Chag Samach, Shabbat Shalom! Jewish Singer-Songwriter Adam Sandler once wrote, “Chanukah is the festival of lights, instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights.” In doing so he encapsulated what most people’s understanding of Channukah is, presents and lights. Now while we could spend some time discussing proper gift giving practices for Channukah, I would instead like us to turn our attention to how Channukah is known as the Festival of Lights.
Now this is an interesting title for Channukah because the word itself means Dedication, not Light. So why is this festival of Dedication also known as a festival of lights? Well during the eight nights of Channukah we use a special Menorah or Lamp which is known as a Channukiah in modern Hebrew. Unlike the Menorah with six-branches and seven lights that was found in the Tent of Meeting and later in the Temple, the Channukiah has eight branches, with eight lights of the same height and one that is raised higher. The reason why we have and use a Channukiah is found in the story of Channukah.
The typical story of Chanukah which I was taught in Hebrew school is how the wicked king and general, Antiochus Epiphanies (whose name means “God Manifest”, which tells you something about how he viewed himself), went into Israel and forced our people to give up faith in the Lord to worship Greek gods. In response to the murder and paganism, Judah Maccabee, his brothers, and a small remnant of people who were still loyal to the Lord began a war against Antiochus. With Adonai’s help they drove him from the land of Israel, and rededicated the Temple to the Lord. But there was one major problem; there was only enough oil to last one day to relight the Menorah that burned eternally in the Temple.
Even though the oil should have lasted for just a day, a miracle occurred and it lasted eight days until more oil could be produced. So, the holiday of Chanukah is celebrated as the festival of lights and we commemorate this holiday with our Menorahs and gift giving.
The problem with this story I learned in Hebrew School, and that you also may have heard, is that the miracle of the oil most likely never happened. In 1 and 2 Maccabees, which record the story of Chanukah, there is no mention of this miracle; it was most likely invented later by the Rabbis who then recorded it in the Talmud.
But does this mean we should toss out our Menorahs? Does someone need to tell Chabad to shut down the giant Menorah Mobiles? I believe the answer is “No!” to these questions. Moreover, I believe there is a place for the Channukiah in our homes and in our windows. The Channukah Menorah is a sign for us of the power of Adonai, in our past, present, and future.
To understand the Channukiah we must first understand the Temple Menorah that it represents. We read in Exodus 25 the incredibly specific design for the Menorah. The Lord commanded that it be designed with flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms. It was to have six branches extending from the main lampstand and the entire design was crafted from 100 pounds of Gold as one solid piece. The Menorah served as the source of light in the Tent of Meeting and later the Temple’s Holy Place. In Leviticus 24 we are told that the Menorah was to be kept burning continuously, a practice the historian Josephus tells us still occurred during the time of Yeshua.
The continuously burning light of the Menorah is a symbol of the power of Adonai, the source and creator of light. In Genesis it is recorded that during creation the universe was Tohu va vohu, Chaotic and empty. Total and absolute darkness reined. This was a darkness that we cannot truly comprehend, this is beyond being in a dark basement, where you know light still exists outside that space, it was an endless darkness stretching on forever. The universe had never experienced light.
We read the Lord literally spoke light into being and it began to rush out, filling and pushing back the darkness. But as brilliant as this created light outside of Adonai was and still is, so bright we must turn away because of our limited human eyes, it will eventually fade and disappear. However, the light of God is eternal, the creator of light never wavers, never fades, and His will is always accomplished.
The Menorah does not just represent God’s creation of physical light, but spiritual illumination as well. As King David declares in 2 Samuel 22, “You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light. King David experienced Adonai as a Menorah who turned the spiritual darkness in his heart into light. For David, this was found through the Mosaic Covenant, but for us today in a more powerful way God’s light can dwell within us. Through the Lord’s Holy Spirit given through the death, burial, and resurrection of Messiah Yeshua we can have light within our hearts. Or as Rabbi Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4,” For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Messiah.” By believing in and becoming loyal to Messiah Yeshua we can not only experience the light of God’s glory but to have that light live within us and make us a source of that light. Into the endless spiritual darkness of our hearts the Lord comes in and makes us His temple.
A great picture of this process is in how we light the Channukah Menorah. We first light the middle candle that stands above the other eight, the servant candle known as the Shamash (servant in Hebrew). Using the light of the Shamash we light the other candles. Messiah Yeshua is like the Shamash. The son of God became a servant for us and in His resurrection, has been raised to heaven. Through Him light has been spread to each of us just as it is spread to each candle. We become containers for that light, fragile lamps that are only held together by the power of Adonai.
So, if Believers in Messiah Yeshua share in the light of God what are we to do with that light today? Messiah Yeshua gives us the answer in Matthew 5:14-16:
“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.”
We are called to let our light shine out for others. This is not for our praise but for the praise of the Lord who has given us this light. Just as the Menorah in God’s Temple gave continuous light for the Priestly ministry, so the light we carry is to illuminate the ministry we are called to. Sharing the Good News of Messiah Yeshua and the lives we live are to point others to Adonai, through His Messiah. In the same way Israel is called to be a light to the nations we are also called to be that light as well. Our faith, our light, cannot be hidden under a bowl, but placed like our Menorahs in our windows as a sign to a world covered in darkness that light exists and His name is Messiah Yeshua.
Now it is a fact that daily we fail in our duty to be Temples of Adonai. For Believers, our light dims and is tarnished by the sins we commit in the sinfully dark world around us. For those who have not placed their faith in Messiah Yeshua, there is no light to be found, it is like the desecrated Temple and the extinguished Menorah during the story of Channukah.
But Rabbi Glenn powerfully explained to us a few minutes ago how we need cleansing and that we can indeed be cleansed. The Maccabees, through the power of Adonai, performed the real miracle of Channukah reclaiming and rededicating the Temple, and in a way, we can be rededicated as well. Our lamps can be filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit and our light can shine to illuminate and push against the darkness around us once again. This requires us to acknowledge our sins, to admit we fall short and to ask for the forgiveness the Lord freely provides.
1 John 1:5-10 tell us how to receive God’s forgiveness and warns us against being deluded that we are “good enough” or that we have obtained a “maturity” that means we have no room left to grow:
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Yeshua, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”
All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of Adonai. None of us can bear on our own to withstand just one of God’s created lights, the Sun. Left out in it too long we burn and die. In the same way if we were to stand right now before the presence of the source of all light and life on our own without the redemption found in Messiah Yeshua, we would be totally consumed and destroyed. We must be honest with ourselves, Believers and Unbelievers, and admit that we need to be cleansed by Messiah Yeshua so that we can share in His glorious light. This may mean we are dedicated for the first time or are rededicated into His service when we miss His standard.
Even when things seem their darkest the light of God can still be found. The prophet Zechariah learned this as he helped lead a small remnant returning to Israel to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. In Zechariah 4, the Lord gave him a vision of several Menorahs and asked if he understood the meaning of them. The Lord explained that His will in Zechariah’s generation would be accomplished “’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” It is not through our power that great works are done but through the untiring work of God’s Spirit. The still small voice of Adonai moves more powerfully than anything we can muster on our own. As Believers, we are called to let the light we have been given shine, to share and serve our Great Creator. The Lord has promised to accomplish the rest in driving out spiritual darkness.
So, the Menorah represents God’s power in our past, with creation and our ancestors. The Menorah also represents us today and our need to be spiritually clean lamps of Adonai. But the Menorah is also a symbol of future hope. It is a reminder that despite the fact deep darkness seems to cover the world around us, we have an unbreakable promise that what has been accomplished in part now will ultimately be fulfilled when Messiah Yeshua returns and He begins His reign on Earth.
We only have a limited amount of time to get right with our Creator, to become cleansed, because one day soon He will return to Jerusalem and every knee will bow and every mouth will confess that He is God. We read in Revelation that the Heavens and the Earth will fade away with all its brilliant light. But it will also be replaced with a new Heavens and a new Earth, crowned with a New Jerusalem. In the New Jerusalem, we read in Revelation 21, “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.” Revelation 22, the final chapter of God’s Word add that, “There will be no more night. They (speaking of Messiah’s Community of Jews and Gentiles) will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”
In these final chapters of God’s Word, we have an amazing promise of light that can never be extinguished, of lamps that can never be put out. The Lord Himself will be our light and will drive away the suffering and darkness of Satan, sin, and death forever. There will be no more death, mourning or pain, all these things will have passed away. This is the eternal home to which every follower of Messiah Yeshua will eventually go. A place filled with the glory of God’s light that will shine brighter than any created sun, a light that will finish transforming us into the image of our wonderful Messiah.
So as we light our Menorahs, sing our songs, and place them in the windows of our homes let us remember what these small lamps really represent. The miracle of the oil lasting eight days may have never happened but the miracle of the restoration of worshipping the Lord and His Temple did. As we see the flickering light of the Menorah may it point us the eternal creator of Lights and the light we all share through His Spirit. May we also all remember the future hope and future light that we as Believers will be illuminated by, one day in the New Jerusalem.
May the Lord soon cause a new light to shine on Zion and may be worthy to delight in its splendor! Blessed are you, O Lord, the source of light, creator of the Menorah, giver of the light of Messiah, and creator of the heavenly lights.