A decline had set in and, very soon, there were no prophets in the land to bring the Jewish people back to God. God’s voice was seemingly silent for around 450 years, a time that saw the rise of the Ancient Greek civilisation, introducing ideas and concepts that would prove utterly alien and an abomination to the Jewish mind. Alexander the Great conquered them in 331 BC, introducing this new way of life to the Jewish inhabitants. The process was called Hellenisation and was to provide a significant threat to the survival of the Jews as a distinct people. The Kingdom of Priests were confronted with a new enemy and battle lines were drawn.
Have you ever wondered why the New Testament was written in Greek at a time when the country was populated by Jews speaking Hebrew and Aramaic and governed by Latin-speaking Romans? For an answer we have to rejoin our history of Israel at the point when God goes strangely quiet, as far as Scripture is concerned. He seemingly enters into a 450 year slumber, perhaps carefully planning His comeback in the person of Jesus the Messiah.
Empires come and go, some making major changes to the culture of the conquered nations, others making little impact. The Ancient Greeks made a real impact and, in many ways, still influence our current thinking. First they enlightened the World in the areas of philosophy, mathematics and science, with such luminaries as Aristotle, Socrates and Plato, then they conquered it, spreading both their knowledge, but also their culture and language. Alexander the Great was responsible for the latter. Described as probably the greatest military genius of all time, his conquests stretched as far as India in the east and Egypt in the south. In the middle was little old Judea and Samaria, smarting from its third conquest in three turbulent centuries, when passing from Persian to Greek hands after the defeat of the Persian Empire in 331 BC.
Many Jews learned to speak Greek and took on Greek customs. Although there was a degree of coercion, many of them didn’t need to be pushed. After all, Greek philosophy of life basically meant enjoying yourself, having a good time and prancing about naked (in sports arenas). For those that way inclined, it was a welcome release from 2000 years of rules and regulations, but, as we know from our modern experiences, life without rules and regulations is not really a life of freedom. Many took on Greek names and frequented Greek theatres and sports events. These were Hellenised Jews and were as good as lost to the community. The others held fast to their Jewish customs, often to the point of death, including reverence for God and His laws.
All the time, through the whole sweep of history, from Abraham onwards, God was sifting His people. As the family tree of the generations grew and widened, the line of promise, the Messianic blood-line was following the narrower route. Many were discarded on the way – Ishmael, Esau, the Northern Kingdom, those left behind during the exile, those left in Babylon and the Jews who were assimilated into the Greek culture.
But many resisted the lure. For them the law laid down by Moses was God-given and sufficient for them and surely the Messiah King will come forth soon from the illustrious line of David. It wasn’t always easy to hold to these views, particularly under the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He outlawed the keeping of the Sabbath and the rite of circumcision and many Jews, the first martyrs, died when they protested. This was a source of amazement for the Greek rulers, more used to seeing conquered people submitting to their ways. These people were actually dying for their beliefs! It was unheard of. Our Kingdom of Priests was living up to its name.
The last straw for those Jews who still clung to their beliefs was in 168 BC. Antiochus’ soldiers brought a statue of Zeus into the Temple in Jerusalem and sacrificed a pig on the altar. This was the ultimate insult to God-fearing Jews and provoked a national stirring, leading to the uprising led by Judas Maccabee. When the (eventually) victorious Judas and his men entered the Temple in Jerusalem they found it in total disarray and completely defiled by the altar and the idol. They destroyed all that was impure and rededicated the Temple to God. This is commemorated by Jews to this day at Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication.
These were important historical events because there was a real danger that the Jews would have been assimilated into Greek culture, with the same end result as when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was absorbed into the Assyrian Empire and lost to history, centuries before. God would not allow this to happen, for the sake of His covenant with Abraham, regarding the land being an everlasting possession for His people, the Jews and also for the other covenants, made with David (2 Samuel 7:11-16) and through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34), which promised a ‘seed of David’ to be the anointed one, or Messiah.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book Outcast Nation)
You may also find the following interesting
Watch the above video by Steve Maltz – “Hebrew Roots – Bondage or freedom?”.
Watch the above video by Steve Maltz – “Jesus from a Hebraic Perspective”.