Friday, November 30, 2012

Holy unreason

I picked up my Jerusalem Bible and began to read again the 1st book of Maccabees, just because I like to read history sometimes. I’ve read this book a dozen times or more cover to cover. It’s the book that underlies the Jewish feast of Chanukah.

What struck me today, and what always strikes me when reading the history of God’s people, whether Jews or Christians, when they are under attack by their enemies, is how reasonable, sometimes, their enemies try to be in attempting to convince them to submit to their overlordship.

True, when it’s an invading enemy like the Seleucids, the successors to Alexander the Great, who subjected the ancient Near East to Greek rule, they start out with quite violent and merciless attacks. That’s stage one, and its method is to break resistance and dishearten the victim people by an extreme show of force and cruelty. After the political conquest, though, they have to somehow keep it, and to do that they have to win over the vanquished.

Antiochus Epiphanes, like the modern statesmen of today, wanted to establish peace and order under his iron-clad rule, and his method, stage two, was to make all the nations he conquered give up their ancient culture and religion, and adopt his—Hellenism. For all the nations, this wasn’t a problem: just add a new layer of pagan gods and ceremonies to what they already had. For the Jews, it was another matter. They were the worshippers of a single God, the only God, Yahweh, and they had a Law from Him they must obey. Though some Jews complied with the king’s command, many did not.

As the king’s representatives visited each village, they came to Modein where the family of Mattathias Maccabaeus had taken refuge after the conquest and desecration of Jerusalem. They were addressed by the king’s officer in friendly terms and promised special status and an increase of wealth, if they only would come forward and make the official sacrifice, to show that they obeyed the king’s new “one empire, one people, one religion” edict. Mattathias refused, and while he was refusing, a Jew stepped forward to take his place at the pagan altar to offer the sacrifice. Filled with zeal for the Law and in righteous indignation, Mattathias threw himself on the Jew and killed him on the spot, then turned and killed the king’s representative. That was the beginning of what is now called the Maccabaean Revolt.

But really, how unreasonable of Mattathias and his five sons and their followers not to comply with the king’s decree! The king wasn’t asking for much, just a token performance of a pagan ceremony to show that they accepted their new rulers and agreed to shed their out-dated, fussy religion. The rewards offered were great, amounting to prestige and success as members of a new elite, the “friends of the king.” How unreasonable of them!

This is not my feeling, of course, but the sentiment of those who saw no harm in going along with what was apparently the “wave of the future.” It would bring Israel a lot of benefits to become part of a world government that stretched from Egypt all the way to the frontier of India. Think of all that they would forfeit by resisting! Why couldn’t they just be “nice” Jews and cooperate like the others?

I notice this same pattern when I read the stories of the Christian martyrs. They are so much closer to us in time and culture. There are reports that have come down to us that read like today’s newspapers. The Romans weren’t all that bad. Except for mob violence against Christians, the authorities always tried to do all in their power to make it easy and attractive for a Christian to show allegiance (or worship) to Caesar, who represented the Roman one world government—in fact, when reading the dialogs, one is impressed by the fact that in most cases, the Romans were being as reasonable as they could be; it is the Christians who seem stubborn and unreasonable.

Drawing even closer to our own times, we have seen the same thing happening in the Ottoman occupation of the Balkans, with Turkish judges trying their best to get a Christian off the hook and live, rather than die because of his stupid insistence, “I was born a Christian, and I will die a Christian.” How unreasonable! The Turks really had to exert a lot of patience with these “new martyrs of the Turkish yoke.” Some caved in to the friendly persuasion, but many didn’t. That’s why there are still countries like Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia even today. If it weren’t for their holy unreason, they would all have become part of the mass of Islamic states that now fills the Near and Middle East.

Knowing a little bit of history like this helps as we face the next surge of that “Prince of Persia” (it really all started with Nimrod, and continued through tyrants like Xerxes) who wants to make us all one under his authority. All we have to do is give in, just a little.

We are not alone, brethren. From the time of the three hundred Spartans, to the Maccabees, to the Christian martyrs through the last two thousand years, we are in good company as we face the age old enemy, the shape- and name-shifter, as he again amasses his millions with their sky-darkening cloud of arrows aimed at us.
Let us stand firm, as we approach the Day. Our redemption is always close at hand. Our God is faithful, and true. Let us continue in our holy unreason till He returns.

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