Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights. Nine burning candles remind us of the amazing victory of the Maccabees, high priestly heroes of the faith and Special Operations Forces of Israel over 2,000 years ago (see https://davidstent.org/maccabees-wanna-bes-and-fake-news-the-real-story-of-hanukkah/).
Many of us think of Hanukkah as a kind of Jewish Christmas, with lights, scrumptious food and plenty of gifts. The biblical source of the holiday is mostly unknown to Christians and also to most Jews. Here is the inside story on this holiday.
Crushed between two kings
Alexander the Great died of typhus fever (or of poisoning) at age 32 in Babylon on June 10-11, 323 B.C. His demise took place in palace of Nebuchadnezzar II – the king who had destroyed Solomon’s Temple and initiated the Exile of Judea (587-6 B.C.). A conference was immediately held in Babylon (the Partition of Babylon – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_Babylon) to determine how Alexander’s great empire would be divided. Mutinies, assassinations and finally many years of ‘succession wars’ occurred – the wars of the generals (Διάδοχοι or ‘successors’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diadochi; 322-301 B.C.). The four main power blocks ended up being Ptolemaic Egypt, Seleucid Mesopotamia and Central Asia, Attalid Anatolia, and Antigonid Macedon. All four kingdoms were finally subdued by Rome. Seleucid Syria was conquered in 64 B.C. and Ptolemaic Egypt was annexed in 30 B.C.
The Hanukkah wars of liberation occurred between 167 and 160 B.C. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maccabean_Revolt; www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195393361/obo-9780195393361-0031.xml). The Greek Seleucid King Antiochus IV of Syria was beginning to lose hold of his empire. Rome’s eagle shadow was looming over the Mediterranean, and Antiochus was forced to retreat with his tail between his legs from Egypt and head back toward Syria (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaius_Popillius_Laenas; http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Polybius/29*.html; also Livy, The History of Rome, book 45, chapter 12: www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0168%3Abook%3D45%3Achapter%3D12).
The Book of Daniel prophesies these events:
“At the appointed time he (ed., Antiochus IV, the Seleucid King of the North) will return and come into the South, but this last time it will not turn out the way it did before. For ships of Kittim (ed. Romans ships from Cyprus; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kittim) will come against him. Therefore he will be disheartened and will return and become enraged at the holy covenant and take action. So he will come back and show regard for those who forsake the holy covenant” (Daniel 11:7, 29-30).
The nation of Israel was nearly unanimously following the Scriptures in those days. As well, amazing devotional literature was written down during that season, including the Wisdom of Yeshua ben Sirach (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sirach). However, there was a group which had embraced the worldview of Alexander the Great. They felt that the Bible was a primitive book and that the Jewish gifts and calling were inferior to the ‘glory that was Greece.’ They attempted to establish centers of Greek culture in the heart of Jerusalem, to abolish circumcision and to get Jerusalem recognized by Greece as a Greek city or ‘polis,’ fully dedicated to a Greek deity.
“In those days lawless men came forth from Israel, and misled many, saying, ‘Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles round about us, for since we separated from them many evils have come upon us.’ This proposal pleased them, and some of the people eagerly went to the king. He authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil” (1 Maccabees 1:11-15; https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Maccabees+1&version=RSV)
There is no greater fury than a king scorned
Antiochus IV, having been humiliated by Rome, decided to vent his anger on the Jews of Judea who were not willing to abandon obedience to YHVH and His word. His desecration of the Temple and systematic destruction of Jewish faith and practice is described below from four sources – the prophet Daniel, the historian Josephus, the Book of Hebrews and 1 Maccabees :
- “Forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation (shiqutz hameshomem). By smooth words he will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant” (Daniel 11:31-32a)
- “Now it came to pass, after two years … that the king came up to Jerusalem, and, pretending peace, he got possession of the city by treachery. At which time he spared not so much as those that admitted him into it, on account of the riches that lay in the Temple. But, led by his covetous inclination, (for he saw there was in it a great deal of gold, and many ornaments that had been dedicated to it of very great value) and in order to plunder its wealth, he ventured to break the league he had made. So he left the Temple bare, and took away the golden candlesticks, and the golden altar [of incense], and table [of shew-bread], and the altar [of burnt-offering]; and did not abstain from even the veils, which were made of fine linen and scarlet. He also emptied it of its secret treasures, and left nothing at all remaining. And by this means cast the Jews into great lamentation, for he forbade them to offer those daily sacrifices which they used to offer to God, according to the law. And when he had pillaged the whole city, some of the inhabitants he slew, and some he carried captive, together with their wives and children, so that the multitude of those captives that were taken alive amounted to about ten thousand. He also burnt down the finest buildings; and when he had overthrown the city walls, he built a citadel in the lower part of the city … And when the king had built an idol altar upon God’s altar, he slew swine upon it, and so offered a sacrifice neither according to the law, nor the Jewish religious worship in that country. He also compelled them to forsake the worship which they paid their own God, and to adore those whom he took to be gods. And he made them build temples, and raise idol altars in every city and village, and offer swine upon them every day. He also commanded them not to circumcise their sons, and threatened to punish any that should be found to have transgressed his injunction. He also appointed overseers, who should compel them to do what he commanded. And indeed many Jews there were who complied with the king’s commands, either voluntarily, or out of fear of the penalty that was denounced. But the best men, and those of the noblest souls, did not regard him, but did pay a greater respect to the customs of their country than concern as to the punishment which he threatened to the disobedient; on which account they every day underwent great miseries and bitter torments. For they were whipped with rods, and their bodies were torn to pieces, and were crucified, while they were still alive, and breathed. They also strangled those women and their sons whom they had circumcised, as the king had appointed, hanging their sons about their necks as they were upon the crosses. And if there were any sacred book of the law found, it was destroyed, and those with whom they were found miserably perished also” (Josephus, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Antiquities_of_the_Jews/Book_XII, chapter 5, paragraph 4)
- And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of … [those who] escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground (Hebrews 11:32-28, with quotes from 2 Macabbees 6:21-30; 7:7-36; see also biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Maccabees+5&version=RSV)
- But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. And very great wrath came upon Israel (1 Maccabees 1:62-64)
Judah the Macabbee’s army – a precursor of Ezekiel 37
Antiochus’s religious rampage was parried and blocked by a national revolt led by the High Priestly family of Mattisyahu or Mattathias. This descendant of Aaron fled from Jerusalem due to the Greek persecutions, settling in Modi’in near the present Ben-Gurion Airport.
- In those days Mattityahu [Mattathias] the son of Yochanan, son of Shim′on, a priest of the sons of Yoyariv, moved from Jerusalem and settled in Modi’in. He had five sons – Yochanan surnamed Gaddi, Shim’on called Tassi, Yehuda [Judah] called Maccabeus [Makabi – ‘the hammer’ in Hebrew], Elazar called Avaran [‘the piercer’ in Hebrew], and Yonatan called Apphus (1 Maccabees 2:1-5)
The story of their guerilla warfare campaign against the far superior forces of Greek Seleucia is amazing. 1 Maccabees 3-16 brings us the entire story of these operations. The prophet Daniel sums up that period:
- But the people who know their God will display strength and take action. Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many. Yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder for many days. Now when they fall they will be granted a little help, and many will join with them in hypocrisy. Some of those who have insight will fall, in order to refine, purge and make them pure until the end time – because it is still to come at the appointed time” (Daniel 11:32b-35)
The Scriptures commend the Jewish military fighting force. Their exploits are lovingly prophesied and recounted in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Covenant. They are a model of faith, courage and military valor. They are a prophetic precursor of God’s End of Days Jewish army described in Ezekiel 37:9-11, Isaiah 4:13-16, Psalm 110:1-3, Zechariah 12:1-9, etc.
The rising mist of anti-Semitism
A reborn Nazi-like spirit is currently overshadowing the nations. Anti-Jewish attacks are blooming across Europe and North America like dandelions after a spring rain. Middle Eastern jihadi forces call for and implement strategies to destroy the Jewish people and their state. No one is exempt from these influences – no country, no political party and no religious stream. As it was in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37) and Hitler, so it is again manifesting in our day. These sober realities are very much a part of today’s Christmas context, just as King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem was part of the original Christmas story 2,000 years ago (Matthew 2:1-18).
In Nehemiah’s day the defenders of Jerusalem labored with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other:
- From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me (Nehemiah 4:16-18)
In the same way, our celebration of Messiah’s birth should not cause our grip to slacken as we grasp the spiritual weapons God has given us in defense of YHVH’s chosen people.
Ardent intercession for the Jewish people – their protection (Psalm 122:6), their salvation (Romans 10:1; 1:16) and their entering into their amazing world-transforming calling (Romans 11:12, 15) – is very much a high priority during this season.
Though the mists of darkness rise and divisiveness increases, let’s remember the God of Israel’s promise to the sons and daughters of Jacob. It is precisely when things get darkest in the world that God’s light will shine brighter than the Star of Bethlehem on His Jewish people. The days of light and glory are very much ahead of us! “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of YHVH has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and gross darkness the peoples. But YHVH will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:1-3)
How should we then pray?
- Pray for God to pour out the spirit of grace and supplications on Israel during these Hanukkah season (Zechariah 12:10)
- Pray for the God of Jacob to reveal His Last Days strategy of Ezekiel’s army to many in Israel
- Pray for divine courage to be restored to the beleaguered Jewish people throughout the earth
- Pray for the raising up of Ezekiel’s prophetic Jewish army throughout the earth
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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