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Celebrating Hanukkah

22 Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. 23 And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. (John 10)

The Feast of Dedication is a Jewish festival mentioned in John 10:22–23. It says, "At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon" (John 10:22–23). Today, this Jewish festival is perhaps better known as Hanukkah, Chanukkah, Jewish Festival/Feast of Dedication or the Festival of Lights. It is an eight-day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, which typically falls in November or December on our calendar.

The book of Daniel is an extraordinary book that contains a detailed history of ancient empires and prophecies for the future which continues in the book of Revelation. As David Guzik said “Daniel 11 contains one of the most specifically fulfilled prophecies of the Bible, predicting history over some 375 years, and to the end, with amazing accuracy". This particular chapter deals with a number of key historical events including the event that Jews celebrate every year. Intrigued? Well, in Daniel 11:21-35 the prophet reveals the rise and fall of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Jewish Revolt against his Empire.

So he shall return and show regard for those who forsake the holy covenant. 31 And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation. 32 Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. 33 And those of the people who understand shall instruct many; yet for many days they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plundering. 34 Now when they fall, they shall be aided with a little help; but many shall join with them by intrigue. 35 And some of those of understanding shall fall, to refine them, purify them, and make them white, until the time of the end; because it is still for the appointed time. (Daniel 11)

More than 100 years after Alexander, Syrian King named Antiochus IV rose to power in the region. In approximately 165 BC, he invaded the Jewish nation and demanded that the Jewish people abandon the God of Israel and His ways. His plan: forced "Hellenization." That meant imposing Greek customs, including idolatry, on the people. He took the title "Epiphanes," which means "God manifested," and demanded to be worshiped, the Jewish people modified his title, calling him Epimanes ("The Mad One"), a word play on his title Epiphanes.

A conqueror of pompous pride, as he is described in the Book of Daniel, he set out to seize Judaea (or Judah), which until then had been a province of Egypt. He aimed incidentally to rid the world of the annoying (and, to him, peculiar), exclusive, “nonconformist” religion of the Jewish people. In order to unify his vast and racially diverse empire, which stretched as far as the Caspian Sea, his plan was to create one religion for all. A number of Jews, under their leader Jason, the high priest, took the easy way of conformity with the new universal trends.

In order to eradicate the faith of Israel, therefore, he attacked Israel’s religious practices and prohibited biblical practices as ordained by God: the observance of the Sabbath and of the traditional feasts, temple sacrifices, the reading of the Law of Moses and gave orders to search out and burn any copies that could be found. He also banned the practice of circumcision, for it was this that set the Jews apart from other peoples as the one “people of God.” In place of these practices Antiochus encouraged the development of cultural clubs called gymnasia but because the pursuit of the “good” included a delight in the body beautiful, such activities were performed naked.

But with Antiochus’ vindictive act, a strong general reaction set in. Thus, when, later in the same year, Antiochus again entered Jerusalem, this time plundering and burning and setting up his citadel, the Acra, on the hill overlooking the Temple courts, he went too far - to ensure that no one could worship the God of Israel, for his final act of spite, on Dec. 25, 167 BC, he rededicated the Temple to the Olympian god Zeus. Antiochus defiled the Temple in Jerusalem and desacralized the Holy of Holies in the Temple by placing idols in the house of the Lord and sacrificed a pig upon the holy altar. This was the one place on earth about which Yahweh said “My name” (the expression of his Person) “For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually. (2 Chronicles 7:16)

In response to his blasphemous claim to deity and the desecration of the Temple ("Abomination of desolation"), a family of Jewish priests (Kohen) rebelled and God used these small band of heroes known as the Maccabees (Maccabee means "hammer"), namely Mattathias (his father) and Judas’ four brothers—John, Simon, Eleazar, and Jonathan, to revolt against the Seleucid Empire.

They started the revolt by killing the soldiers that were sent to enforce the king’s decree and within two years, relying largely on guerrilla warfare, had successfully driven the Greeks out of Israel. The victory was completed during the winter months, on the 25th day of Kislev, which roughly corresponds to our December time frame. Judah Maccabee ordered that the Temple be cleansed, the altar rebuilt and the Menorah in the Temple be relighted. But the special oil, cruse of pure oil, was sufficient for only a single day. Then according to the Talmud, a book of Jewish history, a miracle occurred. They lit the menorah with this oil and it lasted for eight days. On the following year, they established these [eight days] as days of festivity and praise and thanksgiving to God. The Feast of Hanukkah commemorates that victory which God gave the Jewish people over Antiochus and his mighty army - for the people “who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits”.

The menorah has always been God’s idea. It first appears in Exodus chapter 25, as God instructs them how to make it:

You are to make a menorah of pure gold. It is to be made of hammered work; its base, shaft, cups, ring of outer leaves and petals are to be of one piece with it. It is to have six branches extending from its sides, three branches of the menorah on one side of it and three on the other. On one branch are to be three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with a ring of outer leaves and petals; likewise on the opposite branch three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with a ring of outer leaves and petals; and similarly for all six branches extending from the menorah… Make seven lamps for the menorah, and mount them so as to give light to the space in front of it.” (verses 31-37, Complete Jewish Bible)

Today, this festival is observed by lighting the candles of a candelabrum (or menorah) with nine branches, called a hanukkiah. Each night, one candle is lit by the special shamash candle until all eight other candles are lit on the final night of the holiday remembering the eight days the oil lasted at the rededication of the second temple.

The menorah is described in the Bible as the seven-lamp (six branches) ancient Hebrew lampstand made of pure gold and used in the portable sanctuary set up by Moses in the wilderness and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. Fresh olive oil was burned daily to light its lamps. The lampstand was the only source of light in the Holy Place, separate from the Holy of Holies, and provided light for the priests to carry out their duties. The light would therefore shine on the altar and the table of the showbread and enabled the priests to fellowship with God and intercede on behalf of the people.

The recitation of Psalm 30:1–12 is also an important part of the Feast of Dedication because of its themes of God-given victory over enemies and the replacement of mourning and sorrow with hope and joy. Other Hanukkah festivities include playing dreidel and eating oil-based foods such as doughnuts and latkes.

The Meaning Behind the Menorah

Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12). The Lord Jesus gives all of us, Jew and Gentile, the “light of life.” The Hanukkah is significant in that just as the menorah was the centrepiece of the Tabernacle, built by Moses and the Temple built by Solomon, so is Jesus the centre of our lives and is the light of the world and He commanded us, Jews and Gentiles to be a light to the world:

14 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5)

Jesus often pointed to the “beginning” (Genesis), the Law of Moses (first five books) and the prophets (Jeremiah through Malachi) to reveal God’s plan for mankind and clues to recognize the Saviour, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil”. For the Jews of His time, understanding the Old Testament was key to discovering that Jesus is their promised Messiah.

God first instituted festivals when giving Moses the Law after bringing the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. We find God's prescription for these "appointed feasts" in Leviticus 23 and they include:

  1. Passover — Leviticus 23:4-8

  2. Unleavened Bread — Leviticus 23:6.

  3. First Fruits — Leviticus 23:10

  4. Feast of Weeks or Pentecost — Leviticus 23:16

  5. Feast of Trumpets — Leviticus 23:24

  6. Day of Atonement — Leviticus 16, 23:26-32

  7. Feast of Tabernacles or Booths — Leviticus 23:34

The Jewish festivals in the Old and New Testament point to Jesus and speak of His Ministry to His people both Jews and gentile, right up to the Millennium Kingdom, when the Lord will “tabernacle with His people.”

Of the seven feasts of the Lord, only the Feast of Tabernacles has its typical fulfillment in the Millennium, when Israel finally will enjoy safe territorial boundaries and will be a blessing and witness to the Gentile nations (Gen. 12:2–3; 15:18; Isa. 2:2–4; 60:3; Jer. 32:37–41; 33:16; Ezek. 37:25–28)…..
The apostle John specifically used the imagery of the Feast of Tabernacles to describe Gentile Tribulation martyrs. He depicted them with palm branches, serving in His Temple while God dwells among them and Jesus guides them to “living fountains of waters” (Rev. 7:9–17). Such Gentile inclusion was anticipated by the alternate name for the feast, “the Feast of Ingathering” (Ex. 23:15–16), and was demonstrated during the feast in second Temple times when Jewish men participated in a Temple ritual where 70 sacrifices were offered for the sins of the nations that had come from the sons of Noah. These Gentile nations oppressed Israel, but the prophets included them in the future worshiping community—evidence of the changed conditions under Messiah’s New Covenant (Jer. 31:31–34). Tabernacles in the Millennium – Randall Price,

Because these festivals commemorate the Lord's provision for His people and foreshadow His redeeming work through Jesus Christ, understanding these holidays helps us better understand God, His ways of working in the world, and His plan for salvation. It also provides historical evidence of His people, Israel.

The Eternal Word - 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
John’s Witness: The True Light - 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
The Word Becomes Flesh - 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14)

The Promise and Restoration of Israel - 10 “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. 11 In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 And the land shall mourn, every family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; 13 the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of Shimei by itself, and their wives by themselves; 14 all the families that remain, every family by itself, and their wives by themselves. (Zechariah 12)

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