During that time, a priest of the Jehoiarib family named Mattathias, who was the son of John and the grandson of Simeon, moved from Jerusalem and settled in Modein.
Mattathias had five sons: John (also called Gaddi),
Simon (also called Thassi),
Judas (also called Maccabeus),
Eleazar (also called Avaran), and Jonathan (also called Apphus).
When Mattathias saw all the sins that were being committed in Judea and Jerusalem,
he said: "Why was I born to see these terrible things, the ruin of my people and of the holy city? Must I sit here helpless while the city is surrendered to enemies and the Temple falls into the hands of foreigners?
The Temple is like someone without honor.
Its splendid furnishings have been carried away as loot. Our children have been killed in the streets, and our young men by the sword of the enemy.
Every nation in the world has occupied the city and robbed her of her possessions.
All her ornaments have been stripped away; she is now a slave, no longer free.
Look at our Temple, profaned by the Gentiles, emptied of all its splendor.
Why should we go on living?"
In their grief, Mattathias and his sons tore their clothes, put on sackcloth, and continued in deep mourning.
Then the king's officials, who were forcing the people to turn from God, came to the town of Modein to force the people there to offer pagan sacrifices.
Many of the Israelites came to meet them, including Mattathias and his sons.
The king's officials said to Mattathias, "You are a respected leader in this town, and you have the support of your sons and relatives.
Why not be the first one here to do what the king has commanded? All the Gentiles, the people of Judea, and all the people left in Jerusalem have already done so. If you do, you and your sons will be honored with the title of "Friends of the King,' and you will be rewarded with silver and gold and many gifts."
Mattathias answered in a loud voice, "I don't care if every Gentile in this empire has obeyed the king and yielded to the command to abandon the religion of his ancestors.
My children, my relatives, and I will continue to keep the covenant that God made with our ancestors.
With God's help we will never abandon his Law or disobey his commands.
We will not obey the king's decree, and we will not change our way of worship in the least."
Just as he finished speaking, one of the men from Modein decided to obey the king's decree and stepped out in front of everyone to offer a pagan sacrifice on the altar that stood there.
When Mattathias saw him, he became angry enough to do what had to be done. Shaking with rage, he ran forward and killed the man right there on the altar.
He also killed the royal official who was forcing the people to sacrifice, and then he tore down the altar.
In this way Mattathias showed his deep devotion for the Law, just as Phinehas had done when he killed Zimri son of Salu. 1
Then Mattathias went through the town shouting, "Everyone who is faithful to God's covenant and obeys his Law, follow me!"
With this, he and his sons fled to the mountains, leaving behind all they owned.
At that time also many of the Israelites who were seeking to be right with God through obedience to the Law went out to live in the wilderness, taking their children, their wives, and their livestock with them, because of the terrible oppression they were suffering.
The report soon reached the king's officials and the soldiers in the fort at Jerusalem that some men who had defied the king's command had gone into hiding in the wilderness.
A large force of soldiers pursued them, caught up with them, set up camp opposite them, and prepared to attack them on the Sabbath. 2
"There is still time," they shouted out to the Jews. "Come out and obey the king's command, and we will spare your lives."
"We will not come out," they answered. "We will not obey the king's command, and we will not profane the Sabbath."
The soldiers attacked them immediately,
but the Jews did nothing to resist; they did not even throw stones or block the entrances to the caves where they were hiding.
They said, "We will all die with a clear conscience. Let heaven and earth bear witness that you are slaughtering us unjustly."
So the enemy attacked them on the Sabbath and killed the men, their wives, their children, and their livestock. A thousand people died.
When Mattathias and his friends heard the news about this, they were greatly saddened
and said to one another, "If all of us do as these other Jews have done and refuse to fight the Gentiles to defend our lives and our religion, we will soon be wiped off the face of the earth."
On that day they decided that if anyone attacked them on the Sabbath, they would defend themselves, so that they would not all die as other Jews had died in the caves.
Then Mattathias and his friends were joined by a group of devout and patriotic Jews, the strongest and bravest men in Israel, who had all volunteered to defend the Law.
In addition, everyone who was fleeing from the persecution joined them and strengthened their forces.
Now that they had an army, they gave vent to their anger by attacking the renegade Jews. Those who escaped were forced to flee to the Gentiles for safety.
Mattathias and his friends went everywhere tearing down pagan altars
and circumcising by force every uncircumcised boy they found within the borders of Israel.
They were also successful in hunting down the arrogant Gentile officials.
They rescued the Law of Moses from the Gentiles and their kings and broke the power of the wicked King Antiochus.
When the time came for Mattathias to die, he said to his sons, "These are times of violence and distress. Arrogant people are in control and have made us an object of ridicule.
But you, my sons, must be devoted to the Law and ready to die to defend God's covenant with our ancestors.
Remember what our ancestors did and how much they accomplished in their day. Follow their example, and you will be rewarded with great glory and undying fame.
Remember how Abraham put his trust in the Lord when he was tested and how the Lord was pleased with him and accepted him. 3
Joseph, in his time of trouble, obeyed God's commands and became ruler over the land of Egypt. 4
Phinehas, our ancestor, because of his burning devotion, was given the promise that his descendants would always be priests.
Joshua was made a judge in Israel because he obeyed the command of Moses. 5
Caleb brought back a good report to the community and was given a part of the land as a reward.
David was made king and was given the promise that his descendants would always be kings because of his steadfast loyalty to God. 6
Elijah, because of his great devotion to the Law, was taken up into heaven. 7
Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael were saved from the flames because they had faith. 8
Daniel was a man of integrity, and the Lord rescued him from the mouth of the lions. 9
Take each of these ancestors of ours as an example, and you will realize that no one who puts his trust in the Lord will ever lack strength.
Don't be afraid of the threats of a wicked man. Remember that he will die and all his splendor will end with worms feeding on his decaying body.
Today he may be highly honored, but tomorrow he will disappear; his body will return to the earth and his scheming will come to an end.
But you, my sons, be strong and courageous in defending the Law, because it is through the Law that you will earn great glory.
"Your brother Simon is wise, so always listen to him as you would to me.
Judas Maccabeus has been strong all his life; he will be your commander and will lead you in battle against the enemy.
Call everyone who obeys God's Law to rally around you; then avenge the wrongs done to your people.
Pay back the Gentiles for what they have done, and always obey the Law and its commands."
Then Mattathias gave them his blessing and died.
He was buried in the family tomb at Modein, and all the people of Israel went into deep mourning for him. This happened in the year 146.