I must tell you that I am glad to be past the celebration of Christmas. I enjoy the renewal of family bonds and the memories of the shared holiday with loved ones, but the materialistic aspect and the brawls at the malls seem to grow every year and tarnish the pleasure I once derived. And ever since the Lord revealed to me that this holiday is not about worshipping Him, it has increasingly hurt my spirit to witness, not only the commercialization of the claimed birth of Christ, but all the pagan symbology associated with it. I have written enough about this subject (here and here), that I do not need to repeat it. Rather, today, I wish to share with you another form of inspiration that feeds my spirit when it comes to the Incarnation of our Lord.
At sundown on Saturday, December 24th, the celebration of the Jewish holiday Chanukah began, and will culminate at sundown, on Sunday, January 1st. (I prefer the traditional spelling of the holiday, although the spelling as "Hanukkah" has become accepted as mainstream in our culture, due to the simplicity of its translation to English). In the Jewish faith, the eight days of this celebration represent the miracles of God in the centuries since their faith was founded... beginning with the miraculous birth of Isaac, through their deliverance out of Egypt, through the continuity of the Jewish people throughout numerous defeats by world empires and subsequent captivities (including the Holocaust of the 20th Century); all the way to the miracle of the rebirth of the State of Israel, including their eternal capital, Jerusalem.
Although the ultimate miracle of scales being lifted [so that they recognize Jesus as their Messiah] has not been completely fulfilled yet, there are tens of thousands of the Jewish faith who have received this miracle in a personal way. And the celebration of Hanukkah holds both an historic and future significance for them. And since, as Christians, we are grafted into the Jewish faith, the celebration of Hanukkah has great meaning for us, as we look to the Light of the World.
You see, olive oil can be a picture of the Holy Spirit, the One who sanctifies us, fills us, readies us to see Christ, and brings us light, joy, and spiritual health. And, as David Guzik tells us in his commentary, "God never wanted the lamps to lose their fire. Only a continual supply of oil and trimming of the wicks could keep them burning. We can only continue to be on fire for God if we are continually supplied with the oil of the Holy Spirit, and are 'trimmed' by God to bear more light".
That is a symbolic understanding of the Menorah and its significance. But there is a real life story of God's miracle in keeping His Light burning... It occurs during that time period when the Roman Empire is ascending and flexing its muscles against the fading Greek Empire. The small nation of Israel finds itself caught in the middle of the battle for power among the Syrians, the Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Romans. The Jews, in Israel, eventually find themselves under the rule of the Greek leader Antiochus Epiphanies, who came to power with flattering offers of peace.
At the time, the High Priest was Onias lll, and he was considered the prince of the covenant. His brother Jason, was corrupt, and wanted to bring Greek culture to Israel. So Antiochus had Onias murdered and replaced him with Jason, as High Priest. This High Priest (Jason) is soon replaced by another priest (Menelaus) who offers to pay Antiochus huge bribe money to hold this prestigious office. Jason has heard false rumors that Antiochus has been killed in battle and leads a small army against Jerusalem to get his office back. This, of course, angers Antiochus and he unleashes his hatred of the Jews in a fury, killing many Jews, selling many of them into slavery, and plundering the treasures of the Temple.
In the meantime, Menelaus is forcing a false worship system on the Jews and making them accept the Greek culture and worship the Greek idols. Antiochus sends his general Apollonius to occupy Jerusalem and they sacrifice pigs on the Temple altar. The Jews were made to take part in drunken orgies in honor of the god of wine, Bacchus. Jews are forbidden on penalty of death from practicing any form of Judaism including circumcision or observing the Sabbath.
Furthermore, Antiochus had ordered the Jewish Scriptures to be destroyed, and he and his soldiers brought prostitutes into the Temple and there had sex with them in order to defile the Temple. The final outrage for the pious Jews of the land came when Antiochus sacked the Temple and erected an altar there to the pagan god Zeus. Then, on December 25, 168 BC, Antiochus offered a pig to Zeus on the altar of God. (This is a picture of the "abomination of desolation" that Daniel mentions, and which Jesus references as coming again, right before His return).
The apostate Jews listened to the flatteries of Antiochus and left the worship of YHWH. But God always has a remnant that remain faithful to Him despite persecution. That was the Maccabee family. Mattathias Maccabee is angered when he witnesses a priest about to take part in these blasphemies in the Temple and kills him on the altar.
When Daniel says, in Chapter 11, verse 32, but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits, it is a direct refererence to the Maccabees. REMEMBER: This time period occurs in the Silent Years between Malachi and Matthew. These events took place in the period after the Old Testament was completed with the writings in Malachi. It was a hard time for the faithful Jews and a period of extreme persecution. It was a time of mixed loyalties among the Jews. Some believed God, and were faithful even unto death. Others rejected Him, believing the lies of Antiochus. IT WILL BE THE SAME IN THE END TIMES, AT THE TIME OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION.
At this time in history (just as it will be at the end of history), Antiochus was determined to exterminate the Jewish people. He sent Lysias, the commander-in-chief of the Seleucid army, along with 60,000 infantrymen and 5000 cavalry, to utterly destroy the Jews. This powerful army finally encountered Judas Maccabee, who had a force of only 3000 poorly equipped rebels, in the town of Emmaus, which was just over 7 miles from Jerusalem. Judas managed to gather together another 7000 rebels, but was still terribly outnumbered. He prayed to God for strength and deliverance (1 Maccabees 4:30-33), and God answered! They won a huge victory over the Seleucid army!
Judas then determined to enter Jerusalem and liberate the city, and also to purify the Temple and rededicate it to God. When they entered the holy city, the extent of the destruction which they beheld caused them to be overwhelmed by grief (1 Maccabees 4:36-40). Their grief, however, soon turned to determination and action. They set about the task of driving the enemy out of the city, and also of cleaning up the Temple. On December 25, 165 BC (exactly three years after Antiochus had defiled the altar of God by offering a pig upon it), the Temple of God was rededicated to God with rejoicing and sacrifices. The celebration continued for eight days. This is the famous "Feast of Lights" (Hanukkah) which is still celebrated by the Jews to this day.
In fact, there are two miracles associated with this religious holiday. The first is that the small band of Jewish rebels were able to defeat the massive and superior Syrian-Greek army. The second miracle is that during the rededication of the Temple, and upon the priests’ return to light the menorah, they discovered there was only one vial of oil, which should have lasted no more than a day. But YHWH miraculously replenished the oil so that it sufficed for eight days.
It is a time to recognize the miracle of the State of Israel existing in its homeland, with its eternal capital Jerusalem. We need to see that Israel continues as a nation that is bringing light unto the world in a neighborhood of darkness and turmoil. As a Christian, I see the original story of Hanukkah being played out in today's headlines. And I believe that Hanukkah has great significance to my faith. Yes, it is a celebration of, and for, the Jewish people. But in the "Festival of Lights", I believe I can see God's presence and faithfulness as the Light of the World.
Just let your spirit rejoice in this Hanukkah prayer: We kindle these lights because of the wondrous deliverance You performed for our ancestors. During these eight days of Hanukkah, these lights are sacred; we are not to use them but only to behold them, so that their glow may rouse us to give thanks for Your wondrous acts of deliverance.
The miracles that occurred 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem give my spirit courage and comfort in this dark world. I am grafted into that covenant between God and Israel, and Hanukkah is recognition of the miracle [of deliverance from sin] that God has given all of us in our lives. Let us never forget that the Light came to shine on each of us, and from each of us. Happy Hanukkah!
Ephesians 5:8 For once you were darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light [live as those who are native-born to the Light].