1 Maccabees 5: Fight for your kindred!
Our successors will live with the consequences of the spiritual battles we fight today
[Please read the reflection at the end]
Judas leads his men on what can only be described as a rampage against his enemies.
The Maccabees humble and despoil the descendants of Esau, ambush the sons of Baean, and crush the Ammonites before rescuing persecuted Jews in Gilead and Galilee. (1 Mc 5:1-20)
[H]e took the town, and killed every male by the edge of the sword; then he seized all its spoils and burned it with fire. (1 Mc 5:28)
At the captured stronghold of Dathema, Judas tells his men, “Fight for your kindred!” (1 Mc 5:32)
When an opposing force led by Timothy approaches the stronghold, Judas maneuvers his men behind them. When the opposing force realizes the Maccabees have come out to fight, they flee, but Judas’s army follows, cutting down 8,000 men in the panic. (1 Mc 5:34)
Next he turned aside to Maapha, and fought against it and took it; and he killed every male in it, plundered it, and burned it with fire. From there he marched on and took Chaspho, Maked, and Bosor, and the other towns of Gilead. (1 Mc 5:35-36)
Timothy raises another army, joined by Arab mercenaries, to fight the Maccabees, but Judas wins again.
When Judas approached the stream of water, he stationed the officers of the army at the stream and gave them this command, “Permit no one to encamp, but make them all enter the battle.” Then he crossed over against them first, and the whole army followed him. All the Gentiles were defeated before him, and they threw away their arms and fled into the sacred precincts at Carnaim. But he took the town and burned the sacred precincts with fire, together with all who were in them. Thus Carnaim was conquered; they could stand before Judas no longer. (1 Mc 5:42-44)
On their way back to Judah, the Maccabean army is blocked by the “large and very strong” town of Ephron. Though Judas assures the Ephronites that he will not harm them and asks to be allowed to pass through with his army, they refuse and lock the Maccabean army out, so Judas attacks them as well.
He destroyed every male by the edge of the sword, and razed and plundered the town. Then he passed through the town over the bodies of the dead. (1 Mc 5:51)
When they finally arrive in the land of Judah, the Maccabees celebrate,
So they went up to Mount Zion with joy and gladness, and offered burnt-offerings, because they had returned in safety; not one of them had fallen. (1 Mc 5:54)
Two of Judas’ commanders hear about his victories and are encouraged, so they brazenly attack nearby enemy forces, but are defeated because they did not have Judas’ consent,
Thus the people suffered a great rout because, thinking to do a brave deed, they did not listen to Judas and his brothers. (1 Mc 5:61)
Some brave priests allied with the Maccabees are also killed because, “they went out to battle unwisely” (1 Mc 5:67).
Judas continues his military campaign south against Jews allied with the Gentiles and against the Philistines,
he tore down their altars, and the carved images of their gods he burned with fire; he plundered the towns and returned to the land of Judah (1 Mc 5:68).
Seeing their great military success, the people praise the Maccabees.
The man Judas and his brothers were greatly honoured in all Israel and among all the Gentiles, wherever their name was heard. People gathered to them and praised them. (1 Mc 5:63-64)
Reflection: Fight for your kindred!
This chapter shows the potential brutality of righteous anger. The Maccabees slaughtered every last man in several battles. When an entire city blocked their path, they destroyed the city and everything within it.
Judas and his men were fighting not only for their own lives, but for Israel’s very existence. That is why they were so ruthless. They lived under Seleucid tyranny for a time, but when it escalated, they had to decide whether they would capitulate and fade away, or risk everything and fight to retain their identity.
Judas’ rallying cry, “Fight for your kindred!” applied not only to the specific group of people he sought to liberate from Gentile oppression, but for the entire future of Israel.
The stakes are just as high in our own spiritual warfare.
In this combat, it is not only your soul that is at stake, but also the souls of those you love. How? Because if you submit to evil, if you become indifferent, if you bury your head in the sand, then it’s much easier for the people who are near to you, the people you love most, to do the same. Our successors will live with the consequences of the spiritual battles we fight today.
Will you capitulate so life is a little easier for a little while? Or will you risk everything and fight for your identity and for the future? Or will you be like the city that stood in the way of Maccabean progression? Truly, that episode shows there is no neutral side in this war.
The time of decision is here. Fight for your kindred!
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.