Gambar halaman
PDF
ePub

forsook the law and worship of God in this time of trial : several Jews changed their religion to escape persecution, or to ingratiate themselves with the court, and afterwards became greater persecutors of their brethren than the heathens themselves.

I am sure the sensibility of my dear George will be put to the proof by the relation which I am about to give. But our natural feelings were implanted in us by the Author of our being, for the wisest and most salutary purposes : it should therefore be our endeavour, under the influence of reason and religion, to regulate and not to extinguish them; for, though frequently painful in their immediate effects, they may, if properly improved, be highly beneficial in their ultimate consequences.

The history of the Jews, at this period, affords an eminent display of the Lord's power and grace, in enabling his people to stand fast under the most cruel tortures, not counting their lives dear, so that they might but glorify God, and finish their course with joy.

In order more effectually to carry his purpose into execution, Antiochus sent an officer, named Atheneus, into Judea and Samaria; a man advanced in years, and well versed in all the ceremonies of the Grecian idolatry. As soon as he arrived at Jerusalem, he put a stop to the the World

3836. sacrifices which were offered in the temple to the God of Israel, calling it the temple of Jupiter Olympius, whose image he set up on the altar, and sacrificed to it. He also suppressed the Jewish law, and burnt all the copies he could find; putting to death all who dared to act contrary to the

Year of

decrees of the king. Altars and idols were now set up in every part of the city, and sacred groves were planted: officers also were appointed, who forced the people to eat the flesh of swine and other unclean animals.

One of those officers, Apelles by name, went to Modin, the residence of Mattathias, who was a priest, a venerable man, of the family called Asmoneans, and zealous for the law of God. He had five sons, all brave men, and filled with as ardent a zeal as himself for the worship and service of God. Their names were Joannan, Simon, Judah, Eleazar, and Jonathan. Apelles assembled the inhabitants, and explained his commission, endeavouring to persuade Mattathias to comply with the king's orders, promising him and his sons great honours and preferments. Mattathias replied with a loud voice, in the presence of the whole assembly, That though all the nations of the earth should obey the edicts of Antiochus, neither himself nor any of his family would ever abandon the religion of their forefathers.

Immediately after this declaration, a Jew went up to the altar which the heathens had raised, to sacrifice there in obedience to the king's injunction. Mattathias, fired with a zeal like that of Phinehas, fell on the apostate and killed him. If you consult the 13th of Deuteronomy, you will find, that in so doing he acted agreeable to the injunction of the law in such cases. After this, on the principle of self-defence, being joined by his sons and some others, he slew the king's commissioner and all his attendants.

con

Having, by this bold action, lifted up the standard, he cried aloud in the city, Whosoever is zealous of the law, and maintaineth the covenant, let him follow me. His family and many more immediately retired to the mountains, whither they were soon followed by others; so that the deserts of Judea were in a short time filled with people, who fled from persecution. At first, when the Jews were attacked on the sabbath, they did not offer to make the least resistance, but suffered theinselves to be cut in pieces; they were, however, soon vinced that the law of the sabbath was not intended to hinder persons from defending themselves when their lives were in danger.

Antiochus, being informed that his decrees were not so implicitly obeyed in Judea as in all other places, went thither in person to see them put in execution : on which occasion, be exercised the most horrid cruelties, in order to force the Jews to abjure their religion. The extreme violence of this persecution caused some to fall away ; but many continued firm, and chose rather to suffer death than procure the king's favouř by doing that which God had expressly forbidden.

Among these, Eleazar was one of the most illustrious. He was a venerable man, ninety years of age,

and a doctor of the law. He was commanded to eat swine's flesh, and endeavours were used to force him to a compliance; but Eleazar, preferring a glorious death to a criminal life, went voluntarily to execution.

Some of his old acquaintance, out of a false tenderness, would have persuaded him to yield, in appearance, to the king's injunctions, by bringing some meat of his own, which he might secretly substitute in the room of that which was taken from the sacrifice, and thus save his life without violating the law. But Eleazer, disdaining such a pitiful evasion, continued firm in bis refusal; urging, in reply to their arguments, how shameful it would be for one at his age to use such an artifice: and what an example it would be for others; as many young men, upon the supposition that Cleazer, at the age of fourscore years and ten, had embraced the principles of heathenism, might also be induced to forsake their religion and worship idols; thus, by attempting to preserve the short remains of a corruptible life, he should disgrace his profession, encourage apostates, bring infamy upon his hoary hairs, and, what was worst of all, though he might avoid the punishment of men, he should expose himself to the just vengeance of God, from which there is no escape, either in this world, or in that which is to come. Having finished bis speech; he was led to execution.

When he was ready to expire with the torments inflicted on him, he fetched a deep sigh, and said, O Lord, thou knowest, that whereas I might have been delivered from death, I now suffer cruel agonies in my body; but in my soul I find joy in my suffering, because I fear thee. Thus died this holy man, leaving a glorious example to the whole nation.

About the same time, seven brethren, with their mother, were seized and brought before Antiochus,

[blocks in formation]

who caused them to be scourged in a most inhuman manner, to force them to eat swine's flesh, contrary to their law.

The eldest said unto the king, We are ready to lay down our lives rather than violate the holy laws of our forefathers. The king, exasperated at these words, ordered brazen pans and caldrons to be heated, and when they were red hot, he caused the tongue of him who had spoken to be cut out, and had the skin torn from his head, and the extremities of his hands and feet cut off, before his mother and his brethren : after this, he was brought close to the fire, and fried in the pan. His mother and brethren, being wonderfully supported of God, exhorted each other to die courageously, saying, The Lord will regard truth; he will have pity on us, and comfort us'; as Moses declares in his song. (Set Deut. xxxii. 36.)

The second was taken, and tormented in the same manner as his brother had been. In his last moments he thus spake to the king: Wieked prince; thou bereavest us of this terrestrial life; but the King of heaven and earth, seeing we die for the defence of his laws, will raise us up to everlasting life.

They now proceeded to the third. He was commanded to put forth his tongue, which he immediately did, and then, stretching forth his hands with the utmost tranquillity of mind, he bravely said, I received these limbs from heaven, which I now resign for the defence of the laws of God, in sure and certain hope that he will one day restore them to me. The king and courtiers were astonished at

[ocr errors]
« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »