A Letter to the Jews in Egypt
1The Jews of Jerusalem and Judea wrote a letter to their Jewish relatives in Egypt. It said:
Greetings and lasting peace!
2We pray that God will be kind to you and remember the promise that he made to his faithful servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 3May God make you willing and eager to worship and obey him with all your heart. 4May he bless you with peace and with an understanding of his Law and its commands. 5We ask him to answer your prayers and forgive your sins and never turn from you in times of trouble.
6All of us here are now praying for you.
7In the year 169#1.7 year 169: That is, 143 b.c. of the Syrian kingdom, when Demetrius#1.7 Demetrius: Demetrius II (ruled 145–140 b.c.). was our ruler, we wrote you a letter in which we said:
“We have had terrible troubles ever since Jason the high priest#1.7 Jason the high priest: He had become high priest by bribery and held this position 174–171 b.c. and his troops rebelled against our country and its leaders. 8They destroyed the temple gate and killed innocent people. But we begged the Lord for help, and when he answered our prayers, we brought sacrifices and offerings of grain into the temple. We lit the lamps and put the sacred loaves of bread on the table.”
9And so, we now urge you to celebrate in the month of Chislev a festival like the Festival of Shelters.#1.9 Festival of Shelters: This festival was normally celebrated in the month of Tishri, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, from about mid-September to mid-October. Chislev was the ninth month of the Hebrew calendar, from about mid-November to mid-December.
We are writing to you in the year 188#1.9 year 188: That is, 124 b.c. of the Greek Kingdom.
Another Letter to the Jews in Egypt
10The Jews of Jerusalem and Judea had also written an earlier letter. It said:
The Jews of Jerusalem and Judea, together with Judas and the council, send greetings to Aristobulus and the rest of our Jewish friends in Egypt.
Aristobulus belongs to the family of chosen priests, and he is King Ptolemy's#1.10 King Ptolemy's: Also known as Ptolemy VI (ruled 180–145 b.c.). teacher. We wish Aristobulus and all the rest of you good health!
11We thank God because he has rescued us from King Antiochus,#1.11 Antiochus: Also known as Antiochus IV or Antiochus Epiphanes (ruled 175–164 b.c.). who put us in dreadful danger.#1.11 We thank … danger: One possible meaning for the difficult Greek text. 12The king's troops attacked our holy city of Jerusalem, but God forced him to retreat.
13-14 # 1 Macc 6.1-4; 2 Macc 9.1-10. Antiochus then invaded Persia with an army that seemed too powerful for anyone to defeat. He and his trusted friends#1.13,14 trusted friends: This was a title that Greek kings gave to special advisors and officials. These friends received many gifts, honors, and other privileges. went into the temple of the goddess Nanea, where Antiochus lied and said he planned to marry her.#1.13,14 the goddess Nanea … to marry her: Nanea was a goddess of fertility. In the ancient world the ceremonial marriage of the king with the goddess of fertility was intended to guarantee good crops for the coming year, but Antiochus had other reasons for marrying her. But all he really wanted were the temple treasures that he would receive as wedding gifts.
The priests of the temple made a clever plan to kill Antiochus. 15They set out the treasures, and when Antiochus and a few of his friends entered the temple, the priests immediately locked the doors behind him. 16Then they killed him and his friends by dropping heavy stones on them from a trap door in the roof. Afterwards, the priests chopped the dead bodies into pieces and tossed the heads to the people outside.
17Let's always praise our God for punishing these wicked enemies!
Nehemiah Gets Fire for a Sacrifice
The Letter Continues:
18On the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev,#1.18 Chislev: See the note at 1.9. we will celebrate the Temple Festival.#1.18 Temple Festival: Also known as Hanukkah, this is the same festival referred to in 1 Maccabees 4.56. We think you need to know this, so you can celebrate it just as you celebrate the Festival of Shelters and the Festival of Fire.#1.18 the Festival of Fire: This festival is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, though fire played an important part in the Temple Festival, which is sometimes called the Festival of Lights (see 1 Maccabees 4.50).
This Festival of Fire goes back to Nehemiah,#1.18 Nehemiah: Nehemiah was an important official in the court of King Artaxerxes I of Persia. In 445 b.c. Artaxerxes made Nehemiah governor of Judea and sent him back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls (see Nehemiah 1.1—2.10). who rebuilt the temple and its altar, then offered sacrifices. 19All this happened long ago, when our ancestors were dragged away to Persia,#1.19 Persia: The author is thinking of 587 b.c. when the Jewish people were taken away as prisoners to Babylonia, which later became part of the Persian Empire. and some faithful priests took fire from the altar. They secretly hid the fire at the bottom of a dry cistern, and they hid it so well that no one ever found it.
20Many years later, when it pleased God, the Persian king sent Nehemiah back to Jerusalem. Nehemiah then told some descendants of those priests to find the hidden fire. But after returning, they told us, “There is nothing in the cistern except an oily liquid.”
Nehemiah told them to dip out some of the liquid and bring it to him. 21Then, after the sacrifice was ready, Nehemiah ordered the priests to sprinkle the liquid over the offerings and the firewood, 22and they did. A little while later, the sun came out from behind the clouds. Then the firewood and offerings suddenly burst into flames, as everyone stared in amazement.
The Letter Continues:
23While the offerings were being burned, a priest named Jonathan#1.23 Jonathan: Probably Johanan of Nehemiah 12.22,23. began praying. Nehemiah, the other priests, and the rest of the people also joined in the prayer 24that went something like this:
“Our Lord and our God, you created everything. You are powerful and fearsome, but faithful and merciful. You alone are kind, and only you are king. 25No one else is fair and gives us everything we need; no one else is all-powerful and lives forever.
“Long ago, you chose our ancestors to be your holy people, and since then you have rescued our nation from every danger.
26“Please accept our sacrifice that we are offering for everyone in Israel, your chosen nation. Protect us from danger and make us holy.
27“Bring home our scattered people and free those Jews who are slaves in foreign nations. We are hated and mistreated. So have pity on us and show Gentiles that you are the God of Israel.
28“Take revenge against our arrogant enemies, who attack and insult us. 29#Ex 15.17. Then give your nation a lasting home in your holy land, just as Moses said you would.”
The King of Persia Learns about the Fire
The Letter Continues:
30When everyone had finished praying, the priests started singing hymns. 31Soon the fire burned up the offerings. Then Nehemiah ordered the rest of the liquid to be poured over some large rocks. 32As soon as this was done, the rocks started burning, but flames from the altar put out the fire.
33People everywhere heard what had happened. Even the Persian king learned that an oily liquid had been discovered in the place where the priests had hidden the altar fire just before they were dragged away to Persia. The king was also told that Nehemiah and his followers had offered a sacrifice, using the liquid to start their fire. 34After the king had carefully checked on this story, he surrounded the cistern with a high wall and built a shrine there.
35Then the king exchanged gifts with the people he liked. 36Nehemiah and his followers called the oil “nephthar,” which means “cleaning.” But everyone else calls it “naphtha.”#1.36 naphtha: This sounds like a Persian word that means “crude oil.”