A brief history of the Jews in between testaments can be told succinctly in 7 episodes.
In both Mesopotamian Empires, and later with the Seleucids, the Jewish people were permitted relative freedom and enjoyed relative peace. But they weren’t welcomed. They weren’t wanted. Their lives were hardly enviable. Yesterday I compared their social standing to the plight of modern-day illegal immigrants in the USA. That’s a pretty fair cultural comparison. Illegal immigrants are often maligned, scorned, and yet–ironically–often employed by their loudest critics. Both intertestimental Jews and illegal immigrants in the USA are marginalized people…they’re not persecuted, but they’re not wholly at home either.
In 167 BCE, Antiochus Epiphanes (Seleucid Emperor) profaned the Temple in Jerusalem and slaughtered pigs on the altar. Today, that would have had the same cultural impact as Al Queda taking over the Vatican or an American defecating on the Koran in Mecca. It was gross, incendiary, and deliberate.
In response to Antiochus, the Maccabeus family led a revolt that forcibly ejected the Greeks from Judea. The Maccabbees small army heroically bested their oppressors (this, btw, is the origin of Hannukah), and established the Hasmonean Dynasty.
The Hasmoean Kings often also served as High Priests, and the Jewish people enjoyed new freedom and prosperity under their leadership. Judea was recognized as an independent state by the increasingly powerful Roman Empire and also by the Parthian Empire to the east. Judea was of strategic importance to both world powers, as it served to buffer their borders.
Eventually, Pompeii Maguns (co-consul with Julius Caesar) tired of Jewish politics and–like Antiochus Epiphanes–he desecrated the Temple and conquered Jerusalem.
Once again, the Jewish people revolted against a far superior force. This time, however, they enlisted the aid of the Parthian Empire to fight back against the Romans. They were initially successful, however, Rome had “an inside man” that ultimately fractured Jewish political solidarity. That man was Herod–an Edomite (i.e. not Jewish) whose family had been forcibly converted to Judaism during the Hasmonean Dynasty. Herod’s father was a failed politician and Herod saw this war as his opportunity to better his fortunes. He made a deal with Marc Anthony and, with Rome’s backing, sacked Jerusalem and became the last King of the Jews.
The story of Intertestimental Judaism ends with the Jewish people once again marginalized. They have some independence, but the man in charge is a Roman puppet. They don’t like Herod. They don’t trust him. Even though he’s a successful politician and (mainly) keep the peace, the Jewish people consider him an opportunist, a traitor, and a man who plays both sides against the middle. Despite their status as a ‘client nation’ of the Roman Empire, the Jews are no better off than they were three hundred years prior.
History repeats itself.
Here’s my thought for why this matters.
In episode four, the Jewish people believed their troubles were largely behind them. From their point of view, it had to have looked as though God had finally kept his promise to deliver them. They were saved. They had their own king. They had their own land. They were worshipping in the Temple.
This was everything for which they had hoped. And then they lost it again.
How many of us are similarly surprised when we ‘lose it all’?
We think, “now that I’m a Christian, my troubles are behind me…”
“Now that I’m married, lust will no longer be an issue…”
“Now that I have this new job, I’ll never feel badly about my lack of achievement…”
But the truth is we will never find safety and security in our circumstances because they do not last. Our “salvation” will never be completed in this life and we are fools if we think to find it on this side of eternity.
We’ve got to cultivate a long view of the future, trusting that God will sustain us even when we lose it all.