Saturday, September 29, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Maccabees 13 and 1 John 3

1 Maccabees 13 – With Jonathan in Trypho’s custody, Simon takes over the leadership of the Jews. He gathers the people, encourages them and rekindles their spirit. He completes the planned fortifications.

Trypho assembles his army to invade and sends envoys to Simon demanding a ransom of 100 talents and two of Jonathan’s sons before he will free Jonathan. Simon prepares to pay it more to assuage the desires of the people than anything. He believes it is all a trick.

He sends the demanded things but they do not release Jonathan. Trypho invades and also kills Jonathan.  Simon recovers his body and builds a great monument to all his family in Modein. Trypho also deals treacherously with the young King Antiochus, Alexander Balas’ son.  He kills him, allegedly by sending him for a surgical procedure he really does not need; then he seizes the Seleucid crown.

Simon writes to King Demetrius, seeking to use him against the growing power of Trypho.  The king responds by pardoning the Jews and making peace with them. It is 142 BC and the year is celebrated as the year that pagan rule of Israel was finally ended.

Simon leads a force to take Gezer [see] 20 miles west of Jerusalem. He builds a residence there. Back in the Citadel in Jerusalem, men are starving because they are not allowed to get their supplies from the Seleucids. Jonathan makes peace with them, but expels them and purifies the Citadel in 141 BC. Then Simon makes his son John commander of all his forces. 

1 John 3 – Very deep words from John: “My dear people, we are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is” (3:2).

How then must we live to be faithful to this promise? We must aspire to be pure – “as pure as Christ” (3:3). We must break from sin and “live a holy life” (3:7). “No one who has been begotten by God sins; because God’s seed remains inside him” (3:9).

If you are not living this way, you are not a child of God’s. The way of God and the way of the world are diametrically opposed. “You must not be surprised . . . we have passed out of death and into life, and of this we can be sure because we love our brothers. If you refuse to love, you must remain dead; to hate your brother is to be a murderer, and murderers, as you know, do not have eternal life in them” (3:13-15).

We learn to love others by thinking of the love Christ showed us in giving up his life. Like his love for us, our love for others must not just be “mere talk” (3:18); it must be “something real and active” (3:18).

“His commandments are these: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and that we love one another as he told us to. Whoever keeps his commandments live in God and God lives in him. We know that he lives in us by the Spirit that he has given us” (3:24).

There is a great deal in these words of John that are deeply meaningful to me. Indeed, John’s entire “take” on the Christian message is what drew me back to Christ at a time when I was full of doubt about religion. Early Friends understood John’s words. They saw the passage from “death . . . into life” as spiritual; they understood the presence of “God’s seed” in them as the fulfillment of the earliest scriptural “promise” in Genesis 3:15. We will be doing the Gospel of John after we finish with this epistle, so I will go into it more then.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Maccabees 12 and 1 John 1-2

1 Maccabees 12 – Jonathan decides that it is not enough to be siding with Trypho and his attempt to set the child-king Antiochus up.

Jonathan continues to use “triangulation” as a policy; he sends people to Rome and Sparta to build other alliances against the Hellenists. He sends letters and ambassadors to renew or initiate treaties of friendship. The author includes a copy of the letter Jonathan sends to the Spartans. It reminds them of good relations in the past and speaks of the terrible wars that have encircled them. They have tried to appeal to Heaven for aid but now they are also appealing to Rome and to the Spartans.

When Demetrius comes again to make war on them, Jonathan tries to divert them to Hamath so as to keep them away from Jerusalem. Hamath is on the northern border of Syria. They learn that Demetrius plans a night raid and they prepare for it.

When the troops of Demetrius learn somehow that the Jews know their plan and are preparing to meet it, they become afraid and decide to withdraw after lighting fires to cover their retreat. Meanwhile Jonathan’s brother, Simon, takes Joppa to keep it out of the hands of the Seleucids.
Jonathan returns to Jerusalem and meets with the elders there; he convinces them to build fortresses in Judaea and to make the walls of Jerusalem higher and to isolate the city even commercially.

Then the story returns to Trypho. He decides he would much rather be king himself than have the young Antiochus on the throne. He fears that Jonathan might not support that plan. So Trypho decides he must wage war against Jonathan. He fools Jonathan, into thinking he is going to even turn the city of Antioch [Ptolemais] over to him.  He convinces Jonathan that he can trust him, but when Jonathan comes to Antioch, Trypho seizes him, puts some of Jonathan’s men to the sword, and holds Jonathan himself captive.

Some escape and return to Jerusalem. There “they mourned for Jonathan and his companions and were in great fear; and all Israel mourned deeply” (12:52). This chapter makes it sound that Jonathan has been killed, but he will show up again in chapter 13 as a captive, so I am assuming he was not dead yet. The chapter ends with the pagans all around Israel exulting in their weakness and planning to wipe them out.

An important letter – combining elements that are strongly emphasized in Quaker thought but really important to all Christian groups.

1 John 1 – The prologue to the Gospel according to John says in verse 14 that the Word with God in the beginning was “made flesh, and dwelt among us.” It is this that John writes of in this letter: “Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word, who is life—this is our subject” (1:1).

John wants to tell us about this all so we too “may be in union with [them], as [they] are in union with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1:3).

The central message is this: “God is light; there is no darkness in him at all. If we say that we are in union with God while we are living in darkness, we are lying because we are not living the truth. But if we live our lives in the light, as he is in the light, we are in union with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1:4).

This reality of sin is not something we can deny but “if we acknowledge our sins, then God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and purify us from everything that is wrong” (1:9).

1 John 2 - John wants us to realize that we can live differently, not caged in our sinful natures. Jesus is our eternal “advocate with the Father” (2:1). But it is not enough to just say we know God through Christ; we must show it in the way we live. “We can be sure that we are in God only when the one who claims to be living in him is living the same kind of life as Christ lived”(2:6).

This is nothing NEW. It is the same expectation God had of us since He created us. It is the same old commandment (2:7). But it is new as well because “the night is over and the real light is already shining” (2:8). It is all about love. “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the dark. But anyone who loves his brother is living in the light and need not be afraid of stumbling” (2:9-10).

So while sin is real and we must break with it by submitting to the commandment that we love our “brothers,” we can only do this if we detach ourselves from worldly desires. “The love of the Father cannot be in any man who loves the world because nothing the world has to offer—the sensual body, the lustful eye, pride in possessions—could ever come from the Father but only from the world; and the world, with all it craves for, is coming to an end; but anyone who does the will of God remains for ever” (2:15-17).

John, like Peter before him, and really all the early apostles and teachers of Christianity, is convinced that the end times are near. Here he says, “these are the last days . . . and now several antichrists have already appeared” (2:18). These antichrists are “rivals of Christ” (2:19) who have arisen from the Christian community itself; but he says they have left. “The man who denies that Jesus is the Christ—he is the liar, he is Antichrist; and he is denying the Father as well as the On, because no one who has the Father can deny the Son, and to acknowledge the Son is to have the Father as well” (2:22-23).

“Keep alive in yourselves what you were taught in the beginning; as long as what you were taught in the beginning is alive in you, you will live in the Son and in the Father” (2:24). The “anointing [Christ] gave teaches [us] everything” we need to know - what you received from him remains in you, so that you do not need anyone to teach you. The content of this letter, the ideas expressed in it, were incredibly important to early Friends; and I would say that much of what John says here still remains central to Quakers. But I think many Quakers would have trouble with some of John’s words about the Word here. He is very concerned that people NOT FORGET that this Word was FLESH in Jesus Christ.

It might be interesting for Friends to know that the Catholic Catechism also teaches this same lesson in section 427: “[E]verything is taught with reference to him – and it is Christ alone who teaches – anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman. . .” And I like also that the Catechism teaches in #430 something I felt I first learned when I studied early Quaker writings that in “Jesus, God recapitulates all of his history of salvation on behalf of men.”

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Maccabees 11:38-74 and 2 Peter 3

1 Maccabees 11:38-74 - The politically complex situation around which the Books of Maccabees are constructed is not easy for modern readers to understand. Generally, in school, history teachers focus on the rise of the Roman Empire in the years we are discussing here. The details of the Hellenistic world simply do no make it into the history books. What is happening here is that the Hellenistic rulers - Ptolemies and Seleucids - are trying hard to expand and consolidate their power in the face of growing Roman power. And the smaller kingdoms of the region - the Jews, for example - are caught up in the larger conflict, using whomever to build local strength. While the Maccabees rise in Jewish history as a force to battle the Hellenists, they soon begin to manipulate the situation for their own benefit as well.

King Demetrius II is unpopular with his own people and with his own troops largely because he does build up the local groups; he depends on Cretan mercenaries. His own troops - the veterans who served his father especially cannot stand him. A man named Trypho [Diodotus Tryphon], formerly a supporter of Alexander Balas, goes to the person who is raising Alexander's young son - whose name is Antiochus, and tries to convince him that young Antiochus could displace the unpopular king.

Jonathan tries to use the situation - the challenge to Demetrius - to get even more favors from him. He wants the Hellenist troops removed from the Citadel in Jerusalem and in other strongholds because they continue to challenge his [Jonathan's] authority. Demetrius promises Jonathan pretty much anything he wants, so Jonathan sends him 3000 men to join his fighting force. Certainly this is only going to make the anti-Demetrius group even angrier.  These troops, along with the other mercenaries working for Demetrius, kill 100,000 people. "They set fire the the city [Antioch] and seized a large amount of spoil . . . and saved the king" (11:48). The people of Antioch surrender to Demetrius, and the Jews return to Jerusalem with lots of loot. But Demetrius doesn't keep all the promises he made to Jonathan when he was trying to get him on his side. 

Meanwhile, Trypho returns with the young challenger to Demetrius - Antiochus VI. He sets the poor kid up as king and gets all the discontented veteran troops to rally to him. They attack Demetrius' troops and rout them from Antioch. Then it says that "the young Antiochus wrote to Jonathan" (11:57), confirming him in the high priesthood and setting him up as chief authority over the four districts the Jews claimed were theirs. He also appoints Jonathan's brother Simon "governor from the Ladder of Tyre to the borders of Egypt" (11:59). He gathers forces together without any trouble until he gets to Gaza, but there the people resist his authority. "So he besieged it and burned its suburbs with fire and plundered them. Then the people of Gaza pleaded with Jonathan, and he made peace with them, and took the sons of their rulers as hostages and sent them to Jerusalem" (11:61-62). 

Jonathan and his troops finally confront Demetrius' forces. At first he does badly; his troops mostly desert him. He "tore his clothes, put dust on his head, and prayed" (11:71), and this seems to turn things around for him. When he returns to battle, things go better and they win the day. Jonathan returns to Jerusalem. 

2 Peter 3 - Peter associates some of the worldly temptation issues with prophecies of the “last days.” He says, “in the last days some people will appear whose lives are controlled by their own lusts. They will make fun of you and will ask, ‘He promised to come, didn’t he? Where is he? Our ancestors have already died, but everything is still the same as it was since the creation of the world!’” (3:4).

It is understandable, I think, that people who heard Christ say he would return would at some point begin to doubt that these words could be trusted. And if it was hard back in the first century, it is a great hurdle today, two thousand years later. But he reminds us “There is no difference in the Lord’s sight between one day and a thousand years; to him the two are the same” (3:8).  

“The Lord is not slow to do what he has promised, as some think. Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins” (3:9).

“The Day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that Day, the heavens will disappear with a shrill noise, the heavenly bodies will burn up and be destroyed, and the earth with everything in it will vanish” (3:10).

So what does this mean for how we should live? We look not for the destruction, but for the “new heavens and new earth, where righteousness will be at home” (3:13). As we wait for that day, we must do our best to “be pure and faultless in God’s sight and to be at peace with him” (3:14). We need to “continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (3:18).

We are asked to appreciate the great patience God shows us and we are warned against getting confused by people who distort the church’s teaching or the words of Scripture

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Maccabees 11:1-37 and 2 Peter 2

Maccabees 11:1-37 – Ptolemy VI tries to take possession of Alexander’s kingdom even though he is Alexander’s father-in-law. Ptolemy tries to win Demetrius’ cooperation by promising to give his daughter [Alexander’s wife at this time] to be his wife instead. The next sentence says that this actually happens right away.

Next, Ptolemy enters the city of Antioch and “assume[s] the crown of Asia” (11:13). When Ptolemy and Alexander finally engage in a decisive battle near the Lake of Antioch, Ptolemy’s forces are victorious even though Ptolemy himself is mortally wounded. He dies three days later. Alexander flees to Arabia and someone there kills him, cuts off his head and sends it to Ptolemy [now deceased]. So now both kings – Ptolemy and Alexander - are dead.

Demetrius becomes king of the Seleucid Empire in 145 BC.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Jonathan musters the “mean of Judea for an assault on the Citadel in Jerusalem” (11:20). The Citadel is a fortress of the Seleucid empire, which has now fallen into the hands of Demetrius, a ruler not allied with him as Alexander had been.  Demetrius writes to Jonathan and asks to meet with him in Ptolemais. Jonathan continues to besiege the Citadel, but takes “the deliberate risk of taking silver and gold, clothing and numerous other presents, and going to Ptolemais to face the king, whose favor he succeeded in winning” (11:24). “The king, Demetrius, “treated him as his predecessors had treated him, and promoted him in the presence of all his friends” (11:26).  Furthermore, “Jonathan claimed that the king should exempt Judaea from tribute, with the three Samaritan provinces, promising him three hundred talents in return. The king consented, and wrote Jonathan a rescript covering the whole matter” (11:28-29). Clever man, this Jonathan. 

2 Peter 2 – The church will face what the gathered people of God under the Old Covenant faced, “false teachers, who will insinuate their own disruptive views and disown the Master who purchased their freedom” (2:1).  This kind of departure from the road God wants us on has been part of the story from the beginning. Even the angels rebelled from God’s way. God did not spare them even.

Then there was the flood, then Sodom and Gomorrah. But in all these stories, God also show he “rescues the good from the ordeal” (2:9).

People who “insult what they do not understand are not reasoning beings” (2:12). They will suffer for the evil they do. They are “dried-up rivers, fogs swirling in the wind, and the dark underworld is the place reserved for them. With their high-flown talk, which is all hollow, they tempt back the ones who have only just escaped from paganism, playing on their bodily desires with debaucheries” (2:17-18).

Those who have been won to the Lord must be careful not to permit the “world” to entangle them again. It will go hard with those who relapse.

The tone of this letter is not “Pauline” at all. It is much more designed to raise fear in those of the community about these false teachings they are fighting. I think Paul’s approach is more encouraging, more from his own experience of Christ’s saving power and less “us and them,” but it is true that the problem of false teaching is ALWAYS a problem. The question remains how to create any human endeavor that is “fool-proof.” I don’t think it’s possible.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Maccabees 10:51-89 and 2 Peter 1

1 Maccabees 10:51-89 - Despite the fact that Demetrius defeats the forces of Alexander Balas, Demetrius himself is killed by the end of the day. Alexander then sends agents to Ptolemy VI, king of Egypt, claiming victory over Demetrius and asking for his daughter in marriage.

Ptolemy writes him and arranges to meet him in the city of Ptolemais, where Akko is today on the Mediterranean. It is 150 BC when the marriage occurs.

Alexander writes to Jonathan, the brother of Judas Maccabeas, and asks him to join them in the meeting. In the struggle to obtain the loyalty of the Jews against Demetrius – a very unpopular Seleucid leader – Alexander had established Jonathan Maccabeas as High Priest in Jerusalem. Jonathan comes and gives gifts of silver and gold and makes a good impression on Kings Alexander and Ptolemy VI.

If you are confused by this story, join the club. Jonathan is a Maccabean and here he is making peace with a man who is now head of the Seleucid government. He gains advantages from the power struggle going on in the region, and his alliance with Alexander permits him to unite his very divided people and make Judea stronger. It’s just hard to follow the political machinations he had to employ.

They reward Jonathan by making him “military commissioner and governor-general” of Judea. By accepting this title, he establishes the Hasmonean dynasty, which will endure until 37 BC.

Demetrius’ son, Demetrius II, comes to power and challenges Jonathan to battle on the plains. Jonathan wins and is rewarded again rewarded with honor by King Alexander.

2 Peter 1 – This letter is addressed to a very wide audience – to all “those who through the righteousness of our God and Savor Jesus Christ have been given a faith as precious as ours” (1:1). Christ has offered us a way of knowing God and sharing in the divine nature.

But he notes, “to attain this, you will have to do your utmost yourselves, adding goodness to the faith that you have, understanding to your goodness, self-control to your understanding, patience to your self-control, true devotion to your patience, kindness towards your fellow men to your devotion, and, to this kindness, love” (1:5-7).

Peter believes it is his duty “to keep stirring [the faithful] up with reminders” (1:14). We are not “in this tent” [our bodies} for a long time; life is short. But he assures them he “shall take great care that after my own departure you will still have a means to recall these things to memory” (1:15).

He says it is not through “cleverly invented myths” (1:16) that knowledge of God is transmitted. The note I have here says that this is a reference to Gnostic teachings about the “parousia [Christ’s return] that seemed to Peter too elaborate.  Peter claims a knowledge of Christ that came “when the Sublime Glory itself spoke to him and said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor’” – words they heard “when we were with him on the holy mountain” (1:17-18). This is apparently a reference to the transfiguration experience recounted in Matthew 17.

Peter refers believers back to scripture and to prophecy, but warns us that interpretation of our religious history and texts is not meant to be the work of any one individual.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Maccabees 10:1-50 and 2 Timothy 4

1 Maccabees 10:1-50 – The port city of Ptolemais (Acca) is taken by Alexander Balas (Epiphanes). King Demetrius sends Jonathan a conciliatory letter to prevent him from joining up with this Balas against them. He gives him authority to raise an army (militia). Jonathan takes charge in Jerusalem and begins to rebuild the city. King Alexander hears of what Jonathan is doing and approaches him, to make friends with him. He offers to make him “high priest” of his nation. Jonathan then starts arming his people.

Demetrius hears of all this and likewise sends a message to Jonathan, reminding him of the pledge not to join with their enemies and releasing him and his people from an array of obligation to the empire. He also expands the territory Jonathan would have control of including the port city itself. He even offers to pay for reconstruction of the sanctuary.
Jonathan, however, refuses to accept these offers because they don’t trust Demetrius and think of all the bad things he did to them. They decide in favor of Alexander Balas. It winds up in a military confrontation which Alexander LOSES but in which Demetrius is killed.

2 Timothy 4 – Timothy must continue to preach the message that lies at the core of their faith. “The time will come when people will not listen to sound doctrine, but will follow their own desires and will collect for themselves more and more teachers who will tell them what they are itching to hear” (4:3).

Paul is in prison as he writes this letter to Timothy, and he says, “the hour has come for me to be sacrificed; the time is here for me to leave this life” (4:6). He feels he has done his best to run the race well. He prays that Timothy will be able to come to see him soon. He asks for him to bring the coat he forgot when he was in Troas – so personal a note! He asks Timothy to bring the books he left as well. He warns him about specific people. He sends personal greetings to Priscilla and Aquila and conveys the greetings of others who are with him.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Maccabees 9 and 2 Timothy 3

1 Maccabees 9 – This takes up the story left in Chapter 7. King Demetrius [the Seleucid king], hears of Nicanor’s defeat, he sends other generals in. It is 160 BC – when Judas’ men see the huge force coming after them, many flee. They are left with around 800 out of the original 3000.

His men try to convince him to leave the field in the present state of weakness, but he convinces them their reputation requires them to stay. Somehow, they manage to break the strong right wing of the opposing army. The left wing scatters and Judas is mortally wounded. It is unclear how the battle ends, but from what comes next, it didn’t go well.
Seeming to start at a different place, after Judas’ death, unity breaks down among the Israelites. The “renegades” [anti-Maccabaean] reemerge; famine hits and people generally side with the Seleucid monarch. “A terrible oppression” (9:27) begins. The resistance movement turns to Jonathan. He sends one of his brothers, John on a mission and he is captured and apparently killed.

In revenge, the Maccabaeans raid a wedding procession of important opponents and turn them to mourning – God, how like today.
Bacchides, the Syrian general, working out of Jerusalem, sets up garrisons in many towns. In 153 BC. Alcimus, an Israelite from the House of Aaron, working with the Syrian occupiers orders demolition of a wall of the sanctuary – the wall dividing the Gentiles from the Jews in the Temple.

Alcimus dies of a stroke, and Bacchides withdraws from the area for two years. The “renegades” eventually ask for him to return. He starts back, but the Maccabaeans learn of it and have fifty of the renegades arrested and killed. The force of Bacchides is routed. Bacchides himself becomes angry with those who encouraged him to re-enter the region and so he takes some of them into custody and has them killed. Jonathan and Bacchides come to agreement on his withdrawal and Jonathan sets up a government center at Michmash where he governs according to the Law.

2 Timothy 3 – Difficult days lie ahead “in the last days” (3:1). ”People will be selfish, greedy, boastful, and conceited; they will be insulting, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful and irreligious” (3:2). People “will hold to the outward form of our religion, but reject its real power” (3:5). Timothy should avoid these people. People of real faith will have to endure persecution. He should be patient in all his trials.

Paul also speaks of the usefulness of the Holy Scriptures – what we now call the Old Testament. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed” (3:16-17).

Friday, September 21, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Maccabees 8 and 2 Timothy 2

1 Maccabees 8 – Judas Maccabaeus sends a delegation to the Romans to conclude a treaty with them. The Romans are seen as very powerful but not as oppressive as the Seleucids are. This is the time of the Republic, and the Roman emperors do not assume any divine status as perhaps the Seleucids did. They conclude a treaty promising not to give any aid or comfort to any enemy of Rome and Rome promises a similar intent.

2 Timothy 2 – Paul urges Timothy to “take your part in suffering, as a loyal soldier of Christ Jesus” (2:3). We must give up everything that does not lead us to God. There should be no wrangling over words, no “pointless philosophical discussions” (2:16) that drive people away from true religion.

He mentions what he considers the heresies of Hymenaeus and Philetus who teach “that our resurrection has already taken place” (2:18).

I find Paul’s criticism of these two men interesting. Some Greek converts had trouble with taking this hoped-for “resurrection of the dead” literally; they were trying to see it as a more mystical experience such as happened in spiritual baptism. I think Quakers might have been sympathetic to their approach, seeing the words as having more or a spiritual significance than historical or literal. Paul was not sympathetic.

Paul also urges Timothy to avoid “the passions of youth” (2:22) and to be “a good and patient teacher, who is gentle as you correct your opponents, for it may be that God will give them the opportunity to repent and come to know the truth (2:24-25).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Maccabees 7 and 2 Timothy 1

1 Maccabees 7 – It is 161 BC. Demetrius, a son of Seleucus and older brother of Antiochus IV, challenges Antiochus V and Lysias. Demetrius had been the true heir of Seleucus but had been held as a hostage in Rome; his younger brother had used this as an opportunity to seize the throne. In 161 Demetrius escapes Rome and is here trying to reestablish his authority over the kingdom.

The young Antiochus is killed along with his protector, Lysias, and Demetrius takes the throne. The “godless men” of Israel - the Hellenistic party – led by man named Alcimus join him.

The first thing he does is accuse the brothers Maccabee of hurting the kingdom. Demetrius sends a friend, Bacchides and also Alcimus, whom he made High Priest to bring order. Alcimus is of the tribe of Aaron, and the Hasideans [anti-Hellenists] trust him foolishly. He seizes 60 of them and kills them in one day. Bacchides puts Alcimus in control of Judah and returns to the king. The people who join with Alcimus and try to control the land of Judah do great damage. Judas begins to take revenge on those who are part of Alcimus’ regime. Alcimus turns to the king eventually for help with Judas.
The king sends Nicanor, an honored prince who hates Israel and tells him to destroy the resistors. The people try to placate Nicanor, but he tells them if they don’t turn Judas over, he will burn the Temple. When the armies of the two meet, Nicanor is crushed. They cut off his head and right hand and put them on display. The Jews gain another holiday to celebrate.

2 Timothy 1 – Paul encourages his “dear son” Timothy to be patient and faithful even in the face of opposition and suffering.  He recalls Timothy’s “sincere faith . . . the kind of faith that your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice also had” (1:1). He tells him not to fear the suffering that might come as it has come to Paul. He speaks of how “everyone in the province of Asia” has deserted him (1:15). Phygelus and Hermogenes are mentioned, but we know nothing specific about the reason for their hostility.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Maccabees 6:18-63 and Titus 3

1 Maccabees 6:18-63 - Meanwhile, the garrison around Jerusalem continues to harass the Jews. This site is called the Citadel or Acre. It is a Hellenist garrison established around 168 BC by Antiochus IV [Epiphanes]. It was manned by Seleucid troops and also by some pro-Seleucid Jews who were not sympathetic to the Maccabeans. It is rather easy for me to imagine that there might have been a good many Jews who actually favored the Hellenizers. They were, after all, more “universalist” in their perspective, less “conservative” about their religious practices. The Maccabeans were super-orthodox; they wanted none of this assimilationist, “modernist” kind of approach to culture and religion.

Judas resolves to destroy them. They besiege the garrison, but some of the men there escape and are joined by “renegades from Israel” (6:22). They go to the new king – Eupator, or his advisors [he’s still a little boy at this point]. They ask for his help against the Maccabbees.

A huge force is assembled, including mercenaries “from other kingdoms and the islands of the seas” (6:28): 120,000 foot soldiers, 20,000 cavalry, and 32 elephants. The Jews destroy some of their war engines and then encamp opposite the camp of the king. Then they attack, offering the war elephants the “juice of grapes and mulberries, to arouse them for battle” (6:34).

The Seleucid army is organized around the elephants; and on the elephants’ back are “wooden towers, strong and covered” (6:37) with four armed men and an Indian “driver.” Judas’ men go out to meet this huge force. 

Judas’ younger brother Eleazar notices that one of the elephants’ towers is taller than all the others, and he concludes that the king must be on this one. “[S]upposing that the king was mounted on it, [he] sacrificed himself to save his people and win an imperishable name. Boldly charging towards the creature through the thick of the phalanx, dealing death to right and left, so that the enemy scattered on either side at his onslaught, he darted in under the elephant, ran his sword into it and killed it. The beast collapsed on top of him, and he died on the spot” (6:45-46).

Apparently medieval Christians saw Eleazar as a kind of pre-figuration of Jesus because of his willingness to die for his people. A number of paintings were done to commemorate his martyrdom.
It is at this point that Lysias, the young king’s adult-protector and teacher, his “regent”, learns that Philip, the man king Antiochus named on his death-bed to bring up his son, is returning from Persia, and intends to seize control of the government. He realizes that he must return and deal with this problem, so he offers to make peace with the Jews and permit them to live by their own laws. They make the peace, but when the king sees the strong fortifications the Jews have constructed on Mt. Zion, he breaks the peace and gives orders to have it torn down. He then goes and defeats Philip at Antioch.

Titus 3 – It is important to Paul that Christians not be seen as trouble-makers. So he emphasizes that it is their [our] duty “to be obedient to the officials and representatives of the government [and] be ready to do good at every opportunity” (3:1). 

We should “not go slandering other people or picking quarrels, but . . .be courteous and always polite to all kinds of people. Remember, there was a time when we too were ignorant, disobedient and misled and enslaved by different passions and luxuries” (3:2-3).

It’s hard to skip over or easily paraphrase what is written here. It is all pretty core-stuff: “[W]hen the kindness and love of God our savior for mankind were revealed, it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our savor. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace, to become heirs looking forward to inheriting eternal life. This is doctrine that you can rely on” (3:4-8).  Those who believe should “keep their minds constantly occupied in doing good works” (3:8). And avoid “pointless speculations” (3:9), for they are useless.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Maccabees 6:1-17 and Titus 1-2

1 Maccabees 6:1-17 – Meanwhile, King Antiochus IV tries to take and plunder a rich city in Persia—Elymais—but fails. He receives word that the Jews have used all the plunder they have won to strengthen their towns and that they have torn down the “abomination” in their Temple. He is shaken by both these things and feels that he has failed. He becomes depressed.

The tone of the passage is interesting because he is, after all, the enemy of the Jews; but they seem to see him sympathetically here. He is seen as repentant. He says, “now I remember the wrong I did in Jerusalem when I seized all the vessels of silver and gold there, and ordered the extermination of the inhabitants of Judah for no reason at all. This, I am convinced, is why these misfortunes have overtaken me, and why I am dying of melancholy in a foreign land” (6:12-13).

He calls for Philip, a friend, and gives him the crown and authority to guide his son, whose name is also Antiochus – Antiochus V - until he is old enough to rule. The young Antiochus is eight years old when he becomes king. Lysias, the general who is presently charged with caring for the king’s son, calls the boy Eupater, and when Antiochus dies, he is established as his father’s successor. There is another man – Philip – whom Antiochus’ wanted to watch over his son and these two will later come into conflict.

Introduction to the Epistle to Titus: This “pastoral” letter is also ascribed to Paul though there are scholars who doubt his authorship. Its main concerns are similar to those expressed in 1 Timothy, namely the kind of “church order” that should be established in these more recently converted communities, concerns over “false teachings” that threaten the core Christian message, and the kind of community culture that should be established. Titus is never mentioned in Acts. Here he is described as a convert of Paul’s, brought to the Jerusalem meeting in AD 49 to show how “genuine a Christian an uncircumcised Gentile could be” (Raymond Brown 640).

This letter “assumes that Paul has been in Crete with Titus and has left him there to correct anything that is still defective, specifically to appoint presbyters (Brown 641).

Titus 1 – Paul writes this letter to Titus who is on the island of Crete. He opens the letter by describing himself as an “apostle of Jesus Christ” who has been charged with brings “whose whom God has chosen to faith and to the knowledge of the truth that leads to true religion; and to give them the hope of the eternal life that was promised so long ago by God” (1:1-2). He calls Titus “true child of mine in the faith that we share” (1:4).

He has left Titus in Crete to “get everything organized there and appoint elders [presbyters] in every town” (1:5). Elders must be men of “irreproachable character” (1:6), married no more than once. His children “must be believers and not uncontrollable or liable to be charged with disorderly conduct” (1:6).

The elder is seen as “God’s representative” (1:7) so he has to be “irreproachable.” And “he must have a firm grasp of the unchanging message of the tradition, so that he can be counted on for both expounding the sound doctrine and refuting those who argue against it” (1:9).

Apparently in Crete, there are many people whom the writer thinks should be “disciplined,” “silenced” because they are teaching “things that they ought not to, and doing it with the vile motive of making money” (1:11). Cretans apparently have a reputation for being corrupt and untrustworthy that the writer here believes is accurate. The corrupt influences are working their bad stuff in the community of the faithful and they need to be dealt with.

Titus 2 – Paul instruct Titus to focus on the “behavior” that goes with correct doctrine. The behavior of men and women should be a model for all to follow. Older men should be “reserved, dignified, moderate, sound in faith and love and constancy”  (2:2). Older women should be religious and not “scandal-mongers,” known for drinking too mush wine and misbehaving. Young men should be models of good behavior as well.

“You see, God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and savior Christ Jesus” (2:11-13).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Maccabees 5 and 1 Timothy 6

1 Maccabees 5 - When the nations surrounding Judaea – also under the control of the Seleucids but more compliant - hear that the Temple has been restored, they “determined to destroy the whole race of Jacob living among them; they began murdering and evicting Jewish citizens” (6:2). In response, Judas makes war on a number of these people: the “sons of Esau in Idumaea” (south of Palestine), and the Ammonites. The warfare described here is what people did back then, but it is not easy to read about. They are defeated, plundered, destroyed “under the ban” (6:5). It is pretty clear that the Jews were not the only ones to conduct war in this fashion; they all did.
In Gilead, the “pagans” there banded together to fight the Israelites in their territory. The Israelites flee and call upon Judas to help them. They tell him “All our countrymen living among the Tubians have been put to death, their women and children have been taken into captivity, their property has been seized, and a force about a thousand strong has been wiped out there” (6:13). Similarly, the “pagans” of Galilee gather against the Jews living near them. Judas sends his brother Simon and 3000 to aid them; Judas and brother Jonathan go with 8000 men to Gilead. A man named Joseph is left to guard Judea.

Simon defeats the pagans of Galilee, and brings the Jews living there back to Judea with him.

Judas and Jonathan cross the Jordan into Gilead. The Nabateans greet them in peace and tell them what the enemy has been doing. Judas goes to towns in what is today northern Syria where Jews are held up and in danger. He goes from town to town, killing the enemy in these towns. Timotheus, the Seleucid commander opposing him, gathers men and hires Arab mercenaries to fight the Jews. It seems as if Judas’ purpose is not only to defeat the Seleucids but to gather Jews together who are scattered around the region, being attacked in these towns and bring them to Judea. If people en route do not let them pass, they slaughter them (5:48-51).
They reach Mount Zion with joy and offer burnt offerings at the newly rededicated Temple. Meanwhile, another Jewish leader named Joseph [not a Maccabaean] orders his men to Jamnia where he meets the high Seleucid commander, Gorgias and his army; but Joseph and his cohort Azariah lose the fight. The defeat is ascribed to Joseph’s failure to do as he was told by Judas. Judas and his brother go and fight the Edomites to the south—Hebron and the lands of the Philistines. Then he returns to Judea.

1 Timothy 6 – Slaves are told they must be respectful to masters so as not to bring the Christian “movement” or church into disrepute. But masters should see them as “brothers.” Paul criticizes those with a mania for “questioning everything and arguing about words” (6:4). The only thing that comes from this is bad feeling and distrust.

“The love of money is the root of all evils” (6:10). Those who are rich should not look down on others and should “not . . .set their hopes on money, which is untrustworthy, but on God who, out of his riches, gives us all that we need for our happiness” (6:17).

Friday, September 14, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Maccabees 4 and 1 Timothy 5

1 Maccabees 4 – Gorgias, a commander under Lysias, comes against the Jews at Emmaus, but finds no one there. Judas has moved his 3000 to the plain nearby. He is terribly short of armor and supplies but he reminds his men of how God helped their ancestors in the desert.

The Jews advance on the Seleucid army; they fight and the Gentiles are crushed. They pursue those who retreat for a time, but Judas tells them not to be greedy for plunder, for another battle awaits them. Later, when the rest of Gorgias’ men flee from them, they do plunder the camp.
When Lysias hears that his army has been defeated, he is shocked and dismayed. The next year, they muster 60,000 infantry and 5000 cavalry, a force that Judas meets with only 10,000. Lysias’ troops again are defeated. He goes off to seek mercenaries for an even larger army.

Judas and his brothers go to cleanse the sanctuary and re-dedicate it. It is a mess and they grieve over it. They must fight men posted at the sanctuary. They cleanse the Temple, tear down the altar of burnt offerings so as not to use one that was defiled. They store the stones of the desecrated altar in a convenient place “until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them” (4:46). They take new, unhewn stones and build a new altar. They also rebuild the sanctuary and interior of the Temple and consecrate its courts.

In 164 BC, they rededicate the Temple with songs and harps, lutes and cymbals. They celebrate for eight days. They decide that they will celebrate this rededication every year for eight days. This is the origin of Hanukkah. They also fortify Mount Zion with high walls and strong towers.

1 Timothy 5 – Paul urges Christians to treat other people as if they were your family members – not strangers. And then he moves on to a lengthier discussion of widows in the church. Apparently, in the early church, widows were treated as if they were a separate “order” of sorts – like the elders, presbyters and deacons. They were to be “enrolled” but only if they were over 60, had only been married once and were known to be good women. Paul thinks women whose husbands die when they are young should probably not be included in this group because they would be happier and more productive marrying again and having children.
Elders are important to the church in preaching and teaching. They have authority in the church, so no accusation against them can be effective unless supported by two or three witnesses. The church obviously had a governing role in the lives of members and a growing discipline that was to be observed.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Maccabees 3 and 1 Timothy 4

1 Maccabees 3 – It is 166-160 BC. Judas, called Maccabaeus, now steps forward to lead the fight for Israel. “He extended the fame of his people. He put on the breatplate like a giant and girded on his war harness; he engaged in battle after battle, protecting the ranks with his sword” (3:3)

Someone named Apollonius, governor of Samaria and commander of the Seleucid army in that region, gathers Gentiles together to fight him, but they are beaten. Apollonius’ sword becomes the one Judas uses for the rest of his life.
Seron, commander of the Syrian army, thinks to make a name for himself by fighting Judas. Judas’ men fret about the size of the Syrian army, but Judas tells them, “victory in war does not depend on the size of the fighting force; it is from heaven that strength comes” (3:19-20). And so the Syrians too suffer defeat.

When Antiochus hears these stories, he gathers a huge force. He has some financial problems and wants to go to Persia and collect more money from there, so he leaves Lysias in charge of affairs in the area. He leaves Lysias half his forces and orders him to “crush and destroy” the Israelites, to banish all memory of them from the place. Lysias sends Ptolemy, Nicanor and Gorgias with 40,000 troops and 7,000 cavalry to deal with them. They camp near Emmaus.
Seeing the huge force building against them, the Jews gather to be ready and to pray. Jerusalem is occupied, so they gather at Mizpah, opposite Jerusalem. There, “they fasted and put on sackcloth, covering their heads with ashes and tearing their garments” (3:47). Despite their need, the faint-hearted, the newly married and those in process of planting vineyards are told to go home as the law requires. The rest went and encamped south of Emmaus.

1 Timothy 4 – Paul reminds them that “during the last times there will be some who will desert the faith and choose to listen to deceitful spirits and doctrines” (4:1). The note explains that the constant references to “the last times” should not ONLY be seen as an early Christian certainty that history was soon going to end with Christ return. We can see reference to “end times” as “eschatological” and not historical. Eschatology could also be interpreted as having to do with a spiritual dimension of everyone’s life – having to do with the ultimate realities of life and death, judgment and consequence of all our spiritual choices.

Paul is definitely concerned with some who are going around, making up all kinds of strange doctrines – people who will “say marriage is forbidden, and lay down rules about abstaining from foods which God created to be accepted with thanksgiving by all who believe and who know the truth” (4:3). We need to remember that ALL of God’s creation is good; “no food is to be rejected, provided grace is said for it” (4:4).

The faithful should avoid all the myths and “old wives’ tales” (4:7) that people spread. The thing we must all remember is to “put our trust in the living God . . . he is the savior of the whole human race but particularly of all believers” (4:10).

Young people should not accept peoples’ disregard of them and of their ideas. They should “be an example to all the believers in the way [they] speak and behave, and in [their] love, [their] faith and [their] purity” (4:12).

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Maccabees 2 and 1 Timothy 3

1 Maccabees 2 - Mattathias of a priestly family and his five sons—John, Simon, Judas, Eleazar, and Jonathan—are all desolate because of the shame to Israel this desecration of their Temple has brought. The king’s commissioners come to their town, Modein, and approach Mattathias about being the first to comply with what the Jews consider an “apostasy” so as to make a “good example” to others, who are also being asked to conform their religious practices to what the Seleucid rulers demand.

They promise him riches, but Mattathias refuses to comply. “Heaven preserve us from forsaking the Law and its obserances . . . We will not swerve from our own religion either to right or to left” (2:20-22).

Furthermore, when another man does step forward to comply, Mattathias is overcome with righteous fury and “slaughters” him AND the king’s representative. Then he, his sons and other similarly-sentimented go with them into the desert.

A detachment of soldiers goes after them and finds a group. That group decides it is fitting for them to die for the testimony they wish to give, but they do not fight. They say, Let us all die innocent; let heaven and earth bear witness that you are massacring us with no pretense of justice” (2:37).

They are all killed with their wives, children and cattle on the Sabbath.
News of this reaches Mattathas. They decide that if they pursue this non-violent resistance policy, they all will be destroyed. So they decide if anyone attacks them on the Sabbath, “whoever he may be, we will resist him; we must not all be killed” (2:41).

They are joined by some Hasidaeans (devout who had resisted Hellenization even before the time of the Maccabees). They organize themselves into an armed force and start to go around forcibly circumcising boys, overthrowing the altars and hunting down “upstarts.”  The time of turmoil is the time when the godly should have a “burning fervour” (2:50) for the Law.

Men must remember their ancestors and try to live up to their example. The heroes are set before them—Abraham, Joseph, Phinehas, Joshua, Caleb, David, Elijah, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, Daniel—“Do not fear the threats of the sinner, all his brave show must come to the dunghill and the worms” (2:62). Mattathias, at the end of his time, appoints his son Simeon to lead them and Judas Maccabaeus to be their general. He dies in 166 BC.

1 Timothy 3 – The chief “elder” must be a man of “impeccable character” (3:2). He can’t have been married more than once; he must be “temperate, discreet and courteous, hospitable and a good teacher, not a heavy drinker, nor hot-tempered, but kind and peaceable” (3:3). He must lead his own family well and bring his children up well. He should not be a new convert, and he should have a good reputation outside the church as well.

The requirements for becoming a Deacon are also gone over in some detail. But here women candidates are also mentioned – a little surprising after what was written earlier in the letter. They must be respectable and reliable.

Paul writes that is hoping he will be with them soon, but he wants them to know his thoughts on these matters in case he should be delayed.