3 Maccabees 5Common English Bible (CEB)
Sleep foils the king’s plan
5 Then the king, completely stubborn and filled with extreme rage and bitterness, called for Hermon the elephant keeper. 2 He ordered him to drug all the elephants—five hundred in number—with heaping handfuls of frankincense and much unmixed wine on the following day. When the abundant quantity of drink had driven them wild, Hermon was to bring them in so that the Jews might meet their doom. 3 When Ptolemy had given these commands, he went back to his partying, having gathered those of his friends and of the army who were especially hostile toward the Jews. 4 But Hermon the elephant keeper promptly began to carry out the orders. 5 The servants in charge of the Jews went out in the evening, bound the hands of those enduring this distress, and arranged for their continued custody through the night. They expected that the entire race would come to a ruinous end. 6 To the Gentiles it seemed that the Jews were entirely without refuge, since in their chains, distress surrounded them on every side. 7 But with persistent cries and tears they all called upon their almighty Lord and merciful God and father, who rules over every power. They continued to pray 8 that he would turn away the evil plot against them and rescue them with a glorious display of power from their impending fate. 9 So their prayer rose earnestly to heaven.
10 Now when Hermon had made the savage elephants drunk so that they were full of a great quantity of wine and drugged with frankincense, he came to the palace courtyard early in the morning to report to the king. 11 But God sent to the king a portion of sleep, the precious creation from before recorded time, granted night and day by the one who gives it generously to whomever he wishes. 12 By the Lord’s doing, the king was overcome by a most pleasant and deep sleep,[a] such that he utterly failed in his unlawful purpose and was completely cheated out of his stubborn plan. 13 And the Jews, having escaped the announced hour, praised their holy God and again prayed that the one who is quickly reconciled to his people would show the might of his exceedingly strong hand to the arrogant Gentiles.
14 When it was almost the middle of the tenth hour, the person in charge of the invitations, seeing that the guests were gathered, approached the king and nudged him 15 After waking him with some difficulty, he informed him that the time of the banquet was already slipping by, and gave him an account concerning the matter. 16 The king, after considering this, returned to his drinking and commanded those who were present at the banquet to recline across from him. 17 When this had been done, he urged the guests to give themselves over to feasting and to make up for the lost time by celebrating all the more now. 18 After the party had been going on for some time, the king called Hermon in and asked him, with angry threats, why the Jews had been permitted to remain alive through the present day. 19 But Hermon pointed out that he had fully carried out the orders at night, and his friends confirmed his story. 20 So the king, with a savagery worse than the tyrant Phalaris, said that the Jews could be grateful for today’s sleep, but “Tomorrow,” he said, “without delay, prepare the elephants in the same way for the destruction of the unseemly Jews.” 21 So the king spoke, and when all those present gave their unanimous approval readily and joyfully, they all departed for their own homes. 22 But they didn’t spend their night sleeping so much as devising all kinds of insults for those who seemed to be doomed.
Forgetfulness foils the king’s plan
23 By dawn, when the roosters began to crow, Hermon had outfitted the beasts and started them moving along in the great colonnade. 24 Crowds of people from throughout the city gathered for the most sorry spectacle and were eagerly awaiting the early morning. 25 The Jews were at their last gasp, since time was short. With tearful prayer and mournful sounds, they stretched out their hands to heaven and begged the supreme God to help them again quickly. 26 Before the rays of the sun were scattered across the sky, while the king was receiving his friends, Hermon approached him and invited him to come out, indicating that the king’s desire was ready to be put into action. 27 When he heard this, the king was surprised at the unusual invitation to come out from the palace. He was completely overcome by confusion, and he asked what it was that they had worked so hard to prepare for him. 28 Now this was God’s doing, the God who is Lord over all things, who had placed in the king’s mind forgetfulness of the schemes that he had previously devised. 29 Hermon and all the king’s friends pointed out, “The beasts and the forces have been prepared, Your Majesty, according to your careful plan.”
30 But at these words the king was filled with extreme wrath because the providence of God had scattered every thought of his concerning these matters. He glared threateningly at Hermon and said, 31 “If your parents or children were here, I would have them prepared[b] as a lavish meal for wild animals instead of the Jews. They are blameless as far as I’m concerned, and have demonstrated constant loyalty above all others toward my ancestors. 32 Indeed, if it weren’t for the affection of our common upbringing and your service, you would’ve been deprived of life instead of them.” 33 So Hermon endured an unexpected and dangerous threat, and his eyes and face showed his dismay. 34 One by one the king’s friends slipped away sullenly, and the guests were dismissed, each to his own business. 35 Now when the Jews heard about what the king had said, they praised God, the Lord, the king of kings, who had made his power apparent in giving them this assistance.
36 Now the king resumed the entire banquet, according to the same rules, and began inviting the guests to return to their celebration. 37 He summoned Hermon and said with a threat, “How often, you sorry creature, must I command you concerning these same matters? 38 Equip the elephants yet again for the destruction of the Jews tomorrow.” 39 But the king’s officials, who were reclining at the table with him, were taken aback by his unstable mind and began to protest as follows: 40 “Your Majesty, how long will you test us, as though we were fools, giving an order a third time to destroy the Jews and again reversing your decisions? 41 As a result, the city is in an uproar because of its expectation. It is already swarming with mobs and is very much at risk of being plundered.” 42 At that point the king, a Phalaris in every way, was filled with madness and gave no thought at all to the change of heart that had come about in him concerning the punishment of the Jews. He firmly swore an irrevocable pledge that he would send these people to the grave[c] without delay, mangled by the knees and feet of the beasts. 43 He swore he would march against Judea and swiftly burn it to the ground with fire and spear. Their temple, which he hadn’t been allowed to enter, he would level with fire, ridding it forever of those who performed sacrifices there. 44 Then the friends and officials departed with joy and confidently assigned the armed forces to the places in the city that were best for keeping watch.
Horror at the racecourse
45 Now the elephant keeper drove the beasts almost to a state of madness with the most fragrant drinks, namely, wine mixed with incense, and he equipped them with frightful trappings. 46 Around dawn, when the city was already filled with countless crowds moving toward the racecourse, he entered the palace and urged the king on to the matter at hand. 47 So the king, filled with rage, rushed out with all fierceness to join the beasts. He wanted to witness with steely heart and with his own eyes the painful and miserable destruction of the previously mentioned people. 48 The Jews saw the dust cloud created by the elephants going out at the gate, the armed force following them, and the marching of the crowd, and they heard the noisy ruckus. 49 Thinking that this was their final moment of life, the fulfillment of their most wretched fear, they gave themselves over to pitiful wailing and weeping. They began to kiss each other, embracing their families and throwing themselves upon each other’s shoulders, parents to children and mothers to daughters. Other women had their newborn infants at their breasts drawing their last milk. 50 Nevertheless, when they took into consideration the assistance that they had previously received from heaven, they took their infants away from their breasts and all together bowed down. 51 They cried out with a very loud voice, pleading with the Lord of all power to have mercy on them by intervening, since they now stood at the gates of death.