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Battle Of Emmaus






Source: Hebrew Heroes

But the struggle was not to be deferred the morning.

Night had just spread her veil of darkness over earth, and Simon,
prudently reserving his strength for the expected fatigues of the
coming day, had wrapped himself in his mantle, and stretched himself on
the ground to snatch some hours of repose, when he was roused by the
touch of a hand on his shoulder. Opening his eyes, Simon saw, by the
red light of a torch, which the armour-bearer of Judas was holding
aloft, that Maccabeus was before him.

"Awake, arise, my brother; this is no time for sleep," said the leader.
Simon was on his feet in a moment, an attentive listener, as Maccabeus
continued: "A scout has just brought in tidings from the Syrian camp
that Nicanor has detached five thousand of his foot-soldiers and a
thousand chosen horsemen, under the command of Giorgias, to attack us
this night, and take us by surprise."

"They will find us prepared," said Simon, as he girded on his sword.

"Nay; they will find their prey flown," replied Maccabeus, his features
relaxing into a stern smile; "we will fall on the Syrian camp in their
absence, teach the enemy his own lesson, and transfer the surprise to
our foes."

"Well thought of!" exclaimed Simon; "darkness also will serve to hide
the weakness of our force."

"Our brethren are now marshalling our warriors," said Judas; "all,
under God, depends upon silence, promptitude, decision. We fight for
our lives and our laws."

The leader turned to depart, but as he did so accidentally dropped
something on the ground. He stooped to raise and twist it rapidly
round his left arm, under the sleeve. The incident was so very
trifling that it scarcely drew the notice of Simon, though the thought
did flit across his mind that it was strange that his brother, on the
eve of battle, could pause to pick up anything so utterly valueless as
a slight skein of unbleached flax. It was valueless indeed, save from
the associations which, in the mind of him who wore it, were entwined
with every thread. That flax had been once used to tie together some
flowers long since dead; the flowers had been dropped into a grave of
martyrs; the light skein had fallen on the upturned sod unnoticed save
by the eyes of one. Perhaps it was from remembrance of the dead, or
perhaps it was because hopes regarding the living (hopes brighter and
sweeter than the flowers had been) seemed now bound up in that flaxen
strand, that Maccabeus fastened that skein round his arm as a precious
thing, when he would not have stooped to pick up a chaplet of pearls.

By the exertions of the five Asmonean brethren, the little Hebrew army
was rapidly put under arms, and prepared for the night attack. The
whole force was united as one forlorn hope. As moves the dark cloud in
the sky, so darkly and silently moved on the band of heroes, and, like
that cloud, they bore the thunderbolt with them.

Most of the Syrians on that eventful night were sunk in sleep, but not
all; in their camp some kept up their revels till late. All the
luxuries which fancy could devise or wealth could purchase were
gathered together at Emmaus to hide the grim front of war, so that the
camp by daylight presented the motley appearance of a bazaar with the
gay magnificence of a court. There sherbet sparkled in vases of
silver, and the red wine was poured into golden cups, chased and
embossed, in tents stretched out with silken cords. Garments bright
with all the varied tints of the rainbow, rich productions of Oriental
looms, robes from Tyre, shawls from Cashmere, blended with instruments
of warfare, swords, spears, and bucklers, the battle-axe and the
helmet. The sentry, pacing his rounds, paused to listen to wild bursts
of merriment, the loud oath and light song from some gay pavilion,
where young Syrian nobles were exchanging jests, and indulging in deep
carousals. Yonder, in the glaring torch-light, sat a group of
officers, engaged in some game of chance, and their stakes were the
captives whom they were to drag at their chariot-wheels on the morrow.
Each throw of the dice decided the fate of a Hebrew; at least, so
deemed the merry gamesters.

But the destined slaves were coming to the market sooner than their
expectant masters dreamed or desired, and the price for each Hebrew
would be exacted, not in gold, but in blood. Suddenly the gamesters at
their play, the revellers at the board, the slumberers on their
couches, were startled by the blare of trumpets and a ringing war-cry,
"The sword of the Lord and Maccabeus!" The full goblet was dashed from
the lip, the dice from the hand; there were wild shouts and cries, and
rushing to and fro, soldiers snatching up weapons, merchants flying
hither and thither for safety, stumbling over tent-ropes in the
darkness. There were confused noises of terror, trampling of feet,
snorting of horses, calls to arms, clashing of weapons, with all the
horrors of sudden panic spreading like an epidemic through the mighty
host of Syria. The few remained to oppose the unseen assailants, the
many took to flight; the ground was soon strewn with treasure, dropped
by terrified fugitives, and weapons thrown down by warriors who had not
the courage to use them. Tents were speedily blazing, and horses,
terrified by the sudden glare and maddened by the scorching heat,
prancing, plunging, rushing wildly through the camp, added to the
fearful confusion. Maccabeus, with the sword of Apollonius in his
hand, pressed on to victory over heaps of prostrate foes. Terror was
sent as a herald before him, and success followed wherever he trode.
It seemed as if the Lord of Hosts were fighting for Israel, as in the
old days of Gideon.

Hot was the pursuit after the flying Syrians; Maccabeus and his
warriors followed hard on their track to Gazora, Azotus, and Jamnia,
and that southern part of Judaea lying between the Red Sea and Sodom,
to which, from its having been colonized by Edomites, had been given
the name of Idumea. For many a mile the track of the fugitives was
marked by their dead.

But as the morning dawned after that terrible though glorious night,
the trumpets of Maccabeus sounded to call his troops together. The
leader had not forgotten--though some of his eager followers might have
done so--that Giorgias, with an army of chosen warriors, doubling their
own in number, and comparatively fresh, was yet to be encountered.
With stern displeasure Maccabeus saw his own men, grim with blood and
dust, loading themselves with the rich plunder which lay on the road;
like fruit under orchard trees after a wild tornado.

"Be not greedy of the spoils," cried the leader, "inasmuch as there is
a battle before us; but stand ye now against our enemies, and overcome
them, and after this ye may boldly take the spoils."

It is a more difficult task to call hounds off the prey that they have
run down, than to let them slip from the leashes when the quarry first
is in sight. It needed such moral influence over his men as was
possessed by Maccabeus to enforce instant obedience when wealth was at
their feet, and needed but the gathering up.

It was speedily seen, however, that the warning of the Asmonean chief
had not been unnecessary. But a few minutes elapsed after the
utterance of that warning, when the vanguard of the forces of Giorgias
appeared on the crest of a hill at some distance, the live-long night
having been spent by them in a vain attempt to discover the camp of the
Hebrews. After a long, tedious march, Giorgias found himself on a
commanding height, from whence at dawn he had an extensive view of the
surrounding country.

"The slaves have fled--they have made their escape to the mountains,"
exclaimed Giorgias, as he dismounted from his weary war-horse, when the
first bar of golden light appeared in the orient sky.

"Then they have left marks of their handiwork behind them," said a
horseman, pointing in the direction in which lay what had been the camp
of Nicanor, now suddenly visible to the Syrians from the summit of the
hill. "See you yon smoke arising from smouldering heaps? There has
been a battle at Emmaus. The lion has broken through the toils.
Maccabeus has not been sleeping through the night."

"Nay, my Lord Pollux; it is impossible. The Hebrews would never dare
to attack a force so greatly outnumbering their own," exclaimed
Giorgias, unwilling to believe the evidence of his own senses. But as
the light more clearly revealed the tokens of flight and disaster in
the far distance, where the smoke of ruin was rising into the calm
morning air, conviction of the terrible truth forced itself on the
general's mind, and, with mingled astonishment and dismay, he
exclaimed, "Where are the hosts of Nicanor?"

"Yonder are those who can give an account of them," said Pollux,
turning to the south, where in a valley the Hebrews might be seen
marshalled around their loader. "There, I ween, is the insolent outlaw
who has been making a shambles of our camp. See you the glitter of the
spears? Maccabeus is setting his men in battle array. There is but a
handful of them. Shall we charge down upon them, and sweep them from
the face of the earth?"

Giorgias glanced again northward at Emmaus and the smoking ruins of the
Syrian camp; then southward, where the little compact force in the
valley was clustering round the standard of Maccabeus. Though the
troops under the command of Giorgias doubled the Hebrews in number, he
dared not try the issue of battle with those who had so lately
discomfited Nicanor's formidable hosts. Had the Syrian leader been
animated by such a fearless spirit as characterized his opponent, in
all human probability the victory of the night might have been, to
Judas and his gallant little band, succeeded by the defeat of the
morning. But Giorgias showed an unusual amount of caution on the
present occasion; and Pollux, though he assumed a tone of defiance, was
secretly by no means desirous to measure swords with Maccabeus.

The Hebrews were weary with conquering and pursuing. Their spirit was
unbroken, but their strength was exhausted. It was with some anxiety
that the eagle eye of Judas watched the movements of the enemy on the
heights, momentarily expecting an attack which he knew that his band of
heroes was so little able to sustain.

"They will be down upon us soon," said Simon, as he leaned wearily on
his spear.

"Nay; behold, they are vanishing over the crest of the mountain!"
triumphantly exclaimed Eleazar. "The cowards! only brave over the
wine-bowl! Not a stain on their swords! not a dint on their shields!
They are fleeing when no man pursues! Oh, that we had but strength to
follow, and chase the dastards even up to the walls of Jerusalem!"

"God hath put fear into their hearts. To Him be the glory!" said
Maccabeus, as he sheathed his heavy sword.

And after this--to transcribe the words of the ancient Hebrew
historian, describing the triumphs of his countrymen--"they went home,
and sung a song of thanksgiving, and praised the Lord in heaven,
because He is good, because His mercy endureth for ever."





Next: Departed

Previous: The Two Camps



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