The Historical Background
Hanukkah, or The Feast Of Dedication, stands out among the celebrations of the Bible. This is because it does not appear among the Feasts of the Lord in Leviticus 23. Despite the fact that Hanukkah is not spoken of by Moses, we should not assume that it is therefore non-biblical. As we shall see, it is indeed mentioned in later scriptural passages.
To fully understand this holy day, go back to a tumultuous time in the history of Israel: the Hellenistic period around 167 B.C.E. As was so often the case, the Jewish people were living under the oppression of a foreign power. A few generations earlier, the Greeks had come to world power under the remarkable leadership of Alexander the Great. With the ascension of this kingdom, Alexander seemed to have unified the ancient world into one common government and culture called Hellenism.
After Alexanders untimely death, there was a political scramble among four of his generals, resulting in the division of the Hellenistic empire. The Ptolemies took control of the South, which included Egypt. The Seleucids took charge of the northern area around Syria. This left Judea caught in the middle of a tug-of-war, wondering what the outcome would be. Eventually, the Seleucid/Syrians, under the leadership of Antiochus IV, gained power and sought control of the new provinces.
Seeking to unify his holdings, Antiochus enforced a policy of assimilation into the prevailing Hellenistic culture. Irrespective of the culture and beliefs of the captured peoples, the Seleucids required submission to the Greek way of life. The Greeks thought that to be truly effective this assimilation must apply to all aspects of life, including language, the arts, and even religion. Everything was to conform to the superior Greek way of life and values.
Not surprisingly, this Hellenization policy did not present a major problem for many people under the Seleucids. Indeed, the Greeks were highly respected for their culture. Even many Jews in Judea had converted to the Hellenistic way and openly advocated adherence to it. However, there were a significant number of traditional Jews who were appalled at the changes in their society. Antiochus and the Seleucids continued growing more hostile towards these stubborn Jews who did not convert to Hellenism. Steps were taken to enforce their policy.
An ultimatum was given: either the Jewish community must give up its distinctive customs (Shabbat, kosher laws, circumcision, etc.) or die. To prove his point, Antiochus marched his troops into Jerusalem and desecrated the holy Temple. The altars, the utensils, even the golden menorah (lampstand) were all defiled or torn down. But that was just the start!
Antiochus also ordered that a pig be sacrificed on the holy altar and erected an image of the Greek god Zeus as the new point of worship in the Temple! Antiochus insisted on being called epiphanes (God manifest), enough to repulse any religious Jew. The Jewish community soon came up with an appropriate reflection of their feelings. Instead of calling him Antiochus Epiphanes they made a play on words, and called him epimanes (crazyman)!
This brutal attack on the Jewish people and their faith would not go unanswered for long. The murmurings of revolt were heard in Judea and were crystallized in a small village called Modiin. Syrian troops entered this town to enforce their assimilation policy. The soldiers planned to erect a temporary altar to the false gods and force the populace to participate in their religious ceremonythe highlight of which was eating the flesh of the swine!
Living in this village was an old, godly priest named Mattathias and his five sons. When the Seleucid soldiers chose him to lead the pagan ceremony, Mattathias and his sons reacted with holy indignation. Enough was enough! They killed the soldiers and started a revolt against the oppressors. One of the sons, Judah, rose to leadership and was nicknamed Maccabee (the hammer).
Overwhelmingly outnumbered and under-supplied, the armies of the Maccabees turned to more creative devices. Relying on their knowledge of the hill country and employing guerrilla warfare, the Jewish forces met with surprising success. Spurred on by their firm conviction that the God of Israel was true and faithful, the Maccabees proved that the impossible could happen. In the Hebrew month Kislev (around December) they drove out the Syrians and recaptured the Temple in Jerusalem.
They faced the sober task of restoring the Temple to the true worship of God. The Temple compound was in shambles, desecrated by the idolatry of the Syrians. The Maccabees and their followers quickly cleansed the altars and restored the holy furnishings.
Of particular importance to them was the broken menorah, symbolizing the light of God. They restored it and attempted to light it, but there was a problem.
Jewish tradition recounts that as they searched for some specially prepared oil, they found only enough to burn for one day. The priests knew it would take at least eight days for new oil to be produced. What to do?
They decided it was better to light the menorah anyway; at least the light of God would shine forth immediately. To their amazement, the oil burned not only for one day, but for eight days until additional oil was available!
The Temple was restored and rededicated to the glory of the God of Israel and an eight-day festival was established. It is called Hanukkah (Hebrew for Dedication). Every year, starting on the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the Jewish community recalls the two-fold miracle: the miracle of the oil as well as the miraculous military victory.
Some people may question our inclusion of Hanukkah with the biblical holy days. It is not mentioned in the feasts of Leviticus 23. However, the Tanakh (Older Testament) reveals that Hanukkah is clearly predicted in later prophetic writings.
The vision given to the prophet Daniel is an amazingly, detailed description of the events surrounding Hanukkah. As he describes the coming kingdoms that would have impact on Israel, Daniel writes:
This is a graphic description of the rise of the Hellenistic empire with its strong central leader (the large horn). Alexander the Great was indeed broken by his early death. His four generals (the four horns) split the kingdom between themselves. Yet there were even more specific details given by Daniel:
According to the word given Daniel, the focal point of this Hellenistic kingdom would be a leader who, by a power not his own, would persecute the Jewish people. He would magnify himself through his brutal attacks and words, as was the case with Antiochus who called himself Epiphanes! Yet God promised that this evil ruler would be broken without human agency.
The fanatical persecution by the Seleucids is predicted along with the miraculous deliverance by God! The miracle of Hanukkah is mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures with such detail that some liberal scholars have suggested that Daniel was writing after the fact and not prophetically (see Walvoords comments on this in Daniel, p.16 and following pages). What an important time of history to understand! What a great celebration Hanukkah should be!
The materials here were taken directly from God's Appointed Times with the publisher's permission.
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Emmanuel Messianic Jewish Congregation