"The Festival of Lights
by Ed Christiansen
"And it was at Jerusalem the feast
"Now upon the same day that the strangers profaned
the Temple, on the very same day it was cleansed again, even the five and twentieth
The feast of Dedication and Chanukah are the same feast. The above verse from the Book of John shows us Jesus observed this holiday; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in Solomons porch, (Acts 3:11-5:12 took place there also).
This festival is one that came into being after the Maccabees were in charge of the land of Israel. Celebrated eight days, beginning in the third month, Kislev, on the 25th day of the month, corresponding to December in the Gregorian calendar.
In the year of 169 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes, the ruler of Syria, came to Jerusalem and vented his anger at Israel for what happened in Egypt, even though Israel had nothing to do with the outcome of his losses in Egypt. He killed men, women, and children and carried away the golden altar, the Seven Branched Menorah, and other golden and silver vessels, along with other sacred treasures.
To him the God of Israel was nothing. Full of contempt, he sacrificed a pig on the altar of the Temple to his Greek god Jupiter. He then cooked the pig and poured the broth from its cooking on to the Holy Scrolls of the Torah and upon the altar, polluting it. He forbid the Jews to observe their religious rites concerning circumcision, the observance of the Sabbath, and laws pertaining to clean animals. He especially forbid the study of Torah.
There were many Jews who refused to endure it. They fled to the caves and the hills and formed guerrilla bands to resist the Syrian-Greeks. The Syrian army tried to hunt them out; many Jews were caught and slain. But the caves of Israel are numerous, their openings are very low and narrow, hardly to be distinguished from the solid rock; inside they are large and can shelter many people. So the number of Jewish resistance fighters constantly increased.
In the town of Modiin, lived a man named, Mattathias, a member of the priestly family faithful to the Lord. He was a father of five strong, grown sons. He called on the Jews to attack the Syrians, and then to follow him into the hills, creating many attacks on the enemy. When he died, his son Judah, who was so strong that he was called Maccabee (the Hammer), took up the leadership. This is how they came to be known as "Maccabbees".
The Syrian army was defeated and driven out of the country in 165 B.C. Rejoicing, the Jews went to the Temple to do a clean up. They rebuilt the altar and made new holy vessels. Judah Maccabee proclaimed an eight day holiday for the "Dedication" of a purified Temple.
Why the eight day holiday? The Menorah, in the Temple, had to be lit again, so the Israeli soldiers searched the Temple, but could find only one flask of oil for the lighting of the Menorah that had already been prepared and not contaminated by the Syrians,. This flask of oil was only enough for one day and the preparation of fresh oil required a weeks time. The Menorah had to be lit, so they used the one flask of oil, and a miracle happened. Instead for one day, the oil lasted for eight days just long enough for the priests to compound and consecrate more oil.
Some say it happened this way: They poured the oil into the Menorah and lit it, upon arriving the next day, the Menorah was still lit. This happened for the full eight days, and thus the eight day holiday was established. Another way was this: The priest emptied the oil into the Menorah and lit it. The next day he would come to put more oil in the Menorah, as was his custom, knowing quite well that, this time, the flask would be empty. But lo, the flask was full again, he then put it in the Menorah for that day.
The miracle was that this went on for the full eight days. No matter how the miracle happened, this was the work of the Lord, for His people Israel. The people rededicated the Temple for worship.
The Menorah that the people use for Chanukah is different from the Menorah in the Temple. The Temple Menorah has seven branches with lights, whereas the Chanukah Menorah has nine branches with lights, standing for the eight days of the feast, and one more a servant candle which is used to light the others.
Some Jewish groups the Falashas of Ethiopia, for instance followed only what the Torah commanded. Since Chanukah is not mentioned there, they did not keep it in days gone by. However, when they came to Israel some years ago, they learned what Chanukah stands for, and they also began to celebrate this holiday.
Just think! The Jews were small in number, with no standing army, without chariots or horses or stacks of weapons; yet they defeated the mighty Syrian-Greek army! And for what did they fight? To take slaves? To conquer land? To build themselves a new reputation among their neighbors? Not at all! All they wanted was the right to study the Torah, to worship in their beloved Jewish way, and to follow Jewish customs that made their lives meaningful.
It is interesting to note that apparently the early Christians saw a vital link between the Feast of Dedication and the day when Christ was born. On the one hand a Temple made with hands, human hands-on; the other, the Living Temple of God which came down from Heaven to dwell in our midst. Christ compared Himself to that Temple when He said, "Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up" John 2:19.
Chanukah comes in the winter; families spend much time indoors. They therefore had to provide things to do at home in honor of the holiday. For the children there was the game of Draydl (spinning top). The draydl had a Hebrew letter on each of its four sides: Nun, Gimel, Hay, Shin. These are the first letters of a Hebrew sentence (Nes Gadol Hayah Sham), which means, "A Great Miracle Happened There." If you live in Israel the Hebrew words are the following, (Nes Gadol Hayah Poh), "A Great Miracle Happened HERE". So the last letter would be a "Peh" instead of a "Shin" on the draydl.
The grown-ups often play cards because of the situation that developed during the Syrian oppression, and later under Rome when Jews were forbidden to gather together to study Torah and perform Jewish observances. They came together to study anyway, but took with them cards, Draydl and other games. When the Syrian soldiers or police approached, they quickly hid their religious books and began spinning the tops or playing the card games. Such ingenuity! just so that they could study Torah, pray and worship as they saw fit.
The children also loved the "Gelt" (money). Most Jews of Eastern Europe were so poor that on very few occasions could the gift of money be given. But Chanukah was that special occasion where money was given. Even the poorest parents would bring out a few coins to give their children. They would sing the songs of victory and hope, and retell the story to their children out of the sheer joy of Chanukah.
Christians & Chanukah
"Chanukah, comes around the same time as Christmas, and although Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, his followers brought death and terror to many Jewish communities for more than 1,500 years." (Pathways through the Jewish Holidays, by Sulamith Ish-Kishor, p.45) Why is this so? Do we not follow the example of Jesus? Do we preach with such fervor and zeal that anything goes, just to get people to say yes to our plea? The Spirit of God is then left out of our practice and reasoning, with the result of a purely manmade doctrine. He said, "I will draw men unto me." Man, pushing to get numbers or religious status from the brethren, is not the divine order.
We want all men to come and know the blessed hope of Israel and the Church the MESSIAH. The Jews, however, cannot be classed with the heathen for they already look for the Messiah to come. No amount of persuasion can change the fact, "Salvation is of the Jews." (John 4:22) We become a seed of Israel, through adoption into that family, "And if ye be Christs, then are ye Abrahams seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29). We must remember that Abraham is the Father of the Faithful, of those that fear God from all peoples.
Gifts are given during this time and the greatest gift is the salvation that we are talking about, that comes through Israel to all people that believe and have faith in that Messiah.
In Israel the young people run the Maccabee Torch from town to town and finally to Jerusalem. It all starts in the town of Modiin, north of Jerusalem, the torch is lit at the graves of the Maccabean brothers, given to a runner who takes it to the next town, etc. and goes from there through 38 towns, handing off the torch to new runners They sort of encircle Jerusalem. Let me relate the following example from the year 5724 (1964). Starting at Modiin, they went with the Torch west and south to Tel Aviv. From Tel Aviv it was handed to Israels top long-distance runner, Jair Pantilat, who took it to Chief Rabbi Unterman. From there it was run to Yad Chaim Weizmann, the memorial place of Israels first President. The cross-country run ended at Jerusalem where the President of Israel, then President Shazar, kindled the Menorah atop the capital by that very torch from Modiin.
The Menorah is a light to the nations bearing forth the living symbol of light that stands for the freedom of religion to all peoples. Can we not learn from this to bring forth light to guide others to the God who created us for Himself, that we may know Him and love Him and seek for Him. Let us be ready for the Messiah will come and not tarry.
When Rome was bearing down upon the Hebrews so ruthlessly, they looked for the Messiah and wanted him to come. He did, but God had closed their eyes to see the manifestation of that Blessed One so that the whole counsel of God might be fulfilled. (Acts 4:28)
The symbol of Chanukah, being the nine branch candlestick, and the flickering lights in the pitch darkness of the night, bring hope; yet when the sun arises, the light from the candles appear pale and insignificant to the brightness of the day. But during the darkness of the night, there is light to lead us to the fulfillment of the day.
About two years ago, in the eastern U.S., there was an outcry for justice when a Jewish family came home to find that the front window broken and the Menorah in the window was also broken. They were disturbed to say the least. Their neighbors were concerned about the hatred that was exhibited in this act toward the Jewish community.
The Christian neighbors got together and helped clean and repair the window. Then that night when anyone went through that area of town they were met with a sight that brought out the oneness of the community. Down every street in that area, coming from each house was a blaze of light from a Chanukah Menorah in the window. Each home, Jewish and Christian alike, had a light in the window, lit and glowing. Hatred was dispelled and a light of understanding and healing was radiating from this place to the whole world.
Prejudice and hatred have to be broken and a healing flow from one family to another. The world will one day then bask in the true light of Gods eternal day.
Lets keep that light burning brighter and brighter till the day dawn and His Light dispels all darkness. The day when even "darkness shall end." (Job 28:3)
"And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding." (Job 28:28)
"Lord, what will thou have me to do" (Acts 9:6)
Remember thy Creator God;
The soul that longs to see His face
Show me the path to take; dear Lord.
What will you have me to do? Thy will most sure.