Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Life of Jesus of Nazareth

The Birth of Messiah's Herald: John the Baptiser

John’s father, Zacharias was a priest of the course of Abia, the eighth of the 24 courses into which the priesthood was divided. His testimony was that he was a good man. As was customary with the rank and file priests, he served in the Temple for two weeks of the year, most likely with a six month interval between them. During one of his periods of service something both remarkable and wonderful happened. After some 400 years of silence, God spoke – He sent a communication from heaven. It was not directed to the High Priest, or to one of the chief priests, but to Zacharias who was on duty in the Temple - in the Holy Place burning incense.

Model of the Temple
His tour of duty had started unremarkably. He had arrived on the Friday, as was usual, and passed through the triple gate at the foot of the Southern wall of the Temple. This was the gate reserved for the priests’ use – the general public gained access through other gates. Climbing up through the priests’ passageway under the Herodian extensions he exited into the sunshine on the Temple Mount facing the one of the Huldah gates. He passed through the Huldah gate reserved for the priests, crossed the court of Gentiles, entered the court of Israel and skirted the court of prayer to reach the vestment keeper’s office which was located in the building at the side of the court of priests. There he collected his priestly robes before making his way down the staircase to the sacred baths reserved for the priesthood to bathe and robe; and thence to the hall of the priests where he deposited his everyday clothes in one of the 96 lockers. All this took place on the Friday for the courses of priests changed on the Sabbath. His place of residence during his tour of duty was to be the ‘chamber of the hearth’, an important building in close proximity to the court of priests. The ground level was the priests’ dining room and the upper level is where they slept.

For a normal day, the captain of the Temple called them at cock-crowing, which is 3 a.m. After eating in the dining room, Zacharias left by the side door and joined other priests to share a sacramental meal and to say prayers. It was only after all proper preparations had been completed that the duty priests would report to the hall of polished stones where lots were cast to allocate individual tasks, for example, who would kill the sacrifice, who sprinkle the blood, who sweep the inner altar, who clean the lampstand, who burn the incense, etc. Zacharias was allocated a ‘once in a lifetime’ honour of burning the incense in the Holy Place at the time of prayer.

He was joined by two others who cleaned the altar and kindled the fire but they left on completion of their duties leaving Zacharias alone to burn the incense and recite the prayers of intercession. Although the great door into the Temple building (the Gate of the Golden Vine) was open, there was a curtain which would have prevented others from seeing what went on inside. It was when the smoke of the incense was rising he saw in the cloud an angel on the right side of the golden altar. This, according to R. Nathan and Simeon ben Asai[1], was the place where the Shekinah had talked to Moses.[2] He had never burnt incense in the Holy Place before, but he knew the appearance of the angel was unusual. Also, fresh in his mind was the warning he had received regarding the correct procedure to be followed, for all priests were aware of the punishment delivered to Nadab and Abihu who offered ‘strange fire’.[3]  So it was not surprising that the angel first said, “Fear not” before giving him a message regarding the birth of a son – the forerunner of the Messiah.

Zacharias must have been staggered at the encounter - an angelic visitor announcing the birth of the fore-runner of the Messiah; and that to a humble, albeit godly priest, who was blessed with a similarly godly wife. Their recorded testimony was: they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless”.  (Luke 1:5,6 )

The angel was Gabriel (the might of God), the same one who had announced to Daniel that Messiah would appear 483 years after the edict to rebuild the Temple. To Zacharias he announced that Messiah’s appearance was imminent, and declared his ‘not yet conceived’ son was to be a symbolic fulfilment of the last recorded prophetic utterance (by Malachi); Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:  And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” (Mal. 4:5,6) Luke’s record is detailed: “… the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:13–17)

Zacharias could not believe it, for although he and Elizabeth had been praying for a son for a considerable time, he had given up hope. So he asked for a sign, as if the appearance of one of God’s mighty angels was not enough! He got his wish – but not the kind of sign he was hoping for. He was struck dumb and deaf[4], disabilities that would not be reversed until the words of Gabriel were confirmed by events. When he emerged from the Holy Place he was expected to pronounce the Numbers 6:24-26 benediction on the people.[5] However, to the consternation of those waiting outside at the time of prayer he was unable to fulfil this last part of his morning service.  When, at the end of seven days he came to the end of his tour of duty he returned home to a city in Judah.  

As for Elizabeth, she conceived and went into seclusion. Because the child was to be so remarkable a son, so strict a Nazarite, and so famous a prophet, Elizabeth sequestered herself in case she should defile herself in any way, and thereby contract any uncleanness upon the Nazarite in her womb. This was in harmony with the instruction given by the angel of the LORD to the mother of the other Nazarite by divine appointment, Samson, Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. (Judges 13:4)

More Next Time

[1] Qutoed in Halkut
[2] Exod.30:6
[3] Lev.10:1
[4] Luke 1:62
[5] Tamid 7:2 (D)(Mishnah)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Birth of Christ (Continued)

Was there any expectation of a Messiah at the time of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth

Students of the Old Testament were familiar with those times when God had provided a prophetic indicator of great deliverances.  For  example,  because  of  His  words  to  Abraham,  Israel  might  have anticipated a Moses after 400 years in Egypt. Certainly, Daniel was able to mark the end of the Babylonian captivity after 70 years, because of the prophecy of Jeremiah.  Therefore, those who poured over the pages of the T’nach at the beginning of the Christian era would have been aware of Daniel’s prophecy which spoke of a period of 69 ‘sevens’ of years, that is 483 years, from the edict for the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile to the coming of ‘Messiah the Prince’. These scholars looked for any indications of the unveiling of the Messiah.
And for those that had eyes to see, there were signs that the time of Messiah had come. There had been that incident when an elderly priest had testified that during the ceremony of the burning of the incense, he had seen an angel in the Temple, who had brought a message of the coming of the Messiah. The angel was the very same Gabriel who had been instrumental in giving the timetable of Messiah’s coming to Daniel. Events surrounding the angelic visit helped to confirm the veracity of the message. The old priest was struck dumb and a son was miraculously born to the old couple, on whose birth the old priest was able to talk again.  Friends and neighbours spread the news throughout Judea.
Six months after the birth of the son of the priest, the ‘light and glory of God’ shone above the hills around Bethlehem. This light, the Shekinah of God, had been visible, even in Babylonia, where the eastern stargazers marked it and understood its significance. Temple shepherds, who had witnessed the Shekinah glory, reported further angelic messages of the birth of the Messiah.
Then there was the testimony of those who were recognised to be under the inspiration of the Spirit of God. Some six weeks after the shepherds had seen the Shekinah glory of God, the parents of the baby identified by heaven as the Messiah, went up to the Temple to fulfil their obligations - the offering of sacrifice for the purification of the mother, and the payment of money for the redemption of the first-born. Following the priestly benediction on the infant, a godly man, Simeon, entered the court of prayer, held the child in His arms and declared the baby to be God’s Messiah. This man was not only a student of the Scriptures and therefore aware of the timing of the coming of the Messiah, but also a godly man who had received an indication from God that he would not die until he saw the ‘Consolation of Israel’. The prophetess, Anna, likewise declared Him to be her Messiah. Nearly two years after these events, the eastern stargazers, who had seen from afar the Shekinah glory over the hills of Bethlehem, arrived in Jerusalem on a visit and ‘troubled’ both Herod and Jerusalem with the question, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?’ (Matt.2:2)
Herod, clearly aware of the Messianic expectations of the nation at that time, called some of the Sanhedrin and asked where the Messiah was to be born. They identified Bethlehem, which community suffered a great tragedy some time later when Herodian soldiers slaughtered all of the children younger than twenty-five months. It was Herod’s attempt, no doubt prompted by a higher, evil, power, to kill the young Messiah.

In Conclusion
To poor, sinful, demon-possessed Israel Jesus came as their Messiah and offered deliverance and peace. How different would their future have been had they accepted Him. But sin makes a person foolish, and that applied to Israel’s leaders at that time.
However, the offer of deliverance and peace is still being made today—but now to individuals. Let not any be foolish and reject Christ’s offer of mercy, especially at Christmas time. After all, He can change your life for the better!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Birth of Christ

Our Christmas study continues to look at the condition of the world as seen in the condition of Israel at the time

When God sent His Son

Scribes and Pharisees:

The Pharisees, in contrast to the Sadducees, accepted the whole of the T’nach, (the Law, the Writings and the Prophets); and added other regulations which they sought to impose on the population.  These other laws and regulations were called the ‘tradition of the elders’; and revolved around the practical application of the T’nach.  The Pharisees worked hand in hand with the interpreters of these traditions, the Scribes, but Jesus condemned both Scribes and Pharisees for hypocrisy.  They pretended spirituality, they pretended integrity, they pretended they were following the light of the Word of God, but Jesus said, they were, like the Sadducees, corrupt, extortioners, exploiting the people, devouring widows’ houses.  Described as blind leaders of the blind, they were a generation of vipers.

Historically, these ‘rulers of Israel’, (Sadducean priests and Pharisaic elders and lawyers), met in the house of polished stones in the Temple compound, but at the time of the ministry of the Messiah they were meeting in the end chamber of the royal porch, located on the southern wall of the Temple mount.


The population itself was largely in a state of unbelief, and ripe for the activities of the Adversary.  When Jesus began His ministry, one of His first tasks was as a medical missionary to the demon possessed. This condition revealed itself in many ways, with some deaf, some blind, some mute, some paralysed, some lunatic and some spastic. Many in Israel had been ‘bound by Satan’ for a considerable period.  Lightfoot expresses it in his exercitations on Matthew 10: ‘When I consider with myself that numberless number of demoniacs which the evangelists mention, the like to which no history affords, and the Old Testament produces hardly one or two examples, I cannot but suspect …that the Jewish people, now arriving to the very top of that impiety, now also arrived to the very top of those curses which are recited in Leviticus chapter 26 and Deuteronomy chapter 28’.  Then there were those who, while not possessed, were oppressed of the devil. Luke refers to it when he reported, ‘Jesus of Nazareth … went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.’ It appears that Jesus first had to cleanse the nation of demonic activity before they could have the freedom to consider His claims of office. Jesus likened the nation to a man possessed of an unclean demon.
The Birth of the Saviour
Into such a world and at such a time the Son of God came, born of a virgin in David’s town of Bethlehem, of the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David
We magnify the grace and condescension of God in this great act of mercy. Christ Jesus, who,   being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:5–7)

Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the Virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell;
Jesus, our Emmanuel!

More Next Time

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Birth of Christ

Since Christmas is just around the corner, I thought we could have an early look at the condition of the world:

When God sent His Son
The condition of the Jewish nation at the time of the incarnation
Writers of the Jewish Scriptures prophesied the coming of a deliverer, an anointed one, a Messiah; an individual who would be of the seed of woman; and descended from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David.  Moses said he would be an anointed prophet,   David said he would be a priest of the order of Melchizedek, Micah said he would rule Israel. Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be that Messiah. 
At the time of His birth, Israel was in captivity both nationally and spiritually.  The land, promised to Abraham and his seed, was enemy held territory. The standards, symbols and activities of Rome, the unlawful occupants, were everywhere.  The Jewish Temple, for all its great height, was itself overlooked by the towers of the  Antonia      Fortress. This was a physical illustration of the plight of the nation.
Another King of the Jews: Under Rome, there was a period when the secular rulers of the nation were the Herods. There are   seven of them mentioned in the New Testament.  The first was Herod the Great, the king of the nation at the time of the birth of Jesus. He was not of David’s line, not even of Jacob’s line, therefore not of ‘Israel’. He was an Idumean, a descendent of Esau, and a Jewish proselyte. Under Rome, he ruled over an area the size of which rivalled that of Solomon. He thought of himself as a new Solomon, building the Temple while overcoming all obstacles. He obtained the title, ‘King of the Jews’ and some of the Herodian party considered him a Messiah. However, he was evil, a murderer, his infamous act, the massacre of the innocents of Bethlehem, was not out of character
The Spiritual Climate
More serious than Israel’s political state was its spiritual state.
Sadducean/Boethusean  High Priests
It is likely that one of the sons of Boethus was High Priest at the time of the birth of Jesus. Boethus was a pupil of Antigonus of Sokho who taught the maxim, "Be not like the servants who serve their masters for the sake of the wages, but be rather like those who serve without thought of  receiving wages". He and another of his pupils,  Zadok  repeated this maxim to their pupils. In the course of time, either the two teachers or their   pupils understood this to express the belief that there was neither an afterlife nor a resurrection of the dead and  founded the sects of the Sadducees  and the Boethusians. They lived in luxurious splendour; using silver and golden vessels all their lives.
Historical in this story is the statement that these two sects denied the immortality of the soul and resurrection. Josephus asserted their rejection of “the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades”. “Souls die with the bodies” was what they said.  The   practical effect of this doctrine was ‘eat, drink and be merry, for    tomorrow we die’.  They were called the Epicureans of the Jews. Since their theological position did not include reward or retribution after death, they were left with no restraint in the present.
Interspersed with the High Priesthoods of the    family of Boethus was the High Priesthoods of the family of Annas who were of the Sadducean persuasion.  It was a son in law of Annas, Caiaphas, who was High Priest during the period of Jesus’ ministry.
The sum of all this was that for six decades around the birth, ministry and death of Christ, the Temple was controlled by those who did not believe that they would ever stand before the judgement seat of God. These doctrines opened the door to all kinds of excesses and misdeeds. 
The Priesthood
The commercial enterprises of  the priesthood on the Temple Mount exposed their corruption.  Items essential for ritual offerings were sold at exorbitant prices. The great religious festivals, when Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims from other parts of the Roman empire as well as the faithful in Israel, were used to collect vast amounts of money. A Rabbi described them not as priests but as treasurers. Jesus referred to them as ‘thieves and robbers’. The Temple ‘market’ in Rabbinical writings is referred to as ‘the Bazaars of the Sons of Annas’ (Chanuyoth beney Chanan).  The priests were running a monopoly and worshippers were fleeced like the sheep they sacrificed!    

More Next Time

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Messiah and the Ritual of Israel (Continued)

The Degradation of the Office of High Priest

While the Maccabean leaders and those that followed them had the spirit of Jonathan (son of Saul), they were successful. Jonathan had said,  it may be that the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6) When they expressed similar faith and trusted the Lord for strength and wisdom they were victorious, but somehow once they had success they felt they had to maintain security by other means. They made alliances with some of the stronger nations around them to maintain power. This resulted in their hold on the land being weakened and ultimately broken.

Their change in policy was also reflected in the way the office of High Priest was treated. Under the Mosaic covenant it was designed to be hereditary and only change on the decease of the holder,  but because of its inherent power, both politically and culturally, it was coveted by those with ambitions to rule. It was forcibly taken by some who had no right to hold it. Different ones obtained it be various means, sometimes by offering money, sometimes through military power, sometimes by political astuteness. From 163 BC to 159 BC Alcimus was High Priest. In May 160 BC he gave great offence to those who adhered to the Torah. He threw down the walls of the inner court of the Temple and in so doing was said to have destroyed the works of the prophets. His death soon after was considered a judgement of God.

A mixture of diplomacy and military acumen was needed to obtain and then retain power in the region. Some accomplished it by obtaining the post of ruler/prince/king as well as the office of High Priest. For more than one hundred years one family dominated the political and religious landscape – it was the family that led the rebellion against Syria, the Maccabees. Jonathan, brother of Judas, was invested as High Priest in 153 BC. Simon, his brother, subsequently became High Priest in 141 BC. This was the founding of the Hasmonean High Priesthood. He then was succeeded by his son John Hyrcanus I, who was himself succeeded by his son, Aristobulus I. Aristobulus only held the office of High Priest for a short time (105 BC – 104 BC)! Alexander Jannaeus, his brother, then held the post. Alexander was not only High Priest but also king and held this position from 104 BC to 78 BC. His widow Salome became Queen on his decease, before his son Aristobulus II became ruler and his brother Hyrcanus II, High Priest. He held office until 40 BC. Antigonus, son of Aristobulos II, was High Priest from 40 BC to 37 BC and was succeeded by Aristobulus III (36 BC) He was the last of the Hasmoneans, paternal grandson of Aristobulus II and brother of Herod's wife Mariamne (second wife of Herod). There were 14 further High Priests prior to the accession of Caiaphas, the High Priest in office at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus. This list is offered to demonstrate that the requirements of the Law, (that the High Priest was to be of the family of Aaron and hold the office for life), was no longer taken seriously.

The power of Rome in the region waxed and waned - Pompey entered Jerusalem in 63 BC –but then the Roman civil wars brought a temporary respite to Hebrew nation. However, in 37 BC Israel became a client state of Rome when Herod the Great, who had allied himself to the Roman cause, was installed as king. Herod was an Idumean, that is, from the region of Edom. This region had been forced to embrace the Jewish religion by John Hyrcanus in 123 BC. This is why Herod felt he could be considered Jewish. His rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple was designed to place him in the same bracket as Solomon who built the first Temple.

This history delivers much information to illuminate any consideration of the life and times of Jesus, delivering as it does a catalogue of the many varied influences that impacted on His ministry.

(1)   That Rome was the supreme power at the time of His birth, life and death caused Him to be born in Bethlehem and die by crucifixion.

(2)   That Rome installed Herod, an ambitious, vicious, blood thirsty, power seeking individual      as king, produced the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem, the settling of the family in Nazareth and the beheading of John the Baptist.

(3)   It was the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes and the reaction of the ‘pious’ that also gave shape to the political landscape at the time of Christ, for there are many that would suggest that the Chasidim (the ‘pious’), who led the revolt against Syria, morphed into the Pharisees who took upon themselves the responsibility of defending rigorously the traditions of the nation.

(4)   The buying (or acquiring by force) the position of High Priest explains why the office had been so greatly corrupted and in such disrepute, when it was held by the ‘Sons of Annas’, a group which includes Caiaphas who presided over the trial and condemnation of Christ.

More Next Time

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Messiah and the Ritual of Israel (Continued)

Events Leading to the Establishment of the Feast of Dedication

Then on the 15th Chisleu, that is, in December of 168 BC there took place an incident that has been burned into the racial memory of the Jewish people - a pagan altar was built at the great altar in the Jerusalem Temple. Then on the 25th Chisleu, for the first time, a sacrifice was offered on it. This was the first fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy –they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation. (Daniel 11:31)

The Jews first showed passive resistance but this was soon replaced by open revolt. Revolution broke out in the town of Modein at the call of a priest of the order of Joarib, named Mattathias, and his five sons, John, Simon, Judas, Eleasar and Jonathan. When the king’s officer came to Modein in order to insist that the inhabitants offer a heathen sacrifice, Mattathias refused to obey and stepping forward said, “Though all the nations that are under the king’s dominion obey him, and fall away every one from the religion of their fathers and give consent to his commandments, yet will I and my sons and my brothers walk in the covenant of our fathers. God forbid that we should forsake the law and the ordinances”. When Mattathias saw another from the town approaching the altar to offer the sacrifice and appease the king’s officer he rushed forward and slew him there. He and his sons also killed the king’s commissioner and leveled the altar to the ground. Mattathias and his sons fled to the mountains and were joined by others of the Chasidim (the pious) and began a campaign of guerrilla warfare.

The son of Mattathias, Judas came to be the military leader of the movement and he and the force under him felt that they had the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob on their side. They marched against Jerusalem, which was under Syrian control, and won a brilliant victory. They restored the worship of YHWH in Zion. This gave further impetus to the rebellion and other victories followed, although in the flow of the conflict Jerusalem changed hands and had to be re-taken. After two decisive victories, Judas took possession of Jerusalem once again although he could not dislodge the Syrian forces from the citadel. Nevertheless, he was able to keep them in check while cleansing the Temple ready for a resumption of divine worship. Everything impure was carried out of the Temple and the altar of burnt offering which had been polluted was dismantled and wholly replaced. New sacred garments and furniture were provided, and when everything was in order the Temple was re-consecrated by the celebration of a great feast. This was on the 25th Chisleu , that is, in December 165 BC on exactly the same day as the altar had been desecrated three years earlier, when heathen sacrifices had been offered in the court of priests. The festivities lasted for eight days. The recovery of the Temple was so momentous that it was resolved to celebrate it annually (it came to be known as the Feast of Dedication (see John 10:22).

Next Time How the office of High Priest was degraded.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Messiah and the Ritual of Israel (Continued)

Influences that affect the Office of High Priest during the Inter-Testamental Period

The Hellenising of the Jewish Nation

Alongside the legalistic tendencies that were permeating the nation, another influence of an entirely different kind arose at the time of Alexander the Great. It was the ambition of Alexander to found an empire which would be held together, not merely by the unity of government but also the unity of language and customs. All the nations under his dominion were to be saturated with Hellenic culture – thus Greek became the universal language of business and government and he took care that Greek colonists should always follow in the wake of his army. This is why Paul and the apostles spoke and wrote in Greek and why the original language of the New Testament is Greek.

Greek culture and language was successful in infiltrating the land of Israel. Nevertheless, it had an unforeseen consequence - it triggered a revival of Torah observance and gave impetus to the strengthening of the Jewishness of the Hebrew people. It happened at the time of the Syrian domination of Israel. The population had gravitated towards two parties – the party friendly to the Greeks (those who wished to live and act like Greeks) and those who were antagonistic to these tendencies – those of the party of the ‘pious’, the Chasidim, who wished to be observers of the Mosaic code. Everything seemed to be flowing toward the Hellenists – the secularization of the country was gaining momentum – but then a powerful reaction set in. It was brought about by the actions of the despot that had the rule over them (Antiochus Epiphanes). 

This king (Antiochus IV) held the Syrian throne from 175 BC to 164 BC. This meant that he also had authority over Israel which was treated as one of their provinces. The leadership of Israel at the beginning of his reign rested with the High Priest, Onias III. But this office, the highest and most powerful in the land, was political as well as religious, and other leaders who had no qualifications, either by birth or training, squabbled over who was to have the position. Consequently, Onias III was driven out by one named Jesus, who became better known under his Greek name Jason. Jason promised their Syrian ruler a great sum of money in return for the office of High Priest, and was given not only the leadership of the Jewish people (under Antiochus) but also the responsibility of continuing the programme of Hellenising the Hebrew people. A gymnasium was erected below the castle in Jerusalem and young men exercised themselves in the gymnastic arts of the Greeks. Even the priests forsook their service at the altar and took part in the games. However, Jason was overthrown by another, one Menelaus, who offered even more money to the king in return for the position of High Priest. This did not quench the claim of Jason and much in-fighting took place before Antiochus decided to march against Jerusalem. A cruel man, he massacred much of the population and then plundered the treasures of the Temple including the golden Menorah, the golden altar and the table of showbread. Still the cup of despair of the Jewish people was not yet full – there were more desecrations yet to come.

Greek gods who are no gods at all.
Antiochus had military ambitions in other areas of the region as well – but when he marched against Egypt he was defeated. Rome, aiming to be the greatest power in the Middle East, entered the conflict. The forces of Antiochus were routed and he had to retreat. Having been humiliated in battle he decided to take it out on the Jewish people. He began a war of extermination against the Jewish religion. He sent out representatives to ensure that no-one of Jewish extraction was permitted to follow the religion of their fathers. Those that disobeyed were to be punished – the men killed and women and children sold into slavery. It was to begin at Jerusalem which was to become a Greek city populated by colonists. The Jewish population of Jerusalem was destroyed – but it was only the first step of the programme to de-Judais Israel. Throughout the whole land the Jewish religion was to be rooted out, and the worship of Greek gods imposed. The observance of all Jewish rites, especially those of circumcision and Sabbath rest, were forbidden on pain of death. Officers were sent out into the nation to ensure the emperor’s wishes were carried out. Once a month a rigorous search took place – if a copy of the book of the Law was found in the possession of any man – or if anyone had his child circumcised - then he was put to death.

Next Time: the events that led to the establishment of the Feast of Dedication