Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Politics and Piety: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 3 with poem by Felicia Hemans, Heliodorus in the Temple

Daily Readings
Proverbs 19, Joshua 8, II Maccabees 3, Colossians 1

Daily Text: II Maccabees 3

Politics and Piety
Our story in II Maccabees 3 ranges from the pits of human treachery in Simon to the glories of God’s own action in the affair of Heliodorous. This is a remarkable tale and neither its psychology or its theology are plumbed in the details. For the writer, God spoke, and without a doubt something remarkable occurred. Even the author of Daniel (11:20) mentions this event, and that author may well have lived at the time of this Seleucid king, Seleucus IV. Zechariah 9:8 may also refer to this event.

One of the depositors is Hyrcanus, a second cousin of Onias III and a brigand chief who has set himself up in opposition to the Seleucids. Evidently, he was powerful enough that they allowed him his sway in Transjordan without an attempt to dislodge him. That he had deposited monies in the temple under Onias protection would not have carried any weight with Heliodorus, and may have been the reason he continued to pursue his course after the protests of the high priest and all the people. However, it was the sanctity of the temple that was at stake here, regardless of the politics, and as has been suggested, they were complicated. For our author this was a major event in the reestablishment of the temple as the only true place of God’s dwelling. Surely, it is God who is glorified.

Heliodorus in the Temple
Felicia Hemans
1793-1835

A Sound of woe in Salem!—mournful cries
Rose from her dwellings—youthful cheeks were pale,
Tears flowing fast from dim and agèd eyes,
And voices minglikng in tumultuous wail;
Hands raised to heaven in agony of prayer,
And powerless wrath, and terror, and despair.

Thy daughters, Judah! weeping laid aside
The regal splendour of their fair array,
With the rude sackcloth girt their beauty’s pride,
And thronged the streets in hurrying, wild dismay;
While knelt thy priests before his awful shrine,
Who made, of old, renown and empire thine.

But on the spoiler moves—the Temple gate,
The bright, the beautiful, his guards unfold,
And all the scene reveals its solemn state,
Its courts and pillars, rich with sculptured gold,
And man, with eye unhallowed, views th’ abode,
The severed spot, the dwelling-place of God.

Where art Thou, Mighty Presence! that of yore
Wert wont between the cherubim to rest,
Veiled in a cloud of glory, shadowing o’er
Thy sanctuary the chosen and the blest?
Thou! that didst make fair Sion’s ark Thy throne,
And call the oracle’s recess Thine own!

Angel of God! that through th’ Assyrian host,
Clothed with the darkness of the midnight hour,
To tame the proud, to hush th’ invader’s boast,
Didst pass triumphant in avenging power,
Till burst the day-spring on the silent scene,
And death alone revealed where thou hadst been.

Wilt thou not wake, O Chasterner! in thy might,
To guard thine ancient and majestic hill,
Where oft from heaven the full Shechinah’s light
Hath streamed the house of holiness to fill?
Oh! yet once more defend thy loved domain,
Eternal one! Deliverer! rise again!

Fearless of Thee, the plunderer, undismayed,
Hastes on, the sacred chambers to explore,
Where the bright treasures of the fane are laid,--
The orphan’s portion, and the widow’s store;
What recks his heart, though age unsuccored die,
And want consume the cheek of infancy?

Away, intruders!—hark! a mighty sound!
Behold, a burst of light!—away, away!
A fearful glory fills the Temple round,—
A vision bright in terrible array!
And lo! a steed of no terrestrial frame,--
His path a whirlwind, and his breath a flame!

His neck is clothed with thunder, and his mane
Seems waving fire; the kindling of his eye
Is as a meteor; ardent with disdain
His glance; his gesture, fierce in majesty!
Instinct with light he seems, and formed to bear
Some dread archangel through the fields of air.

But who is he, in panoply of gold,
Throned on that burning charger:
Bright his form,
Yet in its brightness awful to behold,
And girt with all the terrors of the storm!
Lightning is on his helmet’s crest, and fear
Shrinks from the splendor of his brow severe.

And by his side two radiant warriors stand,
All-armed, and kingly in commanding grace;
Oh! more than kingly-godlike—sternly grand;
Their port indignant, and each dazzling face
Beams with the beauty to immortals given,
Magnificent in all the wrath of heaven.

Then sinks each gazer’s heart; each knee is bowed
In trembling awe; but, as to fields of fight,
The unearthly war-steed, rushing through the crowd,
Bursts on their leader in terrific might;
And the stern angels of that dread abode
Pursue its plunderer with scourge of God.

Darkness—thick darkness!—low on earth he lies,
Rash Heliodorus—motionless and pale;
Bloodless his cheek, and o’er his shrouded eyes
Mists, as of death, suspend their shadowy veil;
And thus the oppressor by his fearstruck train
Is borne from that inviolable fane.

The light returns—the warriors of the sky
Have passed, with all their dreadful pomp, away;
Then wakes the timbrel, swells the song on high,
Triumphant as in Judah’s elder day.
Rejoice, O city of the sacred hill!
Salem, exult! thy God is with thee still!
411:455

Collect for the Day
Though our mouths should overflow with song as the sea, our tongues with melody as the roaring waves, our lips with praise as the heavens’ wide expanse; and though our eyes were to shine as the sun and the moon, our arms extend like eagles’ wings, our feet speed swiftly as deer—still we could not fully thank You, Lord our God and God of all ages, or bless Your name enough, for even one of Your infinite kindnesses to our ancestors and to us. [266:96 Our Immeasurable Debt to God]

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