By Rev SEIK PITOI
LAST Friday, Nov 26 kicked off a Hebrew feast or festival which we as Christians do not hear too much about.
It is not in the Numbers chapter 23 line up of seven feasts (moedim) which run from Passover to Tabernacles. This particular feast is called Hanukkah.
In the New Testament, it is referred to as the “Feast of Dedication of the Temple”, which was observed by the Lord Jesus (John 10: 22).
The name used reflects the nature of events that led to it. Running for eight days, the feast this year commenced last week and will end on Dec 6. The Jewish date of Hanukkah is the 25th of the month of Kislev.
Hanukkah is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays. Interestingly, it falls during winter, the darkest, coldest season of the year. Also called the Festival of Lights, the holiday brings light, joy, and warmth to Jewish homes and communities as they celebrate with candles, food, family, and friends.
But what was the occasion that brought about the feast?
Origins of Hanukkah
The feast commemorates the time when Greece ruled the known world. Syria and Israel were under Greek dominion. A Syrian king named Antiochus invaded the Jewish nation and forced the people to abandon God and His ways. This act of “Helenisation” meant that the Greek customs would be imposed on the people, including idolatry. It also meant the people were forbidden to practice their Jewish religion, the worship of Yahweh, the rite of circumcision, and other sacred practices.
To make sure that no one could worship in the Temple, the king placed pagan idols in it, including that of their god Zeus, and even sacrificed a sow (female pig) on the altar! This abomination by the king was accompanied by an order that he was to be worshiped by the people. He also took the title of “Epiphanes”, meaning, “God manifested!”
In this dark period of Israel’s history, God raised up a small group of Jewish men who rebelled against the Greek-Syrian dictator. Led by Judah Maccabee and his sons and brothers, the “Maccabees” (meaning ‘hammer’) waged a successful rebellion against Antiochus and drove the Syrians out of Israel in 165 BCE.
The high point of this victory was the liberation of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. After they cleaned it of all the pagan rubbish, they needed to rededicate it back to God.
However, they had one big problem: They had oil for the menorah (candelabrum) enough only for one day – not enough for the required eight days! But because they were desperate to make sure that the rededication took place, they went ahead and lit it on the first day while trying desperately to prepare some oil for the remaining days. They knew it would certainly go out after the first day.
However, to their surprise, the menorah continued to burn on that little bit of oil for the full eight days, giving them time to make some more consecrated oil for future use. This is one of the two miracles of Hanukkah – the victory over a vast army, and oil for one day that burned for eight days!
Spiritual applications of Hanukkah
Here are some points to ponder in relation to the Feast of Hanukkah
- The rededication of the temple is a reminder of God’s power to keep His covenant to preserve His people, Israel. His calling of Israel was for them to be the vessel to bring forth the Messiah into the world. The devil has tried to stop God’s plans for mankind through the Jewish people. He tried to destroy them from the start in Genesis and throughout history. This was another one of those plans, but it too failed!
- God set the time and location of the birth of Christ and effected it “at the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4). He even decided that the rulers of the people were to be from Rome, not Greece or Syria, and that the dedication of Jesus was to be done in the holy Temple in Jerusalem, (Luke 2: 28), and not in a desecrated Syrian temple!
- God set His plans and purposes for the nation of Israel and not even Antiochus could change that. Similarly, when you are in Christ, God is sovereign over you. As you walk daily with Him, know that nothing from the enemy can divert you away from His love and plan for you, for it will surely come to pass. However, only you have the power to refuse God’s plan, which will be to your own detriment.
- The desire to rededicate the desecrated temple to God brought about the miracle. Likewise, our bodies are God’s temple (1 Cor 6: 19). They must not be desecrated by the filth of this world, but must be fully dedicated to Him. When we give our lives totally to Him, we can expect His miracle to keep our spiritual ‘fire’ ever burning!
- Hanukah happened in a dark and cold season (winter). It was also known as the Festival of Lights because of the miracle of the menorah in giving light. Jesus referred to Himself as “the light of the world” (John 8:12) and charged His followers, saying: ““You are the light of the world.” (Matt 5:14). Just as Christ came to shine the light of salvation and hope in a cold sin-darkened world, we too are commissioned by Him to go out and shine our lights into our worlds of influence.
Consequences of having no Hanukkah
What if the Maccabees decided not to rebel against the ungodly practices of the marauding pagans? What if the temple was turned into a gentile pig sty rather than a sacred place of worship to the Creator God of Israel? What if what God planned to take place there didn’t eventuate because the temple was desecrated?
I believe that without the victory of Hanukkah, and those few gallant Jewish men:
– There would be no Jewish temple.
– Without a Jewish temple, there would be no dedication of Jesus the Messiah.
– Without the dedication of Jesus the Messiah, there would be no Christmas.
– Without a Christmas, there would be no Easter.
– And without Easter, we would all be lost and heading for eternity in hell!
Hence, thank God for Hanukkah!
The Hanukkah and Christmas Connection
It is also interesting to note that this feast appears around the time of our celebration of Christmas. Some say it is the Jewish version of the Christian Christmas. But is there any connection?
As I mentioned in a previous article, scholars tell us Jesus’ conception may have taken place on Hanukkah (may be possible that Kislev 25 fell on Dec 25 that year) and His birth would have been nine months later in September, during Feast of Tabernacles.
While that would tally up with other indicators, I should stress that the issue of whether it is biblical to celebrate Christmas or not should not split the Body of Christ. No Christian should look down on another Christian because of what he believes about Christmas.
I believe the important issue is to know the reason for our celebration, and who it is all about.
In any case, as we move toward the celebration of Christmas in a couple of weeks’ time, no doubt the world will be celebrating in their own way. But as Christians, we should be like the Great Menorah and use the occasion to “shine the light” of God’s love in our communities and villages, and tell others about the real meaning of Christmas.
If you are Jewish, I wish you a belated Chag Sameach, Chanukah (Happy Chanukah). To the rest, take care until we meet again next Friday.
- Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer. Do contact him for a chat on 7673 0892/7929 3896 or email [email protected]