Hanukkah is Jewish celebration lasting eight nights every December. At the time this blog was written, we are right in the middle of the celebration (December 12-20). Christians are in the middle of the Christmas season, with nine days before the biggest day of the year.
In the week leading up to the holidays, I would normally write a Christmas blog. However, this Saturday falls at a unique time where I can talk about the Jewish festival. I fear Christians, generally ignorant of Hanukkah, dismiss it as a “competing” holiday that somehow denies Christ. But I think that while the Bible doesn’t require Gentiles to observe Hanukkah, we can still study it to learn something very profound.
I don’t have time or space to go into all the complicated details behind the story, and what I’m about to say is overly-simplified. But I highly recommend following the link provided after the article if you want a more comprehensive account of the historical events behind Hanukkah.
God commands Moses to build a candlestick in Exodus 25:31: And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made: his shaft, and his branches, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers, shall be of the same. The menorah (a word that never appears in the Bible) is one of the definitive symbols of Judaism. How exactly it was positioned in the tabernacle isn’t clear, but the Bible indicates that it was to symbolize the nation of Israel as the light to the world (Zechariah 4:2,5-6). The original seven-stick menorah no longer appears in Judaism due to a tradition that nothing should be copied from the temple after its destruction in 70 AD.
When Alexander the Great died young, he left no heirs to take over his massive empire. After some conflict, his generals divided it into four parts. Judah was caught in the middle of this clash of empires for the next century and by the first century BC, had been heavily Hellenized. Learning to just go along to get along, they were experiencing spiritual laziness, compromising their values with the world to keep from being attacked or invaded by whichever kingdom ruled over them. Reliance on God had become a thing of the past, part of an “older generational” mindset.
But for a variety of complicated reasons, in the early second century BC, the wicked Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes ruthlessly attacked Jerusalem, which had no army at the time. His cruel army sieged the city and slaughtered thousands of defenseless Jews. Women and children’s bodies filled the streets. He desecrated the temple, erecting a statue of himself and demanding worship as god. He also banished Judaism and commanded every copy of the Torah burned.
All of this was prophesied in the book of Daniel many years before it happened, and I touched on it briefly in my past blog, “The Daniel Lynchpin,” which you can click here to read and brush up on. And out of one of them came forth a little horn (Antiochus), which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land (Daniel 8:9). Verse 11: Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of the sanctuary was cast down.
Antiochus also killed the high priest, which proved the final straw for one of his sons, Judah Maccabeus. Against all odds, Judah led an uprising against the king in what would be a bitter struggle for Judea’s independence. Hopelessly outnumbered, his ragtag band of fighters slowly prevailed, and with God on their side, eventually beat back one of the world’s most powerful armies.
In 139 BC, Antiochus’s force of 60,000 was crushed by 7,000 Jewish fighters, and finally retreated. Jerusalem erupted in cheers and began rebuilding their ruined city. The most important part of this rebirth of Judaism was the rededication of the temple to Yahweh. This would include relighting the sacred menorah, but they only had enough oil to last one day and one night (Jewish law required a continual burning for the temple to be cleansed of idolatry). Through prayer, one cruise of oil managed to keep the candles burning continuously for eight days.
What’s important about Hanukkah is not just the return to Jewish sovereignty and independence. It was also a spiritual re-awakening. The people of Judah came out of worldliness and moved away from Greek culture, rediscovering their relationship with their God and getting in touch with their historic roots. Temple worship and study of the Torah laws were restored, bringing a great spiritual revival that snapped them out of lukewarmth.
Lighting the nine-stick menorah (one candle representing the original menorah, the other eight reflecting each night of the festival) has become a celebration not just of Jewish independence, but an act of defiance against every attempt to destroy them over the ages. Isaiah 49:6: And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. At times that light has been nearly snuffed out as the darkness around it grows greater; but so long as there are Jews to keep the menorah going, the seed of Abraham survives. It is a reflection not just on Antiochus’ cruel attacks, but the Roman armies that destroyed the temples, the Holocaust, and the promise of Iran’s mullahs to turn wipe Israel off the map. They endure.
These events are chronicled in both the Jewish Talmud and the book of Maccabees, which is part of the apocrypha, a collection of books written during the centuries between the Old and New Testaments. The apocrypha is part of the Latin Vulgate but was never accepted in Protestant Bibles because the Jews never canonized it as official scripture.
There is nothing anti-Christian about Hanukkah. In fact, John 10:22 indicates that Jesus Himself celebrated it: And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. I think that by studying its message, we can clearly see how the oil that burned so bright in the menorah represents the Holy Spirit that will supply our need many times over, no matter how great it is. And if the glow of the menorah symbolizes the nation of Israel being a light to the nations, the burning flame of the Holy Ghost within us all should be the light to this sinful world. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid (Matthew 5:14).
Read more about the Maccabean Revolt here: https://www.ancient.eu/article/827/the-maccabean-revolt/