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The principle of clear thinking

I’m about to prove a most important philosophical principle: godly thinking[a] is supreme over emotions and desires. I would be giving you good advice then to pay close attention to philosophy. This principle is essential for knowing what to do in every situation, and it also includes the praise of the highest moral trait—I’m talking about good judgment. Therefore, if clear thinking is shown to control the emotions that prevent self-control, such as the tendency to overeat and rampant desire, then it is clear that it also rules the emotions that prevent us from acting in a just way, such as ill will, and those emotions that prevent us from acting with courage, such as anger, fear, and pain.

Perhaps some people would object: “If clear thinking can control emotions, why doesn’t it do away with memory loss and ignorance?” But that’s just ridiculous. The mind doesn’t have control over such things, but it controls the emotions and desires that resist justice, courage, and self-control. And it does this so that we won’t surrender to the emotions, not in order to destroy them.

I could show you that clear thinking has power over emotions and desires in any number of ways. However, I can do this best by showing you the heroic courage of those who died to preserve their moral character: Eleazar, the seven brothers, and their mother. By ignoring their pain to the point of death, all of these persons showed that clear thinking had complete control of their emotions. 10 On the anniversary of these events, it is appropriate for me to praise the moral achievements of those who died along with their mother to preserve their virtuous character. I would also call them fortunate because of the honor in which they are held. 11 All people, including the ones who tortured them, were amazed at their courage and patient endurance. What’s more, they caused the defeat of the tyranny that had oppressed their nation. They conquered the tyrant by their endurance. As a result, their homeland was purged of its filth through their actions. 12 I will say more about this shortly. First I will begin with my main point, as is my custom, and then I will return to their story, giving glory to God, who possesses all wisdom.

Definition of terms

13 So we are exploring the question of whether clear thinking has full power over the emotions. 14 We need to define what careful reasoning is, what we mean by emotion, how many different kinds of emotions there are, and whether clear thinking has full power over all these things. 15 Clear thinking then is the mind-set that uses plain logic to choose the life of wisdom. 16 Next, wisdom is the knowledge of divine and human behavior and what causes the behavior. 17 This knowledge in turn comes from the instruction provided by the Law, through which we learn about divine matters reverently and human matters to our advantage. 18 The different kinds of wisdom are good judgment, justice, courage, and self-control. 19 Good judgment is the ruler among these kinds of wisdom, because clear thinking controls the emotions with it. 20 There are two general categories of emotions: pleasure and pain. Each of these shows up in different ways in the body and in the soul.

21 Several other emotions accompany pleasure and pain. 22 Desire comes before pleasure, and joy follows it. 23 Fear comes before pain, and grief follows it. 24 Anger is a mixture of both pleasure and pain, as anyone who thinks about the experience would agree. 25 With pleasure there is a tendency to form bad habits, and this is the most varied of the emotions. 26 In the soul, bad habits show up as pride, love of money, thirst for honor, delight in conflict, and envy. 27 In the body, they show up as eating anything and everything, the tendency to overeat, and indulging in binge eating in private. 28 Just as pleasure and pain are two plants growing from the body and the soul, so there are many branches shooting off from each of these plants. 29 But clear thinking, like an expert gardener, pulls out the weeds, trims, supports, waters, and cares for the plants in every way. So it tames the jungle of habits and emotions. 30 Clear thinking is the guide of moral character, but it has full power over the emotions.

clear thinking and the Law

Consider first the way in which clear thinking shows that it is supreme over the emotions through the exercise of self-control. 31 Self-control means having control over your desires. 32 Some desires come from the inner person, and others come from the body. Clear thinking obviously has control over both. 33 Otherwise, how is it that when we are attracted by foods that we aren’t allowed to eat, we can walk away from the pleasure that we would get from them? Isn’t it because clear thinking is in control over our desires? I think so. 34 We keep our distance when we crave any of the foods that are forbidden to us by the Law, whether it is seafood, birds, animals, or anything else, because of the self-control that comes from clear thinking. 35 The sensible mind curbs the drives of the appetite, keeping them in check, and clear thinking silences the impulses of our bodies.

So why is it surprising when the soul’s desire to join with something beautiful is defeated? Joseph, an example of self-control, is praised for this very thing.He had full control over his sexual desire through mental effort. Although he was a young man in his sexual prime, he defeated his sexual urges[b] with clear thinking. Clear thinking isn’t just being able to have control over strong sexual urges but over every other desire as well. So the Law says, “You will not desire your neighbor’s wife or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Since the Law commanded us not to desire, I should be able to convince you even more that clear thinking is able to control desires.

This also proves true in the case of emotions that prevent justice. It is obvious that clear thinking is in charge of the emotions—otherwise, how could someone who always indulges in binge eating in private, or a person who tends to overeat, or a person who tends to get drunk, learn a better way? As soon as people who love money decide to live according to the Law, they are forced to change their way of life, lending to those who ask without charging interest and canceling all debts in the seventh year. If people are greedy, they are forced by the Law through clear thinking, so they don’t pick up the grain in the field that they missed the first time or go back through the vineyard to pick the last clusters of grapes.

In every other matter we can also see that clear thinking controls the emotions. 10 The Law even controls affection for parents so that a person does not desert moral values because of them. 11 It exercises control over a husband’s love for his wife so that he corrects her if she ignores the Law. 12 It rules love for children by punishing them when they do wrong. 13 It comes before the affection for friends, and it challenges them if they are doing evil. 14 Don’t think it’s strange that clear thinking should have control over hatred between enemies. Because of the Law, we don’t cut down an enemy’s orchard in war, but instead we try to keep an enemy’s property safe from destruction and help rebuild what has fallen down.

15 clear thinking even keeps the more violent emotions in check, like the thirst for power, desire for glory, pride, self-importance, and jealousy. 16 The sensible mind rejects these destructive emotions, along with anger, because it rules over that emotion as well. 17 When Moses was angry at Dathan and Abiram, he didn’t act against them in anger. Instead, he controlled his anger with clear thinking. 18 The sensible mind, as I have said, is able to get the upper hand over the emotions, transforming some and defeating others. 19 If this were not the case, why did Jacob our wise ancestor denounce the households of Simeon and Levi for the unreasonable killing of the whole nation of Shechem, saying, “Their anger is cursed”? 20 If clear thinking couldn’t control anger, he wouldn’t have said this. 21 When God formed human beings, God planted emotions and character traits inside them. 22 At that time, God also set the mind on the throne in the middle of the senses, to function as a holy governor over them all. 23 God gave the Law to the mind. Whoever lives in line with the Law will rule over a kingdom that is self-controlled, just, good, and courageous.

Clarification about godly thinking

24 Someone might say, “Then why doesn’t clear thinking control memory loss and ignorance, if it is in charge of the emotions?” But that argument is completely ridiculous.

clear thinking doesn’t appear to have control over its own tendencies, but it does control those emotions that come from the body. None of us can eliminate that kind of emotion, but clear thinking makes it possible for us not to be slaves to our emotions. None of you can eliminate anger from your soul, but clear thinking can help you deal with your anger. None of you can completely eliminate meanness, but clear thinking can fight alongside you so that you don’t have to give in to your cruel tendencies. Clear thinking does not uproot the emotions, but it is their opponent.

Example of King David

This can be shown more clearly by the story of when King David was thirsty. David had been attacking the enemy[c] all day long, and he had killed many of them with the help of his nation’s soldiers. When it was evening, he returned to his royal tent, dripping with sweat and completely exhausted. The whole army of our ancestors was camped around it, and all the others were eating dinner. 10 However, the king was extremely thirsty. Even though there were plenty of water springs in the camp, he couldn’t quench his thirst with them. 11 Instead, he was obsessed with an unreasonable desire for water from the enemy’s camp. 12 His guards began to complain bitterly about the king’s desire. Then two strong young soldiers, embarrassed because of the king’s craving, put on their armor, grabbed a pitcher, and went behind the enemy lines. 13 They sneaked past the guards at the gate and began searching through the whole camp. 14 They found the spring and courageously brought the king a drink. 15 But even though he was on fire with thirst, David understood the terrible danger that this drink posed to his soul. It had equal value to the blood of the men who risked their lives to fetch it.[d] 16 So he pitted clear thinking against his desire, and he poured out the drink as an offering to God. 17 The sensible mind can overcome the pressures of the emotions and put out the flames of undisciplined desires. 18 It can overcome the most intense pain in the body and reject the emotions’ attempts at gaining control with the dignified character of clear thinking.

Setting: a lesson from history

19 But the present occasion invites us to give an illustration from history that demonstrates the power of self-controlled clear thinking. 20 Our ancestors were enjoying peace and success because of their obedience to the Law. Even Seleucus Nicanor, king of Asia, set apart money to help support the temple worship and recognized the Jewish constitution. 21 At that time, certain people attempted to overthrow the government. They upset the nation’s harmony and caused a lot of trouble.

A man named Simon was a political opponent of Onias, who held the office of high priest for life. Onias was an honorable and good man. Simon was unable to injure Onias, even though he falsely accused him of all kinds of crimes, pretending to act on the nation’s behalf. He went into exile and planned to betray his nation. So Simon came to Apollonius, the governor of Syria, Phoenicia, and Cilicia, and said, “Since I am devoted to the king’s interests, I have come here to report that several tons of silver[e] in private funds have been deposited in the temple treasuries. These funds are not temple property but belong to King Seleucus.” When Apollonius learned these things, he praised Simon for watching out for the king. Then Apollonius went to Seleucus to tell him about the stash of treasure.

When Apollonius received authority to take action, he quickly advanced into our nation, bringing along the villain Simon and heavily armed troops. He said that he was commanded by the king to come and confiscate the private funds that were stored in the treasury. The people angrily protested. They thought it would be terrible if the people who had deposited money in trust in the sacred treasury were robbed. They did whatever they could to prevent it.

However, Apollonius went on to the temple, making threats. The priests stood in the temple, together with their wives and children, begging God to protect the holy place that was being treated so shamefully. 10 While Apollonius was approaching with armed soldiers to seize the money, angels on horseback appeared from heaven with flashing weapons. Apollonius and his soldiers were shaking with fear. 11 Apollonius fell down half dead in the temple court that was open to people of every nation and lifted his hands up to heaven. With tears, he begged the Hebrews to pray for him and to intervene with the heavenly army. 12 He admitted that he had committed a sin for which he deserved to die, but he promised that, if he were spared, he would tell people everywhere about the divine favor that shelters the holy place.

13 The high priest Onias was touched by these words, but he was also aware that King Seleucus might assume that Apollonius was killed by human plots rather than by God’s justice. Therefore, Onias prayed for him. 14 When he was unexpectedly delivered from danger, Apollonius left and told the king everything that happened.

Antiochus begins to oppress the Jews

15 After King Seleucus died, his son Antiochus Epiphanes came to power. He was a proud and horrible man. 16 Antiochus removed Onias from the office of high priest and installed Onias’ brother Jason in his place. 17 Jason had agreed to pay the king 208,620 pounds of silver every year if he were made high priest. 18 So Antiochus appointed Jason to the office of high priest and made him the ruler of the nation. 19 Jason changed the nation’s culture and the government so that they completely contradicted the Law. 20 He constructed a Greek school and athletic complex in the heart of the city and abandoned the care of the temple.

21 God’s sense of justice was provoked by these things, so God caused Antiochus himself to start a war against the nation. 22 While Antiochus was at war with Ptolemy in Egypt, he heard that the people in Jerusalem had celebrated when they heard a rumor about his death. So Antiochus rushed off to attack them. 23 After he had defeated them, he gave an order that anyone who was caught following the traditional Jewish Law should be put to death. 24 However, his orders had no effect on the people’s commitment to keep the Law. He saw that they simply ignored his threats and punishments. 25 Even women were thrown down from a cliff headfirst along with their infants because they continued to circumcise their sons, though they were fully aware that they would suffer the consequences. 26 When Antiochus saw how his orders were despised, he himself tried to use torture to force each and every person in the nation to give up Judaism by eating foods that were unacceptable to Jews.

Antiochus challenges Eleazar

The tyrant Antiochus was sitting in a high place surrounded by his advisors and armed guards. He ordered his soldiers to bring the Hebrews forward one by one and to force them to eat pork and meat from animals sacrificed to idols. If anyone refused to eat the forbidden meat, they were supposed to be tortured to death by being stretched on a wheel. When they rounded up many people, the guards dragged Eleazar forward as the first from the herd to stand in front of the king. He was a man from a priestly family, a legal expert, and quite old. He was known to many in the tyrant’s court because he had been around for so long.

Antiochus looked at him and said, “Old man, before I begin to have you tortured, I would advise you to eat the pork and save yourself. I respect your old age. Even though you have had gray hair for a long time, you don’t seem to have a mature understanding of things, since you observe the Jewish religion. Why are you disgusted by eating this animal’s delicious meat? It’s a gift that nature has given to us. It’s stupid not to enjoy pleasant things that aren’t shameful, and it’s wrong to refuse nature’s gifts. 10 I will think that you are even more stupid if you continue to disobey me to your own disadvantage for the sake of your brainless ideas about the truth. 11 Come on! Wake up from your silly philosophy, and get rid of your brainless thinking! Adopt an attitude that is more appropriate for a mature person, and adopt a philosophy that is to your advantage! 12 Take pity on your old age, and respect my generous advice. 13 Think about this: if there is some power watching over you and your religion, it will excuse you for any action against the Law if you are compelled to do it.”

Eleazar’s defense

14 When the tyrant had finished pressuring Eleazar to eat forbidden food, Eleazar asked to say something. 15 Antiochus gave him permission, and Eleazar began to give the following speech:

16 “Antiochus, we are persuaded to live our lives in line with the divine Law! We think that nothing is more compelling than our obedience to the Law. 17 That’s why we don’t think it’s right to disobey the Law under any circumstances.

18 “Even if, as you assume, our Law were not truly divine and we were wrong to think it is divine, even then it would be wrong for us to ruin our reputation for our godly way of life.[f] 19 So don’t think it’s a minor sin for us to eat forbidden foods. 20 Whether we disobey the Law in a small matter or a big one, it is equally important, 21 because we are showing equal contempt for the Law itself.

22 “You look down on our way of life as though living this way were unreasonable. 23 However, our way of life teaches us self-control, so that we can have control over any pleasure or desire. It trains us to be brave, so that we willingly bear any suffering. 24 It educates us about justice, so that it is always our custom to treat everyone fairly. It educates us in the godly way of life, so that we worship with due respect the only God who really exists.

25 “So we don’t eat forbidden foods. We believe that God gave us the Law. The creator of the cosmic order has shown us compassion by giving us the Law in accordance with nature. 26 He has allowed us to eat what is most appropriate for our lives, but he has forbidden us to eat meat that would interfere with our welfare. 27 You are acting like a tyrant, trying not only to force us to break our Law but you are trying also to make us eat forbidden food that we hate just so you can make fun of us. 28 You won’t have a chance to laugh at me. 29 I’m not going to break the sacred promises my ancestors made to keep the Law, 30 not even if you dig out my eyes and set my guts on fire. 31 I’m not so old and cowardly that I can’t exhibit youthful strength in my mind out of respect for God. 32 Get your torture devices ready, and build up the fires to make them burn hotter. 33 I don’t pity my old age so much that I will tear down the Law of my ancestors by my actions. 34 I won’t prove disloyal to the Law that made me who I am today. I won’t renounce the virtue of self-control that I value so dearly. 35 I won’t put my own philosophical principle to shame, nor renounce the honor of my priestly office or my knowledge of the Law. 36 But as for you, King, you won’t pollute my mouth that I have kept pure all of my life nor my long life of living under the Law. 37 My ancestors will welcome me as pure: as a person who isn’t afraid of your violence, even to the point of death. 38 You may intimidate a person who has no sense of God, but you won’t dominate my religious principles with either your words or your actions!”

Eleazar endures torture

When Eleazar had answered the tyrant’s arguments, the soldiers who were standing by hauled him off to the instruments used for torture. First they tore off the old man’s clothes, though he was still decently dressed by his respect for God. They tied his arms behind him and began to whip him from both sides while an official kept calling out, “Obey the king’s orders!” But Eleazar was dignified and generous. He experienced the truth of his name[g] and seemed like a person being tortured only in a dream. He didn’t change his resolve in any way. The old man kept his eyes raised toward heaven while the whips tore into his flesh, ripped his sides, and made his blood flow. His body fell to the ground because it couldn’t stand the pain, but he kept his thinking upright and unbending. One of the cruel guards rushed up to him and started kicking him in his side to make him stand up again. But Eleazar endured the pain, ignored the agony, and put up with the suffering. 10 Like an honorable athlete in the games, the old man defeated his torturers while they were beating him up. 11 His face dripping with sweat and gasping for breath, he amazed even the torturers with his courage.

12 Some members of the king’s staff were moved by Eleazar’s situation, partly out of pity for his old age, 13 partly because of their previous relationship with him, and partly out of admiration for his endurance. These people came to him and said, 14 “Eleazar, why are you throwing your life away so thoughtlessly in the midst of these torments? 15 We will set some cooked meat in front of you. Save yourself by pretending that it is pork and eat it.”

16 Eleazar screamed out as if this advice were even more painful than the whips: 17 “May we who are Abraham’s children never think so wickedly that we would pretend to act this inappropriately because we are cowards! 18 To change our ways now would be the truly thoughtless thing to do. We have lived in line with God’s truth well into old age and earned a reputation for keeping the Law. 19 We would become an example of ungodly behavior for the younger people, and pave the way for them to eat forbidden food. 20 It would be a disgrace for us to become a joke for our lack of courage, just to survive a little longer. 21 This tyrant would look down on us as cowards because we weren’t willing to defend the divine Law to the point of death. 22 For all these reasons, children of Abraham, die well for the sake of showing God proper respect! 23 As for you, soldiers of the tyrant, what are you waiting for?”

24 When the king’s advisors saw that he remained confident in the face of torture and didn’t appreciate their compassion, the guards carried him to the fire. 25 They burned his body with diabolical devices, and then they threw him on the ground and poured disgusting liquids into his nostrils. 26 Eleazar was now burned down to his bones and on the edge of death. He raised his eyes toward God and said, 27 “God, you know that I could have saved myself; instead, I am being burned and tortured to death for the sake of your Law. 28 Have mercy on your people. Make our punishment sufficient for their sake. 29 Purify them with my blood, and take my life in exchange for theirs.” 30 When he said this, the holy man died with dignity from the torture. By thinking clearly, he resisted even while facing the pains of death for the sake of the Law.

Eleazar is praised as an example

31 So without question, godly thinking rules over the emotions. 32 If the emotions had overpowered clear thinking in these events, we would have given evidence of their superior strength. 33 But as it is, since clear thinking conquered the emotions, we are correct to affirm its authority to rule. 34 It’s only right for us to affirm that clear thinking has greater power when it has gained control over the response to physical pain. It would be ridiculous to say anything else. 35 So I am showing that clear thinking maintains control not only in the face of physical pain but also in the face of pleasure, without giving way to any of these things.

Our father Eleazar’s godly thinking was like a skilled captain, steering the ship of godly living over the sea of the emotions. Although the tyrant’s storms beat against the ship and the powerful waves of torture crashed over its decks, Eleazar kept the rudder of godly living straight until he sailed into the harbor of immortal victory. No city under siege and attacked by every kind of cleverly devised machine has ever held out like that completely holy man did. Torture and racks ravaged his holy soul, but he conquered his opponents by using godly thinking to protect his commitment to godliness. Our father Eleazar made his mind up so it was like an overhanging cliff that broke the raging waves of the emotions.

Eleazar, you are a priest who is worthy of the office. You didn’t pollute your teeth; you didn’t contaminate your stomach by eating the forbidden foods. Your stomach had room only for godly behavior and purity. How you were in harmony with the Law and a philosopher of the divine life! Whoever has the occupation of administering public affairs in line with the Law should be a person like you. They should protect the Law with their own blood and with genuine tears, and suffer to the point of death! Father, you confirmed our commitment to obey the Law through your endurance that brought you honor. You didn’t desert the holy way of life that you had praised so sincerely. Your actions made your words about divine philosophy convincing. 10 Old man, you had greater force than torture! Elder, you are more powerful than fire! Eleazar, you are supreme ruler over passions! 11 Our father Aaron ran into the midst of the people, armed with a container of burning incense, and had the victory over a fiery angel. 12 In the same way, Aaron’s descendant Eleazar, though eaten up by fire, kept his thinking straight. 13-14 The most remarkable thing is that he became young again in spirit through clear thinking, though he was an old man whose body was no longer hard and strong—his muscles were soft, and his joints were weak. He made the many devices of torture ineffective with clear thinking, such as Isaac had shown. 15 How honorable is old age, respected gray hair, and a law-abiding life that the faithful seal of death made complete!

16 So if an old man thought nothing of being tortured to death for the sake of showing God proper respect, without question godly thinking is the commander of the emotions. 17 Some people might object, “Not everyone has command of the emotions, since not everyone uses wisdom.” 18 But the people who are fully committed to give God proper respect from the heart are alone able to control the sensations of the body. 19 This is because they believe that they don’t die to God but rather continue to live for God like the ancestors of our nation, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 20 So there is no contradiction in the fact that some people seem to be completely controlled by their emotions because of weak thinking. 21 If a person lives by the complete rule of philosophy, trusts God, 22 and knows that it is a privilege to suffer anything for the sake of their moral character, that person will be able to control the emotions through godly practice. 23 Only the wise and courageous rule their emotions.

Antiochus confronts the seven brothers

By following a philosophy consistent with godly thinking, young boys have held out against even more cruel instruments of torture. When the tyrant was publicly defeated in his first attempt by failing to force an old man to eat polluting food, he was overwhelmed by a violent rage and ordered other Hebrew prisoners to be dragged forward. Anyone who ate the polluting meat would be released, but anyone who refused would be tortured even more severely. After the tyrant had given these instructions, seven brothers together with their mother were brought before him. These young men were handsome, modest, well-born, and charming in every way.

The tyrant looked at them as they stood grouped around their mother like a chorus, and was pleased with them. He was struck by their physical appearance and obvious dignified character, and so he smiled at them and invited them to come closer. He said, “Young men, I feel nothing but admiration and favor for each and every one of you, and I have great respect for the size and beauty of your family. Not only would I counsel you not to express the same insanity as that old man who was just tortured, but I would encourage you to obey me now and so enjoy the privileged life[h] I can offer you. I can be generous to those who obey me in the same way as I can punish those who disobey me. Trust me! Abandon your traditional way of life, and I will give you positions in my government. Enjoy your youth by changing your customs and adopting the Greek way of life. However, if you disobey me and make me angry, you will force me to destroy each and every one of you with terrible punishments and tortures. 10 So take pity on yourselves, since I feel sympathy for your youth and handsome appearance even though I am your enemy. 11 Bear in mind that if you disobey, you have nothing to look forward to except to die on these devices of torture!”

12 As he said these things, he gave orders for the instruments to be brought forward in order to frighten them into eating the polluting food. 13 The guards laid out the instruments in front of them: wheels and machines for pulling joints apart, racks, clubs, and instruments for applying heavy tension, grills and extremely large frying pans, tools to crush fingers, iron claws, wedges, and burning coals. The tyrant continued: 14 “Young men, be afraid. Whatever justice you respect will have mercy on you, since you are being forced to break the Law.”

The brothers’ response to the tyrant

15 The brothers heard the promises and saw the terrible instruments, but they weren’t afraid. Instead, they resisted the tyrant’s arguments with their own philosophy and defeated the power of his tyranny through clear thinking. 16 But let’s think about what arguments they might have used if they had been cowardly and unmanly. Wouldn’t they have argued like this? 17 “What pitiful and stupid people we must be! When the king has invited and urged us to accept his favor, 18 why are we happy to make useless resolutions? Why should we dare to disobey when death will be the outcome? 19 Men and brothers, shouldn’t we be afraid of what these instruments can do and carefully consider the threats of torture? We should run away from our useless beliefs and from our pride that will lead to our destruction! 20 Let’s have compassion on our youth, and show pity for our mother’s old age as well. 21 Let’s take seriously the fact that, if we disobey, we are dead men! 22 Divine justice will not blame us because we were afraid of the king and his power over us. 23 So why should we deprive ourselves of this pleasant life and cheat ourselves out of this sweet world? 24 Let’s not fight against fate or take hollow pride in being tortured. 25 The Law itself would have difficulty giving us the death penalty since we sin out of fear of these instruments. 26 Why are we eager to fight a losing battle or so interested in being stubborn when we know it will kill us? We can enjoy a trouble-free life if we just obey the king!”

27 Even though these young men were about to be tortured, they didn’t say or even think about such things. 28 They held their emotions in check and had full control over their pain. 29 Therefore, as soon as the tyrant finished giving them advice about eating the forbidden food, they said together with one voice and with the same mind:

“What are you waiting for, tyrant? We are ready to die rather than sin against the commandments handed down by our ancestors! We would be a disgrace to our parents if we didn’t maintain our commitment to the Law and to Moses our chief advisor. You, tyrant, advise lawless behavior. In your hatred for us, don’t pity us more than we pity ourselves! We consider your pity, which offers safety at the cost of breaking our Law, to be more bitter than death. You are trying to frighten us with threats of torture and death as if you’ve learned nothing from Eleazar just a short while ago. If the old men among the Hebrews fulfilled their duty toward God by enduring torture for the sake of godly character, it would be even more appropriate for us who are young to die with contempt for the same torture that our aged teacher defeated. So put us to the test, tyrant! Even if you are able to kill us because of our godly character, don’t think that you can truly harm us by these tortures. We will gain the awards of moral character through this suffering, and we will be with God, for whose sake we suffer. You, however, will be tortured forever by divine justice, as your cruel thirst for blood deserves.”

The first brother’s torture and response

10 When they had said these things, the tyrant was not only upset by their disobedience but was also infuriated by their ungratefulness. 11 He gave the word, and the soldiers brought the oldest brother forward. They tore off his clothing and tied his arms and hands on each side with leather straps. 12 The soldiers beat him with whips until they were completely tired out, without accomplishing anything. So they tied him to the wheel. 13 They stretched the honorable young man around this instrument until all his limbs were pulled out of joint. 14 Although every part of his body was broken, he spoke out against the tyrant, saying, 15 “You bloodstained tyrant, you are an enemy of divine justice, and you have the mind of a savage! You don’t abuse me like this because I have murdered someone or acted in a way that wasn’t godly but because I protect God’s Law!”

16 The guards said, “Say that you will eat pork so that you can be set free from these tortures!”

17 But he replied, “You dirty thugs! The wheel is not stretched tight enough to choke off my mind! Keep cutting my limbs, burning my flesh, and twisting my joints. 18 Through all of this suffering, I will persuade you that the Israelites alone can’t be defeated when it comes to moral character!” 19 While he was still saying these words, they spread fiery coals below him. They fanned the flames and tightened the wheel even more. 20 By this point, the wheel was covered in blood, the burning coals were being put out by the gory drippings, and chunks of flesh were falling off parts of the machine. 21 Even with all the ligaments of his bones severed, the dignified son of Abraham didn’t cry out loud. 22 Instead, he endured the torture with honor, as if he were transformed by the fire into a life without end. He said, 23 “Imitate me, brothers. Don’t desert your post in this contest or deny the courage we share as brothers! 24 Fight the holy and dignified battle for our godly way of life. The just providence that watched over our ancestors might become merciful toward our nation and might punish this cursed tyrant through that battle!” 25 After he had said these words, the devout youth died.[i]

The second brother’s torture and response

26 While everyone was still in awe over the oldest son’s strong will, the guards dragged forward the next-oldest son. They put on iron gloves with sharp claws and tied the young man to the torture device. 27 Before they began to torture him, they asked if he would eat pork. When they heard his courageous answer, 28 they acted like wild leopards. They ripped out his muscles with their iron claws, tore his flesh all the way up to his chin, and tore his scalp off. He bore the pain with difficulty and said: 29 “Any kind of death is sweet for the sake of the godly way of life of our ancestors!” Then he said to the tyrant, 30 “You are the most barbaric tyrant of all. Don’t you think that you are being tortured worse than I am, since you are seeing the proud logic of tyranny defeated by our endurance for the sake of our godly way of life? 31 I ease my pain with the pleasure that comes from godly character. 32 But you are tortured by the threats that hang over your head, because you have no respect for God. You bloodstained tyrant, you won’t escape the revenge of divine wrath!”

The third brother’s torture and response

10 When the second brother had also endured a heroic death, the third brother was brought forward. Many people urged him again and again to taste the pork in order to save himself. He shouted out in response: “Don’t you know that I come from the same father as those who have just died, that the same mother gave birth to me, and that I was raised with the same teaching? I won’t deny these dignified family ties!”[j] The guards were furious at his bold speech. They used their instruments to pull his hands and feet out of joint, and dislocated his arms and legs. Then they broke his fingers, arms, legs, and elbows. In spite of this, they weren’t strong enough to break his will, so they put away their tools and tore off his scalp the way the Scythians do it—they used their fingernails. Then they dragged him to the wheel. As they were pulling his spine apart, he saw his own flesh falling off his bones and his blood pouring out. When he was on the edge of death, he said, 10 “You bloodstained tyrant, we are suffering these things because of our godly training and moral character. 11 But you will endure endless torture because of your lack of respect for God and your cruel thirst for blood!”

The fourth brother’s torture and response

12 After he died like a true brother, they dragged the fourth one forward. They said, 13 “Don’t show the same craziness as your brothers. Obey the king and save yourself!”

14 He replied, “You don’t have a fire hot enough to turn me into a coward. 15 I swear by the privileged deaths my brothers have suffered, by the eternal curse that will come on the tyrant, and by the everlasting life of those who love God: I will not deny my ties with my dignified brothers! 16 Think up some new tortures, you tyrant, so that you can learn that I am a brother of those you have already tortured!”

17 When Antiochus heard this, the blood-sucking, murderous, and completely disgusting man ordered them to cut out the man’s tongue.

18 But he said, “Tear out my tongue! God still hears those who are silent. 19 See? Here’s my tongue! Cut it off. You won’t make my mind quiet by doing that! 20 For God’s sake we gladly allow our bodies to be cut to pieces. 21 God will quickly hunt you down for this, because you are cutting out a tongue that has been musical when it praised God with hymns!”

The fifth brother’s torture and response

11 When the fourth brother had died from cruel torture, the fifth rushed forward and said, “I’m not about to refuse to be tortured for the sake of moral character, you tyrant! I’ve come forward of my own free will so that by killing me, you will receive even more severe punishment at the hands of God’s justice for more crimes! Enemy of moral character! Enemy of the human race! For what crime are you destroying us in this way? For honoring the creator of all things and living according to his moral Law? Such things deserve honor, not torture!”[k] While he was still speaking, the guards tied him up and dragged him to the catapult. 10 They forced him down onto his knees, bound him to the machine, and placed iron clamps on his thighs. They began to work the wheel, drawing him backward around a wedge until he was curled back all the way like a scorpion. With all his bones pulled out of joint, 11 gasping for air and racked by pain in his body, 12 he said: “Tyrant, you are doing us a huge favor without intending to, because you are giving us the chance to show our firm commitment to the Law through this honorable suffering.”

The sixth brother’s torture and response

13 After he had died, the sixth brother, still just a boy, was brought forward. The tyrant asked him if he was willing to eat pork and so be set free. 14 He replied, “I may be younger than my brothers in age, but I’m their equal in understanding. 15 We were born and raised to live by these principles, so we should die together for their sake. 16 If you think torturing me for not eating polluting food is the right thing to do, then torture away!” 17 When he said this, they marched him up to the wheel. 18 They stretched him tight until his back broke, and they roasted him from underneath with fire. 19 They ran sharp spits, which they had heated in the fire, through his ribs and burned through his guts. 20 In the middle of this torture he said, “This contest is suitable for our godly way of life. So many of us brothers have been called to an arena of suffering because we respect God and we remain undefeated! We haven’t been defeated in this contest! 21 Godly knowledge can never be beaten, you tyrant. 22 I will die with my brothers also because I’m fully armed with moral character. 23 I myself will call for an avenger to come against you. You invent new ways to torture people, and you are an enemy of those who are truly devout! 24 The six of us boys have brought your tyranny to an end. 25 You haven’t been able to make us change our minds or to force us to eat polluting food. Isn’t this a sign that your rule of tyranny is over? 26 Your hot fires feel cold to us; your catapults are painless; your violence has no real power. 27 The guards of the divine Law are set over us, not the guards of a tyrant. Because of this, our clear thinking remains undefeated.”

The seventh brother’s response and death

12 When the sixth brother also died a privileged death after being thrown into a burning-hot kettle, the seventh and youngest of all came forward. When he saw that the boy was already in chains, the tyrant felt pity for him, despite the verbal abuse he had endured from the boy’s brothers. He called the boy closer and tried to encourage him, saying, “You see the result of your brothers’ lack of sense. They died in terrible pain because they disobeyed. If you don’t obey me, you too will experience horrible torture and die long before your time. But if you listen to me, you will be my friend, and you will be put in charge over the affairs of the kingdom.” After giving his advice, Antiochus sent for the boy’s mother to take pity on her after she had lost so many sons and so she could persuade her remaining son to obey and save himself.

After his mother encouraged him in Hebrew (as we will discuss later), he said, “Let me go. I want to speak to the king and all his friends.” They were very happy with the boy’s announcement, so they quickly let him go. 10 He ran to the nearest container of burning coal 11 and said, “You unholy tyrant! Of all evil people, you are the farthest from God! You received your kingdom and all good things from God. So why have you felt no shame for murdering God’s servants and torturing the champions of the godly way of life? 12 For these actions, justice is waiting for you with a stronger and everlasting fire and torture, from which you will never, ever be released! 13 As a human being weren’t you ashamed? You are a wild animal! You cut out the tongues and abuse and torture people who have feelings just like you and who are made of the same flesh and blood as you. 14 By dying honorably, they fulfilled their religious duty to God. You, however, will howl bitterly for killing without reason these champions of the godly way of life.” 15 Then, since he also was about to die, he said, 16 “I’m not going to desert the good example of my brothers. 17 I call on the God of our ancestors to show mercy to our nation. 18 On you, however, he will take revenge both now while you are alive and after you are dead.” 19 After praying against the tyrant, he threw himself into the container of burning coal and so gave back his life.

Praise for the brothers’ achievements

13 So if the seven brothers rose above suffering to the point of death, everyone should recognize that godly thinking is supreme over the emotions. If they had shown that they were slaves to their emotions by eating the polluting food, we would have admitted that they were conquered by the emotions. But it didn’t turn out that way at all. Instead, they dominated the emotions through the kind of clear thinking that deserves praise in God’s opinion. We can’t fail to notice the mind’s leadership because they had power over both emotions and pain. How can anyone not recognize the ability of good thinking to govern the emotions in such people as these, since they didn’t turn away from the severe pain of fire?

The towers at the entrance of harbors hold back the crashing waves and make a calm place for sailors entering the harbor. In the same way, these youths’ ability to reason correctly was seven towers beating back the storm of the emotions and defending the harbor of their godly way of life. Standing together like a holy chorus of the godly way of life, they encouraged each other, saying, “Brothers, let’s die together like brothers for the sake of the Law! Let’s imitate the three young men in Assyria who refused to back down when facing the same fiery test. 10 Let’s not be cowards when we are called to demonstrate religious devotion to God.”

11 One said, “Have courage, brother!” Another said, “Keep going with honor!” 12 Still another reminded them, “Remember where you came from. Remember the father by whose hand Isaac was ready to be killed because of his devotion to God!” 13 All of them were looking at each other with faces that were bright and full of courage, and said, “Let’s set ourselves apart for God with all our hearts. He gave us our lives, so let’s use our bodies as guards around the Law. 14 Let’s not be afraid of the one who wants to kill us; 15 because the soul’s contest is great, the danger of eternal punishment prepared for those who break God’s command is severe. 16 So then, let’s arm ourselves fully with the power that clear thinking gives for the control of the emotions. 17 If we die this way, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will give us a warm welcome, and all the ancestors will praise us.” 18 The brothers who were left behind were calling out to each one as he was being dragged away, “Don’t let us down, brother, or be disloyal to the brothers who have died before us!”

Love between siblings

19 No doubt you are aware of the powerful love that exists between brothers and sisters. Divine and wise providence gives this kind of love through the father and plants it in the mother’s womb. 20 These brothers all spent the same length of time in the same womb. They were formed over the same period of time. They grew from the same blood, and they were brought to full term with the same life. 21 They were born after the same amount of time, and drank milk from the same fountains. The same fond embraces nurtured brotherly love in their souls. 22 They grew more fervent as they were brought up together enjoying each other’s company day after day, and being shaped by the same education, particularly their training in God’s Law.

23 So it is clear, when such mutual sympathy and love for each other had been established, these seven brothers had even more sympathy for each other. 24 They loved each other so much because they had been educated in the same Law, held the same moral values, and were raised together to live a life that is just. 25 Their affection for each other and harmony grew even more because they shared a common passion for good character and conduct. 26 Family love for each other was made even more desirable to them by their godly behavior. 27 Still, even though nature, custom, and good habits made their love toward their brothers stronger, the brothers who were left alive put up with seeing their brothers tortured to death because of their godly way of life.

14 More than this, they encouraged them to put up with abuse, not only ignoring their own pain but also controlling the feelings of brotherly love.

How clear thinking is more royal than a king, and it is freer than a free person! How holy and harmonious was the symphony of the seven brothers for the sake of their godly way of life! None of the seven boys gave in to fear or hesitated in the face of death. Instead, all of them rushed to face death by torture, as if they were running a race toward immortality. They were like our hands and feet that move together in harmony, led by the mind. So also these holy boys moved together in harmony toward death as if they were moved by the spirit of respect for God that lasts forever. They were moved to make an agreement with death for the sake of that life.

How holy was this group of seven, these brothers in harmony! They were like the seven days of creation that danced together around the godly way of life. So also these boys surrounded and destroyed their fear of torture when they danced in a circle of seven.

Now we tremble when we hear about the trials of these young men. They not only saw what was going on but heard the threats directed against them and had to bear the suffering, and this included the pain of being burned by fire. 10 What could possibly be more painful than this? The power of fire is strong and fast. It destroys bodies quickly.

The mother is the best example

11 Don’t think it’s surprising that clear thinking had full control over these men during their torture, since even a woman’s mind held contempt for even more varied suffering. 12 The mother of these seven young men endured the torture of each one of her children.

13 You see how a mother’s love for her children is a very complex feeling. Everything is focused on a sympathy that she feels for them deep down inside. 14 Even animals without understanding have sympathy and love for their young, just as human beings do. 15 For example, birds do this. The tame ones protect their young by building their nests on the roof of a house. 16 Other birds build their nests on mountain peaks, in steep canyons, and in the holes of trees or treetops, so they can hatch the baby birds and stop anything from coming too close. 17 If they can’t stop something from coming too close, they do whatever they can to help their young. They fly in circles around their young driven by anguished love, warning their young with their calls. 18 But why is it necessary to demonstrate the fact that animals without understanding have sympathy for their young? 19 When it is time to build their hive, even the bees defend themselves against those who come too close. They sting like an iron dart anyone who comes near the hive, and fight even to the death. 20 But the young men’s mother wasn’t moved by sympathy for her children. She had the same heart as Abraham.

15 How the clear thinking of these children was a tyrant over their emotions and how respecting God was more precious to the mother than her own children! The mother had two options in front of her: the godly way of living, and saving her seven sons for a while, as the tyrant promised. She preferred the path of respect for God, saving her sons for eternal life, as God promised.

How can I describe the emotions of parents who love their children? We stamp a remarkable similarity in heart and in appearance on the character of small children. This is especially true of mothers, who have even more sympathy than fathers toward the feelings of their children because they gave birth to them in great pain. To the extent that mothers are weaker and give birth to many, that’s how much more they love their children. And this mother of seven loved her children more than any other mother. Through seven pregnancies, she planted profound love toward them within herself. She was forced to have sympathy for each one through the multiple pains of giving birth. Yet she ignored her concern for her children’s temporary safety because of her respect for God. Not only that, but the character and conduct her sons showed in the way they were ready to obey the Law only increased her profound love toward them. 10 They showed themselves to be just, self-controlled, brave, high-minded, and devoted to each other. Moreover, they showed how much they loved their mother as they obeyed her by staying true to God’s commands even to the point of death.

11 Though so many forces were pulling against the mother to feel her children’s pain out of her love for them, none of the many tortures they suffered were strong enough to undermine her clear thinking. 12 Rather, the mother urged them individually and all of them together to a death for the sake of their godly way of life.

13 Sacred nature, a love spell cast over parents, devotion to children, tender care, and the unyielding passion that mothers show—how powerful they are! 14 Even though this mother watched her children tortured and burned up one after another, she kept her resolve firm for the sake of their godly way of life. 15 She watched as the fire devoured her children’s flesh, their fingers and toes scattered all over the ground, the flesh of their faces torn off like masks down to their chins.

16 How the mother was tested by pains far worse than the labor pains she suffered for them! 17 How the woman gave birth alone to such perfect devotion! 18 You didn’t change your direction when your oldest son took his last breath, or when your second son was in torment and looked at you pitifully, or when the third son died. 19 You didn’t cry out loud when you looked into each one’s eyes, gripped by their own pain, or when you saw on the faces the signs of death approaching. 20 You didn’t burst into tears when you saw the burned flesh of one child piling up on the burned flesh of the others, severed hands on severed hands, severed heads beside severed heads, bodies piled up on bodies, or when you saw the place filling with many spectators of their torture.

21 The children’s voices calling out to their mother from the midst of their torture held her attention more strongly than the Sirens’ singing or the song of swans captures the attention of those who hear them. 22 How great was the pain that this mother suffered while her sons were being tortured by wheels and hot irons! 23 However, godly thinking strengthened her to ignore her natural love for her children. Godly thinking created in her a masculine courage in the middle of this suffering. 24 Even though she saw the destruction of seven children and the various devices of torture, the excellent mother ignored all these things because of her faithfulness toward God. 25 Her life was like a courtroom, and many powerful voices were speaking out—nature, family, a parent’s love, and the instruments of torture set out for her children. 26 This mother held two ballots in her hand: the first sentenced her children to death; the second rescued them. 27 She chose not to seek the kind of rescue that would keep her seven sons safe for a short time. 28 This daughter of devout Abraham remembered her ancestor’s endurance.

29 You are the mother of the whole nation. You stood up for the Law, defended the godly way of life, and won the contest that was raging deep inside you. 30 You were better than men when it came to determination, and braver than men when it came to endurance! 31 Noah’s ark, which carried the future of the whole world inside of it during the flood that swallowed up creation, steadily endured the waves. In the same way, you, the guardian of the Law, endured the storms honorably for the sake of the godly way of life, 32 though you were battered from every side by the flood of the emotions and by the strong winds of your children’s torture.

16 So if a woman who was an elderly mother of seven sons put up with seeing her children tortured to death, then without question godly thinking is the master of the emotions. I have shown that not only men have control over their emotions but also a woman scorned the greatest torture. The lions that surrounded Daniel weren’t as wild, and Mishael’s fiery furnace wasn’t as burning hot as this mother’s natural love for her children. Her love was stirred up inside her as she saw her seven sons tortured in so many ways. But the mother put out the fire of her feelings that were so many and so strong with clear thinking.

Think about this too: If this woman, even though she was a mother, had been weak-spirited, she would have mourned for them. Maybe she would have said something like this:

“Look at how miserable I am with one sorrow piled on another! I gave birth to seven children, and now I’m nobody’s mother!

“Look at how I gave birth seven times all for nothing! Seven pregnancies, without anything to show for it! Years of fruitless childcare and years of miserable nursing! My sons, I bore the long pains of labor for you and even more stress in raising you for no reason!

“Look at my children! Some aren’t married, others are married, but none of them have children! Now I will never see your children or have the pleasure of being a grandmother. 10 I had so many and such beautiful children, and now I’m a widow and left all alone in my many sorrows. 11 When I die, I won’t have any of my sons to bury me.”

12 But this holy and devout mother didn’t cry for any of her sons with funeral songs. She didn’t try to talk any of them out of dying, and she didn’t grieve for those who were already dying. 13 Instead, she had a mind that was as tough as nails.[l] She gave all of her sons a second birth into a life without end. She encouraged them, urging them on to death for the sake of respect for God.

14 Mother, you were a soldier for God in the cause of the godly way of life, though you were old and a woman! You even conquered a tyrant with your resolution. You have proved to be stronger than a man in both speech and action! 15 When you and your sons had been arrested and you were watching Eleazar being tortured, you began to say to your children in the Hebrew language:

16 “My sons, you have been summoned to an honorable contest, in which you will give evidence that will prove your nation’s worth. Compete willingly for the Law of our ancestors. 17 It would really be a disgrace if you young men lost your nerve in the face of this torture after an old man endured so much suffering out of respect for God. 18 Remember that you have had a place in this world and enjoyed life only because of God. 19 Because of this, you owe it to God to put up with any distress for his sake. 20 This is why our father Abraham moved quickly to sacrifice Isaac his son, who was supposed to become the father of a nation. Isaac also didn’t shrink back when he saw the sword in his father’s hand bearing down on him. 21 Daniel, that righteous man, was thrown to the lions and Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael were flung into the blazing furnace and endured it for God. 22 So you must show the same faithfulness toward God and not be angry. 23 After all, it isn’t logical for people who truly know and serve God to not hold out against pain.”

24 By encouraging them with these words, the mother of the seven brothers persuaded each one of her sons to die rather than disobey God’s commandment. 25 They knew very well that those who die for God will also live in God’s presence, just like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the ancestors of the nation.

17 Some of the guards reported that, just as they were about to grab the mother and put her to death as well, she threw herself into the fire before anyone could touch her body.

Mother, together with your seven sons, you made the tyrant’s violence look like nothing! You defeated his evil plans, and displayed dignity and bravery by your faithfulness. You were set with honor like a roof on top of seven pillars, your sons. You held them firm without moving as you endured the earthquake of their torture. So therefore be confident, holy-minded mother! Keep firm that hope in God that fueled your endurance. The moon that is in heaven with the stars is not as royal as you. You lit the path of respect for God for your seven sons who are like stars, and you now stand in front of God in honor, firmly set in heaven along with them. Your sons were true descendants of our father Abraham! If we had the skill of an artist to paint a picture showing the story of your commitment to God, wouldn’t those who viewed the painting tremble to see a mother enduring the experience of seven children being tortured to death in so many ways?

The martyrs’ achievements

What would be an appropriate message that could be carved on their tomb to remind our nation’s people? Perhaps these words:

here lie buried an old priest, an old woman, and seven children because of the violence of a tyrant who wished to destroy the hebrew way of life.

10 they won justice for their nation by fixing their eyes on god and enduring torture to the point of death.

11 The competition in which they were engaged was truly divine. 12 Moral character itself handed out awards that day, having proved their worth through their endurance. Victory brought immortality through an endless life. 13 Eleazar was the first competitor. The mother of the seven children and the brothers competed also. 14 The tyrant was the opponent, and the world and the human race were the audience. 15 Respect for God won the day and crowned its champions. 16 Who wasn’t amazed at the athletes who were competing in the name of the divine Law? Who wasn’t astonished?

17 The tyrant himself, along with all his political advisors, was amazed at their resistance, 18 for which they now stand in front of God’s throne and live a blessed life forever. 19 Moses says, “All those who have set themselves apart for you are in your care.” 20 These people who have dedicated themselves to God are honored, therefore, not only with this privilege but also because they kept our enemies from ruling our nation. 21 The tyrant was punished, and our nation was cleansed through them. They exchanged their lives for the nation’s sin. 22 Divine providence delivered Israel from its former abuse through the blood of those godly people. Their deaths were a sacrifice that finds mercy[m] from God.

23 When he saw their extraordinary courage and their commitment in the face of torture, the tyrant Antiochus held up their endurance as an example to his own soldiers. 24 This made them dignified and brave when they fought battles or destroyed villages, and so they conquered and raided all of their enemies.

18 Israelite children, all you who are descended from Abraham, obey this Law and worship God in every situation. Don’t doubt that godly thinking rules over the emotions. This includes not only desires and the feelings that come from the inside but also the suffering that comes from the outside. Because of this, those who gave up their bodies to suffering for the sake of the godly way of life not only won human admiration but were also judged to be worthy of a divine reward. The nation was at peace again because of them. Once obedience to the Law had been revived across the nation, they slaughtered their enemies. The tyrant Antiochus was punished on earth, and he continues to be punished after death. By no means could he force the Israelites to adopt a foreign way of life and to change the customs of their ancestors in any way, and so he left Jerusalem and marched out against Persia.

The mother’s moral principles

The mother of the seven sons also shared these moral principles with her children: “I was a virgin who was sexually pure: I didn’t go outside of my father’s house, but I carefully took care of the body that was formed from a rib. No man who takes advantage of women ever tempted me to have sex in an isolated field. The destructive, lying snake didn’t ruin my innocence either. When I was in my prime, I lived with my husband. He died when my children had grown up. He was privileged to have lived his life enjoying good children, and to have been spared the pain of losing them. 10 While he was still with you, he used to teach you the Law and the Prophets. 11 He read to you about Abel, who was killed by Cain, and about Isaac, who was offered as an entirely burned sacrifice, and about Joseph in prison. 12 He used to tell you about Phinehas’ total commitment, and to teach you about Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael in the fire. 13 He used to praise Daniel in the lions’ den—he called Daniel privileged. 14 He kept reminding you about the scripture in Isaiah that says, Even if you go through fire, the flame will not burn you up.[n] 15 He used to sing to you the songs of David the psalmist, who said, The righteous person is bothered by many trials.[o] 16 He used to quote Solomon’s proverb: There is a tree that gives life for those who do what God wants.[p] 17 He reinforced the truth of Ezekiel, where it says, Will these dry bones live?[q] 18 And he didn’t forget to teach you the song that Moses taught, which says, 19 I kill and I bring things to life: this is your life and the length of your days.[r]


20 How that day was bitter and yet not bitter! That was when the bitter Greek tyrant smothered fire with more fire in his cruel copper pots. That was when he dragged those seven sons of that daughter of Abraham back and forth in his furious anger between the catapult and other torture devices. 21 That was when he skewered their eyes through the pupils, cut out their tongues, and put them to death with all kinds of torture. 22 Because of these acts, divine justice pursued and will pursue the cursed tyrant. 23 The sons of Abraham together with their prizewinning mother have been joined with the chorus of their ancestors and have been given pure and immortal souls by God, 24 to whom belongs the glory forever and always. Amen.


  1. 4 Maccabees 1:1 Or pious reason
  2. 4 Maccabees 2:3 Or he swatted the gadfly of his urges.
  3. 4 Maccabees 3:7 Or the foreigners
  4. 4 Maccabees 3:15 Gk omits of the men who risked their lives to fetch it.
  5. 4 Maccabees 4:3 Gk talantas
  6. 4 Maccabees 5:18 Or religion
  7. 4 Maccabees 6:5 Eleazar means God helps.
  8. 4 Maccabees 8:5 Or friendship
  9. 4 Maccabees 9:25 Or snapped the thread of life
  10. 4 Maccabees 10:3 Some manuscripts add 10:4 Apply whatever torture devices you have to my body; you can’t reach my will, no matter how much you wish.
  11. 4 Maccabees 11:6 Some manuscripts add 11:7–8 If you had feeling for your fellow human beings and any hope of salvation from God—but as it is you are a stranger to God and mistreat God’s servants.
  12. 4 Maccabees 16:13 Or as firm as adamant
  13. 4 Maccabees 17:22 Or a propitiation
  14. 4 Maccabees 18:14 Isa 43:2
  15. 4 Maccabees 18:15 Ps 37:16
  16. 4 Maccabees 18:16 Prov 3:18
  17. 4 Maccabees 18:17 Ezek 37:3–5
  18. 4 Maccabees 18:19 Deut 32:39–40