"It also happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king, to force them to eat pork in violation of God's law. One of the brothers, speaking for the others, said: 'What do you expect to achieve by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.' At that the king, in a fury, gave orders to have pans and caldrons heated. While they were being quickly heated, he commanded his executioners to cut out the tongue of the one who had spoken for the others, to scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of his brothers and his mother looked on. When he was completely maimed but still breathing, the king ordered them to carry him to the fire and fry him. As a cloud of smoke spread from the pan, the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die bravely, saying such words as these: 'The Lord God is looking on, and he truly has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his canticle, when he protested openly with the words, "And he will have pity on his servants." '..."Then the first brother died. Unpleasantly. The second brother had a few words to say, after the skin was torn off his head:
"...At the point of death he said: 'You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.'..."Eventually, the king got around to the last young man. He wasn't any more willing to defy God than the others.
"...'...Like my brothers, I offer up my body and my life for our ancestral laws, imploring God to show mercy soon to our nation, and by afflictions and blows to make you confess that he alone is God. Through me and my brothers, may there be an end to the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.' At that, the king became enraged and treated him even worse than the others, since he bitterly resented the boy's contempt. Thus he too died undefiled, putting all his trust in the Lord. The mother was last to die, after her sons. Enough has been said about the sacrificial meals and the excessive cruelties."And you think you had a bad day?
(2 Maccabees 7:1-6, 9, 37-42)
There's More to This Than PorkI'm a Christian gentile, and pork is one of things I can eat. That excerpt from 2 Maccabees isn't, really, about pork.
That mother and her sons had a fairly clear set of options: go along with a secular authority and defy God's law; or follow God's law and defy secular authority.
They decided to side with God, against some king. It could have been Seleucus IV. He ruled the Seleucid Empire. The Seleucid Empire wasn't in quite the same class as the Roman Empire - but it was a pretty big deal in its time.
Law and Order: But Whose?The mother and her sons in that excerpt were in a difficult position. On the one hand, they knew the rules about eating pork. On the other hand, their secular leaders were determined to make the children of Israel give up all that God stuff.
The young men and their mother made a choice: Obey God, even if it meant defying the king. Then they died under extremely unpleasant circumstances.
I think they made a good choice. Today, something like 2,170 or 2,190 years later: God's still around and the Seleucid Empire isn't: and hasn't been for about two millennia.
Some folks, of course, have decided that God doesn't exist. I've written about that before. Sort of. (December 18, 2009, May 8, 2009, for starters)
I hope I never have an opportunity like the one that woman and her sons had. I enjoy breathing, and I really don't like pain. I also like to get along with the dominant culture and secular authorities.
But, sometimes, the people running a country do things that are a clear violation of God's law. When that happens, the state expects folks who take God seriously obey the state rather than God: just like everybody else.
I know who I'll be explaining my actions to, when I die; and who I want to be with at the end of all things.