Now turn we to Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, that was the first to reign over all Greece. This Alexander marched out from his own land of Cethim, and overcame Darius, king of the Medes and Persians.
Battles he waged a many; nor any fortress might hold out against him, nor any king escape with his life;
and so he journeyed on to the world’s end, spoiling the nations everywhere; at his coming, silence fell on the earth.
So great the power of him, so valiant his armies, what wonder if his heart grew proud?
All those lands conquered, all those kings his tributaries!
Then, all at once, he took to his bed, and the knowledge came to him he must die.
Whereupon he summoned the noblest of his courtiers, men that had shared his own upbringing, and to these, while he had life in him yet, divided up his kingdom.
So reigned Alexander for twelve years, and so died.
And what of these courtiers turned princes, each with a province of his own?
Be sure they put on royal crowns, they and their sons after them, and so the world went from bad to worse.
Burgeoned then from the stock of Antiochus a poisoned growth, another Antiochus, he that was called the Illustrious. He had been formerly a hostage at Rome, but now, in the hundred and thirty-seventh year of the Grecian empire, he came into his kingdom.
In his day there were godless talkers abroad in Israel, that did not want for a hearing; Come, said they, let us make terms with the heathen that dwell about us! Ever since we forswore their company, nought but trouble has come our way.
What would you? Such talk gained credit,
and some were at pains to ask for the royal warrant; whereupon leave was given them, Gentile usages they should follow if they would.
With that, they must have a game-place at Jerusalem, after the Gentile fashion,
ay, and go uncircumcised; forgotten, their loyalty to the holy covenant, they must throw in their lot with the heathen, and become the slaves of impiety.
And now that he was firmly established on his throne, Antiochus would be lord of Egypt, and wear two crowns at once.
So, with overwhelming force, with chariots and elephants and horsemen and a great array of ships, he marched on Egypt,
and levied war against king Ptolemy, that could not hold his ground, but fled away, leaving many fallen.
So Antiochus made himself master of all the strongholds in Egypt, and ransacked it for spoil;
then, in the hundred and forty-third year, he turned his victorious march against Israel.
With all that great army of his he came to Jerusalem
and entered the sanctuary in royal state; the golden altar, the lamp-stand with its appurtenances, the table where bread was set out, beaker and goblet and golden bowl, curtain and capital and golden facings of the temple, all alike were stripped.
Silver nor gold was spared, nor any ornament of price, nor hoarded treasures could he but find them; and thus laden he went back to his own country,
first shedding a deal of blood, and speaking very blasphemously.
Loud mourning there was in Israel, mourning in all the country-side;
wept ruler and elder, pined man and maid, and colour fled from woman’s cheeks;
bridegroom took up the dirge, bride sat in her bower disconsolate;
here was a land that trembled for its inhabitants, a whole race covered with confusion.
Two years passed, and then the king sent his chief collector of revenue to visit the cities of Juda. To Jerusalem he came, with a great rabble at his heels,
and won credence with idle professions of friendship.
Then he fell suddenly on the town and grievously mishandled it, slaying Israelites a many,
plundering the city and setting fire to it. Houses and encircling walls of it were thrown down in ruins,
women and children carried off into slavery, cattle driven away.
And as for David’s Keep, they enclosed it with high, strong walls, and strong towers besides, to serve them for a fortress;
garrisoned it with a godless crew of sinners like themselves, and made it fast, storing it with arms and provisions, besides the plunder they had amassed in Jerusalem,
which they bestowed there for safety. Alas, what peril of treachery was here,
what an ambush laid about the holy place, what devil’s work against Israel!
What a tide of guiltless blood must flow about the sanctuary, till it was a sanctuary no more!
Little wonder if the inhabitants of Jerusalem took to flight, leaving their city to strangers; mother so unnatural her own children must forsake.
Her sanctuary a desert solitude, her feasts all lament, her sabbaths derided, her greatness brought low!
Her pride was the measure of that abasement, her glory of that shame.
And now came a letter from king Antiochus to all the subjects of his realm, bidding them leave ancestral custom of this race or that, and become one nation instead.
As for the heathen, they fell in readily enough with the royal will;
and in Israel itself there were many that chose slavery, offering sacrifice to false gods and leaving the sabbath unobserved.
Both in Jerusalem and in all the cities of Juda the king’s envoys published this edict; men must live by the law of the heathen round about,
burnt-sacrifice, offering and atonement in God’s temple should be none,
nor sabbath kept, nor feast-day.
And, for the more profanation of the sanctuary, and of Israel’s holy people,
altar and shrine and idol must be set up, swine’s flesh offered, and all manner of unhallowed meat;
children be left uncircumcised, and their innocent lives contaminated with rites unclean, abominable; till the law should be forgotten, and the divine precepts fashioned anew.
Durst any neglect the royal bidding, he must die.
Through the whole of his dominions the king’s writ ran, and commissioners were appointed besides to enforce it;
no city of Juda but was ordered to do sacrifice.
Many there were, traitors to the divine law, that took their part, and much mischief they did,
driving the men of Israel to seek refuge in hiding, where refuge was to be had.
It was on the fifteenth of Casleu, in the hundred and forty-fifth year, that king Antiochus set up an idol to desecrate God’s altar; shrines there were in every township of Juda,
offering of incense and of victims before house doors and in the open street;
never a copy of the divine law but was torn up and burned;
if any were found that kept the sacred record, or obeyed the Lord’s will, his life was forfeit to the king’s edict.
Month by month such deeds of violence were done, in all townships where men of Israel dwelt,
and on the twenty-fifth of the month sacrifice was made at the shrine that overshadowed the altar.
Death it was for woman to have her child circumcised in defiance of the king;
there in her own house she must be hung up, with the child about her neck, and the circumciser, too, must pay for it with his life.
Many a son of Israel refused the unclean food, preferring death to defilement;
and die they must, because they would not break God’s holy law.
Grievous, most grievous was the doom that hung then over his people.