“Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each one from the religion of his fathers, yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers…. We will not obey the king’s word by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left” (Septuagint*, 1 Maccabees 2:19-22).
Most people have heard of the holiday called Hanukkah or Chanukkah. Some believe that it is the Jewish alternative to Christmas. However, these two celebrations have nothing in common.
In Hebrew, the word chanak means ‘dedicate.’ Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration also known as the Feast of Dedication. During Hanukkah, a special menorah called a hanukkiah is lit and put in the window. Each of the eight nights of Hanukkah one candle is lit by using the ‘helper candle’ or shamash until all eight candles and the shamash are burning.
The historical account of Hanukkah is not found in the modern versions of the Bible. It was removed from the canon of Scripture by Martin Luther because the festival conflicted with his anti-semitic theological views. However, the events surrounding the eight days of Hanukkah are written in the Septuagint Book of Maccabees, and recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus. According to both accounts, the eight days of Hanukkah is to be celebrated every year memorializing the cleansing and re-dedication of the Temple and the Altar of Sacrifice.
“So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness; they offered a sacrifice of deliverance and praise. Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with gladness and joy for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev” (1 Maccabees 4:56-59).
“Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days; and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon: but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honoured God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that hence was the name given to that festival” (Josephus 12:5).
A Little History
The events surrounding Hanukkah began in 167 BCE when the Greek Antiochus Epiphanes became king over the Seleucid Empire which included the land of Israel. His name meant ‘antichrist god incarnate,’ and as such, he attacked the God of Israel through the Jewish people. In order to have a one-world religious and cultural system, his goal was to force Hellenistic pagan gods and customs on everyone in his empire , including the Jewish people. He wanted to nullify the Torah, invalidate the Levitical priesthood, cancel dietary laws, outlaw circumcision, and remove the Sabbath –– everything Jewish.
The Jewish battle for independence from Syrian rule began when a Levitical priest named Mattathias was commanded by a Greek official to make a sacrifice to a Greek god. Mattathias not only refused, but killed a Jewish man who began to do so. He also killed the official. When an edict for his arrest was sent out, Mattathias hid in the Judean wilderness with his five sons calling for other faithful Jews to join him. Many did follow him into the wilderness, and with the leadership of his son Judah, a small band of Jewish men began to revolt.
“Let everyone who has zeal for the Torah and who stands by the covenant follow me!” (1 Maccabees 2:17, Septuagint)
As the Greek armies went on their conquest, other Jewish men, women and children succumbed to Antiochus’ commands. Those who didn’t follow his orders were imprisoned or murdered. The Jewish people feared for their very exAs the Syrian armies conquered the land, other Jewish men, women, and children succumbed to Antiochus’ commands. Those who didn’t follow his orders were imprisoned or murdered. The Jewish people feared for their very existence. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, this lawless Greek didn’t succeed with his ultimate plan or there would have been no lineage from which the Messiah could come!
Judah was given the nickname ‘hammer’ or Maccabee, an acronym for Mecha-mocha ba’alim HaShem, meaning “Who is like you among the powers, O God,” became the battle cry of the rag tag Jewish resistance. Judah Maccabee was not only from the Levitical lineage, but he served the God of Israel faithfully, wholeheartedly, and courageously. His words were always filled with the hope and power of the God of Israel just like his predecessor, the warrior King David. The Maccabees who numbered under 12,000 with little to no training or equipment fought fearlessly against the Syrian armies who were highly trained, rode elephants, and numbered over 40,000.
“But Judas said: ‘Many are easily hemmed in by a few; in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between deliverance by many or by few; for victory in war does not depend upon the size of the army, but on strength that comes from Heaven’” (1 Maccabees 3:18-19)
After three years of continuous fighting, tearing down pagan altars, circumcising uncircumcised boys, and rescuing Torah scrolls from the hands of the Greek, Judah Maccabee and his little army miraculously regained control over Jerusalem. They went into the Temple and saw its defilement. The courts had bushes and thickets, the gates were burned, and the priests chambers destroyed. Pigs had been sacrificed on the Altar and the blood sprinkled throughout the Holy Place. The Menorah was gone, either stolen or melted down for its gold. A statue of Zeus sat in the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant should have been. They mourned the desecration, tore their clothes, blew the shofar, and cried out to God.
“Then said Judas and his brothers, “Behold, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it” (1 Maccabees 4:36).
Judah chose some men to fight against the Syrians remaining in the city. He chose others who were priests and devoted to Torah to clean the Temple. They removed the defiled stones and replaced them with uncut ones. They tore down the Altar and built a new one. They made new holy vessels. They burned incense on the new Altar, put bread on the new Table of Presence.
What About the Missing Menorah?
A midrash from Pesitka Rabatti 2:1 suggests that when the Maccabees entered the Temple and did not find the Menorah, the Levitical priests improvised by putting together a simple Menorah made of spears. The midrash speculates that the spears had been left behind by the Syrian soldiers who fled quickly when they were defeated. Transforming enemy spears into the branches of the Menorah would allow for the light to return to the Temple.
However, when the priests went to light the Menorah, they found only enough consecrated oil to last one day. To consecrate more oil would take eight days. Then, a miracle happened. The one jar of oil lasted eight days and the Menorah burned brightly and continuously as God commanded for an eight-day dedication.
“Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering which they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness; they offered a sacrifice of deliverance and praise” (1 Maccabees 4:52-56).
A Gambling Game
During the years of Greek persecution, unwanted and surprise visits by the Syrian soldiers often came when Jewish men were studying the Torah. If they were caught, the Torah scroll would be shredded into pieces, and those studying Torah would be put to death. According to tradition, one way they protected their scrolls and lives during an invasion was the invention of a game placed with tops. If soldiers came to the door, the Jews would hide their Torah scrolls, pull out their tops, and begin gambling. This tradition is remembered today with a top called a dreidel that has four letters inscribed on each side: Nun, Gimel, Hey and Shin. The letters stand for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham or ‘A Great Miracle Happened There.’ In Israel, the dreidels have one different letter, the Peh, signifying ‘A Great Miracle Happened Here.’
Yeshua and Hanukkah
Hanukkah is mentioned in the John 10:22-39 as the Feast of Dedication. It was winter and Yeshua walked in Solomon’s Colonnade of the Temple. Though Hanukkah was a celebration about the re-dedication of the Altar in the Temple of Jerusalem, the focus of the Jews wasn’t on sacrifices and offerings, but on the miracle of the oil and the light. As they are celebrating miracles, they began asking Yeshua if he is the promised Messiah. Yeshua reminds them of all the miracles he has done “in his Father’s name.”
“I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:25-29).
The greatest miracle –– the Light of the World –– stood in front of the Jewish people at the Temple. The Menorah that burned brightly had become flesh and blood. Just as the oil miraculously lit the Menorah, the Spirit of God filled Yeshua and his light illuminated the Temple during the festival of lights. He no longer remained silent about his identity, but answered their question clearly giving them no doubt as to his identity: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
Hanukkah and Us
“I exhort you, therefore, brothers, in view of God’s mercies, to offer yourselves as a sacrifice, living and set apart for God. This will please him; it is the logical “Temple worship” for you” (Romans 11:1).
Paul teaches that we are to honor God with our bodies because they are the temple of God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Our temple worship is to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. This is the spiritual essence of Hanukkah –– cleansing our Altar of Sacrifice from everything that contaminates and defiles God’s holy dwelling.
“Therefore, my dear friends, since we have these promises [and miracles], let us purify ourselves from everything that can defile either body or spirit, and strive to be completely holy, out of reverence for God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
The eight days of Hanukkah are the perfect time for Messianic gentiles to do some temple house cleaning in order to hear the voice of our Shepherd more clearly. Each night of Hanukkah Yeshua’s light is present in the shamash that lights each individual wick on the hanukkiah. He is the Menorah from where the holy oil of God’s Spirit flows and illuminates those hidden areas of our lives that need to be purged and burnt up on the Altar of Sacrifice. By the eighth evening of Hanukkah, our physical and spiritual temples should be a reflection of the miracles that occurred in the Temple during the days of Judah Maccabee.
*The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures from 2 BCE. The two books of the Maccabees are found in this translation as well as the Apocrypha.
For more about Yeshua fullfilling the ‘appointed times,’ purchase Yeshua in His Father’s Feasts.
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