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The Leader And The Man






Source: Hebrew Heroes

In the unsettled state of the Holy Land, where its brave sons had to
maintain a kind of guerrilla warfare against the powerful enemy who
held its strongholds and ruled in its capital--where communication
between places not far remote from each other was difficult and
dangerous, and a written letter was a thing almost unknown--the
Asmonean brothers had been in ignorance of many events which have
occupied a large space in these pages. Joab, therefore, on his arrival
in the camp of the Hebrews, had much to tell that was to them entirely
new.

Judas with thrilling interest had listened to the muleteer's account of
Zarah's peril and escape from the palace of Antiochus, and the deaths
of Hadassah and Pollux. The fount of tenderness which lay concealed
under the chief's usually calm and almost stern exterior was stirred to
its inmost depths. Grief, admiration, love, swelled his brave heart.
Maccabeus could hardly wait to hear the end of Joab's narration. Zarah
was near him--his beauteous, his beloved, his chosen bride--she who had
so suffered and so mourned--the tender orphan maiden bereaved of all
love, all protection save his own--but dearer in her poverty and
desolation than she could have been had she brought him the dowry of an
empire!

It was thus that Maccabeus thought of Zarah, as, with an eagerness of
impatience which could not have brooked an instant's longer delay, he
strode rapidly towards the hut which sheltered his treasure. He soon
beheld her--could it indeed be she? No desolate, weeping, trembling
fugitive met the gaze of the chief; but a maiden bright and fair as the
morn, with a blush on her cheeks and a smile on her lips, her whole
countenance beaming with hope, and her eyes fixed with a lingering look
on a Greek who was disappearing from view in a direction opposite to
that by which Judas had approached her! The depths of the leader's
feelings were again stirred, but this time as by a bar of glowing
red-hot iron.

"Who is yon Gentile?" was the sudden fierce exclamation which burst
from the warrior's lips.

Never before had her kinsman looked so terrible to Zarah as when he
startled her then by his sudden appearance. It was not because she now
saw Maccabeus for the first time arrayed in the harness of battle, his
tall powerful frame partly sheathed in glittering steel, and a plumed
helmet on his head, giving him a resemblance to the description which
she had heard from Lycidas of the fabled god of war; it was the eye,
the manner, the tone of Judas that changed the smile of the maiden in a
moment to a look of embarrassment and fear. Antiochus himself, on his
judgment-seat, had scarcely appeared more formidable to the trembling
captive before him, than did the kinsman who had come to welcome her,
and who would have died to shield her from wrong!

Maccabeus repeated his stern question before Zarah found courage to
reply. "That is Lycidas, the Athenian lord," she faltered; "he whom
you spared by the martyrs' tomb. He has well requited your mercy. He
protected and aided Hadassah to the end, and paid the last honours to
her dear remains; he struck down the Syrian who slew my father.
Lycidas has embraced the Hebrew faith, and has come to fight, and, if
need be, to die in the Hebrew cause!"

The maiden spoke rapidly, and with a good deal of nervous excitement.
She did not venture to glance up again into the face of her kinsman to
see the effect of her explanation, for all the false hopes regarding
his indifference with which she had buoyed herself, had vanished like a
bubble at a touch. Maccabeus did not at once reply. Silently he led
Zarah back into the hut, and motioned to her to take her seat upon a
low heap of cushions which Anna had removed from the litter, and placed
on the earthen floor for the accommodation of her young mistress. He
then dismissed the attendant by a wave of his hand. The profound
gloomy silence of her kinsman was by no means re-assuring to Zarah, who
felt much as a criminal might feel in presence of a judge--albeit in
regard to her conduct towards Lycidas her conscience was clear.

Maccabeus stood before Zarah, the shadow of his form falling upon the
maiden, as he towered tween her and the light, gloomily gazing down
upon her.

"Zarah," he said at last, "there must be no concealment between us.
You know in what relation we stand to each other. You have told me
what that Gentile has been to Hadassah, and to Abner your father; tell
me now, What is he to _you_?"

Zarah struggled to regain her courage, though she knew not how deeply
her evident fear of him wounded the spirit of her kinsman. She did not
dare to answer his question directly. "Lycidas is not a Gentile," she
said; "he is, as you are, a servant of God, a true believer; he has
been fully admitted into all the privileges held by our race."

"Even the privilege of wedding a Hebrew maiden?" inquired Maccabeus
with slow deliberation.

Zarah fancied that his tone was less stern, and was thankful that Judas
had been the one to break ground upon so delicate a subject.

"Hadassah would not have blamed us," she said simply, blushing deeply
as she spoke.

Notwithstanding what had just passed, Zarah was utterly unprepared for
the effect of what was in fact an artless confession. It was not a
groan nor a cry that she heard, but a sound that partook of the nature
of both; a sound that the last turn of the rack could not have forced
from the breast that uttered it now! It was the expression of an agony
which few hearts have affections strong enough to feel, fewer still
could have fortitude to sustain. No death-wail, no cry of woe, no
shriek of pain that Zarah had ever listened to, smote on her soul like
that sound! She heard it but once--it was never heard but once--and
before she had recovered from the shock which it gave her, Judas had
rushed forth from the hut. He was as one possessed; so fierce were the
demons of jealousy and hatred that for a space held reason, conscience,
every power of mind and soul in subjection. One wild desire to kill
his rival, to tear him limb from limb, seemed all that had any definite
form in that fearful chaos of passion. It was well for Lycidas that he
did not then cross the path of the lion!

Maccabeus plunged into the depths of a wood that was near, seeking
instinctively the thickest shade afforded by evergreen trees. He would
fain have buried his anguish from the sight of man in the darkest
cavern--in the deepest grave! The very sunlight was oppressive!

All lost--all rent away from him for ever! What hope had clung to,
what love had treasured through the long, long years of waiting, giving
new courage to the brave, new energy to the weary! Youth, happiness,
the cup of joy just filled to the brim by the coming of Zarah, without
one moment's warning dashed from the lips of him who loved her, and the
last drops sucked up by the thirsty sand! The miseries of a long life
seemed to be crowded into the few minutes during which the leader of
the Hebrews, the hope of Judah, lay prostrate on the earth, clinching
the dust in his despair.

Hatred and jealousy raged within; and a yet darker demon had joined
them, one whose presence, above all others, makes the soul as a hell!
Like burning venom-drops fell the suggestions of rebellious unbelief
upon the spirit of the disappointed man. "Is it for this that you have
washed your hands in innocency, and kept your feet in the paths of
truth? Is it for this that you have devoted all your powers to God and
your country, have shrunk from no toil, and dreaded no danger? He whom
you were faithfully serving hath not watched over your peace, nor
guarded for you that treasure which you had confided to his care. What
profit is there in obedience, what benefit in devotion? Prayer has
been but vanity, and faith but self-deception!"

Such moments as these are the most terrible in the experience of a
servant of the Lord. They afford a glimpse of the depths of guilt and
misery to which the noblest human soul would sink without sustaining
grace; they show that, like the brightest planet, such soul shines not
with light of its own, but with an imparted radiance, deprived of which
it would be enveloped in utter darkness. An Abraham, left to himself,
could lie; a David stain his soul with innocent blood. All need the
Sacrifice of Atonement, all require the grace which comes from above.

But Judas Maccabeus was not left unaided to be carried away to an abyss
of crime by his own wild passions. They were as a steed accustomed to
obey the rein of conscience, that, smitten with agonizing pain, has
taken the bit into its teeth, and rushed madly towards a precipice.
But the hand of its rider still grasps the bridle, his eye sees the
danger in front, and the frantic animal beneath him has but for a brief
space burst from his master's powerful constraint. If the rider cannot
otherwise stop his wild steed, he will strike it down with a heavy
blow, that by a lesser fall the greater may be avoided; and so he leads
it back to its starting-place, quivering, trembling in every limb, the
sweat on its flanks, the foam on its bit, but subdued, submissive,
under command. Even so with the Hebrew chief, conscience regained its
habitual sway over the passions; as soon as the anguish of his soul
found vent in prayer, the crisis of danger was past. Maccabeus rose
from the earth, pale as one who has received a death-wound, but
submissive and calm.

"Shall one who has been so favoured, beyond his hopes, far beyond his
deserts, dare to repine at the decree of Him who orders all things in
wisdom and goodness?" Thus reflected the chief. "Who am I, that I
should claim exemption from disappointment and loss? Shame on the
leader who gives way to selfish passion, and at such a time as this!
We shall shortly close in battle; and if in that battle I fall" (the
thought brought strange consolation), "how shall I look back from the
world of spirits on that which for a time could almost shake the trust
of this unworthy heart in the God of my fathers? If I survive the
perils of the day, better it is that there should be no selfish hopes,
no selfish cares, to prevent me from concentrating all my energies and
thoughts upon the work appointed me to do. I have been wasting my time
in idle dreams of earthly enjoyment; I have been rudely awakened. O
Lord of hosts, strengthen Thy servant to arise and gird up his spirit
to perform fearlessly and faithfully the duties of the day!"

Then, with slower step and calmer aspect, Judas Maccabeus returned to
his camp.





Next: Fanaticism

Previous: Friends Or Foes?



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