1 Maccabees 4: Persistence and light
Let us reject those tyrants who would attempt to have us forget who we are
[Please read the reflection at the end]
Next, Judas Maccabeus faces Georgias’ army of six thousand, which includes cavalry. The Maccabees are outnumbered two to one and they don’t have the armor and swords they desire for the battle, but just as he had done before, Judas encourages his men in faith, reminding them of the greatest event in their history, the parting of the Red Sea by Moses. Again, Judas and his men are victorious and they succeed in plundering the enemy’s camp.
“Do not fear their numbers or be afraid when they charge. Remember how our ancestors were saved at the Red Sea, when Pharaoh with his forces pursued them. And now, let us cry to Heaven, to see whether he will favour us and remember his covenant with our ancestors and crush this army before us today. Then all the Gentiles will know that there is one who redeems and saves Israel.”
When the foreigners looked up and saw them coming against them, they went out from their camp to battle. Then the men with Judas blew their trumpets and engaged in battle. The Gentiles were crushed, and fled into the plain, and all those in the rear fell by the sword. (1 Mc 4:8-15)
They saw that their army had been put to flight, and that the Jews were burning the camp, for the smoke that was seen showed what had happened. When they perceived this, they were greatly frightened, and when they also saw the army of Judas drawn up in the plain for battle, they all fled into the land of the Philistines. Then Judas returned to plunder the camp, and they seized a great amount of gold and silver, and cloth dyed blue and sea purple, and great riches. On their return they sang hymns and praises to Heaven—”For he is good, for his mercy endures for ever.” Thus Israel had a great deliverance that day. (1 Mc 4:20-25)
Like Moses and the young Israelite nation he led, Judas and his men are delivered from their enemies by God. When Lysias learns about what happened, he musters an army of sixty thousand and returns to fight the Maccabees once again. Yet, once again, Judas goes to faith in prayer and is victorious.
When he saw that their army was strong, he prayed, saying, “Blessed are you, O Saviour of Israel, who crushed the attack of the mighty warrior by the hand of your servant David, and gave the camp of the Philistines into the hands of Jonathan son of Saul, and of the man who carried his armour. Hem in this army by the hand of your people Israel, and let them be ashamed of their troops and their cavalry. Fill them with cowardice; melt the boldness of their strength; let them tremble in their destruction. Strike them down with the sword of those who love you, and let all who know your name praise you with hymns.” Then both sides attacked, and there fell of the army of Lysias five thousand men; they fell in action. When Lysias saw the rout of his troops and observed the boldness that inspired those of Judas, and how ready they were either to live or to die nobly, he withdrew to Antioch and enlisted mercenaries in order to invade Judea again with an even larger army. (1 Mc 4:30-35)
Before fighting again, Judas, who is grateful to God for the amazing victories over his enemies, orders the priests to cleanse and rededicate the temple.
Then Judas and his brothers said, “See, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it.” … Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests devoted to the law, and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place. … Then they took unhewn stones, as the law directs, and built a new altar like the former one. They also rebuilt the sanctuary and the interior of the temple, and consecrated the courts. They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the temple. (1 Mc 4:36, 42-43, 47-50)
After this, the people offered sacrifices, sang songs, and fervently worshipped the Lord, celebrating for eight days. This is the first Hanukkah, the festival of lights.
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 joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev. (1 Mc 4:59)
Reflection: Persistence and light
This chapter tells us a story of persistence and light.
Life is struggle. No one knew this better than the Maccabees.
They recognized God alone as their Lord. No Gentile king or pagan god could ever take God’s place, though it would have been easier for them to go along to get along.
Yet, the Maccabees lived for a time under tyrants who disrespected their customs, rejected their beliefs and desecrated their holy places. Antiochus even tried to erase their history.
The oppressor’s abuse ended only after the Maccabees refused to cooperate with, or even tolerate, the Seleucids and the renegades who allied with them.
In the face of overwhelming odds against a brutal enemy, the Maccabees persisted bravely against the Seleucids, but we must understand everything they accomplished was supported by and only possible through prayer and faith in Almighty God.
Note well, Judas’ prayers were made in thanksgiving for and in recollection of what God had done for Israel in the past.1
Today let us remain aware of God’s great power and providence. He is interested not only in what happens in the greater world, but also in what happens in each of our lives, day by day and hour by hour, and even in the small details of the minutes and seconds we live in. Truly, he lives with us even in those briefest of periods.
Let us reject those tyrants who would attempt to have us forget who we are.
Let our prayers be in grateful remembrance of Almighty God’s past goodness, and also in confident expectation of the future graces he will surely pour out upon his people in his unfathomable generosity and awesome glory.
Persistence in faith and prayer shall lead us to the Light (Jn 1:5).
Previous: 1 Maccabees 3: Faith in action
Attridge, Harold W. ed. The HarperCollins Study Bible, Including Apocryphal Deuterocanonical Books. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.
Harrelson, Walter J., ed. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003.
Recalling Moses at the Red Sea and David’s victory against the Philistines.