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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : LESSON XVII. THE SYRIAN PERSECUTION.

The Chosen People by Charlotte Mary Yonge

LESSON XVII. THE SYRIAN PERSECUTION.

|The dead bodies of Thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the air, and the flesh of Thy saints unto the beasts of the land.| -- Ps. lxxix.2.

The history of Antiochus the Great is foretold in the 11th chapter of the prophet Daniel, from the 14th to the 19th verse. On the death of Ptolemy Philopator, this king entered Palestine with a great army, and easily obtained from the time-serving Jews the surrender of Jerusalem. Some of them who had forsaken their Law to gain the favour of Ptolemy, were punished by Antiochus, because he knew that no trust could be placed in men who cared for their own profit more than for their God. He then laid siege to Gaza and to Sidon, and won great victories, ravaging and consuming the adjoining lands with his armies; and afterwards made peace with young Ptolemy Epiphanes, giving him his daughter in marriage, hoping that she would betray her husband to him. She, however, entirely forsook him, and made common cause with her husband. |After this,| the prophecy declared that he would |turn his face to the isles and take many.| This meant that he should make an expedition to Greece, where he gained a good deal of land; but here he came in contact with the iron power, shadowed out by the great and terrible beast of Daniel's second vision.

Some four hundred years before this time, the city of Rome had begun to grow up on some of the seven hills on the banks of the Tiber in Italy. The inhabitants were a stern, earnest, brave, honest set of men; not great thinkers like the Greeks, but great doers, and caring for nothing so much as for their city and her honour. They thought their own lives and happiness as nothing in comparison with Rome; and all the free citizens had a share in the government, so that their city's concerns were their own. Their religion seems in early times to have been more solemn and grave than that of the Greeks. Jupiter was their chief god, the King of gods and men, who held thunderbolts in his hand, and they had eleven other principal gods; but by the time they had learnt to write books, they had begun to think these were the same gods as the Greeks worshipped under other names; they said Jupiter was the same as Zeus, and told of him all the foolish stories which the worse sort of Greeks had invented of Zeus, and as their religion grew worse, they became more selfish, proud, and cruel. At first, their neighbours in Italy were always fighting with them, and their wars were for life or death; but after nearly three hundred years of hard struggling, without one year's peace, the Romans had conquered them all, and had safety at home. But they had grown too fond of war to rest quietly, so they built ships and attacked countries farther off, beginning with the great Phoenician city of Carthage in Africa, which it is said was settled by Canaanites who fled away from Joshua, and whose first queen was Dido, Jezebel's niece. A great Carthaginian general, named Hannibal, who had been banished from home, came to Antiochus, and offered to help him in his war upon Greece. This Hannibal did chiefly out of hatred to the Romans, who were pretending to assist the Greeks, only that they might become their masters. If Antiochus had taken the advice of Hannibal, he might have succeeded better, but he was self-willed; the Romans gave him a terrible defeat, and he was obliged to promise to pay a great sum of money, and a heavy tribute afterwards; to keep no elephants to be used in war, and to give up his younger son, Antiochus, as security for his performance of the conditions. The tribute he had to pay to Rome quite ruined him; and while he was trying to rob an idol temple at Elymais, the people rose on him and slew him, in the year 187.

His son, Seleucus, called by. Daniel |a raiser of taxes,| was very poor in consequence of the tribute, and therefore greedy. He tried to raise money by sending his servant, Heliodorus, to rob the temple at Jerusalem Onias, the High Priest, and all the people, were in great distress, and made most earnest entreaties to God to deliver them from such profanation. Heliodorus came, however, to the temple, and was pressing on to the treasury, when suddenly a horse, with a terrible rider, appeared in armour like gold, and cast the spoiler to the ground, while two young men, of marvellous beauty, scourged him on either side, so that when the heavenly champions had vanished, he lay as one dead. Onias prayed for him, and he was restored; the same beings who had struck him down coming to reveal to him that his life was granted at the intercession of the High Priest. When he returned to his master, and was consulted as to who might be a fit man to send to Jerusalem, he answered, |If thou hast any enemy or traitor, send him thither, and thou shalt receive him well scourged.| So little impression did such a revelation of glory make on that hard selfish heart! The man who had been smitten by a visible angel could jest about it, and soon went on to greater crime. He poisoned his master in the hope of becoming king, as Seleucus's son was a hostage at Rome, that is, he had been given as a pledge that the tribute should be paid; but Seleucus's brother, Antiochus, who was on his way home from captivity at Rome, flattered the adjoining kings into helping him, drove Heliodorus away, and became king in 178. He was the little horn of the Grecian goat, |the vile person to whom they should not give the honour of the kingdom,| so much was it fallen since the time of his father, Antiochus the Great. Vile indeed he was, nearly mad with violence and excess, going drunk about the streets of Antioch crowned with roses, and pelting with stones those who followed him, so that the Greeks laughed at him for calling himself Antiochus Epiphanes, or the Illustrious, and said he was really Antiochus the madman. He cared little for the old Greek gods; but the Roman Jupiter, |a god whom his fathers knew not,| was his chief object of devotion, and in his honour, he instituted games like those of Greece. Some of the Jews had begun to weary of their perfect Law, and fancy it narrow and vulgar, and the brothers of the good Onias were among the worst; Joshua, the next in age, changed his glorious prophetic name to the Greek Jason, and going to Antioch, offered a great sum of money to be made High Priest, and for leave to set up at Jerusalem a place for the practice of the heathenish games of strength, where men fought naked. Antiochus was but too glad of the offer; so the good High Priest was carried off to die a prisoner at Antioch, and the apostate was set up in his room in order to pervert the Jewish youth to idolatry. However, he was soon overthrown by his apostate brother, Menelaus, whom he had sent to pay the tribute at Antioch, and who, when there, promised the king a larger revenue, and to bring all the Jews to embrace the heathen worship. Jason fled to the Ammonites, and Menelaus and his brother sold the gold vessels of the Temple to the Phoenicians. The Jews sent complaints to the king at Tyre, but instead of attending, he murdered the messengers, so much to the horror of the Tyrians, that they gave them honourable burial.

Antiochus now began a war with Egypt, (Dan. xi.25,) and while he was there, Jason came back from the Ammonites and regained Jerusalem; but the news brought the king back in the utmost rage, Jason fled to Greece, and Antiochus, coming to Jerusalem, cruelly treated the people, robbed the treasury, himself went into the holy place, led by that horrible traitor, Menelaus; and uttering blasphemy, he sacrificed a hog upon the altar, and boiling the flesh, sprinkled the Temple with the broth, carried off the candlestick and all the rest of the gold, and when he went away to continue his wars, he left a captain and garrison to oppress the Jews, and an old man to teach them the worship of Jupiter. A little altar for sacrifice to Jupiter was raised on the true altar, the Temple was dedicated to Jupiter, as was also that of the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim, the Sabbath was abolished, so was circumcision, and on the day of the king's birth, in each month, the Jews were forced to eat swine's flesh, and partake of idol sacrifices, and, at the feast of the god of wine, to carry ivy in the mad drunken processions in his honour.

It was the most utter misery that had yet befallen the Jews. Temple, Priesthood, all gone! |We see not our tokens; there is not one prophet more;| and yet that was the great time of glorious Jewish martyrdoms. Numbers of the faithful were burnt to death together in a cave, where they had met to keep the Sabbath day; two women who had circumcised their babes, had them hung round their necks, and were then pitched from the highest part of the wall of Jerusalem; and the aged scribe, Eleazar, who was ninety years old, when swine's flesh was forced into his mouth, spat it out again, and was scourged to death, saying with his last breath that he bore all this suffering because he feared the Lord. A mother and her seven sons were taken, and as each refused to share in the idol rite and break the Law, they were put to death, one by one, with horrible tortures, each before the eyes of his remaining brethren; but the parting words of all were full of high hope and constancy. |The Lord looketh on us, and hath comfort in us,| said one. |The King of the world shall raise us up who have died for His laws unto everlasting life,| was spoken by another. |Think not our nation is forsaken of God, but abide awhile and behold His great power, how He will torment thee and thy seed,| said another, (for they were as yet only faithful Jews, hope and forgiveness for their persecutors was for the Christian.) The mother stood firmly by while each son's limbs were cut off, and he was roasted to death over a fire; and all her words were to exhort them to be stedfast, and to assure them their Creator could raise them if they died for Him. When the turn of the last son came, the persecutors, pitying his youth, entreated him to change his resolution, promising him riches and prosperity if he would adore the idol, and even calling his mother to plead with him. Then the noble woman laughed the tyrant to scorn. |Have pity on me, my son,| she began; but it was not by saving his life, but by losing it, that she bade him show pity on her, so that she might receive him again with his brethren. He made a still fuller confession than the rest -- he was slain by a still more savage torture; and then his mother, blessing God, died gloriously like her sons. Others fled, and lived in the mountains, lurking in caves, and feeding on wild roots and herbs. Of such St. Paul says, |They were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented: of whom the world was not worthy.|

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