Hanukah – A time of Dedication!
Hanukah – A time of Dedication!
“Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered” (Psalm 68)
All the great stories that shaped our cultures from ancient times speak of courage, faith, sacrifice, travail and hard-won victories. Some fiction, others historic, most of them draw from the deep wells of our biblical texts. And though the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukah in the Hebrew, is mentioned in the New Testament as a recognized Jewish celebration, we learn the full story from extra biblical sources.
The Gospel of John chapter ten tells us about Jesus’ intense discourse at the Jerusalem Temple that almost got Him stoned to death on the spot. What’s interesting was the timing, saying, “…Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, ‘How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly…’”
As it was back then, in just a few days all of Israel will be celebrating the eight-day Festival of Dedication, Hanukkah. And while Hanukah is not one of the seven Feasts of the Lord that God commanded Moses to teach Israel to observe, it is nevertheless an important celebration commemorating God’s miraculous intervention in the affairs of His people Israel for the sake of His great plan of salvation for all mankind. Let me explain…
What is Hanukah all about?
This Jewish winter celebration commemorates the cleansing and re-dedication of the Jerusalem Temple following the Hasmonean victory over the Seleucid Greek Empire that occupied the Land of Israel before the Roman period. This Seleucid Kingdom was a breakaway kingdom from the vast Greek Empire originally fashioned by Alexander the Great. At its height, it ruled much of the Middle East, forcing its pagan Hellenistic practices on the conquered people groups. The Jewish nation, however, because of its fierce adherence to the “One True God” religion, was targeted with extreme cruelty.
Facing the brutality and might of the Seleucid invaders, some Jews chose compromise and embraced hideous Hellenistic practices, forsaking the very first commandment which says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Others, such as the Hasmonean priestly family from the town of Modi’in, stood up for their biblical values and said NO to evil. Hanukah is the story of that family, their sacrifice and valor, the guerilla revolt that they launched under the leadership of Judah who was nicknamed the “Maccabee” (the Sledgehammer in Hebrew), their ultimate victory, and the re-dedication of the Temple of God.
Recognizing Israel’s divine calling and destiny to bring forth the Savior of the world, God’s Messiah, and perhaps sensing that the time of His arrival is drawing near, Satan attempted to wipe the Jewish nation off the face of the earth through assimilation. The devilish plan was to destroy the faith and eliminate the unique calling of the Jewish people through the banning of worship, Torah study, and biblical observances. If successful, this brutal “cancel campaign” would erase the true Jewish identity and leave future Jewish generations clueless as to God’s plan and purpose in the earth.
It was during these dark times that the priestly Hasmonean family launched a guerilla revolt in the hill country of Judea that quickly spread throughout the land in a desperate fight that had to be won if Israel was to preserve her God-given identity. The nation of Israel had to be present in the Promised Land as a Jewish nation in order to bring forth the Messiah who, according to Bible prophecies, had to be born to a Jewish mother in Bethlehem and raised by Jewish parents from the royal line of King David.
Historically, you would be correct to say that the very birth of Jesus of Nazareth and His Messianic claim hinged upon the desperate battle for Jewish survival and freedom that Hanukah commemorates.
The Drama Unfolds
The Greek/Syrian King Antiochus not only forbade the worship of the God of Israel under pains of death, he also defiled the Jerusalem Temple with unclean swine sacrifices and placed his own statue in the Temple to be worshiped as god. This hideous act drove God fearing Jews into open war as Jewish freedom fighters, led by Judah “the Maccabee,” revolted against Antiochus’ mighty military machine which was far superior to theirs, complete with armored battle elephants. Think modern-day tanks facing light infantry.
The desperate and costly fighting lasted three years until the enemy was driven out of the land and Jerusalem was liberated. The defiled Temple was carefully cleansed and restored to its proper state, but when it was time to light up the eternal flames of the Menorah (the seven branch lampstand) in the Holy Place and to re-dedicate the Temple to renewed worship services, the warriors realized that they had enough oil to only last for one single day.
Scouts were quickly sent out to the countryside to secure a fresh supply of olive oil pure enough for Temple service, yet their mission took longer than expected, bringing them back to Jerusalem only eight days later. Miraculously, the oil in the lampstand didn’t run out but was supernaturally extended, feeding the holy flames for eight full days until the fresh supply of oil arrived. The Temple was restored and the nation was preserved for a renewed season of Jewish life and divine worship that will last until Jesus of Nazareth was born at the turn of the first Century AD. This is what Hanukah is all about.
It is those eight days of the miraculous burning of the holy flames that all Israel will soon celebrate. Called the Celebration of Lights by some, the Feast of Hanukah is observed by lighting a nine-branch lampstand which stands for the eight miraculous days plus the “Shamash,” the servant candle, which lights all the others. Starting with one candle on the first evening of the celebration, we will be adding another candle each night until we arrive at the fullness of the celebration on day eight. Beginning at sunset on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, a blessing will be recited in every home and the “Shamash” candle will light up the other candles as families all across Israel will enjoy festive delicacies while the children play the traditional “dreidel” spinning tops games.
This year especially, let every person of Faith remember that if there was no historic Hanukkah that secured Jewish survival and divine worship, there would have been no Savior born in Bethlehem to the House of David. Israel had to be preserved as a nation unto God in order to give birth to the Messiah, and that, by God’s miraculous intervention.
We pray that this year’s Hanukah season will encourage our friends all over the world, reminding us all of God’s strong help and eternal faithfulness to support the cause of freedom, justice, and true worship.
As the Scripture promises, “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered; Let those also who hate Him flee before Him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” (Psalm 68).
Blessings from Jerusalem.
Your Sar-El team