This Will Make You LOVE The Pharisees

This Will Make You LOVE The Pharisees

In 334 B.C. Alexander the Great launched a series of military campaigns against the Persian Empire of Darius III. These wars eventually turned into a full-blown conquest, stretching from Greece all the way to India.

It had always been a dream of Alexander’s father, Phillip, King of Macedon, to unite the people that lived around the Aegean Sea and create one superpower that shared the Greek language and culture.

Over the course of 10 years, Phillips’s son Alexander…

  • not only conquered what is now called Greece and Turkey
  • and then conquered Persia
  • but he also conquered the countries of Anatolia, Syria, Phoenicia, Judea, Gaza, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and extended his kingdom as far as Punjab India.
In 323 B.C. Alexander fell ill and died, leaving his vast empire to be fought over by his generals, associates and friends.


Eventually, the map of these divided kingdoms – what Alexander left behind –looked like this:

To the north of Israel - one of Alexander’s generals named Seleucus founded the Seleucid Empire.

Another general named Ptolemy took control of Egypt and northern Africa.

And what little country stood in between them?

You guessed it.


For the next 150 years these, two empires would exert control over Israel. Because if you controlled Israel, you controlled the vantage point to launch an attack on the other.

Around 175 B.C., a Seleucid King from the north by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes launched a campaign to conquer Egypt and conquered Israel in the process.

And that’s when the atrocities in Israel began.

Antiochus Epiphanes sent his army to loot the temple and carry away its treasures. 

  • He made it illegal for anyone in Israel to practice their religion. They were forced to leave their Jewish customs and sacrifice to the Greek gods.
  • He knew if everyone became Greek, they would be much easier to control.
  • Pagan altars were set up throughout the land.
  • People were ordered to worship Zeus .
  • A Greek gymnasium was built next to the temple where men wrestled naked (a shame for Jews) especially when it exposed their lack of circumcision.
  • Orgies took place in the Jewish temple and its precincts.
  • A pagan statue was erected in the Holy of Holies and pigs (considered unclean by Jews) were slaughtered there.
  • Masses of Jew abandoned their religion and became pagan Greeks for fear of being killed.
  • Jews were killed specifically because they refused to fight on the Sabbath.

Just like in the holocaust – it was all out ethnic cleansing.

When women were caught circumcising their children, they were murdered. Their babies’ throats were slit and then the children were hung around their mother’s necks as a warning to everyone else.

The Book of Daniel called these acts: “the abomination that causes desolation” – Daniel 11:31.


But there WERE Jews who remained faithful to Yahweh and wouldn’t bow their knees.

One of them was a man named Matthias – a priest – who lived with his five sons outside of Jerusalem.

One day soldiers came to his village and asked Matthias to come forward in front of everyone and offer worship to a pagan idol (because they knew that if he gave in, everyone would follow his lead).

Matthias refused, and while he was giving a speech encouraging everyone to stay faithful to Yahweh, someone from the village stepped forward and offered worship to the pagan idol.

When Matthias saw this, he grabbed a sword and killed the man on the spot.

Then his five sons slaughtered the soldiers.

This began what became known as “The Maccabean Revolt.”

Matthias’ son Judah led the insurgency and was given the nickname “Maccabee” (which meant Judah “the hammer”).

For the next seven years, Judah Maccabee led raids, set traps, fought battles, and plundered the Seleucid forces.

They did what American patriots, led by Geroge Washington, did in the Revolutionary War against the British.

The Maccabean forces eventually overthrew the Seleucids, killed all the collaborators, and took their country back.

They cleansed the land of the pagan influences, which had led God’s people astray.

They destroyed…

  • the pagan shrines throughout the land
  • the gymnasium
  • the pagan statue of Zeus in the temple

And when they cleansed the temple and rededicated it back to Yahweh, they lit a menorah which only had enough sacred oil to burn for one day, but miraculously lasted for eight days.

Jews during Jesus’ time celebrated this revolt and the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days by calling it “The Festival of Lights.”

Today we know it by the name, Hannukah.


I go through all of this to make this point:

The people who didn’t buckle to forced conversion by the Greeks during this time and stayed faithful to Yahweh we’re called the Hasidim – which in Hebrew meant the “pious ones” (pronounced ha – see – dem).

We get our word “Hasidic” – for Hasidic Jews – from this word.

The Hasidim – the pious ones – were the Jews who faithfully defended to the death:

  • Kosher food laws
  • Circumcision
  • And observance of the Sabbath

They were the HEROES who lived 175 years before Jesus, who were willing to die rather than lose their entire way of life.

And eventually, the great-grandkids of these great heroes – a century later – became the very people that wanted to kill Jesus.

Because Jesus – just like the Greeks - threatened their observance of…

  • Kosher food laws
  • Circumcision
  • And observance of the Sabbath

The Hasidim – the heroes – the maintainers of faithful Jewish practice are known in the bible by another name: The Pharisees.

In the next few articles, I want to talk about the power of taking a Sabbath and making time to eat meals with “sinners,” all things which God modeled in the remaining 5% of the Gospels (once you remove Jesus’ miracles and teachings).

But before I went there, I wanted us to have a clear picture of three things:

  1. In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were the good guys.
  1. Like the Seleucids, Jesus was the bad guy.
  1. The Hasidim quickly realized that just like the Selucids, Jesus was a threat that had to be eliminated.


Sign up HERE to get my articles delivered straight to your inbox

Back to blog