Days of Dedication – Hanukkah

Menorahs and Hanukkiahs for Feast of Dedication

Menorahs and Hanukkiahs for Feast of Dedication

“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’ making Hanukkah an an eight-day celebration centering around the days of dedication.  During Hanukkah, a special menorah called a hanukkiah is lit and put in the window of Jewish homes.  It holds nine candles.   Each of the eight nights  of Hanukkah one candle is lit by using the ‘extra helper candle’ or shamash until all eight (nine) candles are burning brightly.

The historical account of Hanukkah is not found in our modern Bibles.  It was removed from the canon of Scriptures by Martin Luther because it conflicted with his anti-semitic theological views.   However, the complete events surrounding the days of dedication are recorded by the historian Josephus and the Septuagint book of Maccabees.  According to both accounts,  the eight days of dedication were to be held every year in memory of 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

Hanukkah is the memorial to a period of time beginning in 167 B.C.E. when the Greek Antiochus Epiphanes became king over the Seleucid Empire that included Israel.  His name meant ‘antichrist god incarnate’, and as such, he attacked the God of Israel.  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 battle for independence from Syrian Greek rule began when a Levitical priest named Mattathias was commanded by a Greek official to make a sacrifice to a Greek god.  He not only refused, but killed a Jewish man with him 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 and called for other 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!” (Septuagint 1 Maccabees 2:17). 

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 existence.  Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, this lawless man 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, also an acronym for mi komocho ba’alim Hashem, “Who is like you among the powers O God,” – the battle cry of the rag tag Jewish resistance.  The Maccabees who numbered under 12,000 with little to no training or equipment fought courageously 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 fighting, tearing down pagan altars, circumcising uncircumcised boys, and rescuing Torah scrolls from the hands of the enemies,  Judah Maccabee and his little army miraculously regained control over Jerusalem.  They went to 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 their blood sprinkled throughout the Holy Place.  The Temple Menorah was missing, 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 and tore their clothing.  They 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).

This is what they did.  Judah chose some men to fight against those remaining in the city.   He chose priests who were devoted to the Torah to clean the Temple.  They removed the defiled stones and replaced them with uncut ones, they tore down the Altar of Sacrifice and built a new one.  They made new holy vessels and brought them into the Temple.  They burned incense on the Altar, put bread on the Table of Presence and lighted the lamps on the Menorah. 

Whether or not it’s a true, a story is told in the Talmud (written down oral tradition) about the Menorah. When the Levitical priests went to light the newly made Menorah in the Most Holy Place, they found only enough pure oil to last one day.  To consecrate more oil would take eight days.  Then, a miracle happened.  The one vial of oil lasted eight days and the Menorah burned brightly and continuously just 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 found, the Torah scroll would be shredded into pieces and those studying would be put to death.  According to tradition, a way of protecting their scrolls and their lives  during an invasion was invented with a gambling game played with a top.  If suddenly disrupted by soldiers, they 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: Nun, Gimel, Hey and Shin.  The letters are symbolic for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham or “A Great Miracle Happened There.”   In Israel, however, the dreidels have one different letter, the Peh, signifying “A Great Miracle Happened HERE.”

Yeshua and Hanukkah

Hanukkah is mentioned in the Gospels in John 10:22-39 as the Feast of Dedication.   It was winter and Yeshua walked in Solomon’s Colonnade or porch.  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.  Since 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 stood in front of the Jewish people right there at the Temple.  The golden 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 who he was: “I and the Father are one.”  They struggled with this declaration and picked up stones to kill him. 

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 because we have been bought with price of Yeshua’s blood, 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 our lives as a holy sacrifice.  This is the essence of the season of Hanukkah and cleansing the Altar of Sacrifice from everything that contaminated and defiled God’s holy dwelling. On that same altar we are to offer ourselves.

“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 believers in Messiah to do some temple house cleaning.  In order to hear the voice of our Shepherd more clearly, like the Jewish people at the Temple, we must turn from spiritual idolatry that perverts a pure worship of God.  We must cleanse everything causes physical contamination to our temples in order to be completely holy and rededicated back to God.

Each night of Hanukkah Yeshua’s light is present in the helper candle, the shamash, that kindles each individual wick on the Hanukkiah.    He is the golden Menorah from where the holy oil of God’s Spirit flows and illuminates those hidden and not so 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 hearts and minds should be purified out of reverence for God reflecting each miracle that occurred during the days of Judah Maccabee: the rededication of the Temple, the Altar of Sacrifice, and Holy Oil in the Golden Menorah.

*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.

©2012 Tentstake Ministries, chapter from Journey with Jeremiah on amazon.com

2 Responses to “Days of Dedication – Hanukkah”

Leave a Reply

*