190 BC to 170 BC, Psalm 38: Antiochus Epiphanes.

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Monetiere_di_fi,_moneta_ellenistica_antioco_IV,_175-164_ac.This generation is that of the years between 190 BC and 170 BC.

The pressure of the wicked on Israel described in the previous psalm finds full illustration in the present generation. Indeed it is that of the reign of Seleucos IV Philopator and the beginning of reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
The short reign of Seleucus IV Philopator (187 BC / 175 BC) already announces the reality of the Seleucid domination. This one under the weight of the debt imposed by the Romans to Antiochos III is in search of money.

Delacroix_Heliodoro_01It is in this context that the governor of Great Syria sends Heliodorus, his prime minister, to Jerusalem to monopolize the riches of the Temple.

The rest of the story of II Maccabees tells how a miraculous divine intervention will cause the plans of Heliodorus to fail. However, the respite is short-lived because Seleucos is assassinated in 175 BC. His brother Antiochos IV Epiphanes took the opportunity to land in Asia Minor, seize Antioch and be crowned king.
With this new king, the misfortunes of Jews will reach their peak under Greek domination, illustrating, if necessary, the alarmist predictions of the previous psalm. Jews try to assimilate to Greek culture by denying their Jewish heritage, as described by Flavius Josephus:
  • Onias [1], [1], a high priest, being dead at the same time (- Hyrcanus, the last representative of the Tobiads, master of territories beyond the Jordan, family opposed to that of the Oniads who were responsible for worship in Jerusalem –), Antiochus ( Epiphanius), king of Syria, gave the great priesthood to Jesus, nicknamed Jason, brother of Onias, who had left only a young son, which we will talk about again. But Antiochus, having since been dissatisfied with Jason, deprived him of this dignity. He gave it to Onias, nicknamed Menelaus, his younger brother, who was one of the three sons that Simon had left and who were all successively high priests as we have said. Jason, not being able to suffer to be deprived of this charge, entered into a great dispute with Menelaus; and the children of Tobias declared for the latter. But most of the people favored Jason, and so they were forced to retreat alongside Antiochus. They told this prince that they were determined to renounce the customs of their country to embrace his religion and the way of life of the Greeks. They asked him to allow them to build a place of exercises in Jerusalem. He gave it to them; and then they covered the marks of circumcision so that they could not be distinguished from the Greeks even when, running and struggling, they would be naked, and thus abandoning all the laws of their fathers, they differed in no way from foreign nations.
It is this drift of the Jewish people that is evoked by the beginning of the psalm. In fact few Jews resisted the attraction of Greek culture with what it incorporates of pagan worship:

(extract of the psalm 38 associated to this generation, verses 1 to 5 )

  • A song of David, to make remembrance.
  • O Lord, do not reprove me with Your anger, nor chastise me with Your wrath.
  • For Your arrows have been shot into me, and Your hand has come down upon me.
  • There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your fury; there is no peace in my bones because of my sin.
  • For my iniquities passed over my head; as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.

Plate_13_of_22_for_the_Macklin_Bible_after_Loutherbourg._Bowyer_Bible._Sacrilege_of_AntiochusTo this drift of the Jews towards the Greek practices is added to the misfortune of the people of Israel the hostile attitude of Antiochus Epiphanes:

  • In [2] the year 143 (169 BC), after the conquest of Egypt, Antiochus marched with a great army against the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem.
  • In his arrogance, he entered the Temple and took away the gold altar, the lampstand with all its equipment,
  • the table for the bread offered to the Lord, the cups and bowls, the gold fire pans, the curtain, and the crowns. He also stripped all the gold from the front of the Temple
  • and carried off the silver and gold and everything else of value, including all the treasures that he could find stored there.
  • Then he took it all to his own country. He had also murdered many people and boasted arrogantly about it. 25 There was great mourning everywhere in the land of Israel.
  • Rulers and leaders groaned in sorrow. Young men and young women grew weak.The beauty of our women faded.
  • Every bridegroom sang a funeral song, and every bride sat mourning in her room.
  • All our people were clothed with shame, and our land trembled for them.
The desperate situation of the Jews is well described in the rest of the psalm where the « light of my eyes » is likely to characterize the door lamp stolen:

(extract of the psalm 38 associated to this generation, verses 6 to 11 )

  • My boils are putrid; they fester because of my folly.
  • I am very much stunned and bowed; all day I go around in gloom.
  • For my loins are full of self-effacement; there is no soundness in my flesh.
  • I passed out and was very crushed; I moaned from the turmoil in my heart.
  • O Lord, all my desire is before You, and my sigh is not hidden from You.
  • My heart is engulfed; my strength has left me, and the light of my eyes- they too are not with me.
However the attacks of Antiochus Epiphanes do not stop there. Two years later, under the pretext of making peace, his soldiers sow death and desolation in Jerusalem. The city and the Temple are deserted. But Antiochus also relies on part of the Jewish population to apply its rigorous policy to Jerusalem.
The perilous situation of the Jews faithful to the divine covenant in the hands of the soldiers of King Antiochus Epiphanes and the Jews who preferred to abandon their faith is well summed up in the following verses of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 38 associated to this generation, verses 12 and 13 )

  • And those who seek my life lay traps, and those who seek my harm speak treachery, and all day long they think of deceits.
  • But I am as a deaf person, I do not hear, and like a mute, who does not open his mouth.
Many Jews remain faithful to the alliance despite the heavy price to pay. Their resistance will lead to the beginning of the next generation of Seleucid exactions.
So some Jewish people, despite the attacks of Antiochus Epiphanes, do not deny the divine covenant They remain deaf to these strong injunctions of their faith in God, also aware of the mistakes that the people may have committed and who are in the process of to be atoned in this difficult time. This is illustrated by the end of the psalm which reiterates the Jewish people’s absolute trust in God and his confidence in God’s ultimate support for his salvation. Confidence implemented from this generation, and which will turn into revolt to the next generation:

(extract of the psalm 38 associated to this generation, verses 14 to 23 )

  • But I am as a deaf person, I do not hear, and like a mute, who does not open his mouth.
  • And I was as a man who does not understand and in whose mouth are no arguments.
  • Because I hoped for You, O Lord; You shall answer, O Lord, my God.
  • For I said, « Lest they rejoice over me; when my foot faltered, they magnified themselves over me. »
  • For I am ready for disaster, and my pain is always before me.
  • For I relate my iniquity; I worry about my sin.
  • But my enemies are in the vigor of life, and those who hate me for false reasons have become great.
  • And they repay evil for good; they hate me for my pursuit of goodness.
  • Do not forsake me, O Lord, my God; do not distance Yourself from me.
  • Hasten to my aid, O Lord, my salvation.

 

 

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[1] Flavius Josephus / Jewish Antiquities / Twelfth Book / Chapter 6. (French: Flavius Josèphe/Antiquités Juives/Livre douzième/chapitre 6).

[2] 1 Maccabees, Chapter 1, verses 20 to 28 (« Antiochus Persecutes the Jews« ).
(Following the translation of https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Maccabees+1&version=GNT )