The death of a despot – Saturday, 33rd week in ordinary time – 1Maccabees 6:1-13

The Jewish Resistance movement under Judas Maccabeus lasted from 166-164. After the death of his father, Judas took command as the leader of the resistance movement. His efforts were so successful that the whole revolt is commonly called the Maccabean war. The military exploits of Judas may be divided into two periods from 166-164 BC. This period ended in 164 with the rededication of the temple and this marked the end of the religious persecution.

The second period was from 164-160 BC, during the reign of Antiochus V Eupator (164-162) and of Demetrius I Soter (162-160). Having won religious freedom for his people, Judas gave the movement new direction. He struggled to gain political independence. The first to lead an army against Judas was Appollonius, governor of Syria, and probably the same one responsible for the rape of Jerusalem. He was attacked by Judas, defeated and killed A second force under Seron was similarly routed. Seron was not sent by the kings but driven by his own ambitions. With this victory Judas and his friends were in command of the highlands of Judah.

The news of these military reversals filled Antiochus with rage but he was unable to engage them in battle as he was attending a campaign in the East and he was in need of funds. He was determined to invade Persia (165) where he thought great treasures lay. Since he was unable to deal with Palestine, he gave his kinsman, Lysias half his troops and elephants with a command seen in 1Mac 3:35-36. Though hopelessly outnumbered, Judas Maccabeus and his troops gathered at the former holy place of Mizpah. There they prayed, fasted and did penance. They sought the holy will of the Lord in the book of the law and fulfilled their religious obligations.

Lysias came with his generals, Gorgias, Nicanor and Ptolemy. 1Mac4:1-33 tells us of Judas’ victory over Gorgias troops. 2Mac8:8-29 tells us of Judas’ victory over Nicanor troops. The victory was due to a combination of human planning and strategy and the benevolence and intervention of Yahweh, the God of Israel. Having defeated both the armies who fled for their lives at Philistia, Judas and his army plunder the enemy camp and returned to Mizpah, praising God. When Lysias heard the news, he was initially filled with discouragement but this gave birth to a greater determination to exterminate the rebels. He decides to take matters in his own hands.

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