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The Passover Feast

Source: Hebrew Heroes

Very different was the celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread in
the days of Antiochus Epiphanes from what it had been in the palmy
times when the children of Israel were swayed by their own native
kings. There was now no mighty gathering together of the people from
Dan to Beersheba; herdsmen driving their lowing cattle, shepherds
leading their bleating flocks from the slopes of Carmel, and the
pastures beneath the snow-capt heights of Lebanon. Fishermen left not
their nets by the shores of the inland lakes, nor their boats drawn up
on the coast by the sea, to go up, as their fathers had gone, to
worship the Lord in Zion. There were no pilgrims from Sharon's plains
or the mountains of Gilead. Jerusalem was not crowded with joyful
worshippers, and her streets made almost impassable by the droves and
flocks collected for sacrifice, as when Josiah held his
never-to-be-forgotten Passover Feast. There were no loud bursts of
joyful music, as when the singers, the sons of Asaph, ranged in their
appointed places, led the chorus of glad thanksgiving. Groups of
Hebrews, by twos and threes, stealthily made their way, as if bound on
some secret and dangerous errand, to the few houses in which the owners
were bold enough or pious enough to prepare the Paschal feast.

Amongst these dwellings was that of the elder Salathiel, a man who, in
despite of threatened persecution, still dared to worship God according
to the law as given through Moses. In an upper room in his house all
was set ready for the celebration of the feast, in order as seemly as
circumstances would permit. The Paschal lamb had been roasted whole in
a circular pit in the ground; it had been roasted transfixed on two
spits thrust through it, one lengthwise and one transversely, so as to
form a cross. The wild and bitter herbs, with which it was to be
eaten, had been carefully washed and prepared. On the table had been
placed plates containing unleavened bread, and four cups filled with
red wine mingled with water.

There had been difficulty in gathering together on this occasion, in
the house of Salathiel, even the ten individuals that formed the
smallest number deemed by the Hebrews sufficient for the due
celebration of the feast. Three of the persons present were females,
two of them belonging to Salathiel's own family. The third was Zarah,
who, closely shrouded in her large linen veil, came under the escort of
Abishai her uncle. The guests arrived late, having had to change their
course more than once, from the suspicion that they were dogged by
Syrian spies.

Greetings, in that upper chamber, were interchanged in low tones;
whispered conversation was held as to the recent events, the tidings of
which had thrilled like an electric shock through the heart of
Jerusalem. The victories of Judas Maccabeus were in every mind and on
every tongue. Glad prophecies were circulated amongst the guests that
the next Passover would not be held in secret, and kept with maimed
rites like the present; but that ere the circling year brought round
the holy season again, the sanctuary would be cleansed, the city free,
and that white-robed priests and Levites would gather together in the
open face of day, where the smoke of sacrifice should rise from the
altar of God's Temple.

Zarah was the most silent and sad of those who met in the house of
Salathiel. Many thoughts were flowing through her mind, which she
would not have dared to put into words.

"Is it sinful to desire that the blessings of the covenant were not so
exclusive?" Thus mused the young Hebrew maid. "Is it sinful to wish
that the wall of partition could be broken down, and that Jews and
Gentiles, descended from one common Father, and created by one merciful
God, could meet to break bread and drink wine in loving communion
together? And, if my mother Hadassah reads Scripture aright, may not
such a time be approaching? Precious and goodly is the golden
seven-branched candlestick of the Temple; but is not the Sun of
Righteousness to arise with healing on His wings (Mal. iv. 2), and will
the candlestick then be needed? The candles illumine but one chosen
spot; the sun shines from the east to the west, the glory and light of
the world! Can God care only for the children of Abraham? Lycidas has
told us of far-distant isles in the West, where the poor savages are
sunk in darkest idolatry, where they actually offer human sacrifices to
their huge wicker-idols. Yet might not God in His loving-kindness have
mercy even on such wretches as these? Would it be quite impossible
that Britons should receive the light of His Word, even as they receive
the light of His sunshine? I would fain cling to this hope; I trust
that the hope is not presumptuous. And if even these savage islanders
be not quite beyond reach of the mercy of the Great Father, will not
that mercy embrace the Greeks, the brave, the noble, the gifted? But
my thoughts wander upon dangerous ground. Can there be salvation for
any that may not partake of the Paschal lamb? Is not exclusion from
this feast exclusion from pardoning grace? Oh that there could be a
Lamb whose blood could take away the sins of all the world--a Sacrifice
of such priceless worth, that not in Jerusalem alone, but through all
the earth, there might be forgiveness, and hope, and salvation for all
who in faith partake of its merits!"

The solemn feast now commenced. The bread was blessed by Salathiel,
broken, and then distributed around. The first cupful of wine was
silently shared; but when the second was passed around, the lesser
Hallel, being the 113th and 114th psalms, were chanted in low subdued

Suddenly, in the midst of a verse, every voice was silenced at once,
every head turned to listen. The clank of a weapon that had fallen on
the paved courtyard below, was to the startled assembly above what the
blood-hound's bay is to the deer.

"The Syrians have found us; we are betrayed!" ejaculated Abishai,
starting up and drawing his sword.

"Fly! fly!" was echoed from mouth to mouth. The apartment in which the
Hebrews were assembled had two doors--one communicating by a staircase
with the courtyard below, the other, on the opposite side of the room,
leading to the roof, which was near enough to other dwellings to afford
a tolerable chance of escape to those who should make their way over
them under cover of the dusk. It was partly on account of this
advantage presented by Salathiel's house that it had been chosen as the
scene of the Paschal Feast. The second door, through which escape
might thus be effected, had been prudently left wide open, and at the
first alarm there was a general rush made towards it.

Terror so often has the effect of confusing the mind, that the
impressions made by passing events, though painfully vivid in
colouring, are not distinct in their outlines. Zarah could have given
no clear account of the scene which followed, which was to her like a
horrible dream. The instinct to make her escape was strong; but as she
attempted to fly, the maiden's veil caught in something, she knew not
what--it was three or four seconds--they seemed as many hours--before
she could extricate it. Zarah heard thundering noises at the one door,
rushing sounds of flight at the other; then there was a bursting open
of the frail barrier which divided her from the enemy, and Zarah felt
rather than saw that the place was filled with soldiers! One sight was
indelibly stamped on her brain--it was that of Abishai all streaming
with blood, his eyes glaring and glazed, his teeth clenched, as he
hissed out the word "apostate!" in the last pangs of death. Zarah knew
that it was death.

Then rude hands were laid on herself; and the terrified girl felt as
the gazelle feels under the claws of the tiger! She was too much
alarmed to have breath even to utter a scream.

"Hold! harm not the girl!" cried a voice which sounded to Zarah
strangely familiar, though she knew not where she could possibly have
heard it before; and she saw a tall officer in Syrian dress, the same
who has been introduced to the reader more than once under the name of
Pollux, who appeared to be in command of the assailing party. Zarah,
in her agony of terror, stretched out her hands for protection to one
in whose features, even at that moment, she recognized the Hebrew type.
But Zarah could not appeal for mercy save by that supplicating gesture;
horror so overpowered her senses that she swooned away; and had the
steel then done its cruel work, she would have felt no pain. But the
command of Antiochus had been rather to seize than to slay; and the
soldiers, by the order of Pollux, carried off as their only prisoner a
senseless maiden, leaving the dead body of Abishai on the floor dyed
with his blood.

Next: A Prison

Previous: Departed

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