The Battle-prayer





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."





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