Hanukkah is a multifaceted holiday that is fundamentally relevant at all times. More than anything, it reveals the condition of people's hearts towards God.
The Hanukkah story began when Jews being captured by Syria started adapting to the new requirements of the Hellenistic system. Above all, the system required them to worship Zeus and other "legitimate" gods of the empire. It was forbidden under penalty of death to honor the God of Israel.
During this time, God allowed terrible things to happen to His people because most Israelis were not committed to Him with all of their hearts as they had been before. Then, the Jews had to make their choice. A troop of so-called Maccabees turned against the Syrian authorities. They arose not because they were ideological defenders of the faith, but because of increased pressure from their enemy.
We face a similar choice when God places us in difficult life situations. We either give up or make a decision to follow God. Our choice in favor of God gives rise to our renewal process (2 Corinthians 4:16).
If we do not make the right choice, God can use the circumstances of our life as we experience hardships and deprivations. These circumstances can repeat until we make right decision. It can be incredibly difficult for us, but God comes and helps everyone who has decided to follow Him, no matter what it takes. It is worth it to follow God's way at any time, even if we cannot see today how we will continue doing it tomorrow. Could this be the deeper meaning of the words of Yeshua: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34)?
Then, God performs a miracle!
He performed the miracle by giving a small group of these Jewish rebels a victory over the huge Syrian army. The Maccabees then purified and sanctified the liberated Temple and restarted continuous service there. Therefore the feast was established to commemorate the victory - the Feast of Dedication or Renewal, also known as Hanukkah (derived from the Hebrew word "lahinot" meaning "consecration" or "renewal"). Another name for Hanukkah is The Feast of Lights.
Hanukkah is a symbol of victory over Hellenization, the assimilation reflecting concepts and values of the pagan world. It is no less important in contemporary society! Before coming to the Lord, each of us was like a dark and defiled temple. Each of us was unaware of the truth that it is only the One who created our Temple who is able to breathe life and light into it. Even being reconciled with God, we can still be "Hellenized" by this world in many ways. However, if we decide to reject all stinky idols and open our hearts to the Creator, He Himself will renew His temple and purify it from all worldly things; He will kindle His inextinguishable light there. Let the light of God that is in you break through to shine in full force and effect, and this light will dispel the remnants of darkness from the past. Begin to serve Him in a new way!
We should follow the example of the Maccabees in terms of doing what needs to be done when freedom is achieved. The Jews conquered Jerusalem and consecrated the Temple, but they were not ready to rest. They began to set their Jewish brothers in other lands free, won independence for their state and had a chance to lead a consecrated biblical lifestyle. So, like them, we should not be satisfied with what has already been achieved, but instead should expand and deepen our freedom, serve other people, bring the light of truth and knock on people's hearts with God's Word.
Do not ever think that you are not ready to serve God, have very little knowledge, or no real skills or experience. God gave different talents to all of us, even before we responded to His calling. Begin to serve with what you have and God will increase, develop and add something new to it! God always responds faithfully and reveals His miracles to everyone who is faithful to Him just like He revealed His miracle of Hanukkah to those who proved themselves faithful.
The historical background of the Feast
In 198 BC, the land of Israel came under the rule of Hellenistic Syria. At that time, the culture of the Hellenistic world was "worldwide and universal". It was a mixture of customs and traditions of the nations of many countries conquered by Alexander the Great. There is a description of those times in the Apocrypha (1 Maccabees 1:41-43): "…Antiochus wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that all should give up their particular customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the Sabbath."
In 167 BC, the Syrian ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes issued a decree that any Jew who keeps and studies the Torah will be sentenced to death. God of the Jews should be considered a local incarnation of Zeus. The Temple in Jerusalem was defiled. A pig was sacrificed on the altar of burnt offerings. A statue of Zeus was placed in the Holy of Holies.
Until that time, the Jews suffered as they tried to adjust to the new conditions. But when the pressure increased, the slavery became unbearable. In 167 BC, in the city of Modin, a priest named Matityahu the Hasmonean rebelled against the existing system. His five sons joined him. Despite the danger they faced, their troops gradually increased in size and they countered the professional army of the Syrians.
Initially the war was a partisan issue but it later turned into a liberation movement. After Matityahu's death, his third son Yehuda, named Maccabeus, or rather Maccabi, took command. "Maccabi" means "the hammer" in Hebrew. Also, it is an abbreviation of rebels’ battle-cry "Mi kamoha Baelim, Hashem?" ("Who among the gods is like you, Lord?" Exodus 15:11).
In these battles, the Syrian forces greatly exceeded those of the Jews in both size and quality. But after three years of severe fighting, the rebels defeated the armies of Antiochus, liberated Jerusalem and captured the Temple. It was 164 BC on the 25th day of Kislev.
When the troops of Yehuda, or “Judah” Maccabi entered the Temple, they found "the abomination of desolation." The Jews quickly made a new altar, purified and consecrated the Temple and restarted continuous worship there.
Talmudic tradition tells us that the oil for Temple menorah was also defiled. Its lighting was a necessary condition for service in the Temple (according to Exodus 27: 20-21, the menorah should be continuously lit in the Holy Place). However, after a diligent search, a single cruse of undefiled oil sealed by the High Priest was found. There was enough oil in it for the menorah to burn but a single day, and it took eight days for new oil to be prepared. But the Maccabees thirst for God overcame all hesitations. Jews lit the menorah with a one-day supply of oil. Yet ... the menorah burned for 8 days, the time it took new consecrated oil to be prepared! The service in the Temple went according to the order prescribed in the Torah.
The Feast of Renewal is established in memory of the purification of the Temple and the sanctification of the altar (John 10:22) as an annual eight-day holiday, called "Hanukkah", by Jewish tradition.