If this is your first visit, please see my introduction to these Lenten readings.
2 March. 2 Maccabees chapters 8-11
The beginning of chapter 8 marks a division in the book, which in the Jerusalem Bible translation is headed “The Victory of Judaism”. Elsewhere in this book there are references to the “Jewish race” or “Jewish people”. That is very significant. The Old Testament proper known nothing of this identity but rather tells of the twelve tribes of Israel – of which Judah became dominant, separating itself from the rest of “Israel”. But from this time (about 150 years before Jesus of Nazareth) onwards, the identity of the worshippers of the God of Abraham identified themselves by one badge as “Jews” (though the name does derive from that of Judah).
Anyway, following the Greek empire’s attacks on Jerusalem and their torturing of innocent people, Judas Maccabeus raises a mercenary army to resist them on the principle of “we’ve had enough of this – even if we die fighting it’s better than letting ourselves be subjected to persecution”. But God, it seems, was with them, and if these accounts are to be believed, on several occasions there were apparitions of angelic horsemen fighting for them. Their appearance both encouraged the Jews, and frightened their enemy, to the extent that the battle in each case was turned in their favour.
That tallies with the Jewish/Christian understanding of there being a “heavenly host” of angels, always around us and influencing events, nearly always unseen. When angels become visible, it is in times of great distress or danger, as if the veil that separates their plane of existence and ours gets torn by the distress in the world so that they can intervene and be seen doing so. Sometimes, as noted above, the mere visible presence of an angel can make all the difference; on other occasions they seem to take a more physical form and can actually affect the things of this world – according to anecdote, deflecting bullets and removing danger out of people’s way. There are still people in the world today who tell of seeing angels at times of danger. Perhaps we ought to pay more attention to them.