Hanukkah — The Festival of Lights
This year I’ve been blogging about the biblical holidays God commanded His people to celebrate. So far, we’ve talked about Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles. These make up the fall holidays, and they are followed by four holidays in the spring.
There are a couple of other holidays the Jewish people celebrate — the biggest ones being Hanukkah and Purim. Neither of these are commanded by God, but both of them do appear in the Bible. They are holidays Jesus would have celebrated when He was here on earth. The eight-night festival of Hanukkah starts tonight at sundown, so I thought we could learn a bit about it today!
Hanukkah is a holiday that commemorates an event that happened during the intertestamental period — the time in between the Old Testament and New Testament. In the Old Testament, we read about how the land of Judah was taken over by the Babylonians. Eventually, the people of Israel came back into their land after the Babylonian exile (we see parts of this in the books of Nehemiah and Ezra).
After they came back to the land there were other conquerors and nations to deal with. Eventually, the land of Israel was ruled by the Seleucid Dynasty. In 167 B.C. the Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes decided that the people he ruled were being way too Jewish and instead should become more Greek (Hellenized). Antiochus was pretty awful — he outlawed Sabbath worship, and he took over the Jewish temple and encouraged the worship of Greek gods and the sacrificing of pigs (a non-Kosher animal).
Well one day during all of this, the Greeks came to the village of Modi’in and set up an altar. They made the Jews bring a pig to the altar to sacrifice it. An old priest named Mattathias was so enraged by this blasphemy that he killed the Jew who was about to obey the Greeks. He and his sons (including Judah the Maccabee) then fought the Greeks in their town and began fighting all the Greeks using guerrilla warfare. They continued fighting and they actually drove the Seleucids out of Israel. They reclaimed Jerusalem and the temple so that they could worship the one true God there again. There was only a little bit of oil in the temple when they reclaimed it — enough to last one day. They lit the temple menorah, but it miraculously burned for eight days!
So this is where the festival of Hanukkah comes from. It celebrates that the temple was reclaimed so that right worship could be restored there. The Jews began to celebrate this miraculous event, and it was an official holiday by the time of Jesus. Hanukkah is also known as the Feast of Dedication, and we read about Jesus going up to Jerusalem to celebrate it in John 10. And interesting that at this festival of lights, only a chapter before Jesus has declared that He is the light of the world!
So, Hanukkah starts tonight at sundown. Jewish people and some Christians will begin to light their menorahs, adding a new candle each night and reciting Scripture that reminds us of our God who provides light, shines light on the darkness, and will one day light the whole world with His presence!
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. … And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. — Genesis 1:2-5; 14-18