Hanukah is the time we remember God’s great deliverance of His people from the tyranny of Antiochus. The Jewish people faced harsh oppression by Antiochus IV, King of the Syrian-Greek/Seleucid Empire.
He ruled over Israel in the year 174 B.C. his severe persecution and desecration of the Temple eventually led to the Maccabean Revolt.
These events are chronicled in the books of Maccabees which is in the apocrypha (Gk. “Hidden”). Biblical Scholars accept the historicity of the books of Maccabees. The apocrypha was written between 200 BC and 400 AD and rejected by the Jewish people and most Evangelical Christians an non-canonical.
Although greatly outnumbered, the Maccabees overcame the Syrian forces and returned to Jerusalem to cleanse the Temple from the idols that Antiochus had placed inside.
The rededication occurred on the 25th day of Kislev, in the year 164 B.C.. Legend says there was only enough sacred oil for the menorah in the holy place of Temple to burn for one day, but when they lit it, it miraculously burned for eight days—enough to purify more oil. That’s why Hanukkah lasts for eight days.
Today, Jewish people light a special Hanukkah menorah, called a Hanukkiah, with nine branches—one for each of the eight days and an additional one called the shamash or “servant candle” used to light the others. Each day an additional candle is lit, so that by the eighth day they are all ablaze.
Daniel spoke of Antiochus IV in Daniel 8 about 400 years before he was born in (Dan. 8:9-14; 23-25; 11:21-35). Antiochus wanted to force God’s people to assimilate into his country’s culture and religion.
He decided the best way to do this was to force God’s people to forsake the Covenant of Moses which was centered in the Temple in Jerusalem where sacrifices were offered.
He wanted them to look to the gods of Greece and embrace the lifestyle of Hellenism, which is assimilating into the principles and ideals associated with classical Greek civilization.
What was so bad about that? Isn’t Hellenism the cradle of our civilization, wasn’t Greek philosophy at the core of brining our world out of the Dark ages?
The answer is yes. Hellenism has some very positive aspects, but the downside of Hellenism is that it elevates man. At its core it is humanistic, or man centered, and God called His people to be God centered. Because He is the source of life, joy, peace, and blessing.
The God of Israel called His people to be set apart, to be different from all the other nations. This is what it means to be holy – set apart for God.
Antiochus wanted Israel and all the lands he ruled to worship him and assimilate into his society. And the Biblical Jewish system of worship and history went against that.
God’s Word taught Israel about His love for them and the covenant He gave at Mt. Sinai. It was this Law that showed Israel how to be holy and set apart to God. Central to that holiness was the Temple in Jerusalem.
When Antiochus defiled the Temple, it was a spiritual attack against God and His Chosen People. But there was a faithful core of priests led by Mattathias and his sons who knew the importance of the Temple and its role in keeping God’s people holy. These were the Maccabees.
They knew and trusted that the God of the Temple, the God of Israel was greater than the gods and religious and cultural system of Hellenism and Antiochus.
Many Jewish people were not convinced that this was worth fighting for. Hellenism and its world view was very attractive. Hellenism is the humanistic world view today.
We live in a day when both professing Christians and Jewish people are being attracted to this world view. It is at the core of our Universities and the world view of the influencers of western society today.
The gymnasiums were a product of Hellenism. The gymnasiums functioned as training facilities for competitors in public games. It was also a place for socializing and intellectual pursuits.
The name comes from the Greek term gymnos meaning naked. Athletes competed in the nude, a practice said to encourage aesthetic appreciation of the male body and a as a tribute to the Gods.
The ancient Greek gymnasium soon became a place for more than exercise. The Greeks emphasized the importance of the relationship between athletics, education and health.
Accordingly, the gymnasium became connected with both education and medicine. Our entire educational system is rooted in Hellenism.
While education and worldly knowledge has advanced our civilization making our world easier to live in, it has also replaced for many a trust in the God of Israel.
Mattathias and his sons stood up against this. If they were living today they would have been thought of as religious fanatics, people who take their faith too seriously.
They saw the actions of Antiochus to force the Jewish people to embrace Hellenism as a call to forsake a God centered world view as opposed to a humanistic one.
Antiochus desecrated the Temple by entering the Temple in Jerusalem with his army and sacrificing a pig on the altar and then boiling it and taking the broth and pouring it all over the Temple thus defiling it.
What was so important about the Temple? The Temple was God’s appointed way of staying in relationship with Him. Sin separates us from that relationship. Sin is breaking God’s commands.
There are 613 commandments in the Torah and many precepts and judgments. Theses commandments were not given to us as a burden, though many them that way.
They were given to God’s people to know what is holy and what is not. What is godly and what is not.
We all have broken God’s commands and many have come to believe that keeping God’s commands is a hopeless endeavor and have given up even considering it.
But ignorance of the law does not excuse us from the consequences of breaking them. The consequences are a loss of life, abundant life.
But God’s plan for His people is that we might have life and have it abundantly. Now you’re probably asking yourself what does this have to do with the Temple and sacrifices?
Well God knowing that we would sin provided the Temple and the sacrifices as His appointed place to have atonement for our sin. God’s law made provision for our sin by the shedding of Blood.
And the Maccabees, who were God’s priests, knew how important it was to be reconciled to Him. The Temple was God’s provision for atonement and the covering of sin. They believed that God would help them to regain the place of reconciliation.
So they stood against Antiochus and his demand for assimilation and the Hellenistic system. They were willing to die for Israel’s ability to be reconciled to God in the Temple.
So they headed for the hills and caves throughout Israel and began a guerilla war against Antiochus and his army. The odds were overwhelming but God was with them and they won the war.
The Temple was rededicated and the Menorah, which was the symbol of God’s light was rekindled.
The Temple and Chanukah point to an important truth for us today. God still expects His people to be holy, but He has provided a perfect sacrifice that does not need to be repeated.
Because of this perfect sacrifice the Temple was no longer needed. That perfect sacrifice was and is Yeshua. The prophets foretold how we would recognize Him when He came in many different passages in the Jewish Scriptures.
Isa. 53 is one of the clearest written 700 years before Yeshua was born, let me share it with you.
The Light of the Menorah pictured the Light of the Lord. Yeshua is the Light of world, who came to Israel 2000 years ago to bring light to His people and to the Nations as Isaiah prophesied in Is 9:1-7.
But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.
The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them. You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; They will be glad in Your presence As with the gladness of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian.
Yeshua came to provide holiness to Israel and to the Nations, and calls both Jews and Gentiles to stand against Hellenism to stand with the Maccabees who fought for the Temple.
Who gave their lives so that God’s people would be able to have atonement and be reconciled to God. There was always only one way to God. In the days of the Maccabees it was the Temple and Israel was called to be a light to the Nations.