Hanukkah – The Festival of Lights
The Festival of Lights, or also known as the Feast of Dedication, is an eight-day observance of the re-dedication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. After Antioch had taken hold of the temple and banned Judaism, banned circumcision, and slayed pigs on the altar, a revolt followed in which the Maccabees were successful in uniting Jewish people to fight the Greeks, overthrow their power and reclaim the temple.
The story starts during the time of the Syrian-Greek occupation of Israel. After the death of Alexander the Great, the empire was divided. Antiochus was the ruler of the Syrian province. Promoting Hellenism, Antioch had deemed Sabbath, Temple worship, Torah laws, dietary customs, circumcision, and anything regarding the Jewish religion, an offense and proclaimed it forbidden. This religious prejudice was enforced by a death penalty. Many Jews lost their lives during this time period, not willing to give up the Torah for the sacrifices to other gods. This continued until a man named Matityahu was forced to burn sacrifices on pagan altars. It was then that together with his sons and other faithful Jews, he fled to another city, awaiting a confrontation. Antioch sent army after army to fight the revolt, but the Maccabees resisted fiercely, defeating them one by one. When Matityahu passed away, his son Judah took charge of the Jewish revolt. During his leadership, he and the Maccabees (the name for his followers) slaughtered over 40,000 of Antioch’s men and made their way to Jerusalem to retake the temple.
After the Maccabees’ military success, the temple was cleansed, but to start using it, oil was needed to light the Menorah. Only one canister of purified oil was found in the temple. This oil should have only lasted one day, yet it ended up burning for a total of eight days! This gave enough time for more ritual oil to be made. This is the miracle of Hanukkah, a word that in Hebrew means “dedication”. This miracle restored the worship of God in Jerusalem and is a reminder of God’s response to the human revolt. The significance of the oil was also related to light, as the light of God’s presence was reignited in Israel after the darkness of pagan oppression caused the nation to live in the darkness.
Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev, which usually occurs during the months of November – December on the Gregorian calendar. Jews around the world commemorate this eight-day festival by lighting candles on an 8-candle menorah, lighting one candle at sundown each night until the last night when all eight candles are lit.
In this celebration, Jews give thanks and remember the protection God gave to Judah and the Maccabees. Although Hanukkah is a well-known Jewish holiday, it is not one of the God-ordained Biblical holidays. This is a holiday established by men to celebrate the triumph of the Maccabees and the restoration of the temple. In modern times, Hanukkah has been picked up and enhanced by Zionist movements that connected with the military-religious combination of the celebrations.
Even though the holiday is not found anywhere in the Christian Bible, it is mentioned that Jesus visited the temple during the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22). Many believe that the feast refers to Hanukkah, the day that Jews celebrated the re-dedication of the temple. In this light, the above passage comes to life, bringing deeper meaning to the conversations Jesus is having with fellow Jewish worshipers in the temple. Reading the chapter, you will see how claims over God’s approval, leadership of Jesus and man vs. God worship are raised. In the eyes of many, Jesus was the leader of a new movement forming in the desert. Jesus’ claims of being the Messiah spoke powerfully to many people, especially during this time, and His miracles definitely played a great role in substantiating that claim. In our future blog, we will talk more about the Holiday Season and the deep spiritual context Judaism provides for those wanting to understand New Testament passages we are so familiar with.