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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[2 Mach. 7]

ANTIOCHUS commanded that a certain widow, with her seven sons, should be brought into his presence, and should be forced to eat of the forbidden flesh. They all told him that, as their law did not allow them the use of such meat, they could not obey his command. He immediately had them scourged with whips.

The eldest of the brothers told the king that they were ready to die rather than transgress the law of their God. Then the king, enraged at the young man’s boldness, ordered his tongue to be plucked out, the skin of his head to be torn off, his hands and feet to be cut off, and finally that he should be burnt alive before his mother and brothers. While he was suffering these cruel torments, his mother and his brothers exhorted him to die courageously.

The first brother being dead, they seized the second, and, having torn the skin from off his head, they asked him if he would eat rather than undergo the rest of the torments. But he, refusing not less firmly and courageously than his elder brother, was tortured in the same way till he expired. When he was about to die he exclaimed: “Thou, O most wicked man, destroyest us out of this present life, but the King of the world will raise up us who die for His laws, in the resurrection of eternal life.”

The third brother offered his hands and feet to be cut off, saying: “These I have from heaven, but for the law of God I now despise them, because I hope to receive them again from Him.” Some minutes before his death he declared aloud his willingness to die for God, as his brothers had already done. When he was dead, the fourth brother, the fifth, and the sixth were all three subjected to the same torments as their elder brothers, but each one died in the same manner, having the same spirit. They made no account of pain and death, because they suffered all for God.

The king and his courtiers were amazed at the constancy of these young men, so that when the seventh, a mere youth, was brought forward, the king told him, with an oath, that he would make him rich and happy if he would obey his command. Seeing that his words had no effect on the courageous boy, Antiochus called on the mother to advise her son for his own good.

The mother agreed to do so. Then, addressing her son, she said with all a mother’s tender affection: “My son, look upon heaven and earth, and all that is in them; and consider that God made them out of nothing, and mankind also; so thou shalt not fear this tormentor, but, being made a worthy partner with thy brethren, receive death, that in that mercy I may receive thee again with thy brethren.”

While she was yet speaking, the boy said: “For whom do you stay? I will not obey the commandment of the king, but the commandment of the law which was given us by Moses.” Then, turning to the king: “Thou”, said he, “thou that hast been the author of all mischief against the Hebrews, shalt not escape the hand of God.” But the king, inflamed with rage, tortured him most cruelly till he yielded up his soul. Last of all the mother herself was put to death.

Fortitude. It is impossible to extol and admire sufficiently the unshaken fortitude of the seven brothers. It was comparatively easy for the aged Eleazar to give up his life, for under no circumstances could he have had much longer to live, and the world could not offer him anything worth having. But the Machabean brothers were young, they could look forward to many years of life, and the world offered them many pleasures and enjoyments. Nevertheless, they freely and valiantly gave up their lives, refusing to be turned from their allegiance to God, either by flattering promises or horrible tortures.

The mother’s heroism is even more to be admired. She had most to suffer, for in her heart she suffered all her sons’ tortures. She was, in fact, an eightfold martyr, for she shared in the sufferings of each of her sons, and finally offered up her own life. In truth, the courage of the most valiant of soldiers cannot be compared with the heroism of this woman!

What gives fortitude? What made this mother and her sons so heroically resolved to give up their lives for God’s sake? What enabled them to endure such horrible tortures?

1. Their firm faith in God and His reward. They believed and confessed that

a) God is the Almighty Lord and Creator of the world: “These hands I have from heaven”—“The King of this world will raise us up”—“God made all these things out of nothing.”

b) That God is just, rewarding the good and punishing the wicked: “We suffer thus for our sins”—“Thou, O most wicked of men, shalt not escape the judgment of Almighty God”—“Receive death, that in that mercy I may receive thee again.”

c) That there is an eternal life, a resurrection of the body, and a meeting again in another world: “The King of this world will raise us up in the resurrection of eternal life”—“These hands I have from heaven … I hope to receive them again from Him”—“That I may receive thee again with thy brethren.” They raised their eyes beyond the perishable things of this earth, to those things which are heavenly and eternal; and they looked to being rewarded by God in another world. They gave up their earthly life, in order to gain eternal life.

From their firm faith proceeded a great fear and love of God: “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of God.”

2. Their firm hope in the promises of God. They believed in the future Redeemer; and, on account of this faith, God assisted them by His grace, without which no one can keep the commandments.

Unlawful obedience. The example of these holy martyrs teaches us that we must not obey our superiors when they command us to do anything which God has forbidden, or when they forbid anything which God has commanded. In such cases we must say, as did the Machabean brothers: “The law of God forbids it; we will not do it.”

The commandment of abstinence. The seven Machabees died martyrs of obedience to God’s commandments. They preferred to suffer the most cruel tortures rather than transgress the commandment not to touch swine’s flesh. Jesus Christ, through his Church, has given us a similar law in the Third Commandment of the Church.

The duty of parents in the education of their children. Parents should learn from the mother of the Machabees to bring up their children in the fear and love of God, and to care for their souls more than for anything else, so that they may look to meet them again in eternal life. “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul!”

Commemoration of the holy Machabees. The Church commemorates these martyrs on August 1st: “For”, says St. Gregory Nazianzen, “what would not these men, who suffered martyrdom before Christ suffered, have endured if they had been called to suffer persecution after His Incarnation, and had present before their eyes the Death which He suffered for our salvation! Yes, I think I may assume, in union with all friends of God, that there was a certain mysterious communion between the martyrs of the Old Testament and Jesus Christ, without belief in whom none of those martyrs before the Incarnation could have attained to such a glorious end.”

APPLICATION. Put yourself in the place of the youngest brother, and imagine the king speaking to you, making you splendid promises on the one hand, and, on the other, threatening you with death by torture. Would you remain firm, and suffer a lingering martyrdom rather than offend God by committing a grievous sin? “We will rather die than transgress God’s law” had been the maxim of these brothers’ lives from their earliest youth, so that, when they found themselves assailed by a severe temptation, they remained firm. Let the same maxim be stamped on your heart! Abide by this principle in little things, and then, by God’s grace, you will stand firm in the hour of trial. “Lead us not into temptation!”








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