Posted by: gmscan | December 28, 2011


This year I decided to commemorate Hanukkah by reading First Maccabees. This book is not part of the Jewish or Protestant Scripture, but is included in the canons of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Coptic churches.

I can see why it is not part of our canon. It doesn’t reveal much about God, but it has a lot to say about the history of Israel in the Intertestamental period of 400 years between Malachi and the birth of Christ. It also helps put Jesus in context and explain why he was such a radical departure from what had come before – even though he had been well prophesized.

Maccabees is the story of Judas Maccabee and his father and brothers who led a rebellion against the Greek Seleucid Empire, which succeeded the rule of Alexander. Antiochus IV Epiphanes was trying to pacify the region by abolishing the Jewish religion and cultural practices and Hellenizing the population. Many of the Jews complied and even welcomed the repression, but the family of Mattathias rose up against it and after a whole lot of battles, treaties, and betrayals over some 50 years, finally won the right to live unmolested, largely by forming an alliance with the emerging Roman Empire.

The whole book is fascinating for its description of warfare of the time. For example, it talks a lot about the “engines of war” which include catapults, siege towers, and other mechanisms for overcoming fortified cities. I don’t remember any such mention in other Old Testament books, and I wonder if these tactics were new innovations or if the older books simply didn’t get into that much detail about battles.

But the book explains a lot about the time of Christ. Why Judas was such a popular name in the New Testament, and the relationship between the Jews and the Roman occupiers, for instance.

More importantly, it explains what a shocking revolution Jesus was. The Jews were longing for and expecting a new savior, but they expected him to be a conquering hero like Judas Maccabee, someone who would rally the people of Israel and restore the Kingdom of David to its rightful place among the nations.  Who ever would have thought the savior would be a poor man, a man of peace? Who ever would have thought God would throw us such a curveball?

In this context, the birth of the Christ is all the more amazing. Even more incredible was that he and his little band of unarmed disciples would indeed conquer the world — one heart at a time.  I hope you had a blessed Christmas!


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