During the eight days of Hanukah, every Jew should read the second Book of Maccabees for the lesson that it is not outside critics and enemies, but our own political and spiritual corruption, that leads to defeat and oppression. “After King Seleucus died, Antiochus (who called himself Epiphanes — God manifested) became king. Jason became High Priest by corrupt means.
“He went to the king and offered him a large bribe (to be appointed High Priest) and an additional bribe for the authority to establish a (sports) stadium where young men could train; and to enroll the people (his supporters) in Jerusalem as citizens of Antioch. (2 Maccabees 4:7-9)
“The king gave his approval, and as soon as Jason took over the office of High Priest, he made the people of Jerusalem change to the Greek way of life. He began by abolishing the favors that John had secured for the Jews from previous Syrian kings. Jason also did away with our Jewish customs and introduced new customs that were contrary to our Law.
“With great enthusiasm he built a stadium near the Temple hill and led our finest young men to adopt the Greek custom of participating in athletic events (naked). Because of the unrivaled wickedness of Jason, that ungodly and illegitimate High Priest, the craze for the Greek way of life and for foreign customs reached such a point that even the priests lost all interest in their sacred duties.
“They lost interest in the Temple services and neglected the sacrifices. They would rush off to take part in the (naked) games that were forbidden by our Law. They did not care about anything their ancestors had valued; they prized only Greek honors.
“And this turned out to be the source of all their troubles, for the very people whose ways they admired and whose customs they tried to imitate became their enemies and oppressed them.” (2 Maccabees 4:10-16)
Things got worse some time later when Menelaus offered the king an even larger bribe, and was appointed High Priest in place of Jason, who was forced to flee. “Menelaus stayed on in his position because of the greed of those in power. He grew more evil every day and became the worst enemy of his own people.” (2 Maccabees 4:50)
A few years later when Antiochus was fighting a war against Egypt: “a false report began to spread that Antiochus had died” (5:5) and many Jews celebrated. “When the news of what had happened in Jerusalem reached Antiochus, he thought the whole country of Judea was in revolt, and he became as furious as a wild animal.
“So he left Egypt and took Jerusalem by storm, giving his men orders to cut down without mercy everyone they met and to slaughter anyone they found hiding in the houses. They murdered everyone—men and women, boys and girls; even babies were butchered.” (5:11-13)
“But Antiochus was still not satisfied. He even dared to enter the holiest Temple in all the world, guided by Menelaus, who had become a traitor both to his religion and to his people. With his filthy and unholy hands, Antiochus grabbed the sacred objects of worship, and the gifts which other kings had given to increase the glory and honor of the Temple.
“He was so thrilled with his conquest that he did not realize that the Lord had let his holy Temple be defiled because the sin of the people of Jerusalem had made him angry for a while.
“If the people of Jerusalem had not been involved in so many sins, Antiochus would have been punished immediately and prevented from taking such a foolish action. But the Lord did not choose his people for the sake of his Temple; he established his Temple for the sake of his people.
“So the Temple shared in the people’s suffering but also later shared in their prosperity. The Lord abandoned it when he became angry, but restored it when his anger had cooled down. (5:15-20)
“Not long after that, the king sent an elder from Antioch to force the Jews to abandon their religion and the customs of their ancestors. He was also to defile their Temple by dedicating it to the Olympian god Zeus. The oppression was harsh and almost intolerable. Gentiles filled the Temple with drinking parties and all sorts of immorality.
“They even had intercourse with prostitutes there. Forbidden objects were brought into the Temple, and the altar was covered with detestable sacrifices (pigs) prohibited by our Law.
“It was impossible to observe the Sabbath, to celebrate any of the traditional festivals, or even so much as to admit to being a Jew. Each month when the king’s birthday was celebrated, Jews were compelled by brute force to eat the intestines of sacrificial animals. Then, during the festival in honor of the wine god Dionysus, they were required to wear ivy wreaths on their heads and march in procession.
“The neighboring Greek cities were also instructed to require Jews to eat the sacrifices; they were told to put to death every Jew who refused to adopt the Greek way of life. It was easy to see that hard times were ahead.
“For example, two women were arrested for having their babies circumcised. They were paraded around the city with their babies hung from their breasts; then they were thrown down from the city wall.
“On another occasion, Philip was told that some Jews had gathered in a nearby cave to observe the Sabbath in secret. Philip attacked and burned them all alive. They had such respect for the Sabbath that they would not fight to defend themselves.” (6:1-11)
Tragically, the Maccabees’ success in gaining religious freedom and political independence by defeating several Syrian Greek armies that were sent to suppress their rebellion; was two generations later, transformed into a failure when the Hasmonean dynasty they had established became politically corrupt and oppressive.