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Chanuka, Hanukkah, Chanukah - חֲנֻכָּה

No matter how you spell it most of us know, Chanuka refers to the "Jewish" holiday that falls around the same time as Christmas. Some people even call it "the Jewish Christmas”!

Growing up celebrating Chanuka. I learned the significance of the holiday was simply this: There was a king, Epiphanies, who wanted the Jews to worship other gods. He set idols in the temple and commanded the people to bow before them. If they refused to bow, they were killed. A small group of Jewish men decided, enough was enough. One of the priests refused to comply. His sons formed an army to fight the (Syrian) king who was oppressing them. The army was known as the Maccabees (because Judah Maccabee and his brothers organized them to fight). The Maccabees won their battles, cleaned the temple of idols, and then proceeded to light the "eternal" light that hung over the tabernacle. However, to their dismay, there was only enough oil to burn for one day. But another miracle occurred. The lamp continued to burn until more oil arrived - 8 full days later.

When I first became a believer, I stopped celebrating Chanuka, mostly because I didn’t know what the Hebrew word Chanuka, meant. But, years later while reading the book of John, I realized Jesus was in Jerusalem on Chanuka and that started me searching and seeking the Lord to understand more about this feast. (John 10:22, 23)

Chanuka means dedication. In The Jewish Complete Bible translation, John 10:22 we read that Jesus was in Jerusalem on “The Feast of Dedication” and while at the Temple in the portico of Solomon, He responded to the Jews that had gathered. They asked Him if He was "the Messiah" and He told them He was. (John 10:24-30) But hearing Him they didn’t hear; they didn’t believe. (John 10:33,36 [ESV v.36])

The obvious implication for me, for us, is that, we as temples of the Lord we should use the occasion of Chanukah to remind us that it is important to periodically cleanse our hearts and rededicate ourselves to the Lord. But there is even more to glean from the study of this holiday.

Chanuka חֲנֻכָּה "Dedication"

  • also called" Feast of Dedication" or "Festival of Lights"

  • celebrated on Kislev 25 on the Jewish calendar (This year it falls on Nov 28-Dec 6, 2021.)

Symbols of Chanuka

Menorah –

  • 8 branch candelabra + 1 taller branch = 9 total (the taller branch is referred to as the “shamas” or servant; it is always lit first and used to light other candles)

  • Symbolizes God's miracles, liberation of the Temple, and restoration of religious freedom to worship as God ordained

Dreidel - (a Yiddish word). דרײדל Hebrew – (sevivon) סביבון

  • According to a tradition first documented in 1890, the game was developed by Jews who illegally studied the Torah in seclusion as they hid, sometimes in caves, from the Seleucids under Antiochus IV.

  • At the first sign of Seleucids approaching, the Torah scrolls would be hidden. The children would take out tops and pretend to be playing games.

History of Chanuka

  • 2nd century BCE, Israel is under Syrian-Greek rule (Seleucid Empire)

  • Government tried to force the people of God to accept pagan worship and pagan culture

  • Antiochus IV Epiphanies – King of the Seleucid Empire

    • Antiochus means – opposer, with-stander

    • Epiphanies – visible God

  • Antiochus IV Epiphanies put idols in the Temple and desecrated it by offering the sacrifice of a pig on the altar to Zeus

  • Against all odds, Judah Maccabee (oldest son of the Jewish priest) lead a small, ill-equipped handful of resistance fighters (7–8-year battle – 167-160 BC) and defeated one of the mightiest armies.

  • The recaptured Temple was cleansed, and the altar was rededicated in an 8-day ceremony

Culture of the time - Jewish practices were banned. The elites among the Jews came into agreement with the Empire. - Among the priests there were “progressives” who complied with government orders. - BUT GOD had a remnant! The high priest Mattathias. He refused the command of a government official to make a sacrifice to idols in the Temple and killed the official.

- The government issued an edict for Mattathias arrest. He and his 5 sons, the oldest of which was named Judah, fled the city to the wilderness.

- The Maccabees w/people of faith became the resistance army.

- People had a clear choice/voice - exercise courage, to resist and fight nobly with the hope of recovering freedom to live as Jews and to worship as ordained by God or lose their faith, assimilate, and become a colony of the empire.

There are so many parallels for us today. As believers we, too, are always faced with the decision of who we will serve, the culture/world, the government, or the Lord. And just as there were divisions among the people of Israel and their priestly leaders, there is division in the body of Christ (churches, denominations). What choices will we make?

The Maccabean army dared impossible odds when they took up arms against their oppressor. They chose to believe God for their victory and freedom to practice their faith. Their rebellion was against the culture of the world and its demands to conform. They won their battle and their victory resulted in a revival.

One last thought about the symbolism of the menorah. The servant light on the Menorah is the highest of the nine lights. It is always lit first. From it's flame all other candles are lit. Y'shua is the perfect light. He is the Flame of our heart. Once it is lit in us we in turn take His light to others. To keep His flame burning, we need the oil of the Holy Spirit in our hearts just as the oil burned in the eternal lamp over the tabernacle.

Jesus the Light of the world – announced Himself during the feast of dedication we too, have the opportunity to bring the light of Y'shua into the world.

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