First of all… I would say, that any opportunity to fellowship with others, with the purpose of celebrating in giving praise and honor to our Lord God, IS A GOOD THING! (Wouldn’t you?)
That having been initially stated, ‘Hanukkah‘ itself (or ‘Chanukah‘) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commencing in the late Fall to early Winter of each year. This year (2014), the celebration of ‘Hanukkah’ is between December 16th-24th.
‘Hanukkah’ (HAH-nə-kə); or a transliteration also romanized as ‘Chanukah’ or ‘Chanukkah’, also known as the “Festival of Lights” or “Feast of Dedication”, is a Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem, following the time of the ‘Maccabean Revolt’ against the Seleucid Empire of the 2nd century B.C. ‘Hanukkah’ is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December on the modern Gregorian calendar that is most widely used by the world today. ‘Hanukkah’ has became more widely celebrated since the 1970s, when Rabbis called for public awareness of the festival and promoted the lighting of public menorahs outside of their places of worship, as well as also encouraging a wider usage of those for in the home.
It got its one name, the “Festival of Lights”, as ‘Hanukkah’ is a festival observed by the kindling of the lights of a unique candelabrum, the nine-branched menorah or ‘hanukiah’; with one at a time each night of the holiday a single light being lit, progressing to eight on the final night. The typical menorah consists of eight branches with an additional visually distinct branch. The typical menorah consists of eight branches with an additional visually distinct branch. This extra light (called a ‘shamash’) is given a distinct location to have a light available all the time for practical use, since using the ‘Hanukkah’ lights themselves for purposes other than publicizing and meditating upon ‘Hanukkah’ is forbidden.
‘Hanukkah’ (meaning “dedication” in Hebrew) is also a festival celebrated by surrounding fellowship with bountiful meals, music and joyous activities, thus the name “Feast of Dedication” as well, and in remembrance of restoring the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. The feasts usually include eating oil based foods such as doughnuts and latkes. Other ‘Hanukkah’ festivities may include playing games with the ‘dreidel’ and playing festive music while singing and dancing.
In brief, ‘Hanukkah’ commemorates the success of the Maccabean Revolt versus Judea’s occupational forces and patron leadership of that time (then a Hellenistic state ruled by the Seleucid dynasty – formerly under Alexander the Great). This was the period for a few hundred years after the writings of the Old Testament Hebrew Bible and before the time of the birth of Jesus along with the foundation of the New Testament Bible. The historical record found in the ‘Book of the Maccabees’ are considered “Apocryphal” texts and thus do not appear in many variations of the Christian Bible, but are still found in the Rabbinical writings of the Jews yet are otherwise not found in the Hebrew Bible either.
During the 2nd century B.C., the Hellenistic leaders of Jerusalem and their sympathetic majority of patron priests who currently administered the Holy Temple of the Hebrews, allowed for the adoption of a shared place of worship; being used by both the Jews and pagan followers of the Greek gods as well. When the Hellenistic followers placed statues of Greek deities in the courtyards of the Holy Temple, this was too much to be tolerated by some of the non-sympathetic and more Orthodox Jews, as it was considered a defilement of their sacred place of worship. One Rabbi spoke out to the extent of defacing one of the statues, whereas a brawl immediately broke out and resulted in one of the Hellenistic followers being inadvertently slain by the Rabbi. That event was the beginning of the ‘Maccabean Revolt’ (named for the family of the conflict’s leaders). This led to most of the loyal Jewish rebels fleeing from Jerusalem and hiding out in nearby mountain caves (i.e. where the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ were hidden away and later discovered). From there, the rebels continued to conduct “guerilla warfare” versus the occupational forces (lasting from 167 to 160 B.C.), until the final overthrow of the Hellenistic leadership of Jerusalem.
Unfortunately, the Holy (2nd Temple) of Jerusalem had been looted and badly damaged during the years of turmoil and its “eternal flame” had long been extinguished. This required the rededication of the temple to restore its solemn holy nature (an eight-day process) during which, its own set of miraculous events occurred as the ceremony commenced. This rededication is where the following annual commemorative celebration of ‘Hanukkah’ originated and has continued to this day ever since.
By 63 B.C., the kingdom of Judea was next conquered by the Roman Republic. These were now the new occupational leadership and rulers of Jerusalem, up until the time that Jesus was born and Christianity originated. The only mention of ‘Hanukkah’ in the New Testament Bible comes from later in the life of Jesus, where He is documented in the Gospel of John (10:22-23) as: “…it was the ‘Feast of Dedication’ in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.”
Also, the first century Romano-Jewish Historian Josephus, in his book ‘Jewish Antiquities XII’, records the following observance: “Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days… he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms… And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it ‘Lights’. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.”
Other than these references to the time during the life of Jesus, the importance of ‘Hanukkah’ holds a special place of significance for ALL Christians. For if the ‘Maccabean Revolt’ had not been successful, then the Hebrew nation as a people and the Jewish faith could have very easily become extinct as a result.
Now in the modern era, some Jews have even embraced Jesus (the ‘Christ’) as their prophesied messiah and a more messianic approach to Judaism, acknowledging Him as divinity and the actual progeny of our Father God in Heaven. In more recent years, The ‘Southern Baptist Convention’ asked Messianic Rabbi Derek Leman to write a book for them on the subject of the Hebrew feast observances. It is entitled: ‘Feast: Finding Your Place at the Table of Tradition’; which covers the Biblical Feast traditions very well, especially with an understanding for Christians. I (the author of this article) heard him comment once, stating a brief summary for the theme of the ‘Hanukkah’ celebration, in paraphrasing: “They (the foreign occupational forces) tried to wipe us (the Jews) out, by making us not be Jews anymore… They failed… so let us eat and celebrate that fact”.
All levity aside, this reminded me how the ‘Hanukkah’ celebration relates perfectly to Christianity. It is all about celebrating our Lord God. It is through this vital community aspect of gathering together in fellowship for these occasions, where we can collectively give praise and honor to the Lord for His provision in our lives, for His continued blessings, and for His divine hand in perpetuating our very existence.
Rabbi Leman makes another very important observation about this Jewish holiday observance. He reflected (as mentioned above) that roughly 160 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, the Jewish people came very close to being completely wiped out… and not only by war, but by complete assimilation as well. He continued that: “You do not have to kill the Jews to bring the Jewish people to an end. All you have to do is to get them to stop being Jews… by having them stop following their traditions, to stop obeying the laws of God, to worship like everybody else does. When that happens, there will be no Jewish people anymore.” To not just be tolerant or apathetic but to act and be like everyone else (almost like many aspects of modern Christianity). Hence he also observes: “If there had not been a reason that we (the Jews) celebrate ‘Hanukkah’, then the reason that Christians celebrate ‘Christmas’ itself may have never occurred. What people would Jesus (‘Yeshua the Messiah’) have been born into, if the Jews had simply disappeared as a unique culture and distinct nation of people, before Jesus was even born?”
This is one of the most vital and important aspects of ‘Hanukkah’ to the Christian faith. If the bloodline from the ‘House if David’ had been interrupted and extinguished, then the coming of the prophesied “Messiah” likewise could not have occurred. Thus, Jesus (as “the Christ”) would never have been born from that bloodline and the Christian movement as a faith, could have never happened – SOMETHING TO SERIOUSLY REFLECT UPON FOR US ALL.
Another fact is, we (Jews and Christians alike) are actually both supposed to be one combined faith now – yet, are still not because we live in a “broken” world full of sin where imperfection has corrupted it:
“…and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in’…For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written…
For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
(Romans 11:17-19, 25-26, 26 NKJ)
This plight will not be corrected and the world made whole again until the “second coming” of the Messiah and restoration of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ and Holy Temple here on Earth, with Jesus himself as its High Priest and supreme king above all things. Which by the way, is also the prophetic side of the ‘Hanukkah’ celebration and another connection with Christianity – as a new rededication of the temple will occur (with perhaps a NEW and renewed ‘Hanukkah’ celebration and observance as well).
TODAY: That is why I say… “Chag Sameach” (Happy Holidays)!
May you have a happy Hanukkah and joyful Christmas holiday season!
Category: Biblical Feasts