Chanukkah In Scripture
The prophets Daniel and Zechariah predicted some of the events involving the Maccabean period: see Daniel 8:9-14, 23-25, 11:21-35, and Zechariah 9:11-17.
Messiah Yeshua celebrated Chanukkah. In John 10:22-30 it says: at that time the Feast of Dedication (Chanukkah means dedication) took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Yeshua was walking in the Temple in the portico of Solomon. Yeshua sanctified the struggle of the Maccabees. This is how it happened:
The Story Of Chanukkah
In 336 BC, a hundred and fifty years before the Chanukkah story really begins, Alexander the Great became King of Macedonia and Greece. Although he was only twenty years old, the young king was already a brilliant general and before long he had conquered some of the oldest civilizations of the ancient world. The Greeks soon ruled the near east, western Asia and north Africa; in short most of the then known world.
Upon Alexander’s death in 323 BC, at age 33, his empire was divided among four of his generals. Syria fell to Seleucus who established the Seleucid dynasty. Egypt fell under the control of Ptolemy. One of the smallest states of the Grecian world empire was the kingdom of Judea. It lay between two giant powers, Egypt to the south and Syria to the north, and was surrounded on all sides by countries who had succumbed to Greek culture. This culture came to be known as Hellenism. People everywhere began to speak Greek and to take on the appearance of Greeks. Only in Judea did the people continue to live a distinctive way of life.
Israel, though small and poor, was the corridor which linked Asia, Europe and Africa. Through it troops could be moved from one continent to another. The trade routs of commerce and caravans cut across it from east to west and from north to south. It was a highly prized territory and was buffeted back and forth between its greedy neighbors. Finally, in 198 BC Judea was conquered by the Syrian, Antiochus the Great.
For a time, Judea was permitted to live in peace. But in 175 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes ascended the throne of Syria. He was an ambitious man who dreamed of building a great empire just as Alexander had done a hundred and fifty years before. So hungry was he for power and fame that he declared himself the living incarnation of the Greek god Zeus. He demanded that his subjects everywhere prove their loyalty to him by worshipping Zeus. “Epiphanes” means “to show forth”. In other words, he claimed to be the manifestation of God. Instead of calling him “Epiphanes,” the Jewish people nicknamed him “Epimanes” – the madman.
Pursuing his dream of one great empire, Antiochus wanted to unify his empire and he demanded that the peoples under his rule abandon their customs and accept Greek practices. In Judea, his first move was to depose Onias, the High Priest, a loyal Jew, and to install in his place his brother Joshua who sympathized with the Greeks. Joshua changed his name to Jason and proceeded to open Jerusalem to the influence of Hellenism and assimilationism.
Under his direction, a Greek gymnasium was constructed. Priests were urged to forget their duties in the Temple and to engage in Greek sports. A small group of Jews from the wealthy upper class was dazzled by Hellenism. Following Jason’s example, they assumed Greek names and adopted Greek ways. Some of them even suggested that the God of Israel and Zeus might be worshipped side by side.
But most Jews would not exchange their belief in the true God and in the Scriptures for a foreign culture and heathen gods. Infuriated that this small stubborn people should stand in his way, Antiochus became obsessed with the idea of converting the population of Judea into Zeus-worshipping Greeks. He marched into Jerusalem, defiled the Temple and slaughtered hundreds of faithful Jews. Then he issued a decree that the Temple be turned into a shrine of Zeus, and that sacrifices of non-kosher animals, like pigs, be offered on the altar to his god. He decreed that any Jew found observing Torah should be put to death.
Jews were forbidden to observe the Sabbath, to circumcise their sons, to study the Scriptures. They were ordered to eat foods forbidden by Torah and to sacrifice upon heathen altars which sprang up in every town in Judea. The officers of Antiochus appeared throughout the land to enforce the king’s decrees. Instead of Greek culture they brought torture and death. It was a tragic time for our people.
The beginning of the change began in the village of Modin, where Mattathias lived with his five sons: John, Simon, Judah, Eleazar and Jonathan. When the King’s officers came to Modin, they summoned Mattathias, for he was a prominent citizen in the village. With words of flattery and promises of honor and wealth, they asked Mattathias to be the first to sacrifice to Zeus, so that others might follow his example. His answer was: “God forbid that we should forsake the law and ordinances. We will not hearken to the King’s words to go from our religion either to the right hand or the left.”
Immediately after this daring declaration, another Jew approached the altar to do the King’s command. Mattathias killed him at the altar. Then he and his sons fled to the hills. There among the caves and rocks of the Judean wilderness, they were joined by more and more brave men. They formed a small army under the leadership of Mattathias. Not long afterward, Mattathias died and his son, Judah Maccabee, Judah the Hammer, became the new leader of the revolt.
The men under Judah’s command were not trained for war. They were farmers and craftsmen. They were no match for the well trained and armed forces of the Syrians. But they had courage and faith in the living God. Armed with faith and with a detailed knowledge of the country, Judah led his men in a series of brilliant guerrilla raids. He attacked from the hills under cover of night. He used his knowledge of the terrain to trap the Syrian soldiers.
He moved swiftly and boldly against the enemy. After three years of fighting and four decisive battles, Judah and his army were able to clear Judea of Syrians. They then took possession of Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple of all the Syrian abominations, and rededicated it to the worship of the Lord God of Israel. The Feast of Dedication – Chanukkah, was held on the 25th day of Kislev, exactly three years after the Syrians had defiled it, around the year 164 BC.
However, this important victory did not mark the end of the wars for the Jews. For several years they continued to fight. Then Antiochus died and there was a scramble for the Syrian throne among several powerful generals. One of them was fighting in Judea at the time. It was necessary for him to return to Syria as quickly as possible. He therefore concluded a peace treaty with Judah restored religious freedom to the Jews.
But the Maccabees were not entirely satisfied. They now desired complete political independence. Some of the people wanted to stop fighting. The Maccabees continued to fight to free our country of Syrian domination and they were victorious. But in the struggles which followed, Judah, and later Jonathan, lost their lives.
In 142 BC, when Simon succeeded his brother Jonathan as commander-in-chief of the army, he was appointed High Priest and head of the Jewish community. He became the ruler of the country and established the Hasmonean dynasty of the newly independent kingdom.
How Chanukkah Affected The New Testament
The Sadducees were the party run by the descendants of the Hasmoneans. They controlled the political life of Israel during the time of Yeshua. They were also in charge of the Temple.
The Pharisees also developed during the time of the clash between the Jews and the Syrians. After religious freedom was won they stressed that Israel should be more concerned with their religious life rather than keep on fighting for political freedoms.
The Zealot party advocated war to liberate Israel from Rome. They used the Maccabees as their inspiration how a small group of Jews could defeat a much larger and better equipped nation.
The names of the apostles emphasize how important the Maccabees were. Five of the 12 apostles were named after the Maccabees: Matthew, Simon (the name of two of the apostles), John and Judah. Eliezar (Lazarus) is also mentioned.
Chanukkah is the first war that was fought over religious freedom. The Jewish people were the only ones on earth who knew God. Had Antiochus been successful in hellenizing us, there might never have been redemption for mankind. No Jews – no Messiah. This was yet another Satanic plot to destroy the Jewish people and prevent redemption from taking place through the Messiah. Chanukkah commemorates God’s victory over Satan’s efforts once again.
Antiochus is a type of the anti-Christ. The abomination of desolation that occurred when he defiled the temple and declared himself to be a god and then persecuted the Jewish people is prophetic of the anti-Christ and his future abomination of desolation, when he will declare himself to be god and sit in the Temple and cause the world to worship him and then persecute Christians and Jews.
The Jews that were hellenized tried to serve God and the world. You can’t compromise and serve the world and God. Friendship with the world is enmity with God. The same thing is happening today. The world is infiltrating the Messianic Community and the Church.
Remember that a small faithful band that knows God is capable of overcoming the biggest armies in the world!
How Chanukkah Is Celebrated
People give gifts and gelt (money) to each other and especially to the children.
There are special games played using the dreidel. It has four Hebrew letters on its sides that stand for: “nes gadol haya sham,” which means “a great miracle happened there.”
We eat special foods: we eat potato pancakes (latkes) accompanied with sour cream and applesauce. Latkes are fried in oil which reminds us of the legend of the oil which was multiplied. Doughnuts and potato chips, which are cooked in oil, are also eaten.
We say special Chanukkah prayers and sing Chanukkah songs.
A legend developed that there was only enough special oil to light the Temple for one day. The Maccabees decided to light the Temple menorah anyway, and miraculously it lasted eight days until more oil could be procured. We celebrate Chanukkah for eight days. In actuality the Jewish people celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days. We light a nine branched menorah adding a new light every evening. The one used to light the others is called the “shammash” (the servant). It reminds us of Yeshua, the great servant who lights up all the other lights.
CHANUKKAH CANDLE LIGHTING CEREMONY
Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the Universe,
who granted us life, sustained us and permitted us to reach this season.
Baruch Ata Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha’olam,
she-heh-cheh-ya-nu v’kee-y’mah-nu v’hi-gee-yah-nu laz-man ha-zeh!
Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the universe,
who has given us holidays, customs, and times of happiness,
to increase the knowledge of God
and to build us up in our most holy faith.
Baruch Ata Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha-olam, ah-sher nah-tan lah-nu
chah-geem, meen-ha-geem, oo-mo-ah-deem l’sim-cha, l’hag-deel
et dah-at Adonai, v’leev-note oh-tah-nu
b’eh-muh-nah kee-doh-shah v’na-ah-lah.
Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the universe,
who performed miracles for our fathers in those days at this season.
Baruch Ata Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha-olam, she-ah-sah nee-seem la-ah-vo-tay-nu ba-ya-meem ha-hem baz-man ha-zeh.
Shamash (Servant) Candle: Messiah Yeshua said: Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be the servant of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.
First Candle: Genesis describes the creation of the first light: God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
Second Candle: Exodus reveals that God is the source of Israel’s light: The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
Third Candle: King David reminds us that God Himself is the source of our own individual light: The Lord is my light and my salvation; who will I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; who will I dread? You, Lord, keep my lamp burning. My God turns my darkness into light.
Fourth Candle: King David describes the light that comes from God’s Word: Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.
Fifth Candle: Yeshua is the greatest light of all: In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. As Messiah was in the Temple in Jerusalem watching the lights, He declared: I am the light of the world; whoever follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life. Simeon was promised by the Lord that he would not die until he saw Israel’s Messiah. When he saw Yeshua as an infant in the Temple, he declared: my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.
Sixth Candle: After we come to know Messiah, we are to be the light of the world. Messiah tells us: You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.
Seventh Candle: Isaiah speaks of the future glory of a restored Israel: Arise, shine for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you … And nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Eighth Candle: John describes our glorious light-filled dwelling place in the New Jerusalem: I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the Earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life!
Note: Traditionally, the candles are lit from right to left. The first candle is placed on the right side of the Menorah, and the second one placed directly to the left. But lighting them starts from the left and moves to the right. Thus the first candle that is lit is the new candle added for that day. The Shammash candle is used to light the others.