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

[1 Mach. 10–16]

AFTER the death of Judas Machabeus, his brothers, Jonathan and Simon, successively placed themselves at the head of the Jewish people, and performed wonderful exploits. Their successors, however, fell away from God, and brought the people, always unsteady and prone to evil, into a multitude of sins and vices. They, indeed, still worshipped the true God; but it was only with their lips, and their hearts were far from Him.

Their chief care consisted in the outward observance of the law; the inward disposition and purity of heart they neglected. Whatever good there might be among the Jews was stifled by the sect of the hypocritical Pharisees, or of the unbelieving Sadducees; and these two sects, although mortal enemies of each other, exercised a great power over the people. Throughout the rest of the world idolatry reigned supreme, and all the nations of the earth were sunk in misery and corruption.

 

 

Fig. 60. Coin of Simon Machabeus (silver shekel).

The few just men who were scattered here and there among the different races sighed for the coming of the promised Redeemer, the only hope of fallen man. They prayed that the clouds might rain down the Just One, and that the earth might bud forth the Saviour.

All was in readiness for the coming of our Lord, which event, according to signs and prophecies, must be near at hand. Four hundred years before the Birth of Christ, Malachias, the last of the prophets, could not restrain his joy at the near approach of the Messias. He told the Jewish priests that the Temple should soon be closed for ever, and the fires on their altars extinguished, for that their offerings had ceased to be pleasing to the Lord of Hosts. He said: “I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of Hosts, and I will not receive a gift at your hand. For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, My name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a clean oblation. For My name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of Hosts.”

Nothing remained to be accomplished, save the prophecy of Jacob to his son Juda. This last sign was not delayed. The Jewish people, torn and weakened by continual dissensions among themselves, called in the Romans to decide their quarrels, and the Romans, a great and powerful nation, settled the dispute by taking possession of all Judæa, and placing on its throne Herod, a stranger, a satellite of the Roman emperor. Thus was the sceptre departed from Juda, and that event ushered in the Redeemer of the world, the desired of the nations. Herod reigned in Judæa when the Messias, so long promised, appeared on earth in human form, even Christ the Lord, to whom be honour and glory for ever and ever.

A retrospect by which we can recognise God’s wisdom in the guidance of mankind:

1. Even in Paradise God revealed Himself to man, and promised a Redeemer. But the greater number of Adam’s descendants turned away from God, and sank so low that their reason was obscured and they lost all power of understanding even that natural religion which was taught to them by the visible creation, and the voice of their own consciences. Nevertheless, in all pagan religions, there were preserved some remains of the original revelation, such as the memory of a former and happier state, the consciousness of the debt of sin hanging over the human race, the sense of the necessity of reconciliation with an offended God, the dim expectation of a Redeemer, and of a future and better state.

2. God revealed Himself supernaturally to the people of Israel, in order to preserve in them belief in the true God and in the future Redeemer, and through them to spread abroad this belief among the Gentiles. However, the inclination towards idolatry was so strong in the chosen people that it was many centuries before God, by repeated revelations and visitations, could wean them from it. Man is very ready to make his own god, that is, to make out God to be such as his own inclinations lead him to wish Him to be. Instead of moulding his own inclinations, will and actions to accord with God’s almighty will, he seeks to accommodate God and His attributes to his own desires. It was not until paganism was eradicated from the religious belief of the Jews, and the Old Testament revelation had become an essential part of their existence, that they were ready for a further and more perfect revelation. Then, and not till then, the world was prepared for the coming of the Only-Begotten of the Father to be its Redeemer.

3. As time went on, the promises concerning the Redeemer became more and more explicit. These promises were conveyed partly in prophecies, partly by types. Let us then recall the prophecies which have been mentioned: 1) that made to Adam and Eve after the Fall, 2) and 3) made to Abraham, 4) and 5) made through Jacob, 6) through Balaam, 7) through the dying Moses, 8) through David, 9) through Isaias, 10) through Jeremias, 11) through Ezechiel, 12) through Daniel, 13) through Aggeus, 14) through Zacharias, and 15) through Malachias. The people whom we have studied as types of the Messias are: 1) Adam, 2) Abel, 3) Noe, 4) Melchisedech, 5) Isaac, 6) Joseph, 7) Job, 8) Moses, 9) Josue, 10) Gedeon, 11) Samson, 12) David, 13) Solomon, 14) Elias, and 15) Jonas. The objects to which our attention has been directed as types are: the Tree of Life; the sacrifice of Melchisedech; the paschal lamb; the manna; the sacrifices of the Old Law; the brazen serpent &c. The prophecy uttered by Malachias was the last one vouchsafed, because from that time forward the Jews, being confirmed in their own faith, were employed by God to spread His revelation among the Gentiles.

4. The pagan world was on the brink of an abyss. It had learnt by its own experience what man comes to, when he has forsaken God. The ancient world had made great progress in the arts and sciences, but it found no satisfaction in them, because its moral and social condition was deplorable. The truth, which raises man, and delivers him from all uncertainty, was lacking to this world which had cast off its God. Its best and most learned men were fully aware of the folly of paganism, but this conviction only led them to doubt everything; as we can see, for example, by Pilate’s question: “What is truth?” This state of doubt did not help them to arrive at truth, for truth can only be found in God. Moreover, grace was wanting to them,—that grace which enables man to will and to do what is right, which puts an end to the disorders of human nature, and brings peace to the restless heart of man. When the pagan world at length saw what was lacking to it, and that no help could come to it except from heaven, then it was that God dispersed the Jews into all parts of the world, and by their means spread abroad the knowledge of the living and true God, and the hope of the Redeemer. Thus, four thousand years after the Fall, a large portion of the pagan world had begun to long for the Saviour who was expected in Judæa.

Now, “when the fulness of time was come, God sent His Son that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:4). “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as it were of the Only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The signification of Advent. This season ought to make us think of the sad condition of the world before our Lord’s Incarnation, and prepare ourselves, by penance and a longing desire, for the Birth of Christ in our hearts.

The two natures of the Redeemer. The passage: “Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just; let the earth be opened, and bud forth a Saviour”, which occurs in Isaias 45:8, clearly foretells the twofold nature of God made Man. The Divine nature is signified by the prophecy that the Saviour shall come down from heaven (in another passage Isaias cries out: “O that Thou wouldst rend the heavens, and wouldst come down!”); and His Human nature is shown by the prophecy that the earth shall bring Him forth. As God, Jesus Christ came down from heaven, and took His Human nature on earth in the womb of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. Heaven and earth worked together to bring forth the God made Man, through whom earth has been reconciled to heaven.

APPLICATION. Have you a great desire for the truth which has been revealed to us through Jesus Christ? Do you take great pains to learn all you can about the true doctrines of Christianity? Do you take pleasure in your religious instruction?

Have you a desire that Jesus Christ should come and reign in your heart and dwell therein; or do you look forward to the hour of your first Communion for any less worthy reasons? When you are hearing Mass, make a spiritual Communion, and excite in yourself a longing desire to receive your Divine Saviour. Be sorry for your sins, and pray our Lord to come and dwell spiritually in your heart!

 

The blue-line indicates the journey of the Israelites.

 

BIRD‘S VIEW OF PALESTINE

1.              Damascus.

2.              Sidon (now Saida)

3.              Tyre.

4.              Cæsarea Philippi (Ruins).

5.              Mount of the Beatitudes

6.              Nazareth

7.              Tiberias

8.              Capharnaum (Ruins)

9.              Bethsaida

10.              Naim

11.              Samaria

12.              Mount Gim.

13.              Cedron

14.              Joppe (Jaffa)

15.              Jericho (Ruins)

16.              Emmaus

17.              Gethsemane

18.              Mount of Olives

19.              Pool of Siloë

20.              Bethlehem, city of David

21.              Hebron (now El-Chalil)

22.              Jerusalem

 








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