AFTER many wars, Antiochus became king of Palestine.
Now of all cruel kings he was the most cruel. He wanted all of his subjects to worship one god, the Greek god, Zeus. Troops were sent out all over his kingdom and the people were forced to worship Zeus. They did so because they knew that if they did not obey, they would be killed. But do you think the Jews would give up their one and only God?
One day a band of soldiers returned to Antiochus and reported that all the people in his kingdom had obeyed, except the Jews. Antiochus became red with anger. He seized a beautiful statue that stood near him, threw it to the ground and broke it into tiny bits.
"All the nations under my rule," he cried, "shall sacrifice to one god, and that god shall be Zeus, the god of the Greeks."
The courtiers trembled as Antiochus foamed at the mouth with anger.
"We will send troops there to tear down their altars!"
"And break their holy vessels!" cried the chief general.
"And destroy their walls and gates!" shouted another.
They made quick work of it and were soon setting up Greek altars and Greek idols in the city of Jerusalem.
"Come out--out with you--sacrifice here to Zeus," commands Antiochus the Great.
My, how they hammered away at the doors!
"You, there, you begin. Set an example to the younger ones," growled the Greek general as he dragged the oldest Jew, Eliezer, from the group.
Women and even men began to cry. Oh, how pitiful! How sad! Would Eliezer, the respected ninety-year old man, sacrifice to a strange god?
And what was that? Why, the flesh of swine, dirty swine.
Eliezer, his silvery white hair shining in the sun, was shoved along by the Greeks. When he reached the altar, his strength gave out, and, breathing heavily, he fell to the ground.
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"Come now, none of this. Get up and sacrifice the swine to this idol. It's tasty. You will eat some of it afterwards."
The Jews held their breath as Eliezer tried to get up slowly, slowly. On his feet at last, holding on to his staff with one hand, and the altar with the other, he spoke with all the strength he could muster.
"Yes, I will set an example to the younger ones," he said. "Stab me, hang me, burn me,--anything, anything. I will not eat swine nor sacrifice it to your Greek idol."
Some of the Greek soldiers fell on Eliezer and beat him with their swords and spears. The handful of Jews were powerless against the Greeks.
Suddenly amidst all the fury, a piercing shriek was heard from the dying Eliezer:
"Gladly do I die. Thus will the young ones after me learn to fight for their religion."
As he uttered these words, Eliezer fell back and was hushed forever. But there came others who loved their freedom just as much as the faithful Eliezer!