδαῖοι μέγα εἰς οὐρανὸν ἀνέκραξαν ὥστε καὶ τοὺς παρακειμένους αὐλῶνας συνηχήσαντας ἀκατάσχετον πτόην ποιῆσαι παντὶ τῷ στρατοπέδῳ. τότε ὁ μεγαλόδοξος παντοκράτωρ καὶ ἀληθινὸς θεὸς ἐπιφάνας τὸ ἅγιον αὐτοῦ πρόσωπον ἠνέῳξεν τὰς οὐρανίους πύλας, ἐξ ὧν δεδοξασμένοι δύο φοβεροειδεῖς ἄγγελοι κατέβησαν φανεροὶ πᾶσιν πλὴν τοῖς Ιουδαίοις καὶ ἀντέστησαν καὶ τὴν δύναμιν τῶν ὑπεναντίων ἐπλήρωσαν ταραχῆς καὶ δειλίας καὶ ἀκινήτοις ἔδησαν πέδαις. (3 Maccabees 6.16–19)|
|πολλαχόθεν μὲν οὖν καὶ ἀλλαχόθεν ἔχοιμ ἂν ὑμῖν ἐπιδεῖξαι ὅτι αὐτοκράτωρ ἐστὶν τῶν παθῶν ὁ λογισμός, πολὺ δὲ πλέον τοῦτο ἀποδείξαιμι ἀπὸ τῆς ἀνδραγαθίας τῶν ὑπὲρ ἀρετῆς ἀποθανόντων, Ελεαζαρου τε καὶ τῶν ἑπτὰ ἀδελφῶν καὶ τῆς τούτων μητρός. ἅπαντες γὰρ οὗτοι τοὺς ἕως θανάτου πόνους ὑπεριδόντες ἐπεδείξαντο ὅτι περικρατεῖ τῶν παθῶν ὁ λογισμός. τῶν μὲν οὖν ἀρετῶν ἔπεστί μοι ἐπαινεῖν τοὺς κατὰ τοῦτον τὸν καιρὸν ὑπὲρ τῆς καλοκἀγαθίας ἀποθανόντας μετὰ τῆς μητρὸς ἄνδρας, τῶν δὲ τιμῶν μακαρίσαιμ ἄν. (4 Maccabees 1.7–10)|
δειχθήτω πᾶσιν ἔθνεσιν ὅτι μεθ’ ἡμῶν εἶ, κύριε, καὶ οὐκ ἀπέστρεψας τὸ πρόσωπόν σου ἀφ’ ἡμῶν, ἀλλὰ καθὼς εἶπας ὅτι Οὐδὲ ἐν τῇ γῇ τῶν ἐχθρῶν αὐτῶν ὄντων ὑπερεῖδον αὐτούς, οὕτως ἐπιτέλεσον, κύριε.(3 Macc. 6.15)
Redemption of Life – The Price of Admission in Exodus, Job, and 2 Maccabees
I found this interesting. I am currently researching substitution (hint, I don’t think Jesus was classically substituted in Galatians) for my dissertation. These passages all connect for me.
The translations are from the REB.
The Lord said to Moses: When you take a census of the Israelites, each man is to give a ransom for his life to the Lord,* to avert plague among them during the registration. As each man crosses over to those already counted he must give half a shekel by the sacred standard at the rate of twenty gerahs to the shekel, as a contribution levied for the Lord. Everyone aged twenty or more who has crossed over to those already counted will give a contribution for the Lord. The rich man will give no more than the half-shekel, and the poor man no less, when you give the contribution for the Lord to make expiation for your lives. The money received from the Israelites for expiation you are to apply to the service of the Tent of Meeting. The expiation for your lives is to be a reminder of the Israelites before the Lord. – Exodus 30.11-16.
Yet if an angel, one of a thousand, stands by him,
a mediator between him and God,
to expound God’s righteousness to man
and to secure mortal man his due;*
if he speaks on behalf of him and says,
‘Reprieve* him from going down to the pit;
I have the price of his release’:
then his body will grow sturdier* than it was in his youth;
he will return to the days of his prime. – Job 33.23-25
He levied a contribution from each man, and sent to Jerusalem the total of two thousand silver drachmas to provide a sin-offering*—a fit and proper act in which he took due account of the resurrection. Had he not been expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and senseless to pray for the dead; but since he had in view the splendid reward reserved for those who die a godly death, his purpose was holy and devout. That was why he offered the atoning sacrifice, to free the dead from their sin. – 2 Macc 12.43-45.
This does not mean I believe we can buy our way into heaven; but at the very least we can two things.
- a “biblical” model for pre-Reformation indulgences.
- the hope of redemption by acts, even after death.
Are Indulgences* Un/biblical*?
In Sunday School we are discussing Christianity by century. Right now, we are at the 10th century, about the time scholasticism is firmly taking root in the West. With this enlightenment comes the manifestation of indulgences and the like.
So, it got me to thinking. First, keep in mind the usual Protestant view of indulgence may not be the correct one. Second, when I say “biblical” I do not usually mean it is directly found in Scripture. Christian doctrine is more often than not drawn from Scripture rather than capitalizing of direct words of Scripture. Of course, “biblical” is something still undefined. For instance, what canon do you use? If you are a Catholic and use books not found in the Protestant canon, is this considered biblical?
In the 12th chapter of 2 Maccabees, Judah seeks to turn away the temporal sins that may lay with the fallen. He does several things.
On the next day, as had now become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in the sepulchres of their ancestors. Then under the tunic of each 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 the reason these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. 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. 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. 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, so that they might be delivered from their sin. (2 Macc 12.39-42, RSVCE)
He prayed, acting as a mediator and took up a collection for an offering by the priests at the Temple. He sought to turn away the temporal sin of those already redeemed. In Scripture (depending upon your limitation) we find something of an allowance for indulgences do we not? No wonder Luther worked feverishly to rid his canon of this book. It said something he didn’t like.
Was John a theological liberal? John 19.34 and 2 Macc 15.39
This is supposed to be a tad bit ironic and/or humorous while allowing me to add something else to the category. It is something I want to keep a record of, and not necessarily something I’m going to expound upon right now. #holla
But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. (John 19.34 NASB)
In John 6.50-8, Jesus plainly declares the wine his blood.
Notice that the other accounts do not include the spear.
Now, read 2 Maccabees
For, just as it is disagreeable to drink wine by itself or water by itself, whereas the mixing of the two produces a pleasant and delightful taste, so too variety of style in a literary work charms the ear of the reader. Let this, then, be my final word. (2 Maccabees 15.39 REB)
Maybe John really was a forerunner of Rudy Bultmann and tried to take the myth out of it. I dunno… maybe John really was a theological liberal and tried to mix a little water with communion’s wine.
1st Maccabees – The Stand – Repost 2012
This is a repost, as are the other ones from Hanukkah. This one has been amended, however, to reflect my stances now. I’ve noticed a lot of changes that I had to redo – and no biggie. More than anything, I’ve come to be okay with my acceptance of First Maccabees. I was born this way.
While reading Thomas Cahills’s Desire of the Everlasting Hills, I took great thought from his section on the oppression of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes. Too many times, more conservative believers simply take the canon handed to them and accept it, forgetting that if it was up to Luther, we would have discarded Hebrews, James, and Revelation as well. I have attempted to give the books a fair shake and along with Wisdom and Sirach, I thoroughly enjoy the Maccabees. To me, they were a wealth of historical value (while Wisdom is theological), but upon reading Cahill’s use and treatment, it seems that Maccabees might do well to serve some eschatological needs as well, among something else.
In 1st Maccabees, we read,
After Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came from the land of Kittim, had defeated Darius, king of the Persians and the Medes, he succeeded him as king. (He had previously become king of Greece.) He fought many battles, conquered strongholds, and put to death the kings of the earth. He advanced to the ends of the earth, and plundered many nations. When the earth became quiet before him, he was exalted, and his heart was lifted up. He gathered a very strong army and ruled over countries, nations, and princes, and they became tributary to him. After this he fell sick and perceived that he was dying. So he summoned his most honored officers, who had been brought up with him from youth, and divided his kingdom among them while he was still alive. And after Alexander had reigned twelve years, he died. Then his officers began to rule, each in his own place. They all put on crowns after his death, and so did their sons after them for many years; and they caused many evils on the earth. (1Ma 1:1-9 RSVA)
We know the story of Antiochus, whom Daniel prophesied concerning and we also know that some 200 years later, it was still in the mind of the Jews whom the Lord spoke, saying,
“So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), (Mat 24:15 RSV)
In referring to the Prophet Daniel, who said,
And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” (Dan 9:27 ESV)
(The Septuagint reads ‘βδέλυγμα τῶν ἐρημώσεων’.)
I do not intend on getting into eschatology and the Gospels, but I will note that in general, when you are studying Daniel and the Gospels, a first connect is made through 1st Maccabees, as well as other books, of course. Moving on, when Antoichus established his kingdom, like a good Greek king, he went about trying to ensure a populace that was united, right down to the religion. He sought to have one people with one culture. Thus he built the ancient gymnasium on request of some of the Jews.
And some of the people eagerly went to the king. He authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil. (1Ma 1:13-15 RSVA)
Once Antiochus had begun to subdue the Jews with Greek hedonism, he left to invade Egpyt. Once that war was won, he returned to complete his task against Jerusalem,
After subduing Egypt, Antiochus returned in the one hundred and forty-third year. He went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force. He arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils. He took also the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple; he stripped it all off. He took the silver and the gold, and the costly vessels; he took also the hidden treasures which he found. Taking them all, he departed to his own land. He committed deeds of murder, and spoke with great arrogance.
(1Ma 1:20-24 RSVA)
Some the Jews, wishing to fit in, trusted in the flesh, and thus sold the birthright of Israel. Of course, it is interesting that in later chapters and the sequel, even these Jews would be treated as part of the Covenant. The Greeks, and later Romans, desired a very public and diluted religious worship. For them, it was a civil religion. They cared very little who you worshiped because all was the same. Zeus, Jupiter, Baal. The same god of gods for the Greeks. When the Jews stood against Antiochus, it was because of their God. When the Christians stood, it was because of their God. Had they succumbed to the idea that each can have his own god, because they are all the same, then Judaism and Christianity would have ceased to exist. We see that Israel suffered because of the attempt to melt Judaism into Greek Paganism.
Israel mourned deeply in every community, rulers and elders groaned, maidens and young men became faint, the beauty of women faded. Every bridegroom took up the lament; she who sat in the bridal chamber was mourning. Even the land shook for its inhabitants, and all the house of Jacob was clothed with shame. (1Ma 1:25-28 RSV)
What other cultures had experienced had now been bestowed up the Jews and the land of Israel. Israel, whom the promise of the return of an eternal Davidic King had been given was now faced with destruction of everything that had kept it separate. They hadn’t had a king in so very long, at least a Jewish one, and now, their identify was eroding away. Sometimes, we fear that it is happening around us, although, I believe that there are times that our need for persecution overwhelms us and creates monsters under our bed. Look at the reactions against the globalization of money or markets, but the globalization of culture – music, dress, literature, media – and religion. These things are what people fear as taking away our individualism, our freedom, and turns the minds of some to looking for the end of all things.
Refer back to verse 9 where the evils were multiplied upon the face the earth. In each generation where society is facing a calamity or impending doom, rather, what some might call a paradigm shift, people begin to look for the apocalyptic. Evils abound everywhere, and sometimes, these evils are very real. This is why we find this imagery so frequently used in the ‘Revelations’ and Apocalypses of the times. It is why we read 1st Maccabees in the light of Daniel and Revelation in the light of both of these books.
And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months; it opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation, (Rev 13:5-7 RSV)
Like Antiochus, the False Prophet of John’s vision will raise his voice against God and all those that dwell heaven. He will, again like the ancient ruler, make war with the saints and beyond the little root, he will begin to overcome the saints. The False Prophet will not prevail against the Church Triumphant, and will not win on the eternal scene, thus we are constantly cautioned not to place our faith or hope in the things of this world, but always keep looking up. The power and wickedness of this False Prophet is not limited to the Saints, but also over the entire earth, just as Antiochus sought.
Returning to Maccabees, we read that when Antiochus invaded Jerusalem,
Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel. He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and its surrounding walls. And they took captive the women and children, and seized the cattle. Then they fortified the city of David with a great strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. And they stationed there a sinful people, lawless men. These strengthened their position; they stored up arms and food, and collecting the spoils of Jerusalem they stored them there, and became a great snare.
It became an ambush against the sanctuary, an evil adversary of Israel continually. On every side of the sanctuary they shed innocent blood; they even defiled the sanctuary. Because of them the residents of Jerusalem fled; she became a dwelling of strangers; she became strange to her offspring, and her children forsook her. Her sanctuary became desolate as a desert; her feasts were turned into mourning, her sabbaths into a reproach, her honor into contempt. Her dishonor now grew as great as her glory; her exaltation was turned into mourning. (1Ma 1:30-40 RSV)
What a graphic picture this writer has detailed for us. We can see Jerusalem lain waste, with nothing of her former glory to be seen, so much so that people fled her (for more of this, see the Psalms of Solomon). The same can be said for Alexander’s march to the ends of the earth where he destroyed city and city in his own name and the name of his kingdom. Antiochus was ruthless and brutal against those that opposed him. The Jews had sought to ally themselves with the little emperor, but in the end, it became apparent that no amount of half measures would soft him to their position; he wanted Judaism to cease.
Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that each should give up his customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and feasts, to defile the sanctuary and the priests, to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they should forget the law and change all the ordinances. (1Ma 1:41-49 RSV)
What a terrible thought to have so many of Israel turn and consent to his religion, and yet it did nothing to stop the onslaught against the Jewish people.
“And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.” In such words he wrote to his whole kingdom. And he appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the cities of Judah to offer sacrifice, city by city. Many of the people, every one who forsook the law, joined them, and they did evil in the land; they drove Israel into hiding in every place of refuge they had.
Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege upon the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding cities of Judah, and burned incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. The books of the law which they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Where the book of the covenant was found in the possession of any one, or if any one adhered to the law, the decree of the king condemned him to death. They kept using violence against Israel, against those found month after month in the cities. And on the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar which was upon the altar of burnt offering. According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks. But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. And very great wrath came upon Israel. (1Ma 1:50-64 RSV)
The striking picture of this is that what had so long strangled the world, from the time of Alexander, that is the forced culturalization and the wars the followed, had finally hit Jerusalem. While other cultures were allowed to mesh into the paganism of ancient Greece, Judaism could not. The God of Judaism had long ago leveled the charge against paganism and multiculturalism when He had declared that He was alone God and that He would have no other god before Him. Further as Philo others of the time noted, the Law was about separation. It wasn’t about superiority, but about marking themselves out to worship only one God and because of this, their was a response to that God which was needed. He had demanded that the place where He would place His name would not be shared with any others and that the sanctuary must be kept holy. If the Jews were to remain Jews, they could not give up their God, not even under duress and grief. They would have to withstand what the world have caved into so many times. They had become aware only recently of what monotheism actually required, and it seems, they were taking a stand for it.
This was a terrible time for Israel, one in which the very Temple had been made unholy. Traditions, myths and beliefs were thrown into disarray. Nothing was sacred and everything profane. Even their fellow kinsmen had started to become Greek. Yet, in the end, God had a miracle in the oil for those who remained faithful.And this is why the miracle of Hanukkah is so very important. Because it is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The wrath of God was abated for a season, the Temple cleansed, and the Covenant saved. The People of God became the People of God which we know of in the New Testament.We miss this when we throw out these books so easily.
We are facing a time of anxiety and confusion. Everywhere we look we are met with forced retirement of our standards and doctrines. In what quarters is the Gospel lifted up, not as a weapon, but as the Good News? The Church is not a heritage or a tradition, but a divine institution given by God to humanity for a very particular mission. It is a Trust, and yet, like many before and after us, we treat our Trust as something to be placed on the back corner when confronted with resistance.
We are not immune from these very things which others have faced before us, so, let us read our books which others discard. Let us stand and gain from Mattathias, father of Judas Maccabeus, who said,
“Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each one from the religion of his fathers, yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.” (1Ma 2:19-22 RSV)
Or his son, the great general Judah the Hammer (Maccabeus), who said,
But when they saw the army coming to meet them, they said to Judas, “How can we, few as we are, fight against so great and strong a multitude? And we are faint, for we have eaten nothing today.”
Judas replied, “It is easy for many to be hemmed in by few, for in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between saving by many or by few. It is not on the size of the army that victory in battle depends, but strength comes from Heaven. They come against us in great pride and lawlessness to destroy us and our wives and our children, and to despoil us; but we fight for our lives and our laws. He himself will crush them before us; as for you, do not be afraid of them.” (1Ma 3:17-22 RSV)
Hanukkah, biblically known as the Feast of Dedication – Repost 2012
Sun down this evening begins the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, or Chanukah for the Jewish among us. It is a celebration in commemoration of the re-dedication of the Temple by the victorious armies of Judas Maccabeus, who had led the armies of Israel against the Hellenizing forces of Antiochus.
Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering which they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness; they offered a sacrifice of deliverance and praise. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and furnished them with doors. There was very great gladness among the people, and the reproach of the Gentiles was removed. Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with gladness and joy for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev. (1 Maccabees 4:52-59 RSVA)
Christ took this time (not to celebrate His birth, mind you) to attend the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem that year, and while spoke of His divinity,
It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade. The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (Joh 10:22-30 NLT)
It was here at the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah, which Christ faced the question – are you Christ? Are the Messiah that would restore Israel to her Kingdom? It was no doubt on the minds of the Jews in attendance (and perhaps some of the Romans) as it was the celebration which celebrated a restored sovereignty – but not complete because it was not David’s line that sat upon the throne – to Israel and a restoration of the Temple to the Holy One of Israel.
Early in the morning, as the congregation gather to hear the Reader, they would hear
Then this message came to me from the LORD:
“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.
“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.
“For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. (Eze 34:1-11 NLT)
Just prior to this account, two “illustrations” (10:6) of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (10:1-5 and 10:7-10) were given and then the Lord’s interpretation of these parables (10:11-18) The Jewish reader would immediately pick up the messianic connotation of this discourse. The Davidic Messiah would be a Shepherd and here was Christ claiming to be the Good Shepard – on Hanukkah no less. The questions posed to Christ by the Jewish leaders reflected the expectation that was running high in Palestine during that time of the year – they were waiting for the Messiah.
In looking for another Judah Maccabeus – one which would take away again the reproach of the Gentiles (Rome) – they missed Jesus Christ would would take away the sins of the world which is the separation between God and all of humanity. It is at Hanukkah that Christians can find Christ as well – in that He is the Good Shepherd that has taken away the sins of the world. Truly, if there is a holiday in which to celebrate Christ during this time of the year, it is this one.