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2 Maccabees 15
The fifteenth chapter of
Maccabees is offered here in the Revised Standard version; the first
chapter can be found here.
Death of NicanorWhen Nicanor heard that Judas and his men were in the region of Samaria, he made plans to attack them with complete safety on the day of rest. And when the Jews who were compelled to follow him said, "Do not destroy so savagely and barbarously, but show respect for the day which he who sees all things has honored and hallowed above other days," the thrice-accursed wretch asked if there were a sovereign in heaven who had commanded the keeping of the sabbath day. And when they declared, "It is the living Lord himself, the Sovereign in heaven, Who ordered us to observe the seventh day," he replied, "And I am a sovereign also, on earth, and I command you to take up arms and finish the king's business." Nevertheless, he did not succeed in carrying out his abominable design.
This Nicanor in his utter boastfulness and arrogance had determined to erect a public monument of victory over Judas and his men. But Maccabeus did not cease to trust with all confidence that he would get help from the Lord. And he exhorted his men not to fear the attack of the Gentiles, but to keep in mind the former times when help had come to them from heaven, and now to look for the victory which the Almighty would give them. Encouraging them from the law and the prophets, and reminding them also of the struggles they had won, he made them the more eager. And when he had aroused their courage, he gave his orders, at the same time pointing out the perfidy of the Gentiles and their violation of oaths.
He armed each of them not so much with confidence in shields and spears as with the inspiration of brave words, and he cheered them all by relating a dream, a sort of vision, which was worthy of belief. What he saw was this: Onias, who had been high priest, a noble and good man, of modest bearing and gentle manner, one who spoke fittingly and had been trained from childhood in all that belongs to excellence, was praying with outstretched hands for the whole body of the Jews. Then likewise a man appeared, distinguished by his gray hair and dignity, and of marvelous majesty and authority. And Onias spoke, saying, "This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the people and the holy city, Jeremiah, the prophet of God." Jeremiah stretched out his right hand and gave to Judas a golden sword, and as he gave it he addressed him thus: "Take this holy sword, a gift from God, with which you will strike down your adversaries."
Encouraged by the words of Judas, so noble and so effective in arousing valor and awaking manliness in the souls of the young, they determined not to carry on a campaign but to attack bravely, and to decide the matter, by fighting hand to hand with all courage, because the city and the sanctuary and the temple were in danger. Their concern for wives and children, and also for brethren and relatives, lay upon them less heavily; their greatest and first fear was for the consecrated sanctuary. And those who had to remain in the city were in no little distress, being anxious over the encounter in the open country.
When all were now looking forward to the coming decision, and the enemy was already close at hand with their army drawn up for battle, the elephants strategically stationed and the cavalry deployed on the flanks, Maccabeus, perceiving the hosts that were before him and the varied supply of arms and the savagery of the elephants, stretched out his hands toward heaven and called upon the Lord Who works wonders; for he knew that it is not by arms, but as the Lord decides, that He gains the victory for those who deserve it.
And he called upon him in these words: "O Lord, Thou didst send Thy angel in the time of Hezekiah king of Judea, and he slew fully a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of Sennacherib. So now, O Sovereign of the heavens, send a good angel to carry terror and trembling before us. By the might of Thy arm may these blasphemers who come against Thy holy people be struck down." With these words he ended his prayer.
Nicanor and his men advanced with trumpets and battle songs; and Judas and his men met the enemy in battle with invocation to God and prayers. So, fighting with their hands and praying to God in their hearts, they laid low no less than thirty-five thousand men, and were greatly gladdened by God's manifestation.
When the action was over and they were returning with joy, they recognized Nicanor, lying dead, in full armor. Then there was shouting and tumult, and they blessed the Sovereign Lord in the language of their fathers. And the man who was ever in body and soul the defender of his fellow citizens, the man who maintained his youthful good will toward his countrymen, ordered them to cut off Nicanor's head and arm and carry them to Jerusalem.
And when he arrived there and had called his countrymen together and stationed the priests before the altar, he sent for those who were in the citadel. He showed them the vile Nicanor's head and that profane man's arm, which had been boastfully stretched out against the holy house of the Almighty; and he cut out the tongue of the ungodly Nicanor and said that he would give it piecemeal to the birds and hang up these rewards of his folly opposite the sanctuary.
And they all, looking to heaven, blessed the Lord who had manifested himself, saying, "Blessed is he who has kept his own place undefiled." And he hung Nicanor's head from the citadel, a clear and conspicuous sign to every one of the help of the Lord.
And they all decreed
by public vote never to let this day go unobserved, but to celebrate the
thirteenth day of the twelfth month - which is called
in the Aramaic language - the day before Mordecai's day.
PostscriptThis, then, is how matters turned out with Nicanor. And from that time the city has been in the possession of the Hebrews. So I too will here end my story. If it is well told and to the point, that is what I myself desired; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that was the best I could do. For just as it is harmful to drink wine alone, or, again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious and enhances one's enjoyment, so also the style of the story delights the ears of those who read the work. And here will be the end.
The Assyrian king Sennacherib had laid siege to Jerusalem but had been forced to retreat (2 Kings 19).
Latest revision: 8 December 2006