At the age of twenty, the young, educated and courageous Prince Alexander succeeded his father, Philip II, as king of Macedon in 336 B.C. His accession to the throne had an incalculable impact on the Jews whose ancestors had returned from Babylonian captivity a century or two earlier. In the course of his eastward expansion, Alexander defeated the Persian ruler Darius III in 333 B.C. and effectively ended Persian rule in Palestine, thus launching Judah into a new era.
The period of the Maccabean Revolt covers from about 175-135 B.C. While both books recount the struggle of the Maccabean Revolt, 2 Maccabees is particularly written to the Jews in Egypt (2 Macc 1:1) to alert them to the suffering of their brethren in the Promised Land.
The conquests of Alexander the Great spread Greek culture across the Near East, providing a new basis for unity in territories otherwise characterized by more diverse, regional ways of life. Greek thought and practices permeated local cultures to yield “Hellenism” (Hellas is Greek for “Greece”), a synthesis that brought about an international, cosmopolitan consciousness to the diverse peoples of Alexander’s empire. Temples to Greek gods arose throughout the region, and gymnasiums were built to disseminate the Greek ideals by training both the body and the mind of young men.
When Alexander’s empire was divided among his generals after his death, Palestine was a jewel fought over by the new, smaller, neighboring kingdoms. Initially, the Jews in Palestine found freedom to continue their religious practices under the rule of Ptolemy, who reigned in Egypt over what was the southern portion of Alexander’s empire. However, when the northern Seleucid kingdom conquered the Ptolemies and took control of Palestine, the fate of the Jews changed drastically. The Seleucid king desecrated the Temple and demanded that the Jews forsake their belief in the one true God, worship pagan gods, and eat foods forbidden by the Torah.
With the threat of death hanging over the Jews, the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees recount the different responses of God’s people to the harsh situation in which they found themselves. Some of the Jews gave in to the king’s commands, forsaking the Torah and the covenant, while others, led by the Maccabees, revolted against the oppressive Seleucid ruler, taking back the Temple and rededicating it to God’s service. Still others laid down their lives in martyrdom, a witness to their fidelity and trust in God, offering themselves as a sacrifice that cried out to heaven for God’s mercy.
In this period, Scripture’s story reaches its climax and fulfillment as God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, ushers in a worldwide blessing that opens God’s covenant family to all people.
As we close the Old Testament and turn to open the New Testament, it is easy to think we are finishing one book and moving on to an altogether new story with its own characters, themes, and plot. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Even though there will be new characters and even new themes in the New Testament, the same plot that began back in Genesis stretches into and through the life of Christ and his Church. The New Testament must, therefore, be read in light of the Old, and the Old Testament story finds its climax and fulfillment in the New. All of God’s words and actions, his promises and covenants, his words through the prophets, will find their “yes” in his Son, Jesus Christ (2 Cor 1:20).
Let Us Pray
Mattathias and his sons stood up against the threats of Hellenization: Help me resist worldliness in the culture and follow only you.
You sent your only Son, Jesus Christ the Messiah, to fulfill all your promises: Give me new life in him.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
For Further Reading
The Bible in a Week concludes tomorrow with Messianic Fulfillment II and the Church. You can find previous posts in the series here.
This post is taken from Walking with God: A Journey through the Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins.