In my post, Theodicy and Maccabees, I talked about the bad things that happen to good people in I-II Maccabees. One such incident was the death of Judah the Maccabee in battle. I said the following:
“Moreover, God doesn’t always intervene on behalf of each and every individual. A puzzling passage is Deuteronomy 20:5-6, where it’s acknowledged that Israelites can actually die in battle, even when God is with the Israelite army. But shouldn’t each and every Israelite soldier be invincible? It doesn’t necessarily work that way. So is it really a surprise that Judas died in battle?”
As I read through II Maccabees again, however, I saw that God indeed could protect individuals in battle, as far as II Maccabees is concerned. In II Maccabees 10:29-30, we read the following:
“When the battle became fierce, there appeared to the enemy from heaven five resplendent men on horses with golden bridles, and they were leading the Jews.
Two of them took Maccabeus between them, and shielding him with their own armor and weapons, they kept him from being wounded. They showered arrows and thunderbolts on the enemy, so that, confused and blinded, they were thrown into disorder and cut to pieces” (NRSV).
In this passage, God sent his angels to protect Judah from the enemy’s arrows.
And, conversely, God could strike down people who sinned against him. II Maccabees 12:40 states about a group of fallen Jewish soldiers: “Then under the tunic of each one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason these men had fallen.”
In this case, God ensured that certain soldiers died in battle on account of their sin.
And so God’s providence extends to each and every individual. We see something similar in Exodus 12:12-13: “Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee.” According to this passage, was seems to be an accident is actually an act of God.
So why did Judah the Maccabee die in battle? Why did Jonathan get kidnapped and murdered? Why did God protect Judah in one battle, but not in another?
II Maccabees doesn’t seem to deal with that, for it doesn’t go as far as I Maccabees in its story. II Maccabees is like Episode IV of Star Wars: You’d think that good has totally triumphed over evil, if you watched that movie alone. But I Maccabees is like Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back put together: good wins initially, but then evil makes a powerful comeback, and it just keeps on striking.