Friday December 11th, is the first night of Hanukkah (the Feast of Dedication). Jewish families across the planet will kindle the first of eight candles, sing traditional songs and eat East European latkes (potato pancakes) or Israeli sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).
As a little Jewish child growing up in Catholic (and often anti-Semitic) Montreal, I remember my mother placing the flickering Hanukkah menorah right in the center of our living room window – so that all passers-by would see that ours was a Jewish home. It was one of the rare times when my family made a public declaration of our connection with the Jewish people. What was it about Hanukkah that caused my mom to “take a stand?” What is the pull of this Jewish holiday?
Keeping up with the Joneses
For many Jews in the Western world, the eight days of Hanukkah have become the Jewish answer to the twelve days of Christmas. “You have gifts? We have gifts! You have Christmas trees with lights? We have neon menorahs!” Or, as Adam Sandler sings, “Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights!”
But the heart of Hanukkah is not a competitive “imitation” of Christmas. Hanukkah is actually a biblical event with deep roots and strong foundations – a commemoration of Jewish faith, blood and guts that more than carries its own weight. Much of the Hanukkah story is found in Daniel 11:28-35, so open up the Bible and follow along!
Live Free or Die
The heroes of Hanukkah were the Maccabees – a fighting family of High Priests whose motto could have been “Live free or die!” In 168 BC they sparked a revolt against the Greek occupation armies, who had conquered the Land promised exclusively by the God of Israel to the Jewish people. A comprehensive history of their military battles is found in First and Second Maccabees, history books written during that epoch.
“It’s all Greek to me!”
Alexander the Great, a world conqueror like Napoleon, Hitler and the anti-Christ, had tried to solidify his empire by binding diverse peoples together into a new world order. His tools of domination were a one-world culture (Hellenistic), one world language (Greek) and one synthesized religion – a jambalaya of Asiatic and Greek demons and idols. In such a Pax Hellenica, there was no room for a spunky Jewish people who believed that YHVH was the only true God; that He had a special holy covenant with Jacob’s children; that YHVH had chosen Israel to be a light to the pagan nations; and that settling the whole Land of Israel was part of the prophesied restoration of Jacob’s children. A royal clash of civilizations was in the offing! (see Daniel 11:28b)
“When in Rome …”
Antiochus IV (nicknamed Epiphanes, or “the manifested one,” Ἀντίοχος Ἐπιφανὴς) was king of the Syrian branch of Alexander’s fading Hellenistic empire. Growing Roman power was fencing him in in Egypt, while zealous Jews were refusing to go along with his vision of Hellenistic world peace. Antiochus’ need for anger management counseling was getting out of control.
Antiochus’ hatred for the Jewish people’s gifts and calling extended to his hatred for their covenants of promise (Daniel 11:30b). In 167 BC after a few significant personal setbacks, Antiochus desecrated the Temple Mount, pouring swine’s blood on the altar and establishing worship of a Syrian demon, Baal Shamayim (the “abomination that makes desolate” of v.31b), within the courts of Zerubbabel’s Temple (see Zechariah 4:8-14). Some of his collaborators were local Jews who probably saw themselves as an ancient Israeli “NGO with an international perspective” but whom God describes as men who had “forsaken the holy covenant” (v.30).
“Not long after this the king sent an Athenian senator to force the Jews to abandon the customs of their ancestors and live no longer by the laws of God; also to profane the Temple in Jerusalem and dedicate it to Olympian Zeus … A man could not keep the sabbath or celebrate the traditional feasts, nor even admit that he was a Jew… A decree was issued … obliging Jews to partake of (pagan) sacrifices, and put to death those who would not consent to adopt the customs of the Greeks… Two (Jewish) women who were arrested for having circumcised their children were publicly paraded about the city with their babies hanging at their breasts and then thrown down from the top of the city wall” (Second Maccabees 6:1-10).
Smooth words and flattery
Antiochus was a smooth talker and a manipulator (like many politicians since then, and like the anti-Christ at the end of days). Daniel (who lived 300 years before Antiochus) prophesied that “by smooth words he will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant” (v.32a).
Antiochus was managing to divide the Jewish people against themselves as he whittled away their spiritual and physical inheritance. The pull on the Jewish people to exchange our calling for international favor and flattery is as much a pitfall today as it was 2,000 years ago.
In his rock poem, “Man of Peace,” Bob Dylan holds up an audio snapshot of Satan, “He got a sweet gift of gab, he got a harmonious tongue. He knows every song of love that ever has been sung. Good intentions can be evil; both hands can be full of grease. You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace” (© Special Rider Music 1983).
“The people who know their God …”
For the first time in history, a persecution was targeted against the Jewish people which focused on destroying both the Scriptures and faithfulness to God’s covenants. But God was already on the move, raising up His select warriors – five brothers from a High Priestly family, led by Mattisyahu (or Mattatthias). These ‘point men’ sparked a revolt against the Greeks. Their Hebrew names were Yohanan, Shimon, Yehudah, Eliezer and Yonatan.
The popular guerilla revolt was ignited over a refusal to sacrifice swine to pagan demons, and it was ultimately successful, as described in the First and Second Books of Maccabees.
Daniel has this to say about the Maccabean warriors in verse 32, “The people who know their God will display strength and take action” or in King James language, “shall be strong and do exploits!” The Bible describes these Jewish warriors as men who knew God, who knew what He wanted them to do, and who knew when He wanted them to do it.
Our Scriptural heritage teaches us that military operations can be, at the right time and led by the right men and women, God-blessed amazing feats of bravery and godly exploits! This would apply in a special way to the believing remnant of Israel defending the land and people of Israel from their mortal enemies.
“Life is a field of battle and not a bed of roses” (R. L. Stevenson)
In the above quotation, Robert Louis Stevenson could easily have been speaking about Hanukkah. The Maccabees, godly men and women who led the revolt against a pagan superpower, discovered that the path to ultimate victory often included painful setbacks and temporary defeats. Three of the five brothers (including Yehuda [or Judah] the Chief of Staff) were killed on the field of battle, and there were times that the whole Maccabean revolution looked like it was collapsing.
Daniel also prophesied about this dynamic, “Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many; yet they will fall by the sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder for many days” (Daniel 11:33).
“Give me liberty or give me death” was not only a byword of the American Revolution. It was the ‘Semper Fi’ of the Maccabees as well.
How will God provide until He provides?
In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye the milkman declares, “I know that God will provide. What I need to know is, how will He provide UNTIL He provides?”
This wry humor, rooted in faith but trembling ever so slightly at the circumstances, finds some basis in the dynamic tension of Daniel 11:34, “Now when they fall they will be granted a little help, though many who are not sincere will join them.” Even in the midst of disaster and collapse, God extends an olive sprig in the beak of the Heavenly Dove – “a little help” will be granted – enough to keep slugging onward through the mud!
This “no nonsense” approach to the brass tacks realities of faith is also reflected in Yeshua’s sober yet humorous declaration: “I tell you the truth, Yeshua replied, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for Me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age – homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them, persecutions – and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).
In another place, He stresses the same theme, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Paul the Apostle adds his own personal “amen” to this. He and his team travelled throughout Asia Minor “confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Even in our temporary defeats, God is still holding up our arms, still granting us a measure of help, sustenance and survival – until the breakthrough comes!
Persecution can purify a remnant
Battlefield heroes are normal people (or maybe even cowards) who simply managed to stand their ground when all hell is breaking out around them. Daniel prophetically salutes these Maccabean heroes of the faith – men and women who would be born more than 300 years after he would die. Down through the corridors of time, he declares that even their suffering would have a purpose: “Some of those who have insight will fall, in order to refine them, purge them and make them pure until the time of the end” (verse 35).See also Hebrews 11:34-38, where there is a literary reference to Second Maccabees.
War and persecution are running mates with revival.
Years ago a dear prophetic friend spoke to me about a season coming on believers in Israel. He said that “persecution was coming, in order to purify a remnant.” As Israeli believers have in the past few years experienced physical attacks, one bombing, and continued harassment and attempts to rescind our civil liberties and citizenship (from various anti-missionary groups operating furtively beneath the radar), we can recognize with eyes of faith that God’s hand and His help are very much in this process, and we can remain confident that He is purifying His remnant in Israel – the mighty army of Ezekiel 37:10. This work of God (the raising up of His last-days mighty Hebrew army) “is still to come, at the appointed time!” (Daniel 11:35).
We appreciate you. Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the enablement of God to us in the work he has called us to do. Thanks, and Happy Hanukkah!
In Messiah Yeshua,
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