In the book of 2 Maccabees 6:18-31 (a popular theology of Jewish history even in the time of Christ) we meet a elderly scribe named Eleazar. His story of martyrdom is told as a reminder that “God never withdraws his mercy from us. Although he disciplines us with calamities, he does not forsake his own people.” (6:16-17)
Here is the story:
18 Eleazar, one of the scribes in high position, a man now advanced in age and of noble presence, was being forced to open his mouth to eat swine’s flesh.
19 But he, welcoming death with honor rather than life with pollution, went up to the rack of his own accord, spitting out the flesh,
20 as all ought to go who have the courage to refuse things that it is not right to taste, even for the natural love of life.
21 Those who were in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring meat of his own providing, proper for him to use, and to pretend that he was eating the flesh of the sacrificial meal that had been commanded by the king,
22 so that by doing this he might be saved from death, and be treated kindly on account of his old friendship with them.
23 But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age and the gray hairs that he had reached with distinction and his excellent life even from childhood, and moreover according to the holy God-given law, he declared himself quickly, telling them to send him to Hades.
24“Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life,” he said, “for many of the young might suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year had gone over to an alien religion,
25 and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they would be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age.
26 Even if for the present I would avoid the punishment of mortals, yet whether I live or die I will not escape the hands of the Almighty.
27 Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age
28 and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.” When he had said this, he went at once to the rack.
29 Those who a little before had acted toward him with goodwill now changed to ill will, because the words he had uttered were in their opinion sheer madness.
30 When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned aloud and said: “It is clear to the Lord in his holy knowledge that, though I might have been saved from death, I am enduring terrible sufferings in my body under this beating, but in my soul I am glad to suffer these things because I fear him.”
31 So in this way he died, leaving in his death an example of nobility and a memorial of courage, not only to the young but to the great body of his nation.
Now, we have spent the last couple of weeks in John 11. Did you happen to catch all the hooks, links, and echoes between this story and the Story of Jesus and Lazarus?
+ Lazarus and Eleazar shared the same name, God helps. Both experienced death as a memorial sign for the sake of young and old alike, that they might believe the Lord.
+ Jesus and Eleazar feared the Lord from childhood on. Both shared the same disgust for deceit and the same disdain for death. Both suffered in the body and laid down their lives willingly for the sake of other people.
In conclusion, Eleazar was a kind of Christ-figure for the people of God. The actions of this scribe spoke a little louder than his written words. He was a word made flesh.
This story is further evidence that between-the-testaments, God was there, and he was not silent.
God helped his people endure hardships, not evade them. In this way they shared in the sufferings of the Christ who was to yet to come.