In this second blog of our series on Chanukah and the Maccabbees, we show the distinction between the people of Israel who were staying faithful to YHVH’s appointed times and commandments, and those who were following the pagan ways of the Greeks and Romans. In our previous blog (The Mighty Power of YHVH), we saw that Onias, the high priest of the Jews, stayed faithful to YHVH’s Laws, even when Simon, an Israelite from the tribe of Benjamin plotted with the king to confiscate money from the Temple treasury that was designated for widows and orphans. When the Israelites prayed fervently, YHVH showed great signs and thwarted the intentions of the pagan government to keep the Temple from being defiled.
In II Maccabees 4, Onias’ brother Jason betrayed Onias by telling lies about him and even claiming that he had plotted against the government. He then became the High Priest deceitfully by offering large sums of silver and gold to the king. He even offered additional silver to build a gymnasium beneath the Temple, and convinced the people to use this pagan facility for nude games in the style of the Greeks. He encouraged the people to follow Greek customs that were contrary to the Law [Torah] and even the priests lost interest in Temple services and sacrifices and would rush off to participate in the games that were forbidden by the Law (II Maccabees 4:14). The people stopped keeping the Feasts and Sabbaths and kept Greek celebrations instead.
Jason was so corrupt that he sent men to the “games” in Tyre with a large amount of silver for a sacrifice to the pagan god Hercules (II Maccabees 4:18-19). Once the Jews moved into actively participating in the ways of the world instead of YHVH’s ways, things went downhill for them very quickly. As recounted in Maccabees 6, There was dissension and jealously among the priests and Jewish leaders, and they killed and bore false testimony to the king about each other, until finally the king decided to become more vindictive about having the Jews abandon their Feasts and Sabbaths, and he defiled the Temple by dedicating it to their chief god, Zeus.
Jason had started the downward spiral of the Jews into the abominations that were committed in the following months. The verse in II Maccabees 4:17 gives the reason for the serious judgments against the Jews that followed their disobedience: “It is a serious thing to disregard God’s Law”. Persecution increased greatly from this time forward, and the Greeks defiled the Temple by holding drinking parties and conducting their immoral sexual rituals with prostitutes there. The altar was filed with unclean animal sacrifices. King Antiochus then prohibited the Jews from keeping their Sabbaths and Feasts, and forced them to eat unclean meats that were sacrificed to the false gods. “Then, during the festival in honor of the wine god Dionysus, they were required to wear ivy wreaths on their heads and march in procession” (II Maccabees 6:7). From this time on, as described in II Maccabees 6:9, the Greek leaders “were told to put to death every Jew who refused to adopt the Greek way of life”.
When Onias was high priest, the people kept the Torah. However, our suspicion is that they were more into following the leaders than they were truly seeking YHVH and His ways. When Jason unjustly replaced Onias, many of the Jews were all too ready to follow him into every type of evil and apostasy. When we look at our modern times, we see that most people (Christian, Messianic or otherwise) tend to follow the ways and customs of the world’s culture, rather than seeking to follow God’s ways and keep His appointed times.
Many today do not realize that they are fighting a battle. Even those who do often fail to recognize that the battle is spiritual. Many followers of Yeshua do not understand the spiritual realm and do not operate in the spirit. However, there is no excuse for ignorance since we have ready access to many versions of Scripture and study tools. We also have the Holy Spirit to guide us. We must not blindly follow human leaders, but must realize that we as individuals are accountable to YHVH for our choices.
The most glaring examples of this relate to the holidays of Christmas and Easter. Our ancestors celebrated these holidays and many continue to follow suit. When we look at the ancient pagan celebrations, the birth of their chief gods was always celebrated on December 25th. These gods include Zeus/Jupiter, Dionysus/Bacchus, Hercules, Tammuz, Apollo, Mithras, Sol Invictus and others. Birthday celebrations for these pagan gods date back to the time of Nimrod, who was alleged to be Tammuz’ father. Note that Zeus, Dionysus, and Hercules were all being worshiped by the Greeks, and then were adopted by the Jews as part of their apostasy. YHVH established seven feasts to point to the work of His Son. We sin against YHVH when we seek to “honor” Him by celebrating holidays that have always been an abomination to Him. Many try to justify celebrating Yeshua during these pagan holidays, but to mix the pagan and the sacred is an even worse abomination to YHVH. We must not yield to the predominating culture any more than the Jews should have yielded to the predominating Greek culture of their day.
We know that HaSatan attracts followers by counterfeiting the true God. From pagan beliefs, we see a counterfeit parallel between the Greek god Dionysus (Roman god Bacchus) and Yeshua. Dionysus was purported to have been born of a virgin (Ishtar/Isis), son of the heavenly father (Zeus), performed miracles such as turning water into wine (he is the god of wine), died and was raised again on the 3rd day (on March 25th), was identified with the lamb, and given titles such as: “only begotten son“, “king of kings”, “god of gods”, “sin bearer”, “redeemer“, “anointed one” and “the alpha and omega“.
We do not have space for full discussion here, but many of the other rituals and symbols of Christmas and Easter (whose name comes from Ishtar) originated from pagan rituals and symbols. The wreath comes from the wreath worn at pagan sports celebrations, the tree comes from a pagan ceremony at the time of Nimrod, which claimed that the resurrected Nimrod returned each year to leave gifts under a decorated tree. Read Jeremiah 10 if you want to find out what YHVH says about cutting down and decorating trees for pagan celebrations, and Jeremiah 44:17-19 to read God’s admonition against worshiping the Queen of Heaven (Ishtar in pagan lore).
Armed with this knowledge, how does this affect your view of the main Christian holidays, and more importantly, what does it say to your heart about keeping YHVH’s Feasts and Sabbaths and not the festival celebrations of the world? As we read the story of the Maccabees, it is easy to condemn the Jews who strayed from Yehovah’s commands. Are we guilty of the same thing?
”You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD [YHVH] hates they have done for their gods…” (Deut 12:31).