Last year during the time of Hanukkah, I covered the events that lead to the creation of the festival of dedication (Hanukkah). The details gathered from 1 Maccabees provided us with an overall view of what transpired, the Greeks invading Jerusalem, the plundering and ransacking of the Temple, the slaughtering of the House of Judah, the Maccabean rebellion that pushed out the Greek army, and the rededication of the Temple that became known as the festival of Hanukkah. This post will cover some of the finer details mentioned in 2 Maccabees, which are as inspirational as they are tear-jerking. As I stated in “The Story of Hanukkah”, many see a connection between what the Greeks did to Judah and what will occur during the time of the great tribulation. So, as you read on, take to heart the courage our ancestors showed in the face of death and how they honored Elohim until the end.
The Greeks Outlaw the Torah
“Not long after that, the king sent an elderly Athenian to force the Jews to abandon their religion and the customs of their ancestors. He was also to defile their Temple by dedicating it to the Olympian god Zeus.” (2 Maccabees 6:1-2)
“The oppression was harsh and almost intolerable. Gentiles filled the Temple with drinking parties and all sorts of immorality. They even had intercourse with prostitutes there. Forbidden objects were brought into the Temple, and the altar was covered with detestable sacrifices prohibited by our Torah. It was impossible to observe the Sabbath, to celebrate any of the traditional festivals, or even so much as to admit to being a Jew. Each month when the king's birthday was celebrated, the Jews were compelled by brute force to eat the intestines of sacrificial animals. Then, during the festival in honor of the wine god Dionysus, they were required to wear ivy wreaths on their heads and march in procession. On the advice of Ptolemy, the neighboring Greek cities were also instructed to require Jews to eat the sacrifices; they were told to put to death every Jew who refused to adopt the Greek way of life. It was easy to see that hard times were ahead. For example, two women were arrested for having their babies circumcised. They were paraded around the city with their babies hung from their breasts; then they were thrown down from the city wall. On another occasion, Philip was told that some Jews had gathered in a nearby cave to observe the Sabbath in secret. Philip attacked and burned them all alive. They had such respect for the Sabbath that they would not fight to defend themselves.” (2 Maccabees 6:3-11)
The punishment for keeping Torah was death, and while many Jews acquiesced to the demands of the Greeks to preserve their lives, a great number also obedient unto death. If we are ever faced with such atrocities, we must remember what Master Yeshua said.
“Then יהושע said to His taught ones, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his stake, and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. “For what is a man profited if he gains all the world, and loses his own life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Adam is going to come in the esteem of His Father with His messengers, and then He shall reward each according to his works.” (Matthew 16:24-27)
It is better to die being obedient than it is to live in disobedience.
“I beg you not to become discouraged as you read about the terrible things that happened. Consider that this was YHWH’s way of punishing his people, not of destroying them. In fact, it is a sign of kindness to punish a person immediately for his sins, rather than to wait a long time. YHWH does not treat us as he does other nations: he waits patiently until they have become deeply involved in sin before he punishes them, but he punishes us before we have sinned too much. So YHWH is always merciful to us, his own people. Although he punishes us with disasters, he never abandons us. I have made these few observations by way of reminder. We will now get on with the story.” (2 Maccabees 6:12-17)
The House of Judah was being punished for the transgression they had committed before the Greeks arrived. The author of 2 Maccabees points out that YHWH punishes his children promptly instead of allowing them to wallow in sin until utter destruction befalls them. This is in agreement with the rest of the scriptures.
“Thus, you shall know in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so יהוה your Elohim disciplines you,” therefore you shall guard the commands of יהוה your Elohim, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.” (Deuteronomy 8:5-6)
“My son, do not despise the discipline of יהוה, And do not loathe His reproof; For whom יהוה loves He reproves, As a father the son whom he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:11-12)
The following account shows us how important it is to stand up for Yah, not only for ourselves but for those watching around us.
Death Before Dishonor
“There was an elderly and highly respected teacher of the Torah by the name of Eleazar, whose mouth was being forced open to make him eat pork. But he preferred an honorable death rather than a life of disgrace. So he spit out the meat and went willingly to the place of torture, showing how people should have courage to refuse unclean food, even if it costs them their lives. Those in charge of the sacrifice had been friends of Eleazar for a long time, and because of this friendship they told him privately to bring meat that was lawful for him to eat. He need only pretend to eat the pork, they said, and in this way he would not be put to death. But Eleazar made a decision worthy of his gray hair and advanced age. All his life he had lived in perfect obedience to YHWH’s holy Torah, so he replied, Kill me, here and now. Such deception is not worthy of a man of my years. Many young people would think that I had denied my faith after I was ninety years old. If I pretended to eat this meat, just to live a little while longer, it would bring shame and disgrace on me and lead many young people astray. For the present I might be able to escape what you could do to me, but whether I live or die, I cannot escape Almighty Elohim. If I die bravely now, it will show that I deserved my long life. It will also set a good example of the way young people should be willing and glad to die for our sacred and respected Torah. As soon as he said these things, he went off to be tortured, and the very people who had treated him kindly a few minutes before, now turned against him, because they thought he had spoken like a madman. When they had beaten him almost to the point of death, he groaned and said, YHWH possesses all holy knowledge. He knows I could have escaped these terrible sufferings and death, yet he also knows that I gladly suffer these things, because I fear him. So Eleazar died. But his courageous death was remembered as a glorious example, not only by young people, but by the entire nation as well.” (2 Maccabees 6:18-31)
Truly an inspiring example from Eleazar and the next passage will be as emotional as it is rousing.
“On another occasion a Jewish mother and her seven sons were arrested. The king was having them beaten to force them to eat pork. Then one of the young men said, “What do you hope to gain by doing this? We would rather die than abandon the traditions of our ancestors.” This made the king so furious that he gave orders for huge pans and kettles to be heated red hot, and it was done immediately. Then he told his men to cut off the tongue of the one who had spoken and to scalp him and chop off his hands and feet, while his mother and six brothers looked on. After the young man had been reduced to a helpless mass of breathing flesh, the king gave orders for him to be carried over and thrown into one of the pans. As a cloud of smoke streamed up from the pan, the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die bravely, saying, “YHWH Elohim is looking on and understands our suffering. Moses made this clear when he wrote a song condemning those who had abandoned YHWH. He said, YHWH will have mercy on those who serve him.” After the first brother had died in this way, the soldiers started amusing themselves with the second one by tearing the hair and skin from his head. Then they asked him, “Now will you eat this pork, or do you want us to chop off your hands and feet one by one?” He replied in his native language, “I will never eat it!” So the soldiers tortured him, just as they had the first one, but with his dying breath he cried out to the king, “You butcher! You may kill us, but the King of the universe will raise us from the dead and give us eternal life, because we have obeyed his Torah.” The soldiers began entertaining themselves with the third brother. When he was ordered to stick out his tongue, he quickly did so. Then he bravely held out his hands and courageously said, “Elohim gave these to me. But His Torah mean more to me than my hands, and I know Elohim will give them back to me again.” The king and those with him were amazed at his courage and at his willingness to suffer. After he had died, the soldiers tortured the fourth one in the same cruel way, but his final words were, “I am glad to die at your hands, because we have the assurance that Elohim will raise us from death. But there will be no resurrection to life for you, Antiochus!” When the soldiers took the fifth boy and began torturing him, he looked the king squarely in the eye and said, “You have the power to do whatever you want with us, even though you also are mortal. But do not think that Elohim has abandoned our people. Just wait. Elohim will use his great power to torture you and your descendants.” Then the soldiers took the sixth boy, and just before he died he said, “Make no mistake. We are suffering what we deserve, because we have sinned against our Elohim. That's why all these terrible things are happening to us. But don't think for a minute that you will avoid being punished for fighting against Elohim.” The mother was the most amazing one of them all, and she deserves a special place in our memory. Although she saw her seven sons die in a single day, she endured it with great courage because she trusted in YHWH. She combined womanly emotion with manly courage and spoke words of encouragement to each of her sons in their native language. “I do not know how your life began in my womb, she would say, I was not the one who gave you life and breath and put together each part of your body. It was Elohim who did it, Elohim who created the universe, the human race, and all that exists. He is merciful and he will give you back life and breath again, because you love his Torah more than you love yourself.” Antiochus was sure that the mother was making fun of him, so he did his best to convince her youngest son to abandon the traditions of his ancestors. He promised not only to make the boy rich and famous, but to place him in a position of authority and to give him the title ‘Friend of the King’. But the boy paid no attention to him, so Antiochus tried to persuade the boy's mother to talk him into saving his life, and after much persuasion she agreed to do so. Leaning over her son, she fooled the cruel tyrant by saying in her native language, “My son, have pity on me. Remember that I carried you in my womb for nine months and nursed you for three years. I have taken care of you and looked after all your needs up to the present day. So I urge you, my child, to look at the sky and the earth. Consider everything you see there, and realize that Elohim made it all from nothing, just as he made the human race. Don't be afraid of this butcher. Give up your life willingly and prove yourself worthy of your brothers, so that by Elohim's mercy I may receive you back with them at the resurrection.” Before she could finish speaking, the boy said, “King Antiochus, what are you waiting for? I refuse to obey your orders. I only obey the commands in the Torah which Moses gave to our ancestors. You have thought up all kinds of cruel things to do to our people, but you won't escape the punishment that Elohim has in store for you. It is true that our living Elohim is angry with us and is making us suffer because of our sins, in order to correct and discipline us. But this will last only a short while, for we are still his servants, and he will forgive us. But you are the cruelest and most disgusting thing that ever lived. So don't fool yourself with illusions of greatness while you punish Elohim's people. There is no way for you to escape punishment at the hands of the almighty and all-seeing Elohim. My brothers suffered briefly because of our faithfulness to Elohim's covenant, but now they have entered eternal life. But you will fall under Elohim's judgment and be punished as you deserve for your arrogance. I now give up my body and my life for the Torah of our ancestors, just as my brothers did. But I also beg Elohim to show mercy to his people quickly and to torture you until you are forced to acknowledge that he alone is Elohim. May my brothers and I be the last to suffer the anger of Almighty Elohim, which he has justly brought upon our entire nation.” These words of ridicule made Antiochus so furious that he had the boy tortured even more cruelly than his brothers. And so the boy died, with absolute trust in YHWH, never unfaithful for a minute. Last of all, the mother was put to death.” (2 Maccabees 7:1-41)
Better to Die for Obedience than to Live in Disobedience
Wow, what a heart-reaching account of a family standing up for Yah and His Torah. To think they would lose their life instead of eating pork, and yet billions of people proclaim to love Elohim while stuffing their faces with pork. The Torah is not a burden, if it was these people would not have endured the torture they did to honor it. This Hanukkah and the ones that follow remember what those who came before us went through and if that time comes, let us prove worthy of remembrance as well.
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