This time of year many Jews celebrate Hanukkah, and like most gentiles, I thought it was the Jewish version of Christmas. However, the celebration of Hanukkah is a cultural celebration where family elders take the time to give gifts to their children, relate the story of the Festival of Lights, and, to remember Judah Maccabee; a man they consider to be the greatest Maccabee. So, I wanted to know who Judah Maccabee was, and why they considered him to be so great and honorable that, every year for thousands of years, they take the time to tell his story.
The Maccabees were a family of five sons, led by their patriarch, Mattathias Maccabee. In brief, Mattathias defied the ruling Romans who wanted to end Jewish worship, in many cases, with the help of other Jews. Mattathias’ third son, Judah Maccabee, led an army and vowed with God’s help to defy Roman rule and unify all Jews under the tribe of Judah/ Israel, creating what is now called the Hasmonian Dynasty. For over a hundred years, Judah Maccabee and his brothers ruled Judah, successfully defying their enemies and protecting their religion and culture. Finally, by the time Hasmonian rule is relinquished to the last Maccabee brother, Simon, a treaty is made with the Romans allowing a separate Jewish state to coexist with Roman rule. The treaty decreases the Hasmonian Dynasty’s rule over Israel, and increases the rule of a combined Roman / Jewish state. The Romans place Herod I, himself a Jew, to rule over Israel with an army of Roman soldiers.
Here’s where the story gets interesting. King Herod I is evil; he rules Israel with so much fear of losing his throne, he kills two of his own sons, his wife, and anyone else whom he believes might ultimately overthrow his kingship. He even invites the child whom he believes is the final and future heir to the Hasmonian Dynasty to his palace and drowns him in a palace pool. All this, to make certain that no one, not even a child, can claim his throne.
For many Jews the story ends there; but, for Christians, the greatest story ever told begins there.
King Herod I is, the same king whom the Magi visited to tell of the prophetic star they saw in the eastern sky proclaiming The Birth of the Messiah—Jesus Christ. And, he is the same king who, in ruthless anger, orders the massacre of all Hebrew children 2 years old and under in order to eliminate the threat to his kingdom. (Matthew 2:1-20) (At least now we can understand why it was so easy for him to order the massacre of all those innocent children. He already had a history of murdering his own family.) Although Herod I would die a few years later, his son Herod II, would become the ruling Jewish king who would later behead John-the-Baptist; and, as part of biblical prophecy, play an integral role in ultimately sending Jesus Christ to the Cross. (Luke 23:7-12)
Little did Herod II know his evil act would be the Saving Grace for all humankind! Like all things evil, nothing can offset the reign of God; nothing! Not an evil king, not an absent economy, and yes, not even what you are going through right now. You must believe that even today, more than 2000 years after the birth of Jesus Christ, that our God can use even the most evil of circumstances ultimately for His Glory and your benefit. L. Hallelujah!
Study Reference: Isaiah 60:1-3
From: "A Heavenly Dynasty." In The Master's Hands: 365 Daily Devotions For Everyday Living.
Copyright © 2014 by Lavona E. Campbell