Posts Tagged ‘Chanukah’

Hanukkah: The Truth in the Tradition

When I think of the word ‘tradition,’ I immediately hear Tevye’s booming voice singing ‘Tradition’ in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Along with singing the word ‘tradition’ repeatedly, he explains the purpose of traditions:  “Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything: how to sleep, how to eat… how to work… how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer shawl that shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, ‘How did this tradition get started?’ I’ll tell you! … I don’t know. But it’s a tradition… and because of our traditions… Every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”

I remember hearing a similar statement years ago: “It’s not that the Jews keep traditions; it’s that the traditions keep the Jews.”

The Jews aren’t the only people to have traditions. Some people macro-tradition and follow the ways of their ancestors in carving a turkey, ethnic meals or educational institutions. Some micro-tradition with how they wash their clothes, wear their hair, and brush their teeth. Traditions not only help order a daily life, but they maintain a sense of family identity throughout the generations.

Tevye doesn’t know from ‘where’ he received the traditions of keeping his head covered and his talit katan. He doesn’t know from ‘where’ the traditions of how to sleep, eat, work and wear clothes came either. Tevye does know, however, that the traditions express who he is, who God is, and how he is expected to live God’s way. His traditions bring balance to his life and, from what I can tell, Tevye’s traditions do not break any commandments; they are expressions of those commandments in his life.

“He [Yeshua] answered, ‘Indeed, why do you break the command of God by your tradition?‘” (Matthew 15:3).

“Thus, with your tradition which you had handed down to you, you nullify the Word of God! And you do other things like this” (Mark 7:13).

Hanukkah and the Temple

In John chapter 10, it is winter and the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah has arrived. Yeshua is walking around in Solomon’s Porch, the covered area on the far eastern side of the Temple. It connected with the Court of the Gentiles where God-fears could come to the Temple and worship the God of Isra’el. It was in this area of the Temple that Yeshua’s Jewish brothers and sisters surrounded him and demanded that he reveal his identity.

This was a dangerous confrontation because they had already seen that Yeshua had no problem rebuking anyone who lives contrary to the will of God. He had already chastised some of the Jewish leaders regarding the ceremonial hand washing. He called other Jewish leaders blind fools and white-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones. He completely discouraged the rich young man who wanted to follow him on his own terms. And, he told Peter, “Get behind me Satan.”

If Yeshua believed that Hanukkah was a man-made tradition, he would have spoken up. He would have walked over to the Altar and rebuked the priests. He would have entered the Holy Place and overturned the Temple Menorah. He would have cried out in a loud voice in the Temple area for everyone to hear, charging them with sin and idolatry in their man-made tradition of Hanukkah, He would have reprimanded them for celebrating the re-Dedication of the Altar when it wasn’t in Torah.

Instead of acting like a lunatic, Yeshua tells them that his sheep hear his voice. He reminds them of the miracles he has done in his Father’s name. Whether he lit a hanukkiah, played dreidel or ate latkes, no one knows, but he did not rebuke anyone for being in the Temple at Hanukkah.

Yeshua’s own Jewish ancestral heritage is tied up in the miraculous victory of Judah Maccabee and his small army over the Greeks. His own Jewish cultural history included the desecration and restoration of the Temple in which he was now standing. He knew that had Antiochus Epiphanes annihilated the Jewish people, he wouldn’t be standing in their presence speaking about his sheep and his Father. Had the Maccabees not had victory over the Greeks, his Father’s house would have remained a desecrated and unholy place. There would be no account of him teaching in the Temple at Passover nor would he have overturned the tables of the money changers. He would never have been able to quote the prophets that his Father’s house is a “house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7, Matthew 21:13).

The re-dedication of the Altar had great significance to Israel and the Jewish people. Without an Altar there could be no place for the burnt offering, grain offering, guilt offering, fellowship offering or sin offering –– all offerings that brought fellowship with God. All of these offerings pointed to the coming One, the Messiah ben Yosef, the suffering servant written about in Isaiah 53.

Yeshua is the Menorah, the Light of the world, walking around the Temple in a human flesh body. Whether the Talmudic story of one flask of oil lasting eight days is true or not, John wrote that Yeshua stood inside the Court of the Gentiles during the Feast of Dedication and revealed to the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ his identity: “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30).

Yeshua is God’s voice to Israel and the world. He uses the events from the days of Antiochus and the Maccabean Revolt to give prophetic vision for the time of his return and the end of days (Matthew 24:15). He says there will be another ‘abomination of desolation’ in the Holy Place of his Father’s House. We need to understand the prophetic vision which comes from knowing the historical events surrounding the days of Judah Maccabee. Without prophetic understanding, the coming darkness will envelope us until we fall into great deception of the end times.

The traditions surrounding Hanukkah do not nullify the commands of God. Traditions define us as individuals and join us as family. As part of the Commonwealth of Israel, lighting an eight-branched menorah unifies the family of Jew and God-fearing gentile as ‘one new man.’

World leaders wield great power to challenge and even subdue our faith in the God of Israel along with cherished traditions. As the dreidle spins with its Hebrew letters, it is important to remember how many centuries of Jewish men, women, and children lived, fought the forces of evil, and even died so “salvation could come from the Jews” (John 4:22). From their persecutions, traditions have arisen that have kept them alive and united as a nation for millennia.

Yeshua is Jewish. He celebrated Hanukkah with his Jewish brothers and sisters. With his words in Solomon’s Colonnade, the history and traditions around Hanukkah become part of our spiritual history and prophetic vision. Nes Gadol Haya Sham, ‘A Great Miracle Happened There!’ Yeshua, the Menorah, revealed himself to be One with his Father in the Temple in Jerusalem, the greatest miracle of all at the Feast of Dedication.

©2016 Tentstake Ministries Publishing, all rights reserved.  No copying or reproducing of this article without crediting the author or Tentstake Ministries Publishing.  

Hanukkah Word: Elephants

Many years ago, I was the turkey mascot for the National Home Brewing Association. The next year, I wore the same turkey costume to ride an elephant. Yes, I rode an elephant named Stoney in a turkey costume. According to Chazal, a Talmudic sage, “When we are lucky enough to see an elephant we should bless God and say, “Blessed is the One who varies the creatures.” I was very blessed to not only see Stoney, but to have the privilege to sit on his back.

Elephants really are unique creatures. Apart from being massively large and inordinately smart, they are social, gentle, and loyal. Stoney was trained to kneel down, almost lying flat, on the ground so I could climb on him. His gait was gentle as he lumbered slowly from side to side. I grabbed onto his nect to stay secure and felt tiny stiff hairs all over his body. And social? He loved the attention he received from the awe-struck crowd. Sometimes he would try to ‘hug’ with his trunk.

Throughout history, elephants were used like military tanks in Asian warfare. Though they were not native to the Middle East, the Seleucids rode elephants to terrify the Jewish fighters during the Maccabean Revolt.

“His [Antiochus’] army numbered a hundred thousand foot soldiers, twenty thousand cavalry, and thirty-two elephants trained for war” (1 Maccabees 6:30).

“Each elephant was outfitted with a strong wooden tower, fastened to it by a harness; each tower held three soldiers who fought from it, besides the Indian driver” (1 Maccabees 6:37).

“All who heard the noise of their numbers, the tramp of their marching, and the clanging of the arms, trembled; for the army was very great and strong” (1 Maccabees 6:41).

At their first encounter, Judah Maccabee and his men defeated 500 men and killed one elephant, but had to retreat. They were not expecting elephants in their battle plans. Perhaps it was at this juncture that the Maccabees began to say ‘stronger and smarter than an elephant’ as they prepared for further military encounters with these massive animals.

Sometime later, “a Greek army of one hundred and ten thousand foot soldiers, fifty-three hundred cavalry, twenty-two elephants, and three hundred chariots armed with scythes” came to the Judean village of Moedin (2 Maccabees 13:2).

At this second encounter Judah left “the outcome to the Creator of the world, and exhort[ed] his followers to fight nobly to death for the laws [Torah], the temple, the city, the country, and the government…. Giving his troops the battle cry “God’s Victory,” he made a night attack on the king’s pavilion with a picked force of the bravest young men and killed about two thousand in the camp. He also stabbed the lead elephant and its rider. Finally they withdrew in triumph, having filled the camp with terror and confusion. Day was just breaking when this was accomplished with the help and protection of the LORD” (2 Maccabees 13:14-17).

There are those who say these elephant stories never happened or were embellished. Others say they were a metaphor for God’s Hand in the battles.

Hebrew Word Picture

Elephant – pil – פיל

פ Peh – A Mouth means ‘speak’ or ‘source.’

י Yod – Closed Hand means ‘finished work.’

ל Lamed – Shepherd’s Staff means ‘leader who urges forward.’

The Hebrew word picture for elephant: source of the finished work of the one who urges forward.

This meaning suggests that these mighty elephants were God’s trumpeting mouthpiece.

Bring on the elephants!

©2016 Tentstake Ministries Publishing, all rights reserved.  No copying or reproducing of this article without crediting the author or Tentstake Ministries Publishing.  

Days of Dedication – Hanukkah

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.’ 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.

©2012 Tentstake Ministries Publishing, all rights reserved.  No copying or reproducing of this article without crediting the author or Tentstake Ministries Publishing. For a hard copy of this article,  please purchase Journey with Jeremiah: Nourishment for the Wild Olive.