441) The Martyrdom of Eleazar

From:  II Maccabees (Apocrypha), chapter 6

     In this chapter King Antiochus is persecuting the Jews in Jerusalem, commanding them to forsake their faith, or face torture and death.  An elderly scribe named Eleazar refuses to abandon his faith, and he faces death with courage and faith.  The Oxford Annotated Bible tells us this is the earliest of the ‘martyrologies,’ stories of the suffering and death of martyrs, recorded to encourage the faithful when persecuted.  This is believed to have been written in the first century B.C.  In the next century there would be many Christian martyrs, and there would be many such Christian martyrologies in that century, and every century since.  This is a paraphrase of the King James Version.

     Not long after this, the king compelled the Jews to depart from the faith of their fathers and not live according to the laws of God.  The Gentiles also polluted the temple in Jerusalem, calling it the temple of Jupiter.  The coming in of this evil was most grievous to the people, for the most holy temple was filled with wicked reveling by the Gentiles, who were even having their way with harlots in the sacred places.

     It became illegal for Jews to keep the Sabbath day or any of the ancient fasts.  In fact, it was even forbidden for anyone to profess himself to be a Jew.  But on the day of the king’s birth every month, the Jews were forced to take part in those sacrifices.  And when the fast of Bacchus was kept, the Jews were compelled to walk in procession to honor Bacchus.  Whoever would not conform themselves to these new laws should be put to death.  One can now see what misery they were in.  There were two women brought in who had circumcised their children.  These were led round about the city for all to see, the babies hanging at their breast.  Then, mothers and babies were thrown down off the top of the wall.  Others, who had gathered together in caves near by to keep the Sabbath day secretly, were discovered, and then were all burned to death together.  They were defenseless, because they would not fight to defend themselves on their holy day.

     Now I beseech those who read this book, that they be not discouraged by these calamities, but rather realize that those punishments were not meant to be for the destruction of, but for the discipline of, our nation.  For indeed it is a token of God’s great goodness when wicked doers are not left alone too long, but punished without delay.  For this is not as it always is with other nations, whom the Lord might wait patiently to punish, until they have piled sin upon sin, and receive then the most severe punishment.  Thus, God never withdraws his mercy from us.  Even though he may punish with adversity, yet, he will never forsake his people. But let this be a warning unto us.

     It was in these days that Eleazar, one of the most important scribes, an aged man and highly esteemed, was forced to open his mouth, and to eat the forbidden swine’s flesh.  But he, choosing rather to die honorably than to live with the guilt of such an abomination, spit it out, even though this meant he would have to endure the torture of his body being torn apart on the rack.

     But they that were in charge of that wicked feast were longtime friends of the old man.  So they took him aside and urged him to bring out some other kind of meat, something that was lawful for him to eat, and just pretend he had eaten of the flesh taken from the sacrifice commanded by the king.  Then, by doing so, and because of their old friendship, he might be saved from death.

     But Eleazar considered the honor of his gray head, and how ever since his education as a child, he had lived by the holy law made and given by God.  Therefore he answered accordingly, and he said that he would rather that they send him to the grave.  “For it is not wise,” he said, “to in any way be false about this, whereby many young people might think that Eleazar, being fourscore years old and ten, had now gone over to a strange religion.  And then they, because of my hypocrisy and desire to live a few moments longer, would be deceived by me; and I would add this disgraceful stain of sin and guilt to my old age.  For though in the present time I would be delivered from the punishment of men, I would not escape the hand of the Almighty, neither in this life or the next.  It is far better that I gladly give up my life now, and leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and courageously in obedience to God’s holy laws.”  And when he had said these words, he was immediately taken to the rack.

     The good will of those that had charge of him then changed into hatred because they thought that what he said was insane.  When he was about to die from the torture, Eleazar groaned and said, “The Lord knows that though my body might have been delivered from death instead of enduring this pain, my soul is well content to suffer these things, because I fear him.”  And thus he died, leaving his death as an example of a noble courage and a memorial of virtue, not only unto young men, but unto all his nation.

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Revelation 13:9-10  —  He who has an ear, let him hear.  If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go.  If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed.  This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.

Revelation 14:13  —  Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write:  Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

I Peter 5:6-11  —  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever.  Amen.

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A OLD GERMAN LUTHERAN PRAYER FOR THE END OF THE DAY AND FOR THE END OF LIFE:
Abide with us, O Lord, for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.  Abide with us and with thy whole church.  Abide with us in the end of the day, in the end of our life, in the end of the world.  Abide with us by thy grace and bounty, by thy holy Word and Sacrament, by thy comfort and thy blessing.  Abide with us when there cometh over us the night of affliction and fear, the night of doubt and temptation, the night of bitter death.  Abide with us and with all thy faithful, through time and eternity.  Amen.