Rage against the Machine
Fang Ren was a law abiding Tanuki who lived in the highlands of China. He never caused any trouble and was kind and courteous to everyone. It came as a surprise, therefore, when one day Ren refused to worship at the tree of ancestors. The village elders confronted him. "Why do you anger the spirits of our ancestors?" they demanded. "I have learned of a different spirit." Ren explained. "I worship Wangangi, the maker of us all. He asks that we worship none but him." The village elders were furious. They beat Ren and threw him into prison. Still, Ren would not worship at the tree. They ordered him to renounce his God. He refused. "You have always obeyed our laws." said one of the elders. "Why do you disobey us now?" "Why do you expect me to obey your law?" asked Ren. "When you yourselves will not obey the law of the one who created you?" It took many years and a great deal of fighting and pain, but Fang Ren eventually convinced his village that it was good to obey the creator.
Fang was fortunate. China is still the last great bastian of godless communism. Most Christians living there never get so lucky as to convert a village, even after an entire lifetime. The Christian Furry Fellowship supports a missionary family in China who has seen people driven from their homes or worse by villages full of people who are convinced that the worship of Jesus is a terrible crime that will call down the wrath of their ancestors.
Since his deafeat in Heaven's civil war, Satan has had two big goals. The first is to hurt God and the second is to own the world, in essence becoming God, at least in a very limited sense.
In the present, Satan is involved in an incredibly elaborate plot to wipe religion from the face of the Earth. We'll learn more of this when we get to the World wars. At the time of the Maccabees, the plot was not quite so elaborate.
Now as you know, I do not normally preach from the Apocrypha. these books are not considered canon because they were never part of the Jewish scriptures. However, first and second Macabees are useful as historical texts, and since the current series is about history, and this is the primary source for historical data on this era, we are going to use these books.
Macabees starts off in the second century BC. Greece was becoming the new World Empire. They had conquored both Medo-Persia and then Egypt. Soon thereafter, the empire split, being divided among Alexander the Great's four generals.
The people of Israel, meanwhile, were feeling rather miserable. Malachi had warned them that their descent into cold orthodoxy had displeased God. They had been treating God like dirt and yet were incredibly religious. They could not see that they were doing anything wrong. Thus, when God stopped blessing them, they either did not understand or would not acknowledge that the source of their problems was their own broken relationship with God. Almost unbelievably, they blamed their troubles on their separation from the heathen nations which Ezra and Nehemiah had instituted. Thus, they began to mimic the nations around them. They weren't getting into idolatry again, but it was just as bad. They completely forsook the ways of God, becoming uncircumcised in body and in heart. They completely forsook the Holy Covenant which Ezra and Nehemiah had reinstated.
In my mind's eye, God takes a good long look at His bride, puts His hat on His head, picks up His suitcase, says "if you change your mind, you know where I'll be." and walks out the door.
Antiochus Epiphanes, ruler of the Selucids (one of the four quarters of the greek empire) took a left turn at the recently conquored Egypt and headed for Jerusalem. He ransacked the temple and looted it completely in a repeat of the Babylonian invasion. But Antiochus did one contemptable thing that Nebuchadnezzar did not do. Nebuchadnezzar never forbade the worship of God. You'll remember that not only did Nebby become a follower of Jehovah but encouraged the worship of God. He even wrote part of the bible. Antiochus soucht to unite his empire by wiping out all religions but his own.
41: Moreover king Antiochus wrote to his whole kingdom, that all should be one people, 42: And every one should leave his laws: so all the heathen agreed according to the commandment of the king. 43: Yea, many also of the Israelites consented to his religion, and sacrificed unto idols, and profaned the sabbath. 44: For the king had sent letters by messengers unto Jerusalem and the cities of Juda that they should follow the strange laws of the land, 45: And forbid burnt offerings, and sacrifice, and drink offerings, in the temple; and that they should profane the sabbaths and festival days: 46: And pollute the sanctuary and holy people: 47: Set up altars, and groves, and chapels of idols, and sacrifice swine's flesh, and unclean beasts: 48: That they should also leave their children uncircumcised, and make their souls abominable with all manner of uncleanness and profanation: 49: To the end they might forget the law, and change all the ordinances. 50: And whosoever would not do according to the commandment of the king, he said, he should die.
And many Israelites complied. They even collaborated with Antiochus to desecrate the temple. Whoever did not was put to death. Now the Greeks were not as good at killing as the Romans, but they were still very terrible. To give you an idea what this is like, let's bring the scene out of the past and place it a few years into the future.
It's 2017. I am sitting on the couch at home, reading a book. Beside me sits my wife (We'll call her sadie) with our infant son, Jason in her arms. Little Regie is playing with his trucks on the living room floor and Amanda sips a glass of milk between problems while doing her math homework. This calm scene is shattered when a squad of soldiers busts down the door. Before anyone can act, they sieze me and rip off my clothing. Seeing that I am circumcised, they brand me a rebel to the united world religion and declare that the lives of myself and my household are forfeit. First, they hang Jason before our eyes, followed by Regie and Amanda. They then force me to watch as Sadie is butchered. last of all, I am put to death, and our house is burnt to the ground with our bodies still inside.
THIS is the kind of persecution God's people were facing. We call the Hani Christians persecuted because they get their power cut off. Jews of the Macabees era would be ecstatic to have that kind of persecution.
But there is always a remnant. There are those who, like the Faithful foursome of Daniel, would not bend. They would rather die.
62: Howbeit many in Israel were fully resolved and confirmed in themselves not to eat any unclean thing. 63: Wherefore the rather to die, that they might not be defiled with meats, and that they might not profane the holy covenant: so then they died.
Jesus taught us that violence is not a thing we should consider lightly. He taught us that when someone strikes us, we should allow it. Yet even Jesus Himself employed violence. He did this when He saw the court of the gentiles overrun with capitalists, preventing people from worshipping.
When is the time for viloence? Certainly, it should always be as a last resort. We need to exhaust every other option first, and then, only when the matter is worth killing and dying for.
When Matthias of Modin came to Jerusalem, he saw everything that was happening, how the Greeks had profaned the temple, how they hunted the righteous. He was angered beyond reason when the Greeks came to him and bribed him to worship their gods. But it was when he saw that they had succeeded in turning Jews away from God that he could not refrain from action any longer. Matthias killed two men that day. One a jew offering a profane offering to the gods of the heathen. The other was the commissioner who caused the people to sin.
This was the beginning of the revolt. Judas Macabeus, son of Matthias led israel in a revolt against the Selucids. At first, the revolt was a peaceful one. All who were loyal to God went to hide in the wilderness. They refused to fight, and were slaughtered when they were discovered. After this, the faithful jews took up arms. Under Judas, the Greeks were chased off, the righteous rescued and the temple retaken.
I'm sure you all know the next part of the story. It's the story of the miracle of Hanukah. When Judas and his people rededicated the newly cleansed temple, there was only enough oil to light the lamps for one day. It would take a week to consecrate more oil. Amazingly, the lamps burned for seven days after they should have burnt out.
What is the significance of this miracle? Earlier I painted a picture of God walking out the door on a loveless Israel. If God was truly gone, such a miracle would never have happened. This miracle demonstrated that He still loved Israel, and was still willing to meet with His people at His temple. God was literally keeping the flame alive.
This demonstrates to us that God is faithful even if everyone around us fails. It doesn't matter how far away we wander, God is always there, waiting to take us back. He also knows that we do not have what it takes to come all the way to Him. We can't make it on our own. It doesn't matter how hard we try, it's simply not possible. It's just like trying to stretch a single day's supply of lamp oil to seven days. With man, this is impossible. With God, anything is possible. This menorah is a picture of what Jesus did to reconcile us to the Father. Just as the Lord miraculously provided seven days' worth of oil, so He also provided that final, perfect sacrifice on the cross to atone for our sins. In both cases, his people only have to come to Him. He does the rest. He makes a way. He bridges the gap. He provides all that we need to worship Him.
Another thing we see about God is that He wanted the Jews to stand up and fight the Greeks. Now it may sound here like I am glorifying violence. I've been accused of that. Of course, it was a troll who did the accusing, so I'm not too concerned about it. I'm not saying that it's a good idea to hit someone over the head with a baseball bat whenever they make you angry. There are better ways of venting your anger, such as drawing a cartoon where you hit them over the head with a baseball bat. This was a very different situation. It wasn't a case of the Jews not getting something they wanted. It wasn't a matter of opposing the government because the government wasn't doing some certain thing or because they didn't grant a particular state autonomy. Those are not legitimate reasons for rebellion. The reason the Selucid government was to be opposed is because they were breaking the law. Of course, they would have said otherwise. In their own eyes, they were upholding the law. The problem was that they were failing to recognize the authority of God as supreme. Now I am not saying that it is right to rebel against any government which refuses to recognize God's authority. Jesus Himself submitted to the Roman government. The Roman government, however, did not prevent the worship of Jehovah. They allowed and in many ways even encouraged it. The Selucids were giving the people a choice of damnation or death. THAT is a cause for rebellion. By rising up against the Selucids, the faithful were showing their allegience to God. As with the later miracle of the oil, God gave Judas and his people all that they needed for victory. Once the decision was made to fight for God and for right, God delivered the Selucids into Judas' hands. An army of many thousands was routed and in one battle, over three thousand men were slain by a band of UNARMED MEN!
Through the course of history, we have seen Israel persecuted by every world empire. While they were still without a land, they were enslaved by Egypt. The Northern Kingdom was scattered by Assyria. The Southern Kingdom was hauled off by Babylon. They were repressed for a time by Medo-Persia. Now they had been invaded by the Greeks. That leaves only two of the seven world empires.
Upon the death of Antiochus, the Jews were divided over whether they should keep fighting. Those who chose to continue fighting for political purposes made a grave mistake which the kings of the past made, much to their regret. Instead of continued reliance on God, they sought the help of a foreign ally. In 160, Johnathan Maccabee, after the death of his brother, Judas, brought Rome in to help fight the Greeks. It's rather like filling your house with lions to get rid of the hyenas. The Romans never left, and in 63, Hasmonean Israel was officially conquored.
I'm sure that at this point, Satan thought he'd been very clever. Judaism had escaped being wiped out, only to fall into the hands of an even crueler enemy. Little did he know that God was still controlling history. Things were now set up to bring about the most important sequence of events in all of history- the life of the Christ. In terms of the River of History, this was a swamp. It was a time that was very difficult to get through. Seen on a map, you might see one river on one side and another river with a different name flowing out. We know, however, that it is one continuous river, and that every event we have seen so far has helped to bring that river to this point, just as God planned it. Praise God that even when things are bleakest, He is still in control, honoring the promise of Romans 8:28.
Our lessons for this week: Simply put, trust God, Stand up for Jesus, and be confident that God is still in control.
Today's reading: Daniel 3:8-18 8 Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and accused the Jews. 9 They spoke and said to King Nebuchadnezzar, "O king, live forever! 10 "You, O king, have made a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the gold image; 11 "and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. 12 "There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego; these men, O king, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up." 13 Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? 15 "Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?" 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 "If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. 18 "But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."