Battle Of Emmaus

: Hebrew Heroes

But the struggle was not to be deferred the morning.

Night had just spread her veil of darkness over earth, and Simon,

prudently reserving his strength for the expected fatigues of the

coming day, had wrapped himself in his mantle, and stretched himself on

the ground to snatch some hours of repose, when he was roused by the

touch of a hand on his shoulder. Opening his eyes, Simon saw, by the

red light of
a torch, which the armour-bearer of Judas was holding

aloft, that Maccabeus was before him.

"Awake, arise, my brother; this is no time for sleep," said the leader.

Simon was on his feet in a moment, an attentive listener, as Maccabeus

continued: "A scout has just brought in tidings from the Syrian camp

that Nicanor has detached five thousand of his foot-soldiers and a

thousand chosen horsemen, under the command of Giorgias, to attack us

this night, and take us by surprise."

"They will find us prepared," said Simon, as he girded on his sword.

"Nay; they will find their prey flown," replied Maccabeus, his features

relaxing into a stern smile; "we will fall on the Syrian camp in their

absence, teach the enemy his own lesson, and transfer the surprise to

our foes."

"Well thought of!" exclaimed Simon; "darkness also will serve to hide

the weakness of our force."

"Our brethren are now marshalling our warriors," said Judas; "all,

under God, depends upon silence, promptitude, decision. We fight for

our lives and our laws."

The leader turned to depart, but as he did so accidentally dropped

something on the ground. He stooped to raise and twist it rapidly

round his left arm, under the sleeve. The incident was so very

trifling that it scarcely drew the notice of Simon, though the thought

did flit across his mind that it was strange that his brother, on the

eve of battle, could pause to pick up anything so utterly valueless as

a slight skein of unbleached flax. It was valueless indeed, save from

the associations which, in the mind of him who wore it, were entwined

with every thread. That flax had been once used to tie together some

flowers long since dead; the flowers had been dropped into a grave of

martyrs; the light skein had fallen on the upturned sod unnoticed save

by the eyes of one. Perhaps it was from remembrance of the dead, or

perhaps it was because hopes regarding the living (hopes brighter and

sweeter than the flowers had been) seemed now bound up in that flaxen

strand, that Maccabeus fastened that skein round his arm as a precious

thing, when he would not have stooped to pick up a chaplet of pearls.

By the exertions of the five Asmonean brethren, the little Hebrew army

was rapidly put under arms, and prepared for the night attack. The

whole force was united as one forlorn hope. As moves the dark cloud in

the sky, so darkly and silently moved on the band of heroes, and, like

that cloud, they bore the thunderbolt with them.

Most of the Syrians on that eventful night were sunk in sleep, but not

all; in their camp some kept up their revels till late. All the

luxuries which fancy could devise or wealth could purchase were

gathered together at Emmaus to hide the grim front of war, so that the

camp by daylight presented the motley appearance of a bazaar with the

gay magnificence of a court. There sherbet sparkled in vases of

silver, and the red wine was poured into golden cups, chased and

embossed, in tents stretched out with silken cords. Garments bright

with all the varied tints of the rainbow, rich productions of Oriental

looms, robes from Tyre, shawls from Cashmere, blended with instruments

of warfare, swords, spears, and bucklers, the battle-axe and the

helmet. The sentry, pacing his rounds, paused to listen to wild bursts

of merriment, the loud oath and light song from some gay pavilion,

where young Syrian nobles were exchanging jests, and indulging in deep

carousals. Yonder, in the glaring torch-light, sat a group of

officers, engaged in some game of chance, and their stakes were the

captives whom they were to drag at their chariot-wheels on the morrow.

Each throw of the dice decided the fate of a Hebrew; at least, so

deemed the merry gamesters.

But the destined slaves were coming to the market sooner than their

expectant masters dreamed or desired, and the price for each Hebrew

would be exacted, not in gold, but in blood. Suddenly the gamesters at

their play, the revellers at the board, the slumberers on their

couches, were startled by the blare of trumpets and a ringing war-cry,

"The sword of the Lord and Maccabeus!" The full goblet was dashed from

the lip, the dice from the hand; there were wild shouts and cries, and

rushing to and fro, soldiers snatching up weapons, merchants flying

hither and thither for safety, stumbling over tent-ropes in the

darkness. There were confused noises of terror, trampling of feet,

snorting of horses, calls to arms, clashing of weapons, with all the

horrors of sudden panic spreading like an epidemic through the mighty

host of Syria. The few remained to oppose the unseen assailants, the

many took to flight; the ground was soon strewn with treasure, dropped

by terrified fugitives, and weapons thrown down by warriors who had not

the courage to use them. Tents were speedily blazing, and horses,

terrified by the sudden glare and maddened by the scorching heat,

prancing, plunging, rushing wildly through the camp, added to the

fearful confusion. Maccabeus, with the sword of Apollonius in his

hand, pressed on to victory over heaps of prostrate foes. Terror was

sent as a herald before him, and success followed wherever he trode.

It seemed as if the Lord of Hosts were fighting for Israel, as in the

old days of Gideon.

Hot was the pursuit after the flying Syrians; Maccabeus and his

warriors followed hard on their track to Gazora, Azotus, and Jamnia,

and that southern part of Judaea lying between the Red Sea and Sodom,

to which, from its having been colonized by Edomites, had been given

the name of Idumea. For many a mile the track of the fugitives was

marked by their dead.

But as the morning dawned after that terrible though glorious night,

the trumpets of Maccabeus sounded to call his troops together. The

leader had not forgotten--though some of his eager followers might have

done so--that Giorgias, with an army of chosen warriors, doubling their

own in number, and comparatively fresh, was yet to be encountered.

With stern displeasure Maccabeus saw his own men, grim with blood and

dust, loading themselves with the rich plunder which lay on the road;

like fruit under orchard trees after a wild tornado.

"Be not greedy of the spoils," cried the leader, "inasmuch as there is

a battle before us; but stand ye now against our enemies, and overcome

them, and after this ye may boldly take the spoils."

It is a more difficult task to call hounds off the prey that they have

run down, than to let them slip from the leashes when the quarry first

is in sight. It needed such moral influence over his men as was

possessed by Maccabeus to enforce instant obedience when wealth was at

their feet, and needed but the gathering up.

It was speedily seen, however, that the warning of the Asmonean chief

had not been unnecessary. But a few minutes elapsed after the

utterance of that warning, when the vanguard of the forces of Giorgias

appeared on the crest of a hill at some distance, the live-long night

having been spent by them in a vain attempt to discover the camp of the

Hebrews. After a long, tedious march, Giorgias found himself on a

commanding height, from whence at dawn he had an extensive view of the

surrounding country.

"The slaves have fled--they have made their escape to the mountains,"

exclaimed Giorgias, as he dismounted from his weary war-horse, when the

first bar of golden light appeared in the orient sky.

"Then they have left marks of their handiwork behind them," said a

horseman, pointing in the direction in which lay what had been the camp

of Nicanor, now suddenly visible to the Syrians from the summit of the

hill. "See you yon smoke arising from smouldering heaps? There has

been a battle at Emmaus. The lion has broken through the toils.

Maccabeus has not been sleeping through the night."

"Nay, my Lord Pollux; it is impossible. The Hebrews would never dare

to attack a force so greatly outnumbering their own," exclaimed

Giorgias, unwilling to believe the evidence of his own senses. But as

the light more clearly revealed the tokens of flight and disaster in

the far distance, where the smoke of ruin was rising into the calm

morning air, conviction of the terrible truth forced itself on the

general's mind, and, with mingled astonishment and dismay, he

exclaimed, "Where are the hosts of Nicanor?"

"Yonder are those who can give an account of them," said Pollux,

turning to the south, where in a valley the Hebrews might be seen

marshalled around their loader. "There, I ween, is the insolent outlaw

who has been making a shambles of our camp. See you the glitter of the

spears? Maccabeus is setting his men in battle array. There is but a

handful of them. Shall we charge down upon them, and sweep them from

the face of the earth?"

Giorgias glanced again northward at Emmaus and the smoking ruins of the

Syrian camp; then southward, where the little compact force in the

valley was clustering round the standard of Maccabeus. Though the

troops under the command of Giorgias doubled the Hebrews in number, he

dared not try the issue of battle with those who had so lately

discomfited Nicanor's formidable hosts. Had the Syrian leader been

animated by such a fearless spirit as characterized his opponent, in

all human probability the victory of the night might have been, to

Judas and his gallant little band, succeeded by the defeat of the

morning. But Giorgias showed an unusual amount of caution on the

present occasion; and Pollux, though he assumed a tone of defiance, was

secretly by no means desirous to measure swords with Maccabeus.

The Hebrews were weary with conquering and pursuing. Their spirit was

unbroken, but their strength was exhausted. It was with some anxiety

that the eagle eye of Judas watched the movements of the enemy on the

heights, momentarily expecting an attack which he knew that his band of

heroes was so little able to sustain.

"They will be down upon us soon," said Simon, as he leaned wearily on

his spear.

"Nay; behold, they are vanishing over the crest of the mountain!"

triumphantly exclaimed Eleazar. "The cowards! only brave over the

wine-bowl! Not a stain on their swords! not a dint on their shields!

They are fleeing when no man pursues! Oh, that we had but strength to

follow, and chase the dastards even up to the walls of Jerusalem!"

"God hath put fear into their hearts. To Him be the glory!" said

Maccabeus, as he sheathed his heavy sword.

And after this--to transcribe the words of the ancient Hebrew

historian, describing the triumphs of his countrymen--"they went home,

and sung a song of thanksgiving, and praised the Lord in heaven,

because He is good, because His mercy endureth for ever."