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The Journey Home






Source: Hebrew Heroes

Before the sun had risen above the horizon on that day, Judas, son of
Mattathias, of the noble family of the Asmoneans, started on his long
homeward journey. He had not re-entered Jerusalem during the night;
almost as soon as he, with the assistance of Joab and Isaac, two of his
companions, had filled up with earth the grave of the martyrs, he had
skirted the city from the east to the west, and turned his face towards
Modin.

It would scarcely have been deemed by any one who might have seen the
princely Hebrew ascending the western hill with his quick, firm tread,
that the greater part of the preceding night had been spent by him in
severe toil, and none in sleep. His soul, filled with a lofty purpose,
so mastered the infirmities of the flesh, that the Asmonean seemed to
himself scarcely capable of feeling fatigue, and set out, without
hesitation, on a journey which would have severely taxed the powers of
a strong pedestrian after long uninterrupted repose.

As he reached the highest point of one of these hills which stand round
Jerusalem, like guardians of the holy and beautiful city, Judas paused
and turned round to take what he felt might be a last look of Zion,
over which the sun was about to rise. He gazed on the fair towers, the
girdling walls, the sepulchres in the valleys, the temple crowning the
height, with that intense love which glows in the bosom of every Hebrew
deserving the name, a love in which piety mingles with patriotism,
glorious memories with still more glorious hopes. From the Asmonean's
lips burst the words in which the Psalmist has embalmed that love for
all generations,--_Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth,
is Mount Zion, the city of the great King. Mark ye well her bulwarks,
consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. If I
forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning; if I do
not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth_.

Faith was to the Asmonean as the rosy glow preceding the sunrise, which
then flushed the eastern sky. His eye rested on the Temple; now
desecrated, defiled, abandoned to the Gentile, and he remembered the
promise regarding it: _The Lord whom ye seek, shall suddenly come, to
His Temple, even the Messenger of the Covenant whom ye delight in_
(Mal. iii. 8). Then the Hebrew's gaze wandered beyond to a fair hill,
clothed with verdure, and his faith grasped the promise of God: _Then
shall the Lord go forth ... and His feet shall stand in that day upon
the Mount of Olives_ (Zech. xiv. 3, 4). Hope and joy were kindled at
the thought. As surely as the hill itself should remain, so surely
should a Temple stand on Mount Zion, till the Messiah should appear
within it. _God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of
man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it?_
(Num. xxiii. 19).

"Oh, that the Messiah might come in my day!" exclaimed the Asmonean;
"that my eyes might behold the King in His beauty; that my voice might
join the united acclamations of Israel, when the Son of David shall be
seated on the throne of His fathers, and His enemies shall be made His
footstool! That I might see the whole world worshipping in the
presence of the Seed of the woman who shall bruise the serpent's head!"
(Gen. iii. 15). The Hebrew grasped his javelin more firmly, and his
dark eye dilated with joy and triumph. "But the night is not yet past
for Israel," he added, more sadly; "the voice is not yet _heard in the
wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord_ (Isa. xl. 8); we may have
yet much to do and to suffer ere the Sun of Righteousness arise."

Then a softened expression stole over the features of the Asmonean, as
he gazed in another direction, but still with his face turned towards
the east. He could not see a white dwelling nestling under the shadow
of a hill, but he knew well where it lay, and where she abode to whom
he had bidden on that night a long, perhaps a last, farewell. The
Asmonean stretched out his hand, and exclaimed, "Oh! Father of the
fatherless, guard and bless her! To Thy care I commit the treasure of
my soul!" And without trusting himself to linger longer, Judas turned
and went on his way.

It was the month of Shebet, answering to the latter part of our
January, and Palestine was already bright with the beauty of early
spring. The purple mandrake was in flower, the crocus, tulip, and
hyacinth enamelled the fields, with the blue lily contrasting with
thousands of scarlet anemones. The almond-tree and the peach were in
flower, and fragrant sighed the breeze over blossoms of lemon and
citron. The winter had this year been mild, and some figs left from
the last season still clung to the boughs yet bare of foliage. The
vine on the terraced hills was bursting into leaf, and already in the
fields the rising corn showed its young blades above the ground. But
Judas was too much absorbed with his own thoughts to pay much attention
to the landscape around him; with Israel the spiritual winter was not
over, her time for the singing of birds had not come.

Onwards pressed the traveller without resting, till at about noonday he
reached the valley of Ajalon. There was a fountain by the side of the
road, and here the weary man slaked his thirst, and sat down for awhile
to rest beneath the shade of some date-palms. The Asmonean took from
the scrip which he carried his simple repast of dried figs, laved his
brow and hands in the cooling water, blessed God for his food, and
began to eat.

Ere many minutes had elapsed, a woman in the widow's garb of mourning,
bearing a child of about six years old on her back, dragged her weary
steps to the fountain by which the traveller was seated. She placed
her boy on the ground, drank of the water herself, and gave to her son
to drink. Her appearance denoted extreme poverty, and the child was
evidently suffering from sickness.

Judas divided this slender supply of provisions into three portions,
and with the courteous salutation of "Peace be with you," offered one
to the widow, and one to the boy.

"The blessing of the God of Abraham be with you!" exclaimed the poor
woman; "your servant hath not tasted food since sunset." And, seated
on the turf not far from Judas, the widow and her son partook of the
dried figs with the eagerness of those who are well-nigh famished.

"Your child looks ill," observed the Asmonean, regarding with
compassion the wasted shrunken frame of the boy.

"He will not suffer long," replied the widow, with the calm apathy of
despair. "I laid his father's head in the grave last month, and I
shall lay Terah's head beside him this month. The seal of death is
upon him; I shall soon be alone in the world."

"Nay, despair not, God is good; the child may yet live," said Judas.

"Why should I wish him to live," murmured the widow. "His father was
taken from the evil to come, the boy will be taken from the evil to
come. Jerusalem is defiled, the land is in bondage, Israel is given a
prey to the heathen! The faithful are few in the land, and persecution
will sweep these few away. There is no resting-place but under the
sod, no freedom but in the grave. The name of Judah will soon be
blotted out from amongst the nations!"

"Never!" exclaimed Judas, with energy; "never, while the God of Truth
lives and reigns! Judah can never perish. The vine that was brought
out of Egypt may be broken, her branches torn away, her fruit
scattered, the boar out of the wood may waste it, and the wild beast of
the field devour, but yet _Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the
face of the world with fruit_ (Isa. xxvii. 6). Were but one man left
of God's chosen people, yet from that one man should spring the
Deliverer who shall yet speak peace to the nations, and reign for ever
and ever!"

"Could I but hope--" faltered the widow.

"Can you not _believe_?" exclaimed the Asmonean. "See yonder--look to
the east--there is Gibeon, over which the sun stayed at the voice of
Joshua; over this valley of Ajalon hung the moon arrested in her course
in the day when the Amorites fled before Israel. He who raised up
Moses, Joshua, and Gideon, can by human instruments, or without them,
repeat the miracles wrought of old, and again deliver His people."

As he concluded the last sentence, the Asmonean rose to continue his
journey; he could give his weary limbs but little time for rest, for
long was the distance which he yet had to traverse.

"My home is but a furlong further on," said the widow, also rising,
"and I have again strength to go forward."

She was about to lift up her boy, but Judas prevented her. "I can
relieve you of that burden," he said, and raised the child on his
shoulders.

They had proceeded for some way in silence, the widow pondering over
the speech of the wayfaring man, when from behind was heard the clatter
of hoofs and the jingle of steel. The child, whom the Asmonean was
carrying, turned to gaze, and exclaimed in fear as he grasped the locks
of his protector, "See--horsemen in bright armour, with banners and
spears! fly, fly!--the Syrians are coming!"

Judas did not turn nor alter his pace, he merely went closer to the
side of the cactus-bordered road, to give more space to the horsemen to
pass him. On rode the Syrians in goodly array, their steel glittering
in the sunlight, the dust rising like a cloud around the hoofs of their
horses. In the centre of the line was a gorgeous arabah, or covered
cart with curtains, to which the troop of soldiers appeared to form an
escort. There was an opening in the roof of this arabah, evidently for
the convenience of accommodating within it a figure too high to be
otherwise carried in the conveyance, for out of the opening appeared a
white marble head of Grecian statuary. Judas and his companion
regarded it with the aversion and horror with which the sight of an
idol always inspired pious Jews.

When the Syrians had passed the travellers, and the clatter of their
arms had died away in the distance, the widow wrung her hands and
exclaimed, "Yonder ride Apelles and his men of war to Modin, to do the
bidding of the tyrant; and they bear the accursed thing with them, to
be set up on high and worshipped. Alas! they will compel all the
Hebrews at Modin to bow down to their idol of stone."

"Perhaps not," said Judas, calmly.

"All men will be forced to offer sacrifice," cried the woman; "there
will be no way of escaping the pollution."

"Solomona and her sons found one way," observed the Asmonean, "and God
may provide yet another."

The traveller had now reached the door of the widow's humble dwelling.
Judas set down his living burden, and the mother thanked the kind
stranger, and asked him to come in and rest.

"I cannot abide here," replied Judas; "a long journey is yet before me;
I must be at Modin this night."

"At Modin!" exclaimed the astonished woman, glancing up at the worn
weary countenance of the speaker. "Why, the horsemen will scarcely
reach Modin this night, unless, indeed, the king's business be urgent."

"My King's business is urgent," said the Asmonean, as he tightened his
girdle around him, and with a grave, courteous salutation to the woman,
he went on his way.

The widow watched his princely form for some time in silence, then
exclaimed, "That can be none other than Judas, the son of Mattathias;
there is not a second Hebrew such as he. Ah, my Terah," she added,
addressing herself to her son, "there is a man whom the Syrians will
not frighten."

"He will rather frighten the Syrians," said the boy.

Many a time was that childish saying repeated in after-days, as if it
had been prophetic, when Judah had long had rest from her foes, and
Terah himself was an old man. When he sat beneath his own vine and
fig-tree, no man making him afraid, he never wearied describing to his
grand-children that form which had made the earliest impression which
his memory had retained. He would speak with kindling enthusiasm of
the princely man who had taken him in his arms and carried him on his
shoulders--who had been as tender to a sick child, as he had afterwards
been terrible to Israel's foes.

The sun had just sunk when the foot of the Asmonean trod the green
valley of Sharon. It was well that from thence every step of the way
was familiar to Judas, for he had soon no light but that of the stars
to guide him. The wind was rising; it rustled amidst the tamarisks,
and shook the leafy crests of the evergreen palms; it bore to the ear
of the almost exhausted traveller the wild howl of the jackals, rising
higher and higher in pitch, like the wail of a human being in distress.
Weary indeed and footsore was the Asmonean, but still he bravely
pressed forward, till at length he heard the welcome sound of the waves
of the Mediterranean lashing the coast near which stood Modin, about an
English mile from the town of Joppa.

Thankful was Judas to reach his father's home, where, the heavy strain
upon his powers being for awhile relaxed, he slept the deep sweet sleep
of the weary, after a journey which could have been accomplished on
foot in a single day only by a man possessing great powers of
endurance, as well as physical strength.





Next: The First Struggle

Previous: The Dream



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