What does it mean?
The word Hanukkah means dedication.
What is it?
This is often called the Festival of Light.
- It is known as the festival of Re-dedication. Although it is not a biblical feast it commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple after it was defiled by the pagan Syrian-Greek invaders who had introduced Hellenistic worship at the Temple.
- The festival celebrates two miracles. The first is the victory of the small Jewish army of the Maccabees over the larger occupying Greek army. The second is the lighting of the Menorah candelabra in the Temple using a limited supply oil which miraculously lasted 8 days
How is it celebrated?
- Hanukkah lasts for 8 days and nights.
- It begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev which is in either November or December on the gregorian calendar.
- Menorah candles are lit, one on each of the eight days of the festival plus one additional one called the attendant candle so there are nine stems on the Menorah candelabra.
- Food fried in oil such a donuts, heb. sufganniyot, are eaten and gifts given.
The Story Of Hanukkah
The story begins in the year 222 B.C.E. Antiochus III, King of Syria was successful in overcoming the land of Israel which he annexed to his kingdom. Initially, he was favourable towards the Jews in Israel, but once he was defeated by the Romans and required to pay heavy taxes to Rome, he passed the burden on to his people.
Life for the Jews was not good. They were persecuted.
On his death, Antiochus was succeeded by his son Seleucus IV, who further pushed Hellenistic idol worship and the Greek way of life.
Many Jews assimilated into this Hellenistic way of worship. The Jewish culture, worship at the Temple and faith was under threat as many sought to be assimilated into Hellenism.
The High Priest, Yochanan, saw the danger to Judaism. The Greek and Syrian held values of outward beauty which conflicted with the spiritual emphasis on truth and purity held by the Jews. Consequently, Yochanan opposed any Hellenistic influence and was hated because of his stance.
The need for funds to pay taxes to the Romans drove Seleucus to attempt to rob the Temple of it's wealth. He sent his minister to take money from the Temple treasury.
Yochanan tried to prevent him but was ignored. On entering the Temple area the minister was struck with fear and fainted. He came around but, didn't dare try to enter in to the Temple again.
Antiochus IV Epiphanies succeeded on the death of his brother Seleucus and ruled in the land of Israel. He was a tyrant ruler and began to oppress the Jews in the land in an attempt to unify the his kingdom through a common religion and culture.
He removed the High Priest, Yochanan, from the Temple in Jerusalem. In his place he put Yochanan's brother Joshua who was more favourable to the Hellenistic practices of the Greek tradition. Yochanan was later murdered for his views and attempts to protect the Jewish worship.
Antiochus was warring with the Egyptians when the Roman authorities called him back to Israel. He turned on the Jews who he planned to suppress, killing thousands of them. Harsh decrees against Jewish worship, Sabbath rest, circumcision and dietary laws were issued to eradicate the Jewish way of life and worship.
Enforcement of idol worship was carried out and more Jews died rather than deny their faith.
The Jews fled to the hills of Judea to escape but were pursued. In Modiin an alter to pagan God's was erected by some of the pursuing army. The ageing priest, Mattityahu was threatened but, resisted the soldiers who sought to defile the area with pagan worship. He along with some of the Jewish community overcame the army in that region.
Mattityahu and his village were joined by more Jews and legions were formed who lived hidden in the hills, worked to defend the Torah and their faith and destroy pagan alters wherever they found them.
Before he died, Mattityahu passed on the mantle to Judah the Strong, he was called was called 'Maccabee', a word composed of the initial letters of the four Hebrew words Mi Kamocha Ba'eilim Hashem , "Who is like You, O God."
Antiochus sent a huge, well equipped army to rid the land of the Maccabees. The Maccabees defeated the Syrian army and again in a series of battles they won. They fought to defend their faith and the way of worship at the Temple.
Jerusalem was liberated from Syrian control and the Temple was cleared of idols. The altar was rebuilt and the because the Menorah had been stolen so a new one was made.
In order to light it they needed oil but only a small amount of sacred oil was found that had been blessed by the High Priest, Yochanan. The oil was sufficient for one day. Traditionally the Menorah would burn continually.
According to the Talmud, the Menorah didn't burn for just one day, but by a miracle it burned for eight days which was enough time for more oil to be dedicated and purified. This sign showed the people that God was watching over them and providing for them.
What Should It Mean For Us?
As believers in Yeshua and people who are very mindful of the Hebraic routes of our faith the Festival of Light or Hanukkah is important.
The miracles that led to the Maccabees triumphing over their enemies and the eventual re-dedication of the Temple meant the Jews were to survive the attempt to annihilate them and eradicate their worship. The Jewish lineage gave us our Saviour and a way to God the Father.
In the darkness of our world we read that Jesus is the Light. This is a festival that celebrates light, it's a miraculous light. As the Jews faced a threat to their faith and worship because many had assimilated in to the Hellenistic idol worship that pervaded the culture of the day so we face a similar threat.
As believers we celebrate Christmas which is a holy festival remembering the birth of our Saviour Yeshua. And yet we are assimilated into the secular Christmas celebration which worship the idols of materialism, consumerism and greed. We often don't look any different from those who have taken the Christmas celebration and called it Xmas, leaving out Christ.
The account of the miracles that are celebrated in Hanukkah and the examples of those who remained faithful inspire our faith. The Light has come into the world. It is fitting to celebrate the birth of the One who is the light.
John 12:46: "I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness."
It is also fitting that we give thanks for the miracles that protected the Jews. Our Saviour is a Jew.
John 8:12: "Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'"
As we acknowledge and appreciate our Hebraic routes, the route that we share with the Jews, the root into which, as gentiles, we are grafted, let's join with our Jewish brethren in celebrating Hanukkah.
We can give thanks for the Light of the World who is Jesus / Yeshua and rededicate ourselves to following Him. We can celebrate the miracle of salvation that He gives us.
We can give thanks for His protection and provision that is as real today as it was for the Maccabees.
We can also seek to resist assimilation in to the world's way of living and remain true to The Way.