90 Day Challenge – Day 77

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Bible Time Period: Maccabean Revolt

Mattathias and his sons stood up against the threats of Hellenization: Help me resist worldliness in the culture and follow only you.

Reflection

After Jonathan’s death, his brother Simon, the last remaining son of Mattathias, becomes supreme leader of the Jews under Roman authority.  He is named at the same time high priest, governor, and Ethnarch*.  That the roles of king and priest are combined in one man is unique to this time.  Simon Maccabeus’ son John Hurcanus serves, like his father, as both king and high priest.  He is the founder of the Hasmonean dynasty.

I Maccabees takes the story up to 135 BC.  The Hasmoneans continued to rule semi-autonomously for a number of years and became essentially independent in about 110 BC.  In 63 BC, two brothers fought for the throne and Rome intervened.  The battle ended with Hyrcanus II (a Hasmonean) in power but with Judah a Roman protectorate.  Hasmonean rule ended in 37 BC when the pro-Roman Herod the Great was made king of the Jews.

1 Maccabees is more than a history of the leadership and battles of the Maccabees (and the Hasmonean dynasty) during the 2nd century BC.  Its greater purpose is to showcase the providence and protection of God and the importance of staying true to the Covenant even to death.  This period helps to set the scene for the fulfillment of God’s promises in the New Testament.  With the Maccabean Revolt, the Old Testament periods end on a high note with great examples of courage and faith.

*An “ethnarch” is a political ruler over a common ethnic group.  It was used at this time to refer to rulers of vassal kingdoms.

Key Verse to Remember from the Period of the Maccabean Revolt

“And Mattathias and his friends went about and tore down the altars … They rescued the law out of the hands of the Gentiles and kings, and they never let the sinner gain the upper hand” (1 Macc 2:45,58).

Today’s Reading

I Maccabees 13-16

Today’s Question

Think back to the promises God made to Abraham (see Day 6 of this reading challenge).  At the end of the Old Testament – what progress has been made?

Join the discussion below!

Sarah Christmyer

Sarah Christmyer is co-developer with Jeff Cavins of The Great Adventure Catholic Bible study program. She serves as Strategic Consultant of The Great Adventure and is author or co-author of a number of the studies. Sarah has thirty years of experience leading and teaching Bible studies. She helped launch Catholic Scripture Study and is co-author of “Genesis Part I: God and His Creation” and “Genesis Part II: God and His Family,” published by Emmaus Road. Sarah has a BA in English literature from Gordon College in Wenham, MA, and is working toward a Masters of Theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. Raised in a strong evangelical family, she was received into the Catholic Church in 1992. Sarah also writes at comeintotheword.com/.

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  • Marian Potts

    Simon and his sons certainly persevere in fighting for the nation of Israel. They are constantly besieged by their enemies but they had confidence that they would prevail against their enemies.
    They certainly had faith.

  • Margie

    As generations passed through the Old Testament, the promise God made to Abraham was forever remembered by the Israelites. Much blood was shed, many fallen souls worshipped idols, turning away from the laws of God, committing sins against one another. But, the leadership who did believe in the one true God never gave up their convictions to guide their people to maintain the trust and love of God.

  • Susan

    God has fulfilled all his promises made to the Israelites through Abraham in the Exodus and during the wanderings in the desert – God’s side of the covenant is complete. The Israelites have had quite the time trying to keep their side of the covenant to only worship and obey the Lord. Following the Israelites throughout the Old Testament we see the impact of Original Sin upon them and their fall into the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, envy (spiritual and material), greed, lust, anger, sloth, and gluttony. Their weakness to temptation is obvious; each time there is shortcomings in their leadership or too much leeway given to the individual for their own behavior, they are tempted by their old sins and fall into the old shameful patterns.

    Under strong God-centered and loyal leadership the people modeled themselves after the example set, however, when faced with disappointment, trials, temptation, and/or hardships they would quickly look for comfort and disavow themselves from God’s commandments, ordinances, laws and statutes – they would take the easy way out. God provided strong leadership throughout the journey through the Old Testament via individuals like Abraham and Joshua, the judges and then the kings as well as the prophets interspersed – there was always someone for the Israelites to follow but they didn’t always take their cues from the leaders. We see the lineage of David established and feel there is a solution long term, however, that is dashed with the descendants of Judah loosing the leadership in 1 Maccabees when the Romans came into power.

    There has definitely been positive progress since the beginning in Genesis to the end of the Old Testament but the journey has been painful and erratic; as we leave the Old Testament, the reader has to wonder how will the next 60+ years before Jesus Christ is born be played out in order for God’s covenant with his chosen people be made right on both sides.

  • pnkyB4brain

    I will bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants will take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing, because you obeyed my command. Genesis 22; 17:18

    This is what the angel said to Abraham after he intercepted the ultimate sacrifice that a parent could ever complete, that is the sacrifice of his son, Isaac as Abraham’s offering to God, Our Father.

    Coming into the ‘modern times’ of the Jews during the reign of Jonathan, Judas, and Simon; you feel a sense that the Jewish people never really changed. They were the same stiff necked group of people that so desperately needed continuous signs from God because they were’t completely sure of this migration they experienced with Moses many years prior to this time. They never really had a homeland but God sent them to this Promised Land. However, they still needed strong reinforcement from the Almighty. After reading the chapters in the bible, I felt a sense that because they wanted to do things their way, they kind of botched the transition from being nomads in the dessert to possessing the land of milk and honey that was promised to them.

    As far as the question for today goes, I can see a progress in the use of tools, weapons, and political attitudes that were so paramount then as they are now. However, I observed that the Jewish people were still that stiff necked people of the past and they would rally around the major character of their time in the bible because he would be their leader. This again demonstrated the constant need for reaffirmation from God that they were at the right place and doing the right thing. If there were no leadership, then they would scatter like birds and eventually find their way ‘home’ after avoiding the Word of God and the covenant that God made with this people.

    I can sympathize with this group of people. I can’t recall how many times I have asked for favors from God with a proviso, so to speak. You know, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” attitude. How dare I do this! I am like one of those stiffed necked people and need to change my ways! The Bible teaches us lessons. I need to take heed of these lessons and adhere to them!

  • Under the Hasmoneans, it seemed the prayer that began the Maccabees’ history – “May God bless you and remember His covenant with His faithful servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” – had been answered (I read the first chapter of 2 Macc. – see 2 Maccabees 1:2). But it seems that the original people were lost in the process. And then you may realize that there was a problem – actually a number of problems – with the Hasmonean dynasty.

    Most importantly, what happened to the promise God made to David? Was David granted an everlasting throne or not?

    Just before Jerusalem fell, Jeremiah had again reaffirmed that God’s covenant with David was eternal: It could no more be broken than “the sun and moon could cease to shine”, he said. That prophesy was 500 years old after all, and the Hasmonean priests weren’t kings and they weren’t descended from the line of David or even the tribe of Judah. They weren’t even descendants of Aaron, as the Law of Moses required for priests. Maybe the people forgot the old covenants or maybe they sensed the problem and agreed to to live under this form of priestly, theocratic rule until a true prophet arose. One thing is for sure as Fisher stated last year- it seems like a two steps forward – one step back process throughout their history. Still, in this period there were growing numbers who searched the Scriptures, recalled the writings of the prophets – the many powerful promises that they had made that seemed to have been only partially fulfilled, as Avila pointed out in her answer last year. The people were waiting on the promises of the prophets. They had taught Israel to hope for “a new David,” who would be their savior, their “Messiah” – “one anointed” as David had been with oil and the Holy Spirit as stated in 1 Samuel 16:13. I suggest that on the threshold of the New Testament, the devout and the righteous looked to the old prophecies, waiting for the consolation of Israel – the coming of the new son of David and the resurrection of his fallen Kingdom.

  • Barbara Ann Baugh

    The Israelites as a nation seem to have matured. They are less likely to worship false gods, There are of course a few who are trouble for the people. The Macabeean leaders are steadfast in their faith in God. And grow ever shrewer in their dealings with the surrounding nations some of which are deciptive. They are truely mature enough to become a “Blessing to all nations”

  • Avila

    My brain cells were tired, so I scrolled back to Day 6 to remind myself of the promises “God made to Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, 17, and 22 and
    that He confirms by means of a binding covenant can be summarized as
    follows:

    1. God will give Abraham many descendants and the land of Canaan to live in

    2. God will build from them a royal nation (kingdom)

    3. Abraham’s descendants will be the source of blessing to the entire world.”

    At this stage in salvation history, God fulfilled the first two promises, Abraham’s many descendants are a royal nation living in the land of Canaan and have been at war but during Simon’s time other nations think highly of them for a while.

    The third promise started before God even made His promise in that the people of the Bible became immortalized in the Bible itself which is a source of blessing to the entire world. But the descendants of Abraham (including the 4 foreign women, including 2 morally challenged women) led to the Blessed Mother, the new ark of the covenant from whom came The Blessing to the entire world – our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ heritage was Jewish with a touch of the Gentile and His life and sacrifice wasn’t just for the royal nation but for the whole world. What is most wonderful is how The Blessing is. Jesus our blessing is within us, within the Church, mysteriously in the Eucharist, in the sunset, sunrise, a smile, a touch and the whisper of comfort in the ear. How marvellously we are blessed?

    • Carla Archuleta

      My head had been stirred up on the reading for the past two days. I probably need to do a better job opening my heart and mind when reading the words go God. Bless you!

    • Ann Basile

      I have been a day behind in my study for a few days and am just now catching up, so I’ve just read your comment. Thanks so much for for your beautiful words. They have helped me refocus on the big (and beautiful) picture!

  • Michelle

    To me, it appears there was hope during the time of Abraham and this hope continues through Simon. God said he would give Abraham many descendants, build for them a royal nation and be a royal blessing to the entire world. Although Israel experienced many sin filled periods and will continue to do so there always seemed to emerge a leader with hope. A leader who truly believed God would have mercy if only He were called. Simon was truly a leader who had hope. “In every way Simon sought to exalt his people.” Simon wanted for the Jewish people to live God’s ways faithfully and to show this he led by example. Fast forward two thousand plus years and we are all called to live this same life. God has given us what right looks like now we must lead by our example. This is not always easy but during those times when we are most tempted with wrong doing we are also looking at an opportunity to truly please God when we choose to do right. God wants for us to be successful in this mission but again, this doesn’t make the mission easy. By keeping focused on the prize of eternal salvation, having hope that this sinful world will open their eyes to their wicked ways and prayer we are not only able to help ourselves but also those who are in desperate need of God and His truth.

  • Carla Archuleta

    The 2 Book of Maccabees end with the reminder that God protects and takes care of the temple. I must constantly remind myself to not be rushed for quick signs. God is ahead paving my life; therefore, patience will allow me to embrace such change and know it is what is right and just through God. How I love and appreciate God! Happy Tuesday!

  • Fisher

    It always seems like a “two steps forward, one step back” dilemma for these poor Chosen People of God. God was ever-faithful to His side of the covenant – land, kingdom and worldwide blessing, but the people continually fell into the exile and return cycle of sin. This made it difficult to actually hold onto their heritage from God and most importantly, actually be a worldwide blessing. Simon managed to lead the nation into a time of peace, prosperity and faithfulness, but the other nations continued to be a thorn to them and eventually they fell into servitude to Rome.
    But the stage is set, and Christ fulfilled the last covenantal promise of world wide blessing. And we today, though still living the dratted cycle of sin, can yet through Christ rise above and be a blessing to the world; hopefully leading others out of darkness toward eternal life in the One True Kingdom.

  • Michael

    Why is the book of Maccabees not included in the Jewish Bible?

    • Beverly Hagar-Schmerse

      The introduction to these books in my Bible, says that both as considered as aprochyphal books (nor inspired by God), the Catholic Church believes they are by apostolic tradition inspired books and belong in the Old Testament. Does affect our faith, or the faith of a Jew? I would hope not. For our faith is a belief in the God of the Bible, not in literal, definitive, perfect copulations of Scripture, but rather in God’s role in salvation history for the Jew and for the Christian.

      • Michael

        Beverly – thank you for your reply. I agree with everything you said however I was simply looking for an explanation as to
        why the Jews (who celebrate Hanukkah, which is based on Maccabees) have chosen not to include these books in their old testament. Inspired or not inspired, as in Christian tradition, has nothing to do with the Jews understanding of the old testament. There must be some historical explanation for this omission

    • Fisher

      The Jewish Torah (meaning Teaching, Law) consists of the first 5 books of the Old Testament only. Other Old Testament writings, such as Isaiah, are writings the Jewish faithful read and study, as well, but do not include in this Sacred compilation.
      If you mean the Protestant Bible – then you can look to the Protestant Reformation (revolution, actually, because by the time the rift was fully set, Martin Luther, John Calvin and others sought not reform, but destruction of the Catholic Church) which began in the early-1500s. The invention of the printing press gave the masses of common people access to the Bible for the first time (yea!), but the downside is that the Catholic Church was hesitant to utilize this new invention, so Luther’s German translation was the first, and the King James version of 1611 was the first English translation. Off the top of my head, I cannot remember exactly why 7 books (including the Maccabees) were struck from the Protestant Bible, but it may have had something to do with the differing views Protestants claimed concerning doctrine and dogma that the Catholic Church derives from Scripture in these books. For instance, in the Second Book of Maccabees, Judas Maccabeus and his surviving soldiers pray for their fallen comrades – intercession that these fallen soldiers (who, it was discovered, had been carrying amulets for a false god) might be absolved of their sins (12:38-46). This is Scripture that reinforces the Church teachings on intercessory prayer and purgatory.

      • Jeanne

        The first bible to be printed by Gutenberg was the Vulgate in 1450 in Mainz Germany.

        • Fisher

          Thanks, Jeanne! This was the approved Latin language version, if I am not mistaken, based on Jerome’s work from the mid-300s (?). It all gets very confusing; I was referring to the first printed in a vernacular that common people could read.

      • Liza

        Thanks and very useful background particularly re purgatory. And to everyone else re Bible history. I had not read Maccabees nor had I heard it read at mass. I think it is amazing to hear the survival of this people in faithfulness to God right up to the birth of Christ and in willingness to endure for his Covenant. I know the Jewish people are still waiting but they give us such a fine example of survival against the odds and loyalty to God’s covenant to this day. I think Pope Francis has a close friendship with the chief Rabbi of Buenos Aires and I think he calls the Jews our older brother? They have so much to teach us.

        • Fisher

          Blessed John Paul I I had a very close affinity for the Jewish faith; one of his closest friends was a Jewish man from his home town in Poland. For a wonderful look at JPII’s early life, his relationship with Jewish tradition, Nazi-ism and Poland, I recommend the book written by his friend, The Hidden Pope. A wonderful, revealing read.

          • Liza

            Thanks, I have ordered the book!

          • Fisher

            Awesome! Let me know what you think.

    • pnkyB4brain

      Reading up on why Maccabees was not in the Jewish bible seemed complicated with so many reasons. However, I think it boils down to Maccabees was written in Greek and not in the Hebrew language so it was not accepted as scriptural canon to the Jews when their Bible was being “assembled”. This is only speculation, mind you.