Just in time…

Against all my better judgment, I’m presenting the following hymn, a metrical rendering of 2 Maccabees 10.1-7 in the KJV — just in time for sunset of the first night of Hanukkah. You can sing it to any Common Meter tune, although it goes well with Consolation (no. 53 in Singing the Living Tradition).

I tried to keep my interpretation of the KJV text to a minimum. So before you ask, yes, the original text mentions boughs, branches, and palms, and the fact that they remembered their last feast which they spent hiding out in the mountains. It’s easy to forget how weird some of these Bible stories are. I did add the references to freedom and to tyranny, though I feel they are implicit in the story; ditto the reference to the curséd idols.

1. When Maccabeus and his band
Did free Jerusalem,
When they did cast the tyrant out,
‘Twas God who guided them.

1. Good Maccabeus and his band:
They freed Jerusalem.
They cast the wicked tyrant out,
For God was guiding them.

2. The altars which the heathen built
Out in the public square,
They pulled them down, and then destroyed
The curséd idols there.

3. They cleansed the temple, kindled flame,
Gave thanks they now were free.
They then besought God keep them safe
From barb’rous tyranny.

4. They celebrated eight glad days,
Rememb’ring their last feast,
Which they had held in mountain dens
Where they had lived like beasts.

5. Therefore they bore fair branches forth,
Green boughs, and also palms.
They praised the strength that set them free:
To God they raised their psalms.

7 thoughts on “Just in time…

  1. Yewtree

    As someone with “idols” on my altar, I can’t say I like the reference to “cursed idols” though obviously that would have been the attitude of the Maccabees.

    Also, on a poetic note – the poem would work better without the “Did” on the second line and the “Twas” in the fourth line.

    But I like the references to freedom from tyranny.

  2. Dan

    Yewtree @ 2 — Yes, the Maccabees were definitely down on idols; this phrase is also an oblique reference to an old hymn from 1755 by Philip Doddridge, once quite popular and still sung today in a few places:

    Do not I love thee, O my Lord?
    Behold my heart and see,
    And turn each cursed idol out,
    That dares to rival thee.

    So this was a theme not only of the Maccabees, but also of a prominent strand of Protestant English-language hymnody. I think the interesting thing is that Doddridge in his hymn asks his God to look into his heart, and turn out idols that were keeping him from being true to his God. This is not a bad attitude to have, especially if we think about this metaphorically — today, the idols that we need to turn out of our hearts are things like consumerism. I’d also argue that if the “idols”on your altar have real meaning for you in your heart, then they are not idols at all — idols, by definition, are false, and as a Unitarian Universalist I think we get to decide falseness.

    And yes, the hymn would work better without “Did” and “‘Twas,” but I’m not a good enough versifier to figure out another way. Any suggestions?

  3. Dan

    Yewtree @ 2 — OK, you pushed me to rewrite that first verse. Corrected version in post. Hope this one sounds better.

  4. Erp

    “barb’rous tyranny”

    Given that the tyrants in question were Hellenistic and that barbarous originally meant someone not Hellenistic….

  5. Dan

    Erp @ 5 — “Barbarous” is straight out of the King James Version — actually, it’s “barbarous and blasphemous.” Those KJV translators didn’t bother themselves with details like total accuracy — they were more interested in coming up with vigorous prose. And isn’t “barbarous” a lovely word to use?

Comments are closed.