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Judas had now leisure to cleanse the Sanctuary and dedicate it. When his army saw the desolation of their holy city, — trees growing in the very courts of the Temple as in a forest, the altars profaned, the gates burned, — they were filled with grief, and rent their garments and cried aloud to Heaven. But Judas proceeded with his sacred work, pulled down the defiled altar of burnt sacrifice and rebuilt it, cleansed the Sanctuary, hallowed the desecrated courts, made new holy vessels, decked the front of the Temple with crowns and shields of gold, and restored the gates and chambers. Judas also fortified the Temple with high walls and towers, and placed in it a strong garrison, for the Syrians still held possession of the Tower, -- a strong fortress near the mount of the Temple.
When all was cleansed and renewed, a solemn service of reconsecration was celebrated ; the sacred fire was kindled afresh on the altar, thousands of lamps were lighted, the sacrifices were offered, the people thronged the courts of Jehovah, and with psalms of praise, festive dances, harps, lutes, and cymbals made a joyful noise unto the Lord. This triumphant restoration was celebrated three years, to the very day, from the day of desecration; it was forever after — as long as the Temple stood — held a sacred yearly festival, and called the Feast of the Dedication, or sometimes, from its peculiar ceremonies, the Feast of Lights.
The successes of Judas and the restoration of the Temple worship inflamed with renewed anger the heathen population of the countries in the near vicinity of Judæa ; and there seems to have been a general confederacy of Idumæans, — descendants of Esau, — with sundry of the Bedouin tribes, and of the heathen settled east of the Jordan in the land of Gilead, and of Phoenicians and heathen strangers in Galilee, to recover what the Syrians had lost, and to restore idol worship. Judas had now an army of eleven thousand men, which he divided between himself and his brother Simon, and they marched in different directions to the attack of their numerous enemies. They were both eminently successful, gaining bloody battles, capturing cities and fortresses, taking immense spoils, mingling the sound of trumpets with prayers to Almighty God, – heroes as religious as they were brave, an unexampled band of warriors, rivalling Joshua, Saul, and David in the brilliancy of their victories. All the Jews who remained true to their faith in the districts which he overran and desolated, Judas brought back with him to Jerusalem for greater safety.
Only one misfortune sullied the glory of these exploits. Judas had left behind him at Jerusalem, when he and Simon went forth to fight the idolaters, a garrison of two thousand men under the command of Joseph and Azarias, leaders of the people, with the strict command to remain in the city until he should return. But these popular leaders, dazzled by the victories of Judas and Simon, and wishing to earn a fame like theirs, issued from their stronghold with two thousand men to attack Jamnia, and were met by Gorgias the Syrian general and completely annihilated, - a just punishment for military disobedience. The loss of two thousand men was a calamity, but Judas pursued his victories, finally turning against the Philistines, who at this point disappear from sacred history.
In the mean time King Antiochus, who, as already stated, had gone on a plundering expedition to Persia, was defeated in the attempt, and returned in great grief and disappointment to Ecbatana. Here he heard that his armies under Lysias had been disgracefully beaten, and that Judæa was in a fair way to achieve its independence under the heroic Judas; and, worse still, that all the pagan temples and altars which he had set up in Jerusalem were removed and destroyed. This especially filled him with rage, for he was a fanatic in his religion, and utterly detested the monotheism of the Jews. So oppressed with grief was this heathen persecutor that he took to his bed; and in addition to his humiliation he was afflicted with a loathsome disease called elephantiasis, so that he was avoided and neglected by his own servants. He now saw that he must die, and calling for his friend Philip,
made him regent of his kingdom during the minority of his son, whom he had left at Antioch.
The Jews were thus delivered from the worst enemy that had afflicted them since the Babylonian captivity. Neither Assyrians nor Egyptians nor Persians had so ruthlessly swept away religious institutions. Those conquerors were contented with conquest and its political results, — namely, the enslavement and spoliation of the people; they did not pollute the sacred places like the Syrian persecutor. By the rivers of Babylon the Jews had sat down and wept when they remembered Zion, but their sad wailing was over the fact that they were captives in a strange land. Ground down to the dust by Antiochus, however, they bewailed not only their external misfortunes, but far more bitterly the desecration of their Sanctuary and the attempt to root out their religion, which was their life.
The death of Antiochus Epiphanes was therefore a great relief and rejoicing to the struggling Jews. He left as heir to his throne a boy nine years of age; but though he had made his friend Philip guardian of his son and regent of his kingdom, his lieutenant at Antioch, Lysias, also claimed the guardianship and the regency. These rival claims of course led to civil wars between Lysias and Philip, in consequence of which the Jews were comparatively unmolested, and had leisure to organize their forces, fortify their strongholds, and
prepare for complete independence. Among other things, Judas Maccabæus attacked the citadel or tower on Mount Zion, overlooking the Temple, in which a large garrison of the enemy had long been stationed, and which was a perpetual menace. The attack or siege of this strong fortress alarmed the heathen, who made complaint to the young king, called Eupator, or more probably to the regent Lysias, who sent an overwhelming army into Judæa, consisting of one hundred thousand foot, twenty thousand horse, and thirtytwo elephants. But Judas did not hesitate to give battle to this great force, and again gained a victory. It was won, however, at the expense of his brother Eleazer. Seeing one of the elephants armed with royal armor, he supposed that it carried the king himself; and heroically forcing his way through the ranks of the enemy, he slipped under the elephant, and gave the beast a mortal wound, so that it fell to the ground, crushing to death the courageous Maccabæus, — for the brothers of Judas, worthy compatriots and fellow-soldiers with him, were also called by his special name; and although the family name was Asmon, they are famous as “the Maccabees.”
This battle however was not decisive. Lysias advanced to Jerusalem and laid siege to it. But hearing that Philip had succeeded in gaining authority at Antioch, he made peace with Judas, and hastily recurned