The Two Camps
Source: Hebrew Heroes
While the scenes lately described had been occurring in the
neighbourhood of Jerusalem, Maccabeus, in the mountains, had been
preparing for the deadliest shock of war. Like wave upon wave, each
swelling higher than the one before it, successive armies hurled their
strength against the devoted band that held aloft the banner of the
truth, as a beacon-light gleaming on high amidst the fiercest fury of
the tempest. The mighty Nicanor, son of Patroclus, a man honoured with
the king's peculiar favour, had gathered together a powerful force "to
root out the whole generation of the Jews," and with him was joined in
command Georgias, a general of great experience in war.
A large camp was formed by the Syrians at Emmaus, about a Sabbath-day's
journey from Jerusalem. The hills were darkened with their goats'-hair
tents, the roads thronged with soldiers, and with a multitude of
merchants who brought much silver and gold to purchase Hebrew captives
as slaves for their markets. For so confident of victory was Nicanor,
that he had beforehand proclaimed a sale of the prisoners whom he would
reserve from slaughter; nay, had fixed the very price which he would
demand for his vanquished foes! Ninety of the Hebrew warriors should
be sold for a talent, so ran Nicanor's proclamation.
"These bold outlaws," said the haughty Syrian, "shall spend their
superfluous strength, as did their Samson of old, in grinding corn for
their victors, or in tilling the fields which they once called their
own, with the taskmaster's lash to quicken their labours. Ha! ha! it
were good subject for mirth to see the lordly Maccabeus himself, with
blinded eyes, turning the wheel at the well, and bending his proud back
to serve as my footstool when I mount my Arab steed! This were sweeter
vengeance, a richer triumph, than to hew him to pieces with the sword
which he took from the dead Apollonius. Let the Asmonean fall into my
hands, and he shall taste what it is to endure a living death!"
Maccabeus, on his part, had led his forces to Mizpeh, where they had
encamped. Here a day of solemn humiliation was appointed by the
Asmonean chief; he and his warriors fasted, put on sackcloth, and
united in prayer to the God of Hosts.
The leader then more perfectly organized his little army, dividing it
into bands, and appointing captains over the divisions. While Divine
aid was implored, human means were not neglected.
Early in the morning of the succeeding day, Maccabeus and Simon, his
elder brother, held grave consultation together. The scene around them
was historic; the very heap of stones upon which the chiefs were seated
marked the spot where the last leave of Laban had been taken by Jacob
their forefather, when returning to his aged parent.
But few months have elapsed since Judas stood, as the reader first saw
him, by the grave of the martyrs, but these eventful months have
wrought a marked change upon the Asmonean leader. Fatigue, hardship,
the burden of care, the weight of responsibility, added to the sorrow
of bereavement, have left their stamps on his expressive features.
Maccabeus looks a worn and a weary man; but there is increased majesty
in his demeanour, that dignity which has nothing to do with pride; for
pride has its origin in self-consciousness, true dignity in
forgetfulness of self.
"This will be our sharpest conflict; the enemy is strong," observed
Simon, glancing in the direction of the Syrian hosts, which lay between
them and Jerusalem.
"With the God of Heaven it is all one to deliver with a great multitude
or with a few," said Maccabeus.
"What is the number of our forces?" asked Simon.
"Six thousand, as given by yesterday's returns," was the reply; "but
to-day I will make proclamation that they who are planting vineyards or
building houses, or who have lately married wives, have full leave to
retire if they will it, and then--ha! Eleazar returned already!" cried
the leader, interrupting himself, as a young Hebrew, dressed as a
Syrian merchant, with rapid step ascended the little eminence on which
the Asmonean brothers were seated.
"I have been in the midst of them!" exclaimed Eleazar; "ay, I have
stood in their tents, heard their songs, listened to their proud
boastings, been present when the sons of Mammon bartered for the limbs
and lives of the free-born sons of Abraham! They may have our bodies
as corpses," added the young Asmonean, with a proud smile, "but never
as slaves; and even as corpses, they shall purchase us dearly."
"Know you the numbers of the Syrians?" inquired Simon, whose quiet,
sedate manner formed a strong contrast to that of the fiery young
"Nicanor has forty thousand footmen and seven thousand horse," was the
reply; "to say nothing of those who hang round his camp, as vultures
who scent the carnage from afar."
"More than seven to one," observed Simon, slightly shaking his head.
"Hebrews have encountered worse odds than that," cried the young man.
"Ay, when all were stanch," his elder brother rejoined.
"Do you then doubt our men!" exclaimed Eleazar.
"Many of them will be faithful unto death; but I know that in some
quarters there are misgivings--I may call them fears," was the grave
reply of Simon. "Not all our troops are tried warriors; some in the
camp have spoken of submission."
"Submission!" cried Eleazar, clenching his hand; "I would lash the
slaves up to the conflict as I would lash dogs that hung back in the
"On the contrary," said Maccabeus, who had hitherto listened to the
conversation in silence, "I shall proclaim that whoso is fearful, has
my free permission to depart from us in peace."
"Were that well?" asked Simon, doubtfully, "we are already so greatly
outnumbered by the foe."
"It is according to the law," replied Judas, calmly; "it is what Gideon
did before encountering Midian. We can have no man with us who is
half-hearted; no one who will count his life dear in the struggle which
is before us."
"If we are to fall in the struggle," observed Simon, "half our number
will indeed suffice for the sacrifice." He spoke without fear, but in
the tone of one who felt the full extent of the threatening danger.
"See you yon stone, my brother?" asked Maccabeus, pointing to a pillar
on the way to Shen, which was clearly visible against the background of
the deep blue sky. "Yonder is Ebenezer, _the stone of help_, which
Samuel set up in remembrance of victory over the Philistines, when God
thundered from heaven, and discomfited the foes of Israel."
"Ay, I see it," replied Simon; "and I see the power and faithfulness of
the Lord of Hosts written on that stone. We are in His hand, not in
that of Nicanor."
"Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered!" exclaimed Eleazar.
"My brother, give order that the trumpets be sounded," said Maccabeus,
"and let our proclamation be known through the camp--that all who fear
may retire at once, nor remain to shame us by turning their backs in
the day of battle."
The commands of the leader were at once obeyed; the proclamation was
issued, and its alarming effects were speedily seen. The small force
of Maccabeus began to melt like a snow-wreath under the beams of the
sun. One man remembered the tears of his newly-wedded bride, another
the helpless state of a widowed mother; the hearts of not a few were
set on their flocks and herds, while many of their comrades found in
the state of crops needing the sickle, an excuse to cover the fear
which they would have blushed to own as their motive for deserting the
cause of their country. Long before the evening had closed in, the
forces under Maccabeus had been reduced to one-half their number.
"They have judged themselves unworthy to share the glory that awaits
their brave brethren," cried the indignant Eleazar, as, leaning on his
unstrung bow, he watched a long line of fugitives wending their way
towards the west.
Undismayed, though perhaps somewhat discouraged by the defection of
half his troops, Maccabeus made before sunset a brief address to those
who remained. "Arm yourselves," he said, "and be valiant men; and see
that ye be in readiness before the morning, that ye may fight with
these nations that are assembled together to destroy us and our
sanctuary. For it is better for us to die in battle than to behold the
calamity of our people and our sanctuary. Nevertheless, as the will of
God is in heaven, so let Him do."
So, with stern resolution to conquer or die, the Hebrews retired to
their appointed places in the small camp till morning light should
arouse them to the desperate conflict.
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