This meditation is the final of three from the apocryphal book of II Maccabees (See also Meditations #441 and #463). It tells the story of God’s judgement upon the wicked King Antiochus IV whose persecution of the Jews had caused so much suffering.
King Antiochus, filled with anger, decided to avenge upon the Jews the disgrace that had been done to him. Therefore, he commanded his chariot man to drive without ceasing so that they could get to Jerusalem quickly. He had proudly boasted that he would come to Jerusalem and turn the whole city into a graveyard of Jews. But the judgment of God was following him.
And then the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, attacked him with a sudden and incurable illness. As soon as Antiochus had spoken those words against the Jews, a pain of the bowels came upon him, and he was severely tormented in his inner parts, and he could find no relief. And that was just, for he himself had attacked and tormented so many others and had made them suffer without relief.
However, even then he did not cease from his bragging, but still was filled with pride, breathing out fire in his rage against the Jews, and commanding his chariot man to drive even faster. But as they were speeding along, it came to pass that Antiochus fell out of the chariot. It was such a violent fall that now his whole body was in great pain.
And thus, he who just little while earlier had thought he was so great that he could command even the waves of the sea and rule even the high mountains, was now thrown onto the ground, unable to raise himself up. He had to be lifted and carried on a horse litter, showing forth unto all the manifest power of God.
And then it came to pass that due to his illness and injuries, worms afflicted the body of this wicked man, and while he yet lived in agony and pain, his flesh rotted away, and the filthiness of his smell was unbearable to his entire army. And this man, who had once thought he could reach to the stars of heaven, could not even be carried on the litter, because no man could endure his intolerable stench.
Finally then, being thus plagued, he began to let go of his pride. Broken in spirit, with his pain and suffering ever increasing, he began to come to a true knowledge of himself, as a mere mortal under the scourge of an almighty God. And when he himself could no longer tolerate his own smell, he said these words, “It is good to be humble before God, and no man should be so proud as to think of himself as greater than God.”
This wicked man then made a vow unto the Lord, saying that the holy city, which he was going to level to the ground and turn into a cemetery; would instead be set free. And the Jews, whom he had before not judged worthy even to be buried, but were cast out with their children to be devoured by the wild beasts; he would now make them all equals to the citizens of Athens. And the holy temple, which before he had spoiled; he would now decorate with fine gifts, restoring all the holy vessels and adding more; all this out of his own revenue. In fact, he said that he would become a Jew himself, and go through all the world, declaring the power of God.
But for all this his pains would not cease, for the just judgment of God had come upon him… And so then the murderer and blasphemer, having suffered most grievously, as he had made others suffer, died a miserable death in the mountains of a strange country.
King Antiochus IV
Romans 12:19 — Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
FROM THE APOCRAPHA:
II Maccabees 8:18 — Maccabeus said, “They trust in their weapons and boldness; but our confidence is in the Almighty who can easily can cast down both them that come against us, and also all the world.”
II Maccabees 6:13-15 — It is a token of God’s 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.
II Maccabees 7:31-37 — The seventh brother to King Antiochus: “You who have brought all this evil against us 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.”
Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer