Alexander the Great was a mighty Grecian warrior who conquered most of the world as it was known at his time. After Alexander's death at the rather young age of 30, his vast empire was parcelled out among his generals. Many of them and their successors were tolerant of the Israelites, allowing them to practice their religion, but there were a few who tried to impose their own pagan beliefs on the people. One of them was King Antiochus IV of Syria.
When Antiochus ascended the throne in 175 BC, his empire was threatened by internal and external forces. He spent a few years consolidating his rule before marching into Egypt at the head of a strong army. He conquered the city and put King Ptolemy to flight. On his way back to Syria, he passed through Israel into Jerusalem. He arrogantly broke into the temple sanctuary, taking away everything and anything of value, then spilt a lot of blood on the streets before he left for home.
Two years later Antiochus returned to Jerusalem. After plundering the city, taking scores of women and children captive, Antiochus ordered the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a fortress. He then decreed that all people were to renounce their particular customs and follow his own. Sacred scrolls were torn and burned and anyone caught in possession of them were immediately put to death. He erected altars of pagan gods across the city and demanded that the people sacrifice pigs and other unclean animals to them.
Many of the Israelites found it easier to capitulate than to resist the tyranny. There was one among them, however, who was determined to fight. His name was Mattathias. He lived in Modein, a few kilometers north of Jerusalem with his five sons: John, Simon, Judas, Eleazar and Jonathan. When he saw the blasphemies committed in the holy city, he and his sons tore their clothes, put on sackcloth and went into mourning.
Soon thereafter, soldiers came into Modein to organize a sacred gathering. They invited Mattathias, who was an important personage in the town, to the gathering and asked him to make the sacrificial offering to their idol, promising him great rewards if he did so. Mattathias refused. Hearing of the reward another Jew stepped forward to perform the sacrifice. Enraged, Mattathias slew the man. He then killed the king's representative and tore the altar down, before issuing a battle cry to the people: "Let everyone who is zealous for the law and who stands by the covenant follow after me!" Then he fled up into the mountains with his sons.
From the mountains Mattathias and the group of Israelites who joined him began engaging in guerrilla warfare. They launched a systematic series of raids on nearby villages, tearing down the altars the invaders had erected and trying to restore God's rule back in the land. Mattathias wouldn't see it happen, however, as he died. His son Judas took over command. A brave warrior of strong faith—bravery and faith go hand in hand—Judas's conquests were many and he soon developed a reputation that had his ranks swelling.
A little alarmed, Antiochus sent Apollonius, a colonel to subdue Judas. Judas sent the colonel back in a coffin. Seron, the commander of the Syrian army, decided that this was his chance for glory and attacked Judas. Though his army outnumbered Judas's, he too was handed a severe defeat. Now more than a little alarmed, Antiochus sent a huge force under the command of two generals to put an end to Judas. Yet, again, Judas emerged victorious. (How couldn't he? He had God on his side!) Shortly thereafter Judas restored the temple, and with that happy ending we come an end of this history lesson.
We come to the beginning of another lesson, however, and I should warn you that it isn't going to be a pleasant one. As I said earlier in this series, these Old Testament stories are not about incidents that took place in another time about people of another age; these are stories about us. And in this story of the Maccabean revolt I find a particularly nauseating repetition of the events that took place in Antiochus' times with the equally revolting displays of cowardice.
Our world is under constant attack by another evil ruler who has set up idols in every town and city and insists we bow down before them or face his wrath. We put up little resistance. Power, fame, lust, greed, desire, passion are all the little gods that we kowtow to without shame or embarrassment. Little gods demand terrible sacrifices and the sacrifices we are being made to pay are horrendous! I cannot pick up a newspaper anymore without reading about grandmothers beaten to death—by their own grandchildren, no less; little kids molested and tortured with a regularity that is numbing; classroom shoot outs; gang rapes; mass suicides; voodoo killings; terrorist atrocities; war crimes—the list goes on—and I feel sick to my soul.
I also feel immensely angry, both at the perpetrators of these obscenities as with us who lay docile. At the very least, we should lift our voices in protest, but, instead, we keep quiet, believing, like the Israelites of old, that we can't do anything except give in. Says who? We are no ordinary people. We are children of the living God, sons and daughters of the most powerful being in creation. We have been given the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy. We are promised that nothing will harm us, yet we walk in fear like miserable little cockroaches while evil gloats over us with beady eyes.
"You are the light of the world," Jesus said. "A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."
Evil is what is in the spotlight, not the good. The good people hide themselves in the back pews of churches out of some misguided sense of humility, while evil takes center stage delighting in soaking up all the attention. Humility is not self effacement; it is the acknowledgement that everything that we are, have, and will be is because of God in heaven. And it is the same with everything we do!
Evil needs to be thrown off the stage, but that can only happen if we replace it with goodness; goodness that can be seen. We are afraid of letting people see that goodness, because goodness has a habit of alienating us from those who play by the world's rules. People don't like those who lead good lives; it puts them to shame. And so we compromise on our beliefs because we don't want to be outcasts.
This has to change, but what it is going to take are a new breed of heroes who are determined to change the world. These are men and women who aren't afraid of being ostracized because they don't play by the rules of the world. These are men and women who aren't afraid of walking the narrow path regardless of the arrows that fly their way. These are men and women who aren't afraid of being holy and being recognized as such. These are men and women who want to make their heavenly father proud of them as they try to make a prayer they make to him come true: Father, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
To spawn such heroes a revolution is needed, and like Mattathias, I invite you to one. Only, this isn't a revolution that is going to be fought with knives or guns or tanks or bombs. This is a revolution that is going to be fought with the word of God. So let us learn it and obey it. This is a revolution that is going to be fought with prayer. So let us pray often and passionately. And this is a revolution that is going to be fought with love. Love is the one thing that the enemy is mortally afraid of. It is the one thing that will put an end to his rule. It is what will restore the world back to us. So let us begin to learn to love.
And together, let us reclaim the world that was given to us by God, but sold out to the enemy somewhere along the way. It is about time we did. We are severely outnumbered, but like Judas Maccabeus, let us be confident that victory is ours because God is on our side. All we need to do is fight evil wherever we find it.
May the Spirit be with you.