This story from II Maccabees chapter seven comes right after the account of the martyrdom of Eleazer (Meditation #441). Christians do not have the same prohibitions against eating pork, but that was God’s Old Testament law for the Jews. In this account Syrian King Antiochus had made the breaking of that command the visible act by which he would force the Jews to renounce their faith in God (170 B. C.). This is the inspirational story of one family’s refusal to do so. Their last words bear witness to a profound trust in God which allowed them to courageously die a most horrible death, confidently anticipating the resurrection to life everlasting.
It came to pass also that seven brothers and their mother were taken and commanded by the king, against the law of God, to taste swine’s flesh. They refused and were tormented with scourges and whips. One of the brothers said, “Why do you keep asking us to do this wicked thing? Do you think you will hear anything new? We assure you, we are ready to die rather than to transgress the laws of our fathers.”
Then the king, being in a rage, commanded to cut out the tongue of the man, and to then cut off his hands and feet. This was done while his brothers and his mother were watching. When he was thus maimed, the king ordered that he, still alive, be brought to the fire and be fried on a pan. But the brothers and mother exhorted one another to have courage saying, “God will look after us and comfort us. As Moses said, ‘He will have compassion on his servants.’”
When the first brother was dead, the second was brought in for them to mock. They started with him by pulling the skin off of his head by the hair, and then they asked him, “Will you eat what you are told to eat before you also are punished throughout every member of your body?”
But the second brother refused as did the first. Therefore, he also received the next torment in order, as the former did. And when he was at the last gasp, he said, “In great fury you may take us out of this present life, but the King of the whole world shall raise us up unto everlasting life.”
Then the third brother was brought in, and without delay, he put out his tongue and held out his hands, saying courageously, “I have received these from God, and for God’s sake I gladly give them up, and from God I hope to receive them again.” The king and those with him marveled at the young man’s courage, for he regarded as nothing the pains he was to suffer.
After this brother was dead, they tormented and mangled the fourth in like manner. And when he was ready to die he said, “It is not a bad thing for me to be put to death by men, knowing that God will raise me up again. But as for you, you will have no resurrection.”
Afterward they brought the fifth also, and mangled him. He looked at the king and said, “You have power over men now, even though you too are mortal. Do what you want, but do not think that our nation has been forsaken of God. Just wait, the time will come when you will behold his great power, and then you and your descendants will be tormented.”
Then was brought in the sixth brother who, being ready to die said, “Do not vainly deceive yourself, for all is in God’s hands. We know we deserve to suffer, having sinned against our God. But think not that you shall escape unpunished after setting your hand against Almighty God.”
But the mother is to be admired above all and worthy of most honorable memory. Even though she saw her seven sons slain within the space of one day, she endured it with a good courage because of the hope that she had in the Lord. She exhorted every one of them, giving them strength saying, “I do not know how you came into my womb, for I neither gave you breath nor life, nor was it I who put you together. But it was the Creator of the world who causes the beginning of all things. And he will also, of his own mercy, give you life and breath again, since you are now, for his sake, denying your very selves.”
Antiochus, thinking himself despised, went to the youngest son, the only one yet alive, and tried to persuade him, not only by words, but also by assuring him with promises that he would make him a rich man if he would simply turn from the laws of his fathers. But the young man would not listen to any of it. The king then called his mother and told her to tell the young man to save his life. After many words by the king, she promised him that she would counsel her son. But she, bending down to her son, scorned the cruel tyrant, and said, “O my son, have pity upon your mother who carried you nine months in my womb, then nourished you, and then endured every kind of trouble to bring you up unto this age. I beg you, son, remember that God made everything, and so do not fear this tormentor. Be worthy of your brothers, and accept your death as they did, so that I may again, by God’s mercy, be together with all my sons.”
While she was yet speaking, the young man said to the king, “What are you waiting for? I will not obey your commandment. And you, who have brought all this evil against the Hebrews, shall not escape the hands of God. For we suffer because of our sins, and though the Lord be angry with us a little while for our chastening and correction, yet shall he again be at one with his servants. But you, O godless man and most wicked of all men, you will find that your hopes will fail you; for the Almighty God sees all things, and you will not escape his judgment. My brothers suffered only a short pain and are now dead, but they are still under God’s covenant of everlasting life. But you have yet to receive the just punishment for your pride. Now as I, like my brothers, offer up my body and life, I pray that God would speedily be merciful unto our nation; and that even you, by torments and plagues, may one day confess that he alone is God.”
Then the king, being in a rage at being so mocked, handled him worse than all the rest. So the young man died undefiled, putting his whole trust in the Lord. And then, after all her sons, the mother died.
Martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees, Antoni Ciseri, 1863
Daniel 3:14-18 — Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you are ready (to) … fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”
Jude 1:21 — Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
Revelation 2:10 — Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Lord Jesus Christ, by your death you took away the sting of death: Grant to us your servants so to follow in faith where you have led the way, that we may at length fall asleep peacefully in you, and wake in your likeness; for your tender mercies’ sake. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer