150 BC to 130 BC, Psalm 40: Maccabees.

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Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld_Bibel_in_Bildern_1860_153This generation is that of the years between 150 BC and 130 BC.

Alexander Epiphanius, the son of Antiochus Epiphanes challenges the power of Demetrius.
Demetrius will then try to make a covenant with Jonathan. But suspicious Jonathan prefers to fortify Jerusalem. Alexander in turn asks Jonathan to become his ally, which he accepts despite the bidding of Demetrius. Alexander eventually conquered and killed Demetrius and concluded an alliance with Egypt by marrying Cleopatra daughter of Ptolemy and at the same time consolidating his alliance with Jonathan.
146.Jonathan_Destroys_the_Temple_of_DagonIn 147 BC, Demetrius II arrives from Crete and seeks the confrontation with Jonathan. Jonathan defeats Demetrius’ troops, first in Joppa, then in Ashdod and Ascalon. Ptolemy, who covets the kingdom of Alexander, denounces his alliance with him for the benefit of Demetrius. Alexander flees and is killed.
Ptolemy did not take advantage of this victory because he died two days later, unlike Demetrius who became king. Jonathan then decides to attack the citadel of Jerusalem still in the hands of the Greeks and concludes the peace with Demetrius. Demetrius then looks for Jonathan’s alliance and military help, which he gets.

Jonathan frees Antioch but Demetrius returns on his commitments. Antiochus son of Alexander Epiphanes, supported by Tryphon, a former general of Demetrius I enters into confrontation with Demetrius (II). He fled. New alliance between Antiochus and Jonathan. Jonathan still has to fight Demetrius and is the winner of every confrontation.

spartan army mascotMeanwhile he seeks to make alliance with the Romans and Spartans

.The Spartans considering themselves brothers of the Jews accept this alliance.

In his battles with Demetrius, Jonathan decides to reinforce the walls of Jerusalem but is taken prisoner during Tryphon’s ruse that ambushes him and promises him peace.

1024px-Tryphon_coinTryphon plans to take advantage of Jonathan’s detention to defeat the Jews. But the calculation of Tryphon is skewed, Simon’s brother Jonathan takes over the leadership of the Jewish people to fight him. Simon opposes Tryphon’s advance. He can not reach Jerusalem because of snowfall. He has Jonathan killed who was still a prisoner with him. He also kills Antiochus to take his kingdom.

Simon strengthens even more the cities of Judea. In 142 BC, Simon reached a peace agreement with Demetrius and attacked Ghezer, whose inhabitants surrendered and made peace with Simon. In the same way the last soldiers who occupied the citadel of Jerusalem surrender to Simon.
Demetrius is then taken prisoner during an expedition in Media. Simon’s victory marks a new period of peace and prosperity for the people of Israel.
These events that mark the end of the Seleucid oppression on the Jewish people and especially the end of the repeated profanations of the holy places in Jerusalem and the rest of Judea are well summarized in the beginning of the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 40 associated to this generation, verses 1 to 3 )

  • For the conductor, of David a song.
  • I have greatly hoped for the Lord,
    • The faith of the Hasmoneans has never been faulted.
  • and He extended [His ear] to me and heard my cry.
  • And He drew me up out of the roaring pit, from the thick mire, and He set my feet upon a rock, He established my steps. 
    • Simon has resettled his people in Jerusalem.
Simon’s success leads to the recognition of his people and respect among other peoples:
  • The land [1] was at rest all the days of Simon, who sought the good of his nation. His rule delighted his people and his glory all his days.
  • As his crowning glory he took Joppa for a port and made it a gateway to the isles of the sea.
  • He enlarged the borders of his nation and gained control of the country.
  • He took many prisoners of war and made himself master of Gazara, Beth-zur, and the citadel (Jerusalem). He cleansed the citadel of its impurities; there was no one to withstand him.
  • The people cultivated their land in peace; the land yielded its produce, the trees of the field their fruit.
  • Old men sat in the squares, all talking about the good times, while the young men put on the glorious raiment of war.
  • He supplied the cities with food and equipped them with means of defense, till his glorious name reached the ends of the earth.
  • He brought peace to the land, and Israel was filled with great joy.
  • Every one sat under his vine and fig tree, with no one to disturb them.
  • No attacker was left in the land; the kings in those days were crushed.
  • He strengthened all the lowly among his people and was zealous for the law; he destroyed the lawless and the wicked.
  • The sanctuary he made splendid and multiplied its furnishings.
This praise of Simon’s actions is well to be compared with the following verses of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 40 associated to this generation, verses 4 to 6 )

  • He put a new song into my mouth, a praise to our God, so that many may see and fear, and trust in the Lord.
  • Praiseworthy is the man who made the Lord his trust, and did not turn to the haughty and those who turn to falsehood.
  • You have done great things, You, O Lord my God. Your wonders and Your thoughts are for us. There is none to equal You; were I to tell and speak, they would be too many to tell.
To understand the rest of the psalm, one must go back to the time when the Jews were in the desert with Moses to receive the Torah.

The people [2] of Israel are summoned by God at the foot of Mount Sinai to listen to the Ten Commandments. Then the first series of laws transmitted by Moses who is the intermediary between God and his people. The people of Israel freely agreed to these new laws.

The people of Israel then pledged themselves to listen to the divine laws, that is, to execute them. The ear is then an “organ” of submission to God.
What is illustrated by the continuation of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 40 associated to this generation, verse 7 )

  • You desired neither sacrifice nor meal offering; You dug ears for me; a burnt offering or a sin offering You did not request.
Unfortunately, the people of Israel went astray when they did not see Moses coming down from the mountain. He asked Aaron to make them a god when God had just given the description of the tabernacle and ceremonial that the people of Israel had to implement to pay homage to him.
For this, Aaron removes from the people of Israel his earrings to design the golden calf, thus revealing symbolically the piercing of it. Piercing identical to that of Jews who have the choice of freedom prefers slavery (piercing the ears is also a punishment for those who want to remain enslaved in the Torah).
By the ears, the Jews had sanctified themselves by perceiving the divine message. By these same ears, they fell back by building an idol to which they sacrificed.
From pagan rites the Jews had deduced that a God could be satisfied only through sacrifices. They were not yet ripe enough to apprehend divine greatness apart from “burnt offerings and expiators.” This is why God has presumably introduced into the law a great number of precepts in this regard even if they have no real utility for God to approach his people.
However, the sin committed by the people of Israel in the desert is obviously serious since it occurs when God has really manifested himself to his people. To avoid divine wrath, Moses pleads for his people. It is at the end of the forty-day period during which Moses is with God that Moses interposes himself for his people. But for that, Moses had to react to the fault of his people.

Moses Breaks 10 Commandments 1) Sacred-biblical history of the old and New Testament. two Hundred and forty images Ed. 3. St. Petersburg, 2) 1873. 3) Russia 4) Julius Schnorr von CarolsfeldBy throwing the two tables of the law and breaking them, Moses accepted the destruction of the two Temples in exchange for the redemption of his people obtained on the fortieth day of his first retreat to God.

It is in response to this that, during the fortieth generation, the present generation, David, author of the psalm, remembers indirectly the facts relating to the golden calf.
Indeed, during these first forty generations of the night, the people of Israel were largely seduced by idolatrous cults and this from the first generation that followed the death of Solomon who himself had introduced this cult in Israel.
The last temptation was that of Greek idol worship, which many Jews followed seduced by Greek culture, clumsily assimilating Greek values and religion. This last idolatrous deviation has been vanquished by the Maccabees and therefore the Jews will never again be seduced by idolatrous cults.
Other dangers lie in wait for them, but no longer that one.
The Maccabees, when they fought against their fellow citizens seduced by the Greek cult, reproduced the salutary action of Moses when he commanded the Jews to expunge idolatry from their ranks.
The reaction of Moses repeated a few centuries later by the Maccabees is well illustrated by the following psalm which proclaims the reaffirmation of the covenant between God and his people through the divine law:

(extract of the psalm 40 associated to this generation, verses 8 to 12 )

  • Then I said, « Behold I have come, » with a scroll of a book written for me.
  • O God, I desired to do Your will and [to have] Your law within my innards.
  • I brought tidings of righteousness in a great assembly. Behold, I will not withhold my lips, O Lord, You know.
  • I did not conceal Your charity within my heart; I stated Your faith and Your salvation-I did not withhold Your kindness and truth-to a great assembly.
  • You, O Lord, do not withhold Your mercies from me; may Your kindness and Your truth always watch me.
  • For countless evils have encompassed me; my iniquities have overtaken me and I could not see [them because] they are more numerous than the hairs of my head, and my heart has forsaken me.
That David in this passage of the psalm claims once again divine protection is not trivial. If the Maccabees took over the oath of fidelity of Moses to the detriment of their lost brothers, they were also heirs to the agreement concluded by him with God. Namely the destruction of the two Temples which means the near destruction of the second Temple defended by the Maccabees.
It is thus naturally during this generation that the rapprochement between the Jews and the Romans makes the announcement of the introduction of those who will execute the deal concluded by Moses.
This explains why despite the victory of the Maccabees that could be illustrated happily, the tone of the end of the psalm is rather worrying because the arrival of the Romans in the horizon of the people of Israel heralds a painful aftermath.
This is what the end of the psalm expresses:

(extract of the psalm 40 associated to this generation, verses 13 to 18 )

  • For countless evils have encompassed me; my iniquities have overtaken me and I could not see [them because] they are more numerous than the hairs of my head, and my heart has forsaken me.
    • The people of Israel not only assume the faults of each generation but also the major faults of the desert generation.
  • O Lord, be willing to save me; O Lord, hasten to my help.
  • May those who seek my soul to destroy it be shamed and embarrassed together; may those who seek to harm me retreat and be humiliated.
  • May they be bewildered afterwards because of their shame, those who say about me, « Aha! Aha! »
    • Many enemies will succeed to try to eliminate the people of Israel thinking that this people has definitely lost the protection of their God.
  • All who seek You shall exult and rejoice; those who love Your salvation shall constantly say, « May the Lord be magnified. »
  • But I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my rescuer, my God; do not delay.
    • David relies on God to preserve his people through the rest of the night. He can all the more easily make this prayer that henceforth his people will no longer stray from the temptation of idolatry.



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[1] 1 Maccabees, chapter 14, verses 4 to 15 (Praise of Simon).
Following: http://www.usccb.org/bible/1maccabees/14

[2] See Exodus, Chapter 20-23