Thursday, December 8, 2016

Taking a Stand for Holiness and Righteousness

Many times throughout history groups of people have been faced with heart wrenching events that tried their stamina and tested their faith.  America was founded by men and women who fought with all their being to establish a home and country where they could live free from tyrannical oversight.  A great pilgrimage took place primarily for a people who desired to worship God according to their understanding of the Bible, and not according to a monarch's interpretation. However, while worthy of remembrance and reflection, it is not the history of America that I want to revisit.

The Hebrew month of Kislev, which corresponds with the Gregorian month of December, ushers in a time of remembering another, more ancient battle for freedom.  It is the month when many people observe the celebration known as Chanukah (also spelled Hanukkah).  This holiday is observed in order to remember one of the most heart breaking and mind numbing accounts of profanity, blasphemy, and cruelty that I have ever read about! The historical account is best described in the Book of Maccabees, but the Jewish historian, Josephus, also has a written account of what took place in Jerusalem under the tyrannical reign of Antiochus Epiphanes.

After the death of Alexander the Great, four rulers took over his reign, one of which was Antiochus Ephiphanes.  Antiochus was an evil man, to say the least.  He arrogantly entered YHVH's Temple, stealing all the precious, holy items. He also profaned the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar!  However, this was not enough to satisfy Antiochus.  He demanded that all Jews reject the Torah (Law) of YHVH, meaning that they were not to keep the Sabbath, the Feasts of YHVH, nor were they to circumcise their males or abstain from eating pork.  Unfortunately, many people caved under the pressure and rejected the Torah of the Most of High, and embraced a Greek lifestyle.  It was more important to them to live a comfortable life than to take a stand for holiness and righteousness!

One of the more heart wrenching accounts to read concerns a mother of seven sons. She was forced to witness each one of them being tortured and ultimately killed for their refusal to profane their bodies with eating pork, thus breaking one of YHVH's commandments:

2 Maccabees 7 

On another occasion a Jewish mother and her seven sons were arrested. The king was having them beaten to force them to eat pork. Then one of the young men said,
What do you hope to gain by doing this? We would rather die than abandon the traditions of our ancestors.
This made the king so furious that he gave orders for huge pans and kettles to be heated red hot, and it was done immediately. Then he told his men to cut off the tongue of the one who had spoken and to scalp him and chop off his hands and feet, while his mother and six brothers looked on. After the young man had been reduced to a helpless mass of breathing flesh, the king gave orders for him to be carried over and thrown into one of the pans. As a cloud of smoke streamed up from the pan, the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die bravely, saying,
The Lord God is looking on and understands our suffering. Moses made this clear when he wrote a song condemning those who had abandoned the Lord. He said,
The Lord will have mercy on those who serve him.

After the first brother had died in this way, the soldiers started amusing themselves with the second one by tearing the hair and skin from his head. Then they asked him,
    Now will you eat this pork, or do you want us to chop off your hands and feet one by one?

He replied in his native language,
    I will never eat it! So the soldiers tortured him, just as they had the first one, but with his dying breath he cried out to the king,
    You butcher! You may kill us, but the King of the universe will raise us from the dead and give us eternal life, because we have obeyed his laws.
10 The soldiers began entertaining themselves with the third brother. When he was ordered to stick out his tongue, he quickly did so. Then he bravely held out his hands 11 and courageously said,
God gave these to me. But his laws mean more to me than my hands, and I know God will give them back to me again. 12 The king and those with him were amazed at his courage and at his willingness to suffer.
13 After he had died, the soldiers tortured the fourth one in the same cruel way, 14 but his final words were,
I am glad to die at your hands, because we have the assurance that God will raise us from death. But there will be no resurrection to life for you, Antiochus!
15 When the soldiers took the fifth boy and began torturing him, 16 he looked the king squarely in the eye and said,
You have the power to do whatever you want with us, even though you also are mortal. But do not think that God has abandoned our people. 17 Just wait. God will use his great power to torture you and your descendants.

18 Then the soldiers took the sixth boy, and just before he died he said,
    Make no mistake. We are suffering what we deserve, because we have sinned against our God. That's why all these terrible things are happening to us. 19 But don't think for a minute that you will avoid being punished for fighting against God.
20 The mother was the most amazing one of them all, and she deserves a special place in our memory. Although she saw her seven sons die in a single day, she endured it with great courage because she trusted in the Lord. 21 She combined womanly emotion with manly courage and spoke words of encouragement to each of her sons in their native language.
22 I do not know how your life began in my womb, she would say,
I was not the one who gave you life and breath and put together each part of your body. 23 It was God who did it, God who created the universe, the human race, and all that exists. He is merciful and he will give you back life and breath again, because you love his laws more than you love yourself.

24 Antiochus was sure that the mother was making fun of him, so he did his best to convince her youngest son to abandon the traditions of his ancestors. He promised not only to make the boy rich and famous, but to place him in a position of authority and to give him the title
    Friend of the King. 25 But the boy paid no attention to him, so Antiochus tried to persuade the boy's mother to talk him into saving his life, 26 and after much persuasion she agreed to do so. 27 Leaning over her son, she fooled the cruel tyrant by saying in her native language,
    My son, have pity on me. Remember that I carried you in my womb for nine months and nursed you for three years. I have taken care of you and looked after all your needs up to the present day. 28 So I urge you, my child, to look at the sky and the earth. Consider everything you see there, and realize that God made it all from nothing, just as he made the human race. 29 Don't be afraid of this butcher. Give up your life willingly and prove yourself worthy of your brothers, so that by God's mercy I may receive you back with them at the resurrection.

30 Before she could finish speaking, the boy said,
    King Antiochus, what are you waiting for? I refuse to obey your orders. I only obey the commands in the Law which Moses gave to our ancestors. 31 You have thought up all kinds of cruel things to do to our people, but you won't escape the punishment that God has in store for you. 32-33 It is true that our living Lord is angry with us and is making us suffer because of our sins, in order to correct and discipline us. But this will last only a short while, for we are still his servants, and he will forgive us. 34 But you are the cruelest and most disgusting thing that ever lived. So don't fool yourself with illusions of greatness while you punish God's people. 35 There is no way for you to escape punishment at the hands of the almighty and all-seeing God. 36 My brothers suffered briefly because of our faithfulness to God's covenant, but now they have entered eternal life.[a] But you will fall under God's judgment and be punished as you deserve for your arrogance. 37 I now give up my body and my life for the laws of our ancestors, just as my brothers did. But I also beg God to show mercy to his people quickly and to torture you until you are forced to acknowledge that he alone is God. 38 May my brothers and I be the last to suffer the anger of Almighty God, which he has justly brought upon our entire nation.
39 These words of ridicule made Antiochus so furious that he had the boy tortured even more cruelly than his brothers. 40 And so the boy died, with absolute trust in the Lord, never unfaithful for a minute.
41 Last of all, the mother was put to death.
42 But I have said enough about the Jews being tortured and being forced to eat the intestines of sacrificial animals.

It was this tyrannical, deviant behavior, and the *compromising of many Jews* (see note below), that fueled the righteous indignation of the Maccabees - a small group of Jewish men who rose up under the leadership of a man name Mattathias. Mattathias died and his son, Judas Maccabeus became the leader of the revolt. They fought back to regain Jerusalem and her holy Temple.  After many years of fighting, Jerusalem and the Temple of YHVH were reclaimed and rededicated. An eight day celebration was instituted to commemorate this victory. 

Chanukah is the Hebrew word meaning "dedication", thus this time each year the Feast of Dedication is observed.  Hanukah is also known as the Festival of Lights, and many people celebrate it by lighting candles on a nine branch Hanukkiah (not to be confused with the seven branched Menorah, which was commanded to be in the Temple). Hanukah is mentioned in the Book of John:

 Now Hanukkah was taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking around in the Temple inside the open porch of Solomon.

After reading the historical accounts of the "Jewish Revolt",  I have contemplated the level of faith and faithfulness it took for those men (and women) memorialized for taking a stand.  Scripture states in multiple places that true followers will "stand firm to the end". In fact, Revelation 21:8 states that the cowardly will be thrown into the lake of fire! 

 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (ESV)
I don't know if my family and I will ever be faced with such unthinkable atrocities or not.  My prayer is that we won't, but if we are, my prayer is that we will have the faith to take a stand for holiness and righteousness! 

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
1 Corinthians 16:13 (NIV)

 For more (and probably better) information about Chanukah, I encourage you to check out the following:



  *This bit was added after I first published the post, and I plan on elaborating on this in a future post.

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