“For the victory of battle stands not in the multitude of a host; but strength comes from heaven.” 1 Maccabees 3:19
The Festival of Hanukkah fast approaches. Although it is not one of the seven Feasts G-d commands His people to observe, it is definitely rich in meaning for those with a discerning heart. Yeshua, Himself, celebrated Hanukkah (John 10:22) and as we move forward, keep in mind that GOD our Father is all about times and seasons; and we, His children, are consistently encouraged throughout the Scriptures to PAY ATTENTION!
A LITTLE HISTORY
Hanukkah, known as the Feast of Dedication…or the Festival of Lights…originated in the 2nd Century B.C.E. (Before Common Era).
After Alexander the Great died, his vast Greek Empire was divided into four separate kingdoms. The people of Judea (part of the Syrian territory) had been living in relative peace. They were able to worship Ha’Shem at the Temple and practice their faith with little interference (as long as they paid their taxes and obeyed the laws of the government).
But there was a growing rift in the Jewish community. Many had adopted the lifestyle and thinking of the Greeks, forsaking their customs, traditions and even Torah itself. These Jews came to be known as the Hellenized Jews.
“And made themselves uncircumcised, and forsook the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the heathen, and were sold to do mischief” 1st Maccabees 1:15
Millennia later, is there really any change in mankind? I’m sure the Hellenized Jews just thought they were keeping up with the times…hmmm.
But back to the story. When the Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes took the throne of the Syrian Territory, things began to drastically change for the people of Judea. Antiochus hated the Jewish people and their customs and their Law (Torah).
1st Maccabees 1:21
“And in his [Antiochus’] arrogance he went into the sanctuary and took the gold altar and the lampstand for the light, and all its furniture and table for the Presentation Bread and the cups and the bowls and the gold censers and the curtain and the crowns and the gold ornamentation on the front of the Temple, for he stripped it of all”
Called a ‘sinful shoot’ in the 1st book of Maccabees, after ransacking the Temple, Antiochus appointed a Hellenized Jew as High Priest. He wanted all the people to be one…meaning that all people follow the way of the Greeks. So he outlawed the Jewish faith and required all to worship and sacrifice to the greek gods upon penalty of death. The new High Priest accommodated the King’s requests.
And on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Chislev (November, December on our calendars), a ‘dreadful desecration’ happened upon the altar of Burnt Offering. Hogs and other unclean animals were sacrificed to the greek gods.
We are instructed by GOD to be Holy as He is Holy (Leviticus 11). Abstaining from what GOD deems unclean is paramount to Holiness. If the people refused to eat the meat from the sacrifice which was not only unclean because of the type of animal… but also because it was sacrificed to idols… they were killed. And yet:
“Many in Israel stood firm and resolved in their hearts not to eat what was unclean; they preferred death to being polluted with food or profaning the sacred agreement, and so they died.” 1st Maccabees 1:62-64
The sacred agreement, for clarification, is the Covenant of G-d made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
So that’s what was going on in Jerusalem when Antiochus decided to send his officers into the surrounding towns to enforce the new rules and regulations. In the town of Modin they approached Mattathias, a respected leader among the people there, and offered him great rewards if he would come forward and support sacrifices to the greek gods and forsake the God of Israel. They promised him that he and his sons would be considered ‘friends of the King’ if they agreed.
Mattathias’ response? “God forbid that we should abandon the Law and the ordinances. We will not listen to the message of the king, or depart from our religion to the right hand or to the left!” 1st Maccabees 2: 21-22
A Jew from the crowd ran up to appease the officers and attempted to sacrifice a pig on the altar of Modin in honor of the greek gods. Mattathias’ anger flared and he slaughtered his brother Jew at the altar crying out, “Let everyone who is zealous for the Law and stands by the agreement come out and follow me!”
Thus, the revolution Hanukkah commemorates was born. Mattathias and his five sons and all the people who stood for righteousness, justice and the promise made to Jacob fled to the wilderness. We will get to the reason for celebration in a moment, but I think that each of us, as Paul encouraged in his letters, should take a long look at our walk… and soberly judge ourselves.
People were being systematically massacred. Women who circumcised their sons were hung, with their child around their necks, and anyone caught practicing the Laws met the same fate. Torah scrolls were burned. Homes were destroyed. The Temple in Jerusalem had been desecrated and all its treasures carried off. They were dark, dark days in Israel.
Forgive the graphics, but these tragedies are recorded for a reason; that we not forget.
We have a tendency to overlook the details because the details are ugly. But the details teach and prepare us to stand firm. So put yourself there. Picture yourself facing a soldier who is threatening a not-so-pleasant death for you or your child…and ask yourself what YOU would do.
Would you denounce G-d? Would you eat the flesh of unclean sacrifices? Or would you believe, standing firm in the promise? In the 1930’s, Nazi soldiers would unroll the Torah scroll, round up the Jewish men and order them to spit on Torah. If they wouldn’t spit, which those who stood firm wouldn’t…well, you get the picture. Evil doesn’t change with the times….
Mattathias and those joined with him (including the Chassidim, who were eventually the Pharisees) waged war on both the Hellenized Jews and the forces of Antiochus. A raggedy band of rebels…outnumbered and ill-equipped (in man’s terms anyways) taking on innumerable odds. Just the way GOD likes it, because if the underdog wins, it is to GOD’s glory and not the strength of men.
Mattathias died within the first year of the revolt. He appointed his son, Judah Maccabee, as the new leader. “Then said Judah to the men that were with him, ‘Fear not their multitude, neither be afraid of their assault… Now therefore let us cry unto heaven, if peradventure the Lord will have mercy upon us, and remember the covenant of our fathers, and destroy this host before our face this day; so all the heathen may know that there is one who saves Israel!”
The Maccabbean Revolt was successful and the forces of Antiochus were driven back. Praise Adonai!
And Judah and his brothers said, “Now that our enemies are crushed, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it.” 1st Maccabees 4:36
Now this is the ‘reason for the season’ (so to speak). The people, who found the Temple destroyed, set about to clean and re-dedicate it to GOD; the God of Israel… who had shown great mercy and saved them.
“And they took whole stones, as the Law required, and built a new altar like the former one. And they built the sanctuary and the interior of the Temple and consecrated the courts. And they made new holy dishes and they brought the lampstand and the altar of incense and the table into the Temple. And they burned incense on the altar and lighted the lamps on the lampstand; and they lighted the temple. And they put the loaves of bread on the table and hung up the curtains and completed all the work they had undertaken.” 1st Maccabees 4:47-51
Three years to the day, from the day of the ‘dreadful desecration’ on the 25th of the Hebrew month Chislev, they offered sacrifices of deliverance and praise on the new altar.
Moreover Judas and his brethren with the whole congregation of Israel ordained that the days of the dedication of the altar should be kept in their season from year to year by the space of eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month Chislev, with mirth and gladness.
So Hanukkah is coming! Rejoice! This year it begins at sunset on the 21st of December. And for eight nights we will light the menorah (which symbolizes the lampstand in the Temple) and sing and worship the LORD for His Salvation. What did Judah pray when he assumed leadership of the revolt and beseeched the LORD to vanquish the enemy? So that the heathen will know that there is ONE who SAVES Israel!
There is One who saves Israel. And His name is Yeshua.
Are you a believer? If yes, then you were once defiled just like the Temple.
You repented (beseeched GOD) to have mercy. In Hebraic thinking, this means that you turned from your path of sin. GOD, long-suffering, merciful and faithful, forgave you and through the blood of Messiah, you were saved. The enemy, Death, was vanquished. This is the pattern set forth by our loving Father whether it’s on the battlefield or in our own personal walk. Both are the same actually.
Our walk is a perpetual act of cleansing and dedicating ourselves to GOD. Redemption and Salvation are not blank checks. You turned the right way, but the redemption and salvation given to you can just as easily be taken away. If not, why does Paul say in Romans, chapter 11:
“Consider, therefore, the kindness and sternness of GOD; sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in His kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.”
And in Hebrews 14 he wrote:
“without holiness, no one will see the LORD.”
For now, we are His Temple. And it is our duty and our privilege to keep it from being defiled; to be Holy. GOD will not tolerate unholiness.
The Revolt of the Maccabees is a foreshadowing of the Last Days. In those days the third Temple will be rebuilt and eventually desecrated. It is described as the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ and with that, we have another wonderful event to anticipate. At the end of the book of Daniel we are told “Blessed is he who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days.”
If you study Daniel…and Jeremiah…and Zechariah…and Revelations…you will find that the third Temple will be cleansed and re-dedicated to the LORD. And this time, the Branch of David, our Messiah, will be seated on His throne in the Temple… in the Holy of Holies… in Jerusalem.
For me personally, when I light the hanukkiah, the special 9-branched menorah lit for Hanukkah, I see it as a testimony; a testimony that the Festival of Lights is us! Yeshua is the Light of the World and we are reflections of that Light in this world. Our lives are dedicated to Him. Believe! Stand firm! And have a joyous Hanukkah!!!!!!
Author: Jennifer Ross