Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber

The Beginning of the End

Mattathias had noticed that by strictly keeping the Sabbath, his people had often been defeated; so he now led them into battle even on the holy day, and won so many victories that the Jews soon began to gain hope once more. When his end was drawing near, this brave old man called his five sons to his bedside. He named Simon, the second and wisest, as ruler and adviser, while Judas Maccabaeus, the third, was made general of the army.

The Maccabees, as these five brethren and their descendants are generally called, fought so bravely that they little by little defeated all the generals sent against them. They became masters of Jerusalem, repaired the temple, and after purifying it again began to worship God in it.

It was at this time that a small vial of holy oil miraculously supplied enough for all the temple lamps; and ever since then the faithful Jews have commemorated this miracle by the "Feast of Lights."

The Maccabees went on fighting against the Syrians with the utmost bravery. For instance, one of them once slipped under a fighting elephant which he fancied carried the Syrian king, and sacrificed his own life in hopes of killing the enemy of his people.

Judas Maccabaeus struggled without a pause for ten years, fighting more battles than we can count, and with only a small force keeping the enemy at bay until the Jews had a chance to rise from the dust. At the end of this time he fell in battle; but when he died it was knowing that he had done his best, and had taught his followers how to fight and be strong.

The Jews were now guided in turn by the other Maccabees, and under one of them they entirely shook off the Syrian dominion, and entered into a league with the Romans. At this time the province of Samaria was laid waste, and a rival temple there was destroyed.

Aristobulus, one of the Maccabees, was the first who bore the royal title since the return from Babylon, but his reign was very short. The next king left two sons, who quarreled over the throne, and one of them asked for the help of the Romans.

Pompey, the great Roman general, came in answer to this appeal, and although he entered Judea as an umpire, he staid there as a master, and forced the Jews to pay tribute to Rome. In the course of this war, the temple hill was besieged and taken by storm. Pompey entered the temple, and in spite of all remonstrances he forced his way into the Holy of Holies, where none but the high priest was allowed to enter, and that only once a year.

Pompey also pulled down the walls of Jerusalem, which had been rebuilt by Nehemiah, but he allowed the Jews to continue their worship as before. Ten years later, Crassus, another Roman, came to Syria. He was very greedy for gold, and he ordered that the temple should be robbed and all its treasures carried off.

When Julius Caesar became master of Rome, he appointed a governor for Judea; but this ruler was soon succeeded by his son Herod the Great, who took the title of king. To make the Jews friendly to him this Herod married Mariamne, sister of the high priest, and the last member of the royal family; but he finally murdered her and her sons in a fit of jealousy.

[Illustration] from The Story of the Chosen People by Helene Guerber


About twenty years before our era, Herod, hoping to disarm the wrath of the Jews, who still hated him, began to rebuild the ruined temple, and the main part of this work was finished the very year that Christ was born.