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

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