Gateway to the Classics: The Hammer by Alfred J. Church
The Hammer by  Alfred J. Church

The Hope of Israel

A week had passed since the fatal day of Eleasa. Judas had been buried in peace in the grave where he had laid, five years before, the aged Mattathias. The Greek general had been so much impressed with the valour and generalship of the Jewish hero that he strictly ordered that no indignity should be offered to his remains; and when an envoy came from the surviving brothers to ask that the corpse should be given up for burial, made no difficulty about granting the request. It was only fitting that a brave man should be so honoured. The King, too, had been avenged on his enemy, nor did he imagine for a moment that the rebels, as he called them, would continue to hold out now that their leader had been taken from them. It was impossible for him to foresee that those undaunted brothers would maintain the desperate struggle until they had wrung from the Syrian king the recognition of Jewish independence. Accordingly he granted a truce for a fortnight, and even sent some of his troops to accompany the funeral procession. It had been a touching scene; and when the hero had been laid to rest in the sepulchre of his fathers, and the piercing voices of the women, many of whom had struggled over the long and toilsome way from Jerusalem to be present, raised the cry of lamentation, many of the Greek soldiers found themselves moved to tears. This had been the dirge that had been sung over the grave:—

"How is the valiant man fallen that delivered Israel.

In his acts he was like a lion, and like a lion's whelp roaring for his prey.

For he pursued the wicked, and sought them out, and burnt up those that vexed his people.

Wherefore the wicked shrunk for fear of him, and all the workers of iniquity were troubled, because salvation prospered in his hand.

He grieved also many kings, and made Jacob glad with his acts, and his memorial is blessed for ever."

And now once more the little company of those whom we have known by name are gathered in Seraiah's house. The orphaned girls are there, Miriam and Judith, passionately grieving for their father, but yet exulting as passionately that he was at the side of Judas to the last, and that his hope had been at least so far fulfilled that he and the captain whom he loved had been saved from drawing sword among the legions of Rome. Little Daniel, too, is there, his childish heart sorely troubled with the darkness of a dispensation which he cannot understand; and Ruth, comforting herself and the children with the thought that he whom they had lost had rejoined his own Hannah, and half reproaching herself for her selfish joy in having her Seraiah still spared to her. Huldah and Eglah, who had been among the mourners at Modin, are there also, and the aged priest Shemaiah.

"O father," cried one of the women, "tell us why these things are so. Why does God so disappoint us of our hopes? We trusted that it had been he who should have delivered Israel, and now he is dead!"

"We must wait," said the old man, "for God's good time, for He seeth not as we see. Did not David think that Solomon, his son, should be the promised king of Israel; and, behold, he turned aside to worship idols, and laid such burdens on the people that his kingdom was broken in twain? And now we, too, have built our hopes upon a man, and they have failed. Surely of Judas it might have been said, 'He shall deliver the needy when he crieth, the poor also, and him that hath no helper; he shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence, and dear shall their blood be in his sight.'

"We looked," said Seraiah, for the time when all kings should fall down before him, all nations should do him service. He seemed like the stone cut out of the mountain without hands that should smite all the kingdoms of evil, and we waited for the reign of Messiah the Prince."

"And will Messiah come?" cried little Daniel, who had been eagerly listening to these words, not understanding all, indeed, but catching their general purport.

"Surely, my son," said the old man; "but there are many things to be suffered first."

He was silent for a time, sitting with eyes that seemed to take no heed of the present, but to be gazing into a far futurity. At last he spoke.

"He loved Israel with all his heart, but he has brought upon us a people of iron, harder than the brazen Greeks. He looked to them for help that he might build up the walls of Sion, and behold! in the days to come they will make Jerusalem a desolation and the inhabitants thereof a hissing. And yet, by the Lord's help he wrought a great deliverance for Israel. He recovered and cleansed the Temple, and by his hand the Lord changed the king's commandment, so that we may once more worship Him in the beauty of holiness. And surely, had it not been for him, when he put to flight the hosts of Lysias, we should have been carried away again into captivity. For this was in the heart of our persecutors; only Judas stood in the way that it should not be done. The Lord reward him for it, and impute not his transgression unto him, for he did not transgress wilfully, or out of an evil heart. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that it shall not be so when Messiah shall come, for come He will at the appointed time, seeing that the Lord repenteth Him not of His promises. Verily He shall not do homage to any godless bestower of kingdoms, nor listen to the voice of the Evil One, though he promise Him all the world and the glory of it. With His own right hand and with His holy arm will He get Himself the victory!"

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