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Christian Insights from Hanukkah
Most people have heard of the Jewish Holiday called Hanukkah and understand it to be a holiday similar to that of the cultural Christian celebration called Christmas. Some of Hanukkah's modern observances are similar to that of Christmas in that they both occur around the same time of year, there is an exchange of gifts, and the use of and theme of lights.
Most of us think of Hanukkah as a fun-filled lighthearted occasion but the history of this holiday is actually quite intense, gruesome and fraught with the ultimate of challenges faced by the Jewish people. Its story is both tragic and yet victorious. There is much to learn from this ancient observance concerning the issues of love as is expressed in loyalty to our God in the face of extreme persecution.
This year Hanukkah fittingly overlaps with our American holiday of Thanksgiving with the first day of Hanukkah actually being on Thanksgiving day. The last time this happened was 1888 and won't happen again for another 70,000 some years.
How appropriate in that Thanksgiving could be considered a central theme of this Jewish festivity, in reference to God's deliverance and miracles.
Jesus Celebrated Hanukkah
Most modern Jewish celebrations can be traced to, and are rooted in, God's instruction for Holy days in the Old Testament. Hanukkah, however, is not mentioned in the Old because its events occurred in the 400 years between the two Testaments. These 400 years were known as the "silent years" because it is the last we hear of the prophets until Jesus is born.
In light of this, it might be tempting to question the legitimacy of this holiday until it is understood that Jesus Himself actually observed Hanukkah otherwise known as the "Feast of Dedication"
Now it was the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.
— John 10:22-23
In understanding the History of this observance it is my hope to give this account in John chapter 10 greater depth and clarity as will be addressed later in the article but first the foundation...
A Bit of Background Information
Historically the Old Testament leaves off at the time of the return of God's people from their appointed 70-year Babylonian captivity, which was a result of their forsaking God and His ways for idolatry and adopting the wicked practices of the pagan world around them. When they returned to their land to restore the temple they were under the rule of the Medo-Persian empire, that overtook the Babylonian empire, which was later conquered by Alexander the Great, king of Greece. Alexander the Great had no successors and therefore his kingdom went to four of his generals which eventually led to the Seleucid empire and the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes over the region of Israel.
Antiochus Epiphanes Barbaric Cruelty
Antiochus Epiphanes was a cruel tyrannical leader and an ancient terrorist who insisted that the Jewish people assimilate to the customs of the culture and forsake their God and worship of Him. His name "Epiphanes" means "God made manifest" and implied his desire to be worshiped as such. It was a highly blasphemous claim. His method of persuasion to comply was as graphic, horrific and hostile as the holocaust itself. He forbade the Jewish people from engaging in any form of religious practice including the reading of the Torah, circumcision, and observance of the sabbath and if they were found so doing the result was torture, blood shed, and violent humiliation. Women and infants were not spared from his cruelty.
His desecration of the temple, which was the place and symbol of God's connection and presence with His people, was as equally notorious. Antiochus Epiphanes erected a statue of Zeus, to which he believed himself to be a manifestation of, in the inner courts of the temple. He also offered a pig (a type of poster animal of uncleanness and defilement to the Jews) on the altar of the temple and poured its blood on the stones of the Holy of Holies.
It is at the height of Antiochus Epiphanes brutality that the events of Hanukkah take place. Hellenistic hedonism (the devotion to and worship of one's own pleasure), just prior to the execution of this radical persecution, had become extremely influential and pervasive in the secular world as well as in Jewish thought and culture.
Daniel prophecies about this time period and can be seen in the book of Daniel chapters 8 and 11.
The Maccabean Revolt
It is out of this tumult that Judas Maccabeus, a Jewish priest, who refused to abandon his God, temple, and traditions, led a successful 3 year revolt, through several battles against the much larger Seleucid army, to reclaim the temple and its practices of worship, which was the first of great miracles (a major theme of Hanukkah) surrounding these events. Their loyalty was admirable and unprecedented...
Let your heart therefore be loyal to the Lord our God
— I Kings 8:61
...to which God gave them the victory over their enemies and they reclaimed the temple.
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, And You are exalted as head over all
— I Chronicles 29:11
The dedication of the temple was immediate and the first order of business was to cleanse the temple of all the defilement it had suffered as well as to re-establish the worship observances and illustrates for us a lesson of sanctification. If there be seasons in the spirit realm according to these observances, this time of year may be a good time to search out and cleanse our lives of things that are tainting, defiling and distracting in the temple of our hearts, things that are standing in the way of pure worship and allowing our enemies to defeat us.
Now sanctify yourselves, sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers (we are that house - I Corinthians 6:19), and carry out the rubbish from the holy place
— II Chronicles 29:5
The Menorah - Festival of Lights
This re-establishment included the relighting of the menorah, the seven-branched lampstand that was in the Holy place which brings us to the second miracle of Hanukkah by which this holiday came to be known as a Festival of Lights.
It might be a fair revelation and application that when there is another god in the temple, the lamp of the Lord is extinguished. Re-dedicating our lives to God is the start of reestablishing the light of God in us.
This menorah was lit by the use of olive oil and a search was made for the pure oil to light it but only one cruse of undefiled oil was discovered, which only was enough to keep it lit for one day yet miraculously it lasted for 8 days. This is why Hanukkah menorahs have 8 branches. There is a middle stem in each Hanukkah menorah and it is called the "shemash" and was otherwise known as the servant candle that lights all of the others. This offers us a unique picture drawn from Revelation
I saw seven golden lampstands,and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man...the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches
— Revelation 1:13,20
It could be observed that the "One like the Son of man in the midst of the lampstand (Church)" is foretold in the shamash portion of the menorah. Jesus the light of the world (John 8:12) is the source of light for all the other branches which represents the church against the backdrop of a very dark world and is further imaged in this event in that it occurs during the darkest part of the year during winter.
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven
— Matthew 5:14-16
Significance of Oil
Modern observances of Hanukkah most commonly involve the cooking of fried foods such as potato latkes and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) in memory of this miraculous event of the oil. In the Scriptures, oil is many times symbolic of a work and or empowerment of the Holy Spirit that dwells in and works through us (II Timothy 1:14) and is often expressed in terms of anointing that resulted in miracles, again a theme of this holiday
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him
— Acts 10:38
In the Old Testament, this anointing was reserved for priests and kings. In the New Testament, we are made these very priests and kings...
To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
— Revelation 1:5-6
...and empowered to do His work.
...they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness
— Acts 4:31
This symbol of oil also is in concert with the parable Jesus told of the ten virgins concerning some who kept their lamps (spirits) filled with oil (Holy Spirit) in preparation for the coming of the bridegroom (The Lord Jesus Christ) and some who did not and were excluded from the marriage feast. This can be an essential lesson on keeping our lamps filled with oil especially in these dark times so that upon His return we would be found ready and about His business rather than procrastinating in spiritual matters and disciplines.
What To Do With The Defiled Stones?
One more detail of the temple cleansing worth noting, that will tie us to the New Testament account of this observance, was the removal of stones from the Holy of Holies which Antiochus Epiphanes so deliberately and blasphemously defiled with the pig's blood. The priests of the time were unsure as to what to do with these stones. On the one hand, they were sacred and therefore disposing of them seemed sacrilegious yet, on the other hand, they were defiled and could not remain in the Holy of Holies. They decided to place them in "Solomon's Porch", the outer court of the temple where Jesus was during the discourse observed in John chapter 10. They concluded that when the Messiah came He would tell them what do with the stones.
The Pharisees and Sadducees
Before looking at the text in John 10, it is important to understand that two well-known biblical groups emerged from the Maccabean Revolt, one being very liberal that succumbed to the secular systems and lifestyles of its time and would later become those known as the Sadducees. The other group was resolved in maintaining the religious rule for the sake of nationalism and this group became known as the Pharisees. Both groups were self-righteously and politically motivated in their philosophies and religious views. These along with the scribes were the religious rulers of Jesus time who seemed to work the hardest at discrediting Him as God
We may be able to see a similar parallel in our own Greco-Roman like culture showcased in our political parties. This is also mirrored in the increasing pressure to assimilate to the hedonistic values of this present day in one camp, much like the Sadducees as well as, is seen, the temptation to campaign and politicize our faith, like the Pharisees. Either way, we miss the eternal big picture.
John chapter Ten
It is in John Chapter Ten beginning at verse 22 during the celebration that Jesus continues his conversation with the religious rulers in Solomon's porch (John 10:22) that began during the feast of Tabernacles, a chapter earlier, after healing the man born blind which illustrated the blindness of the religious rulers who refused to acknowledge His deity.
The Good Shepherd
Their debate as noted in John 9:16 centers on whether or not Jesus is God to which He does not make obvious proclamation but implies it in His actions of miracles and discourse on being "The" Good Shepherd in John 10.
Keep in mind that it was this very temple and its rituals of worship that were so vehemently fought for during the reign of the sacrilegious and blasphemous Antiochus Epiphanes who claimed to be God and demanded their worship as well as violated their temple.
The religious leaders practically begged Jesus to just come right out and say that He is God, undoubtedly so that they might accuse Him of the blasphemy, that most, on this occasion, would be hypersensitive to.
the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly
— John 10:24
In this chapter we see Jesus implying Himself to be God interestingly not as a dictatorial leader like Epiphanes but one of a shepherd that does not drive or force but leads and does good and not evil. He chastises them for not being able to see the obvious earlier in John 9:39-41, and begins to describe in shepherding terms the reason for their blindness which essentially amounts to unbelief in Him that results in their not being one of His fold.
Miracles a Theme of Hanukkah and Witness of Jesus Godship
He points to His miracles, which would have been a recognizable theme surrounding the current holiday of Hanukkah they were observing, to validate His insinuation as well as He, directly and indirectly, accuses them of not hearing Him, when, finally, Jesus makes the grand claim...
I and My Father are one
— John 10:30
This was the moment they had all been waiting for. The Jews understood that Jesus was making a claim to be God, in this statement. And It was at this statement that the religious rulers took entitlement to make a possible legal claim of blasphemy against Him. They utilized and prostituted the passion and themes of this occasion of Hanukkah in an attempt to rid themselves of the one they perceived as standing in their way of both political advancement, as well as the maintenance of their perceived religious superiority among the people. They had begun to worship the traditions rather than the One whom the traditions pointed to and In their misguided religious zeal they...
...took up stones again to stone Him
— John 10:31
Here is the Messiah they had so long been waiting for, the one who would tell them what to do with these stones, and they picked up these very stones to throw at Him.
Jesus asked them, following the theme of miracles once again...
“Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?
— John 10:32
Their reply is one that is as if they were accusing Him of being Antiochus Epiphanes himself...
For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God
— John 10:33
The language and imagery of Hanukkah continues this time with the theme of sanctification which has a relevant application as well
do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
— John 10:36
Jesus is showing them that He is the true ultimate temple that they are so seemingly loyal to and are religiously protecting. The Old Testament patterns of the wilderness Tabernacle of worship, as well as the Temple, imaged the God who would come to dwell with His people. Every detail and measure of their structures pointed to and illustrated the very One that was standing before them and they couldn't see it being blinded so darkly by their self-perceived righteousness, religious zeal, and political agendas that they thought would bring "this life" happiness.
The practical application is to realize that we too are temples of the Holy Spirit in need of continual sanctification of anything, attitude or activity that comes before Him and centers itself on personal agendas and worldly temporal counterfeit forms of happiness and security.
what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people
— II Corinthians 6:16
I was previously at a loss as to how to conclude this article until the Lord had a genius idea of animating the lesson through how it applied to me through some humbling personal revelations that exposed some embarrassing prideful places in myself that are in need of cleansing and sanctification.
I have lived on both ends of the spectrum through the course of my life as represented by both the liberal Sadducee and the religious Pharisee
Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees
— Matthew 16:6
The contrast of these two parties not only show up in the politics of the world outside of us but can be underlying in the world inside of us as was displayed at a recent event.
In my younger years like the Sadducees, I compromised my faith and succumbed to the adaptation of worldliness and was the epitome of unfaithfulness to God which ultimately reflected itself in my life choices and relationships.
In my returning from such a place of disloyalty, loyalty to God became the focus of my attention in both my studies and doing the best in my actions to be loyal as well
This loyalty had obviously turned pharisee in me and was exposed during what should have been an innocent conversation between myself and another, concerning an up and coming holiday event to which, I, in misdirected Pharisitic like zeal took occasion to launch into an opinionated speech concerning the things I knew and understood about the matters being discussed. The tone was so hostile that I surprised even myself. I found myself straining the gnats of particular details and yet swallowing the camel of my unkind presentation. All who were listening looked like a bomb had just gone off and weren't sure what to do or how to respond and rightfully so. One of my poor friends tried to rescue me and the unsuspecting listeners, by reminding me that I had children to pick up and maybe I should get going. Bless her heart! After awakening from my opinionated induced rant, I spent the rest of the morning trying to do some damage control, if that was possible, by way of sincere apology to which much grace was given.
This reminded me of an Old Testament event about when God asked Moses to speak to a rock to bring forth water for the people. Instead of speaking to the rock as instructed Moses thought that it would be more effective to angrily express his underlying personal frustrations and took the opportunity to yell at the people in accusatory fashion, and incidentally exalted himself by implying that it was somehow his ability and responsibility to bring them water from a rock.
“Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock"
— Numbers 20:10
God didn't like it then and I don't suspect that He is pleased with it now.
The Love chapter came to mind as well, in conviction and reference to this.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal...though I have...all knowledge...but have not love, I am nothing.
— I Corinthians 13:1-3
as well as...
Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies
— I Corinthians 8:1
The Pharisee (religious zeal) is the opposite of a Sadducee (religious compromise) but neither is pleasing to God. When loyalty is not tempered with love, and when love is not tempered with loyalty it always becomes not about God, and all about us. Both extremes are blind guides that lead us into the ditch making us an ineffective witness of whatever it is we are trying to communicate.
I hope to encourage all this Holiday season to glean from this Biblical observance the blessed lessons of rededicating the temple of our lives to the one and only Light of the world that we might illuminate Him to a lost and dark world, keeping our lamps filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit as well as being thankful always for His deliverance and miracles.
May we maintain a loyalty to God that is tempered with all the mercy, love, warmth and acceptance that He has given and shown to us.
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind....‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
May we love people with all faithfulness to God as He has shown Himself faithful to us.
With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations
© 2013 Tamarajo