What is the greatest thing that a person has ever done?
Around 163 BC, during those four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments, Judas Maccabeus had a stand off with Antiochus Eupator. Judas had been fighting to free the Jews from Greek/Roman rule, but some of the Jews turned against him and stirred up Antiochus, the Greek king, to squelch Judas’s rebellion. A traitor high priest even sided with Antiochus. And Antiochus said he wanted to do more damage to the Jews than his father had done.
History speaks of Antiochus as a brash and heartless man. He came against Judas with:
- 110,000 foot soldiers
- 5,300 men on horses
- 300 scythed chariots
- 22 elephants
Judas told his men that victories are from God. He took his most valiant men and attacked Antiochus’s army by night. They killed four thousand men and the best of the elephants. All who tried to stand against Judas that night were killed.
In the morning, Antiochus’s army was filled with dread and horror. Antiochus set his men in order and commanded the elephants to be given grape and mulberry juice to drink. The elephants were divided up so that each one had one thousand foot soldiers and five hundred cavalry. Each elephant had an Indian driver and carried a wooden room on its back that contained thirty-two more soldiers.
Judas engaged the army and killed six hundred men.
Eleazar, Judas’s brother, saw an elephant in royal harness that was taller than all the others. He decided that likely Antiochus rode that beast. Eleazar went for it, slaughtering men on every side. When he reached the elephant he crept underneath and killed it.
But the elephant fell on Eleazar and he died also.
I imagine everyone saw the elephant fall. I imagine very few saw Eleazar fall. But what he did was truly great, perhaps the greatest thing anyone did on that battlefield. He saw work to be done and he did it. A battle to be fought and he fought it. He didn’t worry about the cost. He didn’t care about being noticed. Because all that mattered was victory for the people of God.
Often the greatest things we can do will be noticed the least. Or even if the result is noticed, the doer is not. Find the quiet things to do. Kind words to a friend. Dishes washed for your mom. A prayer for your preacher.
Be faithful in small things, because it is in them that your strength lies.Mother Teresa
*this story can be found in James Ussher’s The Annals of the World paragraphs 3467 to 3473