Before the service started, a couple confided to me that their pastor didn’t want them attending our Chanukkah celebration – that there was something wrong, maybe even spiritually dangerous, about Christians celebrating Jewish holidays like Chanukkah. I want all my Christian brothers and sisters everywhere to know that Chanukkah is not spiritually dangerous! It’s an important holiday that all of us should be aware of. It’s mentioned by name in the New Testament in connection with some amazing statements made by the Messiah. John tells us: Then came the Festival of Chanukkah (“Chanukkah” means “Dedication”) at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Yeshua was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jewish people who were there gathered around Him saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Yeshua answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in My Father’s name testify about Me, but you do not believe because you are not My sheep. My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
What a great statement by Yeshua! That He is the Messiah! That the many miracles that God enabled Him to do reveal that He is the Messiah; that only those people who know He is the Messiah become part of God’s redeemed people; that Messiah is able to give human beings eternal life; that there is a very close, personal intimate relationship between Messiah and those who follow Him; that they are able to really follow Him in some sense, hear from Him in some sense; that not only does He give those who follow Him eternal life, He also provides them with overwhelming protection – no force in the universe is able to remove His followers from the protective care of this Good Shepherd; and that God the Father is working with His Son for the preservation of those of us called out from a dying world; that the Father and Son are not only one in purpose, but one in nature – fully God, eternal, uncreated, divine.
What great Chanukkah light we see shining from the Messiah! What a courageous statement of truth given by Messiah in Jerusalem, at the Temple, during the holiday of the Dedication of the Temple – Chanukkah. This makes me want to be more dedicated to the Father and to the Son, who is the Light of the World. How about you?
Even though Chanukkah is not mentioned by name in the Tenach, it’s so important that it is predicted in three prophetic passages in the Tenach – in Daniel 8 and 11 and Zechariah 9. Today I’d like to look at the prophecy found in Zechariah 9:11-17. In this amazing prophecy, God forewarned us that He would bring the Greeks into conflict with His people, and it would be a horrific time for the one nation on Earth that knew the Living God and the way of salvation. But He would miraculously deliver the Jewish people from one of the greatest threats we ever faced – the near destruction of our nation and our religion by the Greek empire.
Let’s start with verse 11: As for you also, because of the blood of your covenant, I have set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Waterless pits were used as prisons in this part of the ancient world. Joseph was thrown into a pit without water. To imprison him, Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern that had no water, only mud. This description of prisoners in a waterless pit is used to describe the Greek occupation of our nation during the time of the Maccabees. How bad was it for us? Very, very bad. Around 175 BC wicked king Antiochus, one of the most evil men who ever lived, and a type of the future anti-Christ, ruled the Syrian part of the Greek empire. After he conquered Egypt in the south, he and his army went north and came to Jerusalem. He entered the Temple, even though only the cohenim, the holy sons of Aaron were allowed to enter, and took the golden altar, the golden menorah and all its utensils; the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the gold decoration on the front of the temple; the other treasures of silver and the gold and departed to Syria.
Two years later Antiochus sent a tax collector who came to Jerusalem with a large force. He deceived the leaders of the city, promising he came in peace. After they allowed him to enter the city to him, he betrayed us and attacked and killed many Jewish people. He plundered the city, burned it with fire, tore down houses and surrounding walls, took captive the women and children, and seized the cattle.
Now that Jerusalem was under his control, like the future anti-Christ, Antiochus exerted complete political and spiritual control. He turned the Temple into a shrine for Zeus. A statue of Zeus was erected in the Temple, and not surprisingly, the face of the idol looked like Antiochus. An altar to Zeus was erected at the Temple and sacrifices of non-kosher animals, like pigs, were offered on the altar. This is the infamous “Abomination of Desolation” that Daniel the prophet mentioned. It happened in the past, and it will happen again in the future.
The king decreed that any Jewish person studying the Torah be put to death. Any Torah that was found was destroyed.
Jews were forbidden to observe Jewish holidays. Anyone observing the Sabbath, Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot was put to death.
We were forced to eat non-kosher foods forbidden by Torah and to sacrifice on pagan altars which the king’s officials built in every town in Judea. Anyone who didn’t offer sacrifices to the Greek gods was put to death.
We were forbidden to circumcise our sons. The families of those who had their children circumcised, and those who circumcised them, were put to death. The Greeks hung the dead Jewish infants from their mothers’ necks.
Month after month Jewish people who resisted these evil decrees were put to death. Many capitulated and abandoned their faithfulness to God. This was one of the worst times in the history of the Chosen Nation. The Temple, the place where God revealed His principles of salvation, and revealed Himself most clearly on Earth, was defiled. The Holy People, who were to bring God’s salvation to the world, were on the verge of being annihilated. The Word of God was on the verge of being destroyed. We needed Chanukkah for there to be the First Christmas!
Zechariah’s prophecy begins with the Creator telling us why He is going to help the Jewish people during this crisis. As for you also, because of the blood of your covenant, I have set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. The reason the Lord gives for rescuing us is “the blood of your covenant.” God takes His covenants with His people, especially His blood covenants, very seriously.
God entered into a blood covenant with our father Abraham, to be the God of Abraham and his descendants forever. Abraham cut some animals in half and the presence of the Lord went between the pieces. Circumcision is the sign of that covenant, which is still in effect. Circumcision sheds more blood, renewing that blood covenant for every Jewish boy. God made another blood covenant with the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. After Moses read the requirements of that covenant to us, the people responded: All that the Lord has spoken, we will do. Moses took the blood of some sacrifices and sprinkled it on the people, and we entered into another blood covenant with God, a covenant that was still in effect during the time of the Greek invasion.
The Lord tells us that He will set the prisoners free from the waterless pit, that He will deliver the Jewish people from the nightmarish oppression of the Greeks because the blood of the covenant has a hold on Him. It binds Him to act on behalf of His people.
Next, the Lord informs us that He will enable us to return to our stronghold, Zion. Return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope; this very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you. God will so work that the Jewish people, who have become like prisoners because of oppression of the Greeks, will be able to return to Jerusalem, the strong city of our God.
The faithful remnant of the Jewish people are called “prisoners of hope” because they possess, through their blood covenant with God, a sure hope of salvation. And this is exactly what happened when the Greeks took over the capitol city, defiled the Temple and committed the Abomination of Desolation. After three years of amazing victories, the Jewish people who had the hope were able to return to our stronghold.
The Lord not only promised to get His people out of a waterless pit, and not only to restore Jerusalem to us, but also to reward us double for all our suffering. Again, that is exactly what happened. Because of God’s grace, the faithful remnant was able to capture Zion, rededicate the Temple and establish an independent Jewish kingdom. This was a double blessing, because we did not have our own independent kingdom in centuries.
The prophecy continues: For I will bend Judah as My bow, I will fill the bow with Ephraim. And I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece; and I will make you like a warrior’s sword. God lets us know that He will empower the Jewish people to be His weapons against the enemy, which is specifically mentioned by name – the Greeks! So, we know for sure that this is the period of the Maccabees. A united Jewish nation, Judah and Ephraim, will be like a bow and arrow and sword in God’s hand – sharp, accurate and deadly.
After the Jewish people are stirred up and supernaturally empowered to fight the Greek invaders, Adonai Himself promised to come to Israel’s defense. Then the Lord will appear over them, and His arrow will go forth like lightening; and the Lord God will blow the shofar, and will march in the storm winds of the south. The Lord will appear over His people, protecting and directing them. His arrow will go forth like lightening, which means that His empowered people will advance forward suddenly and strongly. The Maccabees did in fact develop a type of guerilla warfare which devastated the enemy with sudden, deadly violence. The Lord will blow the shofar, announcing that it is time to gather our forces together and fight. The shofar gives direction which way to march. In other words, we will fight together and fight strategically – which we did. The Lord will march at the head of His people like the storm winds of the south. They suddenly and powerfully sweep in from the Arabian or the Sinai deserts, overwhelming everything. In other words, the Lord will be a mighty, irresistible force leading His nation to victory.
The greatest force in the universe will defend His people in their battles against the Greeks. Adonai Tz’vaot, the Lord of Hosts will defend them. The Lord of armies, so strong that no single army or combination of armies can defeat Him – will fight for Israel and through Israel. This is exactly what happened. When the Jewish people were stirred up to fight against the Greeks, God miraculously empowered us. Even though we were not professional soldiers, in battle after battle against professional soldiers with superior weapons, our losses were minimal. The Lord enabled us to win battle after battle, even when the odds were as much as 15 to 1 against us.
And they will devour, and trample on the sling stones; and they will drink, and be boisterous as with wine; and they will be filled like a sacrificial basin, drenched like the corners of the altar. Did our enemies expect to swallow us? The opposite will happen. We will devour the Greeks like hungry lions who kill and devour their prey. We will trample on their weapons as if they were sling stones lying uselessly on the ground. We will trample on the sling stones because when Israel is in a right relationship with God, no weapon formed against us will prosper. We will completely conquer the Greeks, and will drink and be boisterous – but drunk with victory, not with wine. Our enemies will fall as victims to divine justice. And they will be filled like a sacrificial basin. We will be more than conquerors, with tremendous successes that are compared to the sacrificial bowls which overflowed with the blood of the Temple sacrifices. They will be drenched in victory like the corners of the altar were drenched with the sacrificial blood smeared on it – symbolizing righteousness and closeness to God and success.
If a bear or a lion or wolf attacks the flock, won’t a good shepherd come to the defense of his sheep? And the Lord their God will save them in that day as the flock of His people. The Lord will save us from the Greek threat because Israel is God’s flock, and He cares for us as a good shepherd cares for his sheep.
The Lord will save His covenant nation because the sons of Israel, when we are faithful to Him, are like precious stones fit for a King’s crown. They are as the stones of a crown, sparkling in His land. And, isn’t every king committed to protect His crown jewels?
Then, after we have been rescued from this horrible disaster, God will restore and beautify the nation. For what attractiveness and beauty will be theirs! Grain will make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women. The people had been afflicted with poverty, scarcity and death because of the oppression of the Greeks, so that we hungered and thirsted and many died – but after the Lord saves us we will have plenty of bread and new wine which will make the young people grow strong, be happy and marry and repopulate the land.
The miracle of Chanukkah is not about oil being multiplied for eight days. It’s about God supernaturally saving His people from one of the worst men who ever lived – a type of the future anti-Christ; and saving His people from one of the worst periods in our long, and often painful, history. The real miracle of Chanukkah is that a small number of faithful and courageous Jewish people, supernaturally empowered by the God of Israel, were able to overcome the vastly superior Greek forces. The righteous few overcame the godless many; the weak who were loyal to the true God overcame those who were much stronger than they were. The faithful remnant of Israel won miraculous victory after miraculous victory until the Syrians were defeated, Jerusalem was captured, the Temple was cleansed and dedicated for the worship of the One True and Living God who alone can rescue fallen human beings from the real and utterly destructive forces of Satan, sin, the sin nature and death. The Word of God, which gives us the truth that sets us free, was preserved. The Chosen People were saved, so that 160 or so years later, the Son of David was able to be born among us as the Savior of the World.
And there is more. Just as the Jewish people were oppressed and imprisoned, all human beings have been conquered and imprisoned by Satan, sin, the sin nature and death. God’s message to you today is that, no matter where you are, even in the deepest and driest hole, God can rescue you from there!
Just as God committed Himself to rescue the Chosen Nation because of the blood of the covenant we had with Him, Messianic Jews and Christians from the nations have an even greater blood covenant today – Messiah’s Covenant. Because of that covenant, God has bound Himself to help us, deliver us and protect us from all evil.
Just as the faithful remnant of Israel was compared to gems in a royal crown, all of God’s children are like the crown jewels – valuable and precious and honorable in the sight of God. And just as the stones of a crown, which are of great value, are protected, so King of Kings protects those who are His.
We too are “prisoners of hope.” Christians and Messianic Jews have a great hope, a sure expectation of salvation and eternal life and a great inheritance. That’s why Simon Peter told us to fix our hope completely on the grace that will be brought to us when Messiah Yeshua is revealed.
And, the Lord knows how to reward those who suffer for Him. If God does allow you to suffer for a time in a waterless pit, and if you remain faithful to Him during that time of testing, you too will be doubly rewarded. That’s why Rabbi Paul could write: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Our reward for faithful endurance will far outweigh any suffering we might experience in this life.
So, what do you think? Is Chanukkah spiritually dangerous? No.
If there was no Chanukkah, there would be no Christmas – and every Christian should understand that. This is a great holiday that’s so important that God predicted it in the Tenach and the Son of God honored when He came among us. It makes me want to have my own personal Chanukkah – to be more like the faithful remnant of Israel in the time of the Maccabees; and to follow the Messiah and dedicate myself to serve the Three-In-One God; and to shine my light in a very dark world. How about you?