Death Of Mattathias

: Hebrew Heroes

Wild was the life led by Mattathias and his followers in the

mountains--a life of danger and hardship; danger met manfully, hardship

endured cheerfully. Amongst wild rocks, heaped together like the

fragments of an elder world torn asunder by some fearful convulsion of

Nature, the band of heroes found their home. Where the hyaena has its

den, and the leopard its lair; where the timid wabber or coney hides in

the stony
clefts, there the Hebrews lurked in caves, and manned the

gigantic fastnesses which no human hands had reared, and from which it

would be no easy task for any enemy to dislodge them.

The small band that had rallied round Mattathias when he withdrew from

Modin, had been soon joined by other bold and zealous sons of Abraham,

and the mountains became a place of refuge to many who fled from

persecution. As numbers increased, so did the difficulty of procuring

means of subsistence. The Asmoneans and their followers chiefly lived

upon roots. The less hardy of the band suffered severely from the

chill of the frosts, the keenness of the sharp mountain air, the sharp

winds that blew over snow-clad heights. But no voice of complaint was

heard. Frequent forays were made into the plains; idol-altars were

thrown down, forts were burnt, detachments of Syrians cut off. None of

the enemy within many miles of the rocky haunts of the Asmoneans lay

down to rest at night feeling secure from sudden attack during the

hours of darkness; and oft-times the early morning light showed a heap

of smouldering ruins where, on the evening before, the banners of Syria

had waved on the walls of some well-manned fortress.

To the bold spirit of Maccabeus there was something congenial in the

adventurous kind of existence which he led, and yet he was not one who

would have adopted a guerrilla life from choice. As even in a hard and

rocky waste there are spots where rich vegetation betrays some source

of hidden nourishment below, and they who dig deep enough under the

surface find a spring of bright pure living waters,--so deep within the

Asmonean's heart lay a hidden source of tenderness which prevented his

nature from becoming hardened by the stern necessities of warfare.

This secret affection made the warrior more chivalrous to women, more

indulgent to the weak, more compassionate to all who suffered. In the

moment of triumph, "Will not Zarah rejoice?" was the thought which made

victory more sweet; in preservation from imminent danger, the thought,

"Zarah has been praying for me," made deliverance doubly welcome. When

the evening star gleamed in the sky, its pure soft guiding orb seemed

to Judas an emblem of Zarah; as he gazed on it, the warrior would

indulge in delicious musings. This desperate warfare might not last

for ever. If the Lord of Sabaoth should bless the arms of His

servants; might not the time come when swords should be beaten into

ploughshares, when children should play fearlessly in pastures which no

oppressor's foot should tread, and the sound of bridal rejoicings be

heard in the land of the free? Hopes so intensely delightful would

then steal over the Asmonean's soul, that he would suddenly start like

a sentinel who finds himself dropping asleep on his post. How dared

the leader of Israel's forlorn hope indulge in reveries which made him

feel how precious a thing life might be to himself, when he had freely

devoted that life to the service of God and his country? When David

was engaged in rescuing his flock from the lion and the bear, did he

stop to gather the lilies of the field? "It is well," thought Judas

Maccabeus, "that I have never told Zarah what is in my heart; if I

fall, as I shall probably fall, on the field of conflict, I would not

leave her to the grief of a widow."

An event was at hand which was felt as a heavy blow by all to whom the

cause of Israel was dear, but more especially so by the Asmonean

brethren, who from their childhood had regarded their father with

reverence and affection.

Mattathias was an aged man, and though his spirit never sank under toil

and hardship, his constitution soon gave way under their effects. The

patriarch felt that his days, nay, that his hours, were numbered, and

summoned his sons around him to hear his last wishes, and to receive

his parting blessing.

In a cave near the foot of a mountain, stretched upon a soft couch of

skins of animals slain in the chase, lay the venerable man. The pallor

of death was already on his face, but its expression was tranquil and

calm. The aged pilgrim looked like one who feels indeed that he has

God's rod and staff to lean on while he is passing through the valley

of the shadow of death. The full glare of noonday was glowing on the

world without, but softened and subdued was the light which struggled

into the cave, and fell on the form of the dying man, and the stalwart

figures of the Asmonean brothers bending in mute sorrow around their

honoured parent.

Mattathias bade his sons raise him a little, that he might speak to

them with more ease. Jonathan and Eleazar, kneeling, supported him in

their arms; while their three brothers, in the same attitude of

respect, listened silently at his side to the patriarch's farewell


I shall not dare to add words of my own to those which the historian

has preserved as the dying utterances of this noble old man--a hero,

and the father of heroes. I give them as they fell upon the ears of

Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, who received them as Joseph received

the parting blessing of Israel.

"Now hath pride and rebuke gotten strength, and the time of

destruction, and the wrath of indignation. Now, therefore, my sons, be

ye zealous for the law, and give your lives for the covenant of your

fathers. Call to remembrance what acts our fathers did in their time,

so shall ye receive great honour and an everlasting name.

"Was not Abraham found faithful in temptation, and it was imputed unto

him for righteousness. Elias, for being zealous and fervent for the

law, was taken up into heaven. Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, by

believing, were saved out of the flame. Daniel, for his innocence, was

delivered from the mouth of the lion. And thus, consider ye,

throughout all ages, that none that put their trust in Him shall be

overcome. Wherefore, ye my sons, be valiant, and show yourselves men

in behalf of the law; for by it ye shall obtain glory."

The old man paused, as if to gather strength, and then stretching forth

his wasted hand towards Simon, his second son, he went on:

"Behold, I know that your brother Simon is a man of counsel; give ear

unto him alway; he shall be a father unto you."

Then the hand was again extended, and this time laid on the bowed head

of Maccabeus:

"As for Judas Maccabeus," said the dying man, in firmer accents, as if

the very name inspired him with vigour, "he hath been mighty and

strong, even from his youth up; let him be your captain, and fight the

battle of the people."

There was no murmur of dissent, not even a glance of jealousy from the

eye of the generous Johannan, when his younger brothers were thus

preferred before him, as superior in those qualities with which leaders

should be endowed. Johannan knew, and was content to acknowledge, that

the wisdom of Simon and the military talents of Judas far exceeded his

own; he would serve with them, and serve under them, cheerfully

submissive to the will of God and the counsels of his father. We find

not the slightest trace of jealous rivalry amongst that glorious band

of brethren, who all shared the privilege of suffering--three of

dying--for their country.

Then, after solemnly blessing his five sons, Mattathias departed in

peace, as one who has fought a good fight, and kept the faith to the

end. Great lamentation was made throughout Judaea for him in whom the

nation had lost a parent. The sons of Mattathias carried his body to

Modin, and buried it in the sepulchre of his fathers.

In after-times of prosperity and peace Simon raised a fair monument of

marble, in the form of seven lofty pillars, which could be seen from

afar by those sailing over the blue waters of the Mediterranean. The

Asmonean prince placed this memorial there in honour of his parents and

their five sons, after Jonathan, Eleazar, and Judas Maccabeus had

sealed with their brave blood the testimony of their devotion to the

cause of faith and of freedom.