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.

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