Summary: A narrative message for Palm Sunday contrasting the arrival of "The Hammer" (Judas Maccabeus) with that of Jesus.
FIRST MOVEMENT: The Hammer
They called him “the Hammer.” He probably got the name from his style of warfare. He attacked hard and fast, guerrilla-warfare style. The Hammer was a seasoned warrior. And, because of his success against overwhelming odds, he was a hero to his fellow Israelis.
Israel was an occupied country. The Syrian army had conquered Jerusalem and plundered the temple, using its treasures to finance a war against Egypt. Then they broke down the walls of the city, rendering it defenseless. Adding insult to injury, they established a fort, known as the Acra, to dominate the old temple area. A permanent Syrian garrison was stationed at the Acra, turning Jerusalem into an occupied military city.
There were some who sympathized with the invading army. They welcomed the broadening of culture and the removal of religious restrictions. They were glad to be free of the rule of religious fundamentalists, even if it meant living in an occupied land. The oppressors appointed a high priest who was sympathetic to their more liberal position.
But a year later, the Syrian leader outlawed the practice of the Jewish religion. He ordered the Scriptures destroyed. The Sabbath day and other religious holidays were no longer to be observed. The food laws were to be abolished, and circumcision was no longer to be practiced. The Syrians built a new altar on top of the old one they had destroyed. Then came the ultimate desecration: they sacrificed pigs – considered by all Jews to be unclean animals -- upon the holy altar in the Temple.
Although many Jews obediently followed these new decrees against their religion, some because of apathy, others because of fear, there were a few who did not obey. These pious Jews fled for the countryside, where they found refuge in the villages. Soon those in the rural countryside began to resist, forming a guerrilla movement to overthrow their Syrian oppressors. Their leader was known as the Hammer.
From their strongholds in the mountains, the Hammer and his followers carried on a guerrilla campaign. They raided villages, overthrew pagan altars, killed their countrymen who sympathized with their Syrian oppressors, and circumcised children by force.
For better or for worse, the pious cast their lot with “the Hammer,” and the resistance movement assumed the character of a holy war.
The Hammer proved himself a master of guerrilla tactics. With a knowledge of the countryside and fresh support with each new success, he defeated every Syrian detachment sent after him.
Finally after three years of battle had given them control of the countryside, the Hammer’s troops moved into Jerusalem.
The Hammer and his men pulled down the pagan altars which had been built in the street. They cleansed the temple and made a new altar. They set out incense and lights and offered a sacrifice. They prayed to the Lord, that even if they sinned against Him again, He would not let them be conquered by a foreign enemy. Then they celebrated for eight days.
As part of their celebration, the Hammer rode through the city on horseback, the victorious commander celebrating his success. As he rode, the people held out palm branches and waved them before him, singing this chant of praise to the one who had saved them from the Syrians:
25 Hosanna! . . .
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
Each day for eight days they shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Then the people decreed that this victory should be remembered each year, celebrated with an eight day festival known as the Feast of Lights, or as we know it today, Hanukkah.
An important battle had been won, but the war was far from over. There were still Syrian forces in the holy city. So when the Syrian leader died the following year, the Hammer laid siege to the Syrian garrison in Jerusalem.
In response, a new Syrian leader allowed the Jews to continue to make sacrifices at the temple. But he ordered the destruction of the fortifications that the Hammer’s forces had erected in the temple area. He deposed the collaborating high priest and nominated a new one.
This appeased many of the Jews, who were tired of war. But it did not appease the Hammer. Not content with the limited religious changes and the continued presence of foreign troops and a puppet high priest, he continued the military struggle.
These fresh disturbances led the new high priest and his sympathizers to call for Syrian help, which came in the form of fresh troops.
Those fresh troops arrived, and, faced with an overwhelming Syrian army, the Hammer’s illustrious campaign came to an end, just as it had begun -- on the field of battle.