Tuesday, December 20, begins one of my favorite holidays: Hanukkah. We celebrated it for the first time two years ago, and I cannot tell you how deep and meaningful we found it. I can’t wait to celebrate it again.
Hanukkah is not listed among the Feasts God commanded the Israelites to celebrate in Leviticus 23. However, John 10:22 mentions Jesus celebrating this Feast while He lived on earth.
Hanukkah is about standing against the culture, not letting the darkness overcome our light. It is very relevant for the times in which we live.
Every night for eight nights we will light the Hanukkah candles and read Scripture. I thought I’d let you join us. Each night I will share our Scripture portion with you here. To get us ready for Hanukkah, I will share the history of it.
By the way, there are lots of different ways to spell Hanukkah in English, so don’t be surprised by the variations of spelling!
THE CHANUKAH STORY
Chanukah ~ Feast of Dedication
Chanukah is a memorial Feast to remember the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, under the leadership of Judah Maccabea in the year 167 BCE. Maccabea is a derivative of the Hebrew word for “hammer” and it is also an acrostic created by combining the first letter of the Hebrew words “Mi Kamocha Be’Elim Adonai,” – “Who is like you, O Lord, from amongst the gods?”
The Festival of Chanukah was established by Judah Maccabea himself in 167 BCE. Although not one of God’s “appointed times”, Chanukah was celebrated in Yeshua’s time and observed by him. In John 10:22 we read, “Then came Chanukah in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Yeshua was walking around inside the Temple are, in Solomon’s Colonnade.”
There is much to be learned in the story of Chanukah. In a nutshell, this is how it goes:
In the fourth century BCE, Alexander the Great ruled most of the known world. He dominated all of the Near East, which included the land of Israel. During this time, the Greek (Hellenistic) culture was enforced. Jewish practices, such as the keeping of the Sabbath and circumcision were forbidden and the Jews were commanded to sacrifice pigs to Zeus in the Temple. In order to “fit in”, many Jews assimilated into the Hellenistic culture: “Come, let us reach an understanding with the pagans surrounding us, for since we have separated ourselves from them, many misfortunes have overtaken us.” Some Jews resisted and upheld the Torah, keeping themselves separate to YHVH (God). Many of these were brutally murdered.
In Jerusalem, the Greeks built a gymnasium. Because those who frequented the gymnasiums did so naked, Jews disguised their circumcision and abandoned the Torah for philosophy, submitting to heathen rule and the so called “New World Order”.
When Alexander the Great died, his kingdom was divided into four parts (Daniel 8:21-25). Antiochus Epiphanes (god manifests), won rule over Egypt and Israel. The Jews continued to submit until it was too late – Antiochus broke into the Holy Place in the Temple and stole the Golden Altar and Menorah. Two years later, he set himself up as god and supreme ruler in Jerusalem, putting the following laws into effect:
* All are to be a single people.
* Disobedience will be punished by death.
* Torah study is banned.
* All books of the Torah are to be burned.
* Those who circumcise their children will be flayed alive with their child.
Antiochus Epiphanes’ final desecration was the sacrificing of a pig in the Temple. He forced the Priests to eat the flesh of swine and then poured the blood on the Altar.
A rebellion began led by Mattathias the Priest and his five sons. This family was respected and influential and they led the Jewish people into fasting and repentance. During the rebellion against the Greeks, many Jews were martyred, but many battles were also won. When Mattathias died, his son Judah took over. Judah was a man of great courage and fully trusted in God – he was known as Judah Maccabea – the hammer!
Although outnumbered 4 to 1, Judah’s army won every battle against the Greeks and turned many Jews back to Torah. In the last battle, the Maccabim killed over 8000 pagans.
On the 24th of the Jewish month of Kislev, the Temple was rededicated and purified – exactly three years to the day since it was desecrated. The Talmud says that a miracle occurred in that while the Temple Menorah only had enough oil to last one day, it remained burning for eight days. Judah and the Maccabim decreed that from then on, this rededication of the Temple was to be an eight-day memorial, beginning on the 24th of Kislev, every year. And it has been ever since.
The story of Chanukah is very relevant to the days in which we live. Society and religion have become very Hellenistic – body worship (through the overwhelming focus on gymnasiums, beauty, etc), lawlessness, new world orders, and the pressure to “assimilate”. The compromising Jews of the days before the Maccabim, surely did not want to see their Temple desecrated, their Torah burned, nor their people killed. Yet, their lack of love for God’s Commandments, their desire to be like everyone else, and disregard for being a people set-apart, all led to the inevitable consequences which followed. Today we seriously need to make some choices before it becomes too difficult or too late. Will we obey God or follow the leading of men? Do we desire acceptance from the world, or of YHVH the Creator?
Spiritually speaking, Paul warns believers that their bodies are the Temple of God: “What agreement is there between the temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God… Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:16,17). “Do not be conformed to the pattern (culture & practices) of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2).
Naturally speaking, in every era of Israel’s Temple history, the Jews’ desire to assimilate with the pagan inhabitants of the land resulted in an abomination to be set up in the Temple. The first Temple was desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes, the Second Temple in 70 CE, by Vespasian of Rome. With the plans to rebuild the Third Temple pretty well in motion, no doubt another Antiochus or another Vespasian will come, who will desecrate it one last time.
Like the Maccabim, we are to sing the “Song of Moses” (Exodus 15:11): “Mi Kamocha Be’Elim Adonai” – “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”
“And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb…” (Revelation 15:2)