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The Battle-prayer

Source: Hebrew Heroes

Lycidas was a native of the very land of eloquence; he had been, as it
were, cradled amidst "thoughts that breathe, and words that burn." He
had studied the philippics of Demosthenes, and felt the spirit of the
dead orator living in them still. Lycidas had listened to the
eloquence of the most gifted speakers of his own time, expressing in
the magnificent language of Greece thoughts the most poetic. He had
experienced the power possessed by the orator on the rostrum, the
tragedian on the stage, the poet in the arena, to stir the passions,
subdue by pathos, or excite by vehement action. But never had the
Athenian listened to any oration which had so stirred his own soul, as
the simple prayer of Judas Maccabeus before the battle of Bethsura.
There was no eloquence in it, save the unstudied eloquence of the
heart; the Hebrew but uttered aloud in the hearing of his men the
thoughts which had made his own spirit as firm in the hour of danger as
was the steel which covered his breast.

There was much in the scene and in the congregation to add to the
effect of the act of worship on the mind of Lycidas. He beheld
adoration paid to no image formed by man's art, no fabled deity,
capricious as the minds of those in whose imaginations alone he had
existence, but to the holy, the high and lofty One who inhabiteth
eternity, "whose robe is the light, and whose canopy space." And it
was in no building raised by mortal hands that Maccabeus bent his knee
to the Lord of Hosts. He knelt on the soil of the glorious land which
God had given to his fathers--the one spot chosen out from the expanse
of the whole mighty globe to be the scene of events which would
influence through eternity the destinies of the world! On the verge of
the southern horizon lay Hebron, where had dwelt the father of the
faithful, where the ground had been trodden by angels' feet, and the
feet of the Lord of angels, with whom Abraham had pleaded for Sodom.
It was that Hebron where David had reigned ere he was hailed king over
all Israel. And the nearer objects were such as gave thrilling
interest to the prayer of the Asmonean prince: the view of the towers
of Bethsura which he was about to assail, the hosts of the enemy whom
he--with far inferior numbers--was going to attack; this, perhaps, even
more than associations connected with the past, made every word of
Maccabeus fall with powerful effect on his audience.

And that audience was in itself, probably, the noblest that could at
that time have been gathered together in any laud, not excepting Italy
or Greece. It was composed of men whom neither ambition nor the lust
of gold had drawn from their homes to oppose an enemy whose force
greatly exceeded their own. In face of the trained warriors of Syria
were gathered together peasants, artizans, shepherds, animated by the
purest patriotism, and the most simple faith in God. Every man in that
kneeling army knew that he carried his life in his hand, that in case
of defeat he had no mercy to expect, and that victory scarce lay within
the verge of probability according to human calculation; yet not a
countenance showed anything but undaunted courage, eager hope, firm
faith, as the weather-beaten, toil-worn Hebrews listened to and joined
in the supplications of their leader.

But it was the character of that leader himself which gave the chief
force to his words. If Maccabeus the Asmonean received the lofty title
of "Prince of the sons of God," it was because his countrymen
acknowledged, and that without envy, the stamp of a native royalty upon
him, which needed not the anointing oil or the golden crown to add to
its dignity. Any nation with pride might have numbered amongst its
heroes a man possessing the military talents of a Miltiades, with the
purity of an Aristides; one whose character was without reproach, whose
fame was unstained with a blot. Simple, earnest faith was the
mainspring of the actions of Maccabeus. The clear, piercing gaze of
the eagle, energy like that with which the strong wing of the royal
bird cleaves the air, marked the noble Asmonean; for the soul's gaze
was upward toward its Sun, and the soul's pinion soared high above the
petty interests, the paltry ambition of earth. As there was dignity in
the single-mindedness of the character of Judas, so was there power in
the very simplicity of his words. I will mar that simplicity by no
interpolations of my own, but transfer unaltered to my pages the
Asmonean's battle-prayer.

"Blessed art Thou, O Saviour of Israel, who didst quell the violence of
the mighty man by the hand of Thy servant David, and gavest the host of
strangers into the hand of Jonathan, the son of Saul, and his
armour-bearer! Shut up this army in the hand of Thy people Israel, and
let them be confounded in their power and horsemen; make them to be of
no courage, and cause the boldness of their strength to fall away, and
let them quake in their destruction. Cast them down with the sword of
them that love Thee, and let all those that know Thy Name praise Thee
with thanksgiving!"

When the tones of the leader's voice were silent, there was for a
moment a solemn stillness throughout the martial throng; then from
their knees arose the brave sons of Abraham, prepared to "do or die."

Next: Bethsura

Previous: Fanaticism

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