The Bible refers to it as the “feast of dedication” (John 10:22), the Books of the Maccabees as the “celebration of the purification” and Titus Flavius Josephus calls it the “festival of lights”. What does the word Hanukkah mean? Hannukat Baba’it means housewarming, and hanak (lahanok) is to have a grand opening; to give a housewarming. Let’s see what preceded the events of Hanukkah!
The period of Persian Rule was coming to its end (A.D. 539 –332). Alexander the Great enters the historical arena after conquering the Persian Empire with Greco-Macedonian army. A huge Empire now stretches from Greece to northwestern India.
This epoch is called the Hellenistic period; the mixture of Greek culture and religion with cultures and religions of conquered countries. The Hellenistic world differed from others as the Greeks claimed to take the best from every culture and religion. However, it also had a “dark side” of the Hellenistic culture which is Hellenic pagan spirit which is still relevant to this day. This spirit hides the true God of Israel from everyone who appeared to be under its influence. Note that this is not about Greco-Roman civilization which has done a lot of good for the whole of mankind.
In this new Hellenistic culture, many countries ceased to exist. And, from the biblical point of view, the world was divided into two camps – Hellenes (heathenry) and Jews.
In 200 BC, Eretz Yisrael was conquered by Seleucid army headed by Antiochus III the Great. In those days, small Judaea was quite unlike the other countries and nations. It belonged to one God.
Nevertheless, Jewish upper class (princes and priesthood elite) was no stranger to an alluring Hellenistic culture and also started to surrender to the desire to take the best from a widespread paganism to be on the same level as high Antique culture. It was this upper class of Israel who were responsible for inviting this “best from paganism” to Jerusalem, Judaea. The spirit of Hellenic paganism “accepted this invitation” and it started to spread immediately.
Many Jews followed the upper class on this path. The most active Hellenizers among them were Simon, Menelaus and Lysimachus from families of the anointed priests. As a result, Jewish society was divided into several camps and it was an inception for an intense struggle between Jewish hellenizers and pious Jewish as well as Jewish and gentile inhabitants of Israel.
Around 175 BC, Antiochus IV Epiphanes became king of the Seleucid Empire. The spirit of Hellenic paganism has already come into a high position and has shown its true face. In order to break down resistance, religious persecution began against Jewish people who were faithful to God, who lived by Torah and who worshipped the God of Israel.
Under the decree of Antiochus IV (167 – 164 BC), it was prohibited to fulfill the law of Torah, to study Torah and to circumcise their children. The Temple was profaned and daily offerings were abolished. A dreadful penalty of death was waiting for those who broke the law. Judaea came within an ace of ceasing to exist!
God has found the Hasmonean family among priests; an old father, Mattathias, and his five sons. They were ready to stand up for themselves and for their people. Their hearts were burning with jealousy for their God and they were ready to die, but not to defile themselves. They decided to fight for the right of the people of God to be God’s people. And God has handed them a victory over professional and powerful Seleucid army (1 Maccabees 2:15-28).
After entering Jerusalem, the Hasmoneans purified the Temple nd pulled down the altar which had been profaned in order to build a new one. They lit the lamps on the lamp stand and re-established offerings.
Originally Hanukkah was a celebration of the dedication of the altar. Here we can find a very important symbol – to trust our whole lives to God and to belong to the Holy One of Israel. The Hasmoneans celebrated then the consecration of Temple following the lead of the consecration of Temple by King Solomon and celebration of Sukkot. This was God’s victory, the victory of biblical Jewish spirit over the Hellenic pagan spirit.
In this story we have very important lessons to learn.
Lessons of Hannukah that help believers in God of Israel win and succeed:
- Admit you’re weak without God.
- Believe that God already has the complete victory for us and for us. Our task is to reveal it.
- Be ready to go all the way for the sake of complete revelation of God’s victory, primarily, in order to receive an eternal salvation (Matthew 16:24-26). From the very beginning, the Maccabees armed themselves with knowledge that they were weak and only God gave victory and that it was better to face death rather than to worship false gods.
- Do not compromise with sin (Hebrews 12:4). Satan and his army are our personal enemies. We cannot come into agreement or to conclude an armistice with them! However, if we do, we ultimately give him access to the parts of our lives (James 4:7).
- Rest in assurance that God will not leave you alone in this fight even for a single moment.
- We live in the era of the New Covenant and we should remember that we do not fight against people, even though they behave like enemies sometimes. Our enemy is in the spiritual world. While facing opposition from other people, our strongest weapon is the love of God. There is nothing stronger than it!
- We do not fight an isolated battle, we fight in an army which is God’s family. We need to identify ourselves as a part of this live God’s family.
- We have the power to control our emotions. We can learn how to rejoice in any situation, not accept defeat, and to hate sin and the actions of the enemy.
Mi Kamocha Ba’Elim HaShem? - Who among the gods is like you, LORD? (Exodus 15:11) – These words were written on the shield of Judah Maccabee. The Maccabees knew that no one could resist their God. This altar on which our lives become living sacrifices to God through Yeshua Ha Mashiach must be the center of our lives.
As we enter into the festival of Hanukkah, it is important to renew the altar of prayer, reading of the Word of God, serving, worshiping God, and having faith in our families and with relationships with all people so that the love of God could reign in all spheres of our lives.
Celebrating Hanukkah and making Himself known to people Yeshua was preaching about the Good Shepherd. He has shown that He was the only way to restore relationships with the Heavenly Father (John 10:22-42).