1 Maccabees 6: Hold out for a miracle
God transcends this world and works in the realm of grace where the miraculous is not only possible, but probable
[Please read the reflection at the end]
After suffering a major defeat in Persia and learning of the Maccabees’ success against his armies in Judah, Antiochus becomes very troubled and loses the will to rule, so he hands over his kingdom to Philip for his son’s, Eupator’s, benefit (this eventually causes a rivalry between Philip and Lysias). Antiochus then makes a death bed confession about his errors in Judah, and dies.
When the king heard this news, he was astounded and badly shaken. He took to his bed and became sick from disappointment, because things had not turned out for him as he had planned. He lay there for many days, because deep disappointment continually gripped him, and he realized that he was dying. (1 Mc 6:8-9)
“But now I remember the wrong I did in Jerusalem. I seized all its vessels of silver and gold, and I sent to destroy the inhabitants of Judah without good reason. I know that it is because of this that these misfortunes have come upon me; here I am, perishing of bitter disappointment in a strange land.” (1 Mc 6:12-13)
Meanwhile, in Israel, the Gentiles and Jewish renegades continue to oppose the Maccabees, but the Maccabees are steadfast, so they complain to the new king. The king becomes enraged that the Maccabees still oppose Seleucid rule, so they raise a large army consisting of 100,000 soldiers, 20,000 horsemen, and 32 war elephants, including paid mercenaries. So large was the Seleucid army that, “When the sun shone on the shields of gold and brass, the hills were ablaze with them and gleamed like flaming torches.” (1 Mc 6:39).
The Seleucid army was not just large, but also very well equipped and trained. They advance in an orderly fashion on the Maccabees. The sound of their marching and the clanking of their armor and weapons makes Judas’ men tremble with fear. One of the Maccabees, Eleazar called Avaran, a brother of Judas, attacks one of the elephants equipped with royal armor. Though he kills the elephant, he loses his life, and the Maccabees run from the battle.
The Seleucids pursue the Maccabees to Jerusalem. In the holy city, the Seleucids control the citadel, and the Maccabees control the temple. Both sides build war machines and there is some fighting between them, but the Maccabees are running out of food (not a lot was stored up during the Sabbatical year) and famine breaks out. The Maccabean forces dwindle and it doesn’t look well for them, but then Lysias offers peace terms to the Maccabees so he can leave Jerusalem and attend to his rivalry with Philip who he fears will seize control of the Seleucid kingdom.
“Now then, let us come to terms with these people, and make peace with them and with all their nation. Let us agree to let them live by their laws as they did before; for it was on account of their laws that we abolished that they became angry and did all these things.” The speech pleased the king and the commanders, and he sent to the Jews an offer of peace, and they accepted it. (1 Mc 6:58-60)
Reflection: Hold out for a miracle
In this chapter, the Maccabees continue to fight hard, but they suffer a major military setback leading them to retreat to the temple in Jerusalem. Once there, things looked pretty bad. They lost their brother Eleazar in battle, and the city was suffering a famine. Many of the Maccabean soldiers left the temple fortress and returned home to their families. It must have seemed like the end was near, but then the commander of the Seleucid army, Lysias, offered the Maccabees peace terms and gave them exactly what they had been fighting for: freedom to worship God according to their own laws and customs. When all seemed lost, God delivered the Maccabees a miracle.
Logic and reason said that the Seleucid army could never be defeated by the Maccabees, but God is not bound by logic or reason. God transcends this world and works in the realm of grace where the miraculous is not only possible, but probable. God’s ways are not our ways. Still, we cannot sit back and wait for God to do everything for us. Like the Maccabees, we must work as hard as we can in the world to do God’s will, facing the “elephants” who oppose us, while at the same time praying for God’s grace to save us when our understanding of victory is illogical and unreasonable.
God delivers victory in his own way - if only we will hold out for a miracle!
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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.