The Jewish Feast of Lights arrives this year on the eve of December 2 (according to the Gregorian calendar). The Hebrew name for Hanukkah (‘Dedication’) refers to the cleansing and re-dedication of the Second Temple by Jewish special forces on the 25th of Kislev 165 BC.
In the Western world Hanukkah is often overshadowed and influenced by traditional Christmas celebrations. Both holidays are fêted as festivals of lights. Both occur near the Winter solstice. Both involve the giving of gifts. Both have traditional tasty foods. Adam Sandler even contrasting these two holidays in a humorous song a while back (www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2018/11/29/adam-sandler-chanukah-lyrics/2133567002/).
If you are interested in a more in-depth study of the biblical and historical roots and evolution of Hanukkah, here are two helpful articles:
“We need a miracle. It’s very important!”
The original Feast of Hanukah had nothing to do with a menorah miracle, where supposedly one day’s ration of oil burned for eight days (see above links). According to the historical record written less than 100 years after the first Hanukkah in 2 Maccabees, “on the very same date on which the Temple was profaned by foreigners, there occurred the purification of the Temple – on the 25th day of the ninth month (that is, Kislev). Joyfully they held an eight-day celebration after the pattern of Tabernacles … remembering how a short time before, they spent the Festival of Tabernacles like beasts… Therefore, holding wreathed wands and branches bearing ripe fruit, and palm fronds, they offered songs of praise to Him Who had victoriously brought about the purification of His Place. By vote of the commonwealth they decreed a rule for the entire nation of the Jews to observe these days annually” (2 Maccabees 10:5-8).
Hanukkah began as a late celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). The Jewish people had been unable to celebrate Sukkot due to the recent Greek-Syrian occupation of the Temple Mount. When the Greeks were finally thrown out, the polluted Temple precincts were purified, and a decision was taken by Jewish authorities to celebrate a second Feast of Tabernacles. But this second feast would be two months and ten days later than biblically prescribed. This new commemorative victory festival would be held on the 25th of Kislev (the ninth month) whereas the Mosaic Tabernacles would still be held on the 15th day of Eitanim/Tishrei (Leviticus 23:34-41, the seventh month).
We have seen the enemy, and he is us
The Maccabees were bold and prophetic revolutionaries. But seeds of destruction were buried within the foundation stones of their empire.
They rose up initially as a prophesied Levitical and Aaronic revivalist movement, calling Israel back to obedience to God’s words. “The people who know their God will firmly resist him. Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or be captured or plundered. When they fall, they will receive a little help” (Daniel 11:32-35).
The Maccabee Hasmoneans (a family from the tribe of Levi) had a divine calling to be priests (Exodus 29:44): “I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to minister as priests to Me.” But the kingship and the royal line were reserved only for King David and his dynasty (from the tribe of Judah; 2 Samuel 7:8-17).
The Maccabees had originally started out fighting against pagan Hellenism and the religious syncretism of the Greeks. At that beginning stage they had YHVH’s blessing and empowerment. But after their amazing victory, they began to drift away from spiritual and practical obedience to the Torah. They declared themselves a royal dynasty and gradually gave full-hearted embrace to Hellenism. Though their revival movement had started out safeguarding the calling and gifts of the Jewish people (see Romans 11:28-29; 3:1-2; Numbers 23:7-9), within thirty years it had morphed into a movement advocating Hellenistic assimilation and accommodation with paganism.
From defenders of the faith to Hellenistic wanna-be’s
The Maccabean King Alexander Jannaeus (Yannai in Hebrew) faced strong opposition during his reign from the Bible believers of that time, the Pharisees. At that time the Pharisees had risen up as a revival movement, calling the people of Israel back to the Bible and back to the God of their fathers. They could not tolerate Aaron’s descendants usurping the kingship and spreading Greek influence among Jacob’s children. On one occasion Jannaeus had 6,000 of his Pharisee opponents murdered. At another time he had 800 Pharisees crucified (but only after their wives and children were massacred before their eyes; see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 13:14:2, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-13.html):
When the Pharisees took over the reins of Judaism from the Sadducees (the High Priestly family known as Bnei Tzadok or the Tzedukim) 150 years later, this burgeoning rabbinic movement had little desire to speak kindly of Maccabean faded glory. By 135 AD, the Pharisees had created a ‘fake news’ reason for Hanukkah in their ‘Scroll Concerning Fasting’ (Megilat Ta’anit folio 9). This pseudo-history now shifted attention away from the Maccabees, placing it on a heretofore unknown miracle.
- “When the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils that were there. When the House of the Hasmoneans prevailed and won a victory over them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest that was not defiled. It had only enough oil to burn for one day. A miracle happened, and there was light from it for eight days, In the following year they established eight festival days.”
These are the origins of what is presently celebrated as the Hanukkah miracle. Modern Jewish attention on this holiday focuses on lighting the traditional hanukkiyah (Hanukkah menorah). Of course, Christians have their own traditions which are only faintly connected to the birth of Yeshua. Today the Christmas tree is Christmas’ main cultural symbol. In the words of Tevye the milkman from Fiddler on the Roof, “Tradition!” Let it be noted that the traditional eight branches of the hanukkiyah reflect the historical reality of the eight day biblical celebration of Tabernacles.
Here are some thoughts to chew on as we enter into the Feast of Lights:
- The Greek evil King Antiochus managed 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 gifts and calling for international flattery and favor is as much a pitfall today as it was 2,000 years ago.
- “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.
- Hanukkah teaches us that military operations (carried out at the right time and led by the right men and women) can turn into God-blessed exploits of amazing bravery. This applies in a special way to when Israel’s believing remnant defends the land and people of Israel from our mortal enemies.
- It strengthens us to remember that the God of Israel prophesied both about these conflicts as well as about a remnant standing faithfulness in trying times. YHVH knows the challenges that we face, and He will be with us in the same way as He stood by the Maccabees.
- War and persecution are running mates with revival.
- The Maccabees spearheaded a revival in Israel which ultimately safeguarded the light entrusted by God to the Jewish people (Romans 3:1-2). The birth of Yeshua in Bethlehem of Judah would not have happened if Antiochus’ strategies had become reality for the Jewish people.
- Today, faithfulness to the message of Hanukkah means being faithful to Yeshua, David’s Greater Son and Israel’s Messiah – the Light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the Glory of His people Israel (Luke 2:26-34).
How should we then pray?
- Thank YHVH for His commitment to preserve and purify a remnant in Israel and to protect His people. Rejoice before Him that there are Gentile believers in Yeshua who are willing to identify with the Jewish people today, to stand with them today, to suffer with them today, and even to die with them today
- Call out to the God of Isaac and ask Him to shine His light on Israel (promised in Isaiah 60:1-3) even as gross darkness fogs the nations, and to bring the Jewish people into full recognition of Yeshua our Messiah, Son of David, the Light of the world
- Pray for all the security forces of Israel who stand guard over their people – for strength, discernment, strategies and balance
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the very practical enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do.
In Messiah Yeshua,
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