Purim: The Feast of Nicanor and Spiritual Warfare

Purim: The Feast of Nicanor and Spiritual Warfare
James Scott Trimm

The Feast of Nicanor immediately precedes the Feast of Purim (2Macc. 15:36; 1Macc. 7:49) essentially turning Purim into a three day festival complex celebrating the defeat of our enemies who wish to exterminate us.

Now the Channukah story is found in the first ten chapters of 2nd Maccabees and many of us read these chapters each year at Channukah. Unfortunately we often stop with the death of Antiochus Epiphanies and the rededication of the Temple in Chapters nine and ten, and we never read the last five chapters of this amazing book.

In these last five chapters we read of the renewed persecution of the Jews and additional battles leading up to the defeat and death of Nicanor. There are some great jewels for us in these chapters which many have been missing out on.

In Chapter 11 we read on the victory over Lysias at Beit-Tzur followed by a false peace. This was followed by renewed attacks on the Jews (12:1-16) and battle in the northeast (12:17-31) and the battle with Gorgias (12:32-38).

Then we read that when Judas Maccabee and his men gathered the dead for burial, they discovered that ll of the Jews killed in the battle had carried secret tokens of pagan gods under their tunics as good luck charms. YHWH had withdrawn His protection from these soldiers for this sin (12:39-42). Then we read:

12:41 All men therefore praising the Lord, the righteous Judge, who had opened the things that were hid,
12:42 Betook themselves unto prayer, and besought him that the sin committed might wholly be put out of remembrance. Besides, that noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forsomuch as they saw before their eyes the things that came to pass for the sins of those that were slain.
(2Macc. 12:41-42 KJV)

Then Judas Maccabee did something which has become very controversial:

12:43 And when he had made a gathering throughout the company to the sum of two thousand drachms of silver, he sent it to Jerusalem to offer a sin offering, doing therein very well and honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection:
12:44 For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again, it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead.
12:45 And also in that he perceived that there was great favour laid up for those that died godly, it was an holy and good thought. Whereupon he made a reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin.
(2Macc. 12:43-45 KJV)

For more on this see my recent blog Judah Maccabee and Baptism for the Dead

Then in 13:1-8 we read of the death of the wicked priest Menelaus.

In 13:9-12 Judas orders his people to engage in intercessory prayer.

[9] Now the king came with a barbarous and haughty mind to do far worse to the Jews, than had been done in his father’s time.
[10] Which things when Judas perceived, he commanded the multitude to call upon the Lord night and day, that if ever at any other time, he would now also help them, being at the point to be put from their law, from their country, and from the holy temple:
[11] And that he would not suffer the people, that had even now been but a little refreshed, to be in subjection to the blasphemous nations.
[12] So when they had all done this together, and besought the merciful Lord with weeping and fasting, and lying flat upon the ground three days long, Judas, having exhorted them, commanded they should be in a readiness.
(2Macc. 13:9-12 KJV)

Judas was as much a master of Spiritual Warfare as earthly warfare, and he knew that the battle on earth was only a reflection of the real battle in the heavens:

[13] And Judas, being apart with the elders, determined, before the king’s host should enter into Judea, and get the city, to go forth and try the matter in fight by the help of the Lord.
[14] So when he had committed all to the Creator of the world, and exhorted his soldiers to fight manfully, even unto death, for the laws, the temple, the city, the country, and the commonwealth, he camped by Modin:
[15] And having given the watchword to them that were about him, Victory is of God; with the most valiant and choice young men he went in into the king’s tent by night, and slew in the camp about four thousand men, and the chiefest of the elephants, with all that were upon him.
[16] And at last they filled the camp with fear and tumult, and departed with good success.
[17] This was done in the break of the day, because the protection of the Lord did help him.
(2Macc. 13:13-17 KJV)

Next we read on the attack on Beit Tzur (13:18-26), the Accession of Demetrius (14:1-10) and the appointment of Nicanor and Alcumis (14:11-14).

At first Nicanor sought friendship with Judas Maccabee but the King over ruled him so he became an enemy to the Jews (14:15-36). Nicanor sent five hundred men to arrest an Elder of the Jews by the name of Razis. Razis had risked his body and life in defense of Judaism in times past (14:37-41).

[41] Now when the multitude would have taken the tower, and violently broken into the outer door, and bade that fire should be brought to burn it, he being ready to be taken on every side fell upon his sword;
[42] Choosing rather to die manfully, than to come into the hands of the wicked, to be abused otherwise than beseemed his noble birth:
[43] But missing his stroke through haste, the multitude also rushing within the doors, he ran boldly up to the wall, and cast himself down manfully among the thickest of them.
[44] But they quickly giving back, and a space being made, he fell down into the midst of the void place.
[45] Nevertheless, while there was yet breath within him, being inflamed with anger, he rose up; and though his blood gushed out like spouts of water, and his wounds were grievous, yet he ran through the midst of the throng; and standing upon a steep rock,
[46] When as his blood was now quite gone, he plucked out his bowels, and taking them in both his hands, he cast them upon the throng, and calling upon the Lord of life and spirit to restore him those again, he thus died.
(2Macc. 14:41-46 KJV)

Razis gave his life, confident that it would be given back to him by YHWH in the resurrection.

Following this Nicanor makes a plan to attack Judas Maccabee and his army on the Sabbath, hoping to find them unprepared, and even declaring himself to be sovereign over the Sabbath (15:1-6).

Of course Judas is fighting this war in two worlds, the world in which we live, and in the heavens. He prepares his army by studying the Torah and the Prophets:

[7] But Maccabeus had ever sure confidence that the Lord would help him:
[8] Wherefore he exhorted his people not to fear the coming of the heathen against them, but to remember the help which in former times they had received from heaven, and now to expect the victory and aid, which should come unto them from the Almighty.
[9] And so comforting them out of the law and the prophets, and withal putting them in mind of the battles that they won afore, he made them more cheerful.
[10] And when he had stirred up their minds, he gave them their charge, shewing them therewithall the falsehood of the heathen, and the breach of oaths.
[11] Thus he armed every one of them, not so much with defence of shields and spears, as with comfortable and good words: and beside that, he told them a dream worthy to be believed, as if it had been so indeed, which did not a little rejoice them.
(2Maccabees 15:7-11 KJV)

YHWH gave Judas the following vision:

[12] And this was his vision: That Onias, who had been high priest, a virtuous and a good man, reverend in conversation, gentle in condition, well spoken also, and exercised from a child in all points of virtue, holding up his hands prayed for the whole body of the Jews.
[13] This done, in like manner there appeared a man with gray hairs, and exceeding glorious, who was of a wonderful and excellent majesty.
[14] Then Onias answered, saying, This is a lover of the brethren, who prayeth much for the people, and for the holy city, to wit, Jeremias the prophet of God.
[15] Whereupon Jeremias holding forth his right hand gave to Judas a sword of gold, and in giving it spake thus,
[16] Take this holy sword, a gift from God, with the which thou shalt wound the adversaries.
(2Macc. 15:12-16 KJV)

Judas and his army thus encourage defeat Nicanor and his army, beheading Nicanor and hanging his head from the citadel as a sign of the power of YHWH to deliver His people (15:17-35).

The people then held a public vote, and elected to establish the 13th of Adar forever as a festival (The Feast of Nicanor) to precede the Feast of Purim, to celebrate the power of YHWH to deliver His people through intercessory prayer and spiritual warfare.

As we also read in the Talmud:

[Speaking of the 13th of Adar] What is Nicanor’s Day? … It has been taught: Nicanor was one of the Greek generals; every day he waved his hand against Judah and Jerusalem and exclaimed, ‘When shall it fall into my hands that I may trample upon it?’ But when the Hasmonean Rulers proved victorious and triumphed over him they cut off his thumbs and his great toes and suspended them from, the gates of Jerusalem, as if to say of the mouth that spake arrogantly, of the hands that were waved against Jerusalem, May vengeance be exacted.
(b.Ta’anit 18b)

(You can also read about the defeat of Nicanor in 1Macc. 7:26-50)

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