The Real Meaning of Chanukkah
Probably the most well-known Jewish feast in the modern-day world is Chanukkah (more commonly spelled Hanukah). Chanukkah (1 Maccabees 2-4) is not one of the original feasts Yehovah instructed us to observe. It is a feast to commemorate a series of miracles God performed for the Jews in the dark days of Antiochus Epiphanes, so my belief is that Yehovah honors our celebration of this feast, as long as we stay focused on Him as the “reason for the season”.
Antiochus Epiphanes, theSyrian King of the Jews within the Greek empire, had forbidden all observance of the true Sabbath, YHVH’s Feasts, and circumcision (in I Macc 2:8-12). He mandated that anyone who studied or kept the Torah would be put to death. He also defiled the Temple and erected a statue of Zeus in the Temple on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, in 168 BC. In fact, all the ancient chief pagan gods had their birthday on Kislev 25 – note that the modern solar-based calendar was not adopted until 46 BC, so the Roman world was still using the lunar-based calendar at this time.
Judas Maccabeus and his four brothers (all Jewish priests) took up their swords and battle hammers to defeat the Syrian rulers and their pagan sun god religious system in 165 BC. Interestingly, Maccabee (iaB<q;j) means “hammer”, so one could rightly say that they “hammered” their enemy. Once they had defeated the Syrians and taken back their temple, the Maccabee brothers and their followers spent seven days cleansing the Temple of all the pagan altars and idols, and then re-dedicated the Temple on the eighth day. Once they had won this victory and purified their Temple, the leaders mandated that a feast called Chanukkah be observed every year starting on Kislev 25 and lasting for 8 days. The Hebrew word Chanukkah (חֲנֻכָּה) actually means “to dedicate”, so this feast is most often referred to as the Feast of Dedication. This feast celebrates the miracle of Yehovah giving them the victory over pagan sun god worship, as well as the cleansing and re-dedication of their temple to the true God, Yehovah.
There are many Jewish traditions and legends surrounding Chanukkah, such as the story of the oil in the Menorah lasting 8 days when it should have only lasted 1 day. However, the real reasons for the 8-day duration of the feast are two-fold: to commemorate Yehovah’s miracle that allowed them to defeat the Syrians and re-dedicate the Temple; and, to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) which they had not been able to do for 3 years (see II Maccabees 10:6).
One strong confirmation that Yehovah honors our celebration of Chanukkah is that Yeshua looked favorably on the feast, as He went up to the Jerusalem Temple mount and taught the people during the feast (John 10:22-23). Based on Jewish tradition, rabbis at the time of Yeshua believed that the Messiah would reveal Himself at the time of Channukah (from the Talmud). In John 10:24, the leaders asked Yeshua: “Why do You keep us in suspense? Are You the Messiah?” In John 9, Yeshua had just done the one miracle that was undeniable proof of His Messiah-ship; He had healed a man born blind, which the leaders said only the Messiah could do!
But because the people were expecting a political/military Messiah who would rescue them from the Romans, they did not recognize Him as the Messiah. Yeshua answered them (John 10:25-26) “I told you, but you did not believe: the works that I do in My Father’s Name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you”. The Jewish leaders denied His miracles in John 10:20-21: “And many of them said, ‘He has a demon, and is mad; why hear ye Him?’ Others said, ‘these are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’”
Yeshua then presented people with an eternal solution to their problems. In John 10:27-28), He said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. He turned the people from the short-term, physical solution they wanted to a spiritual solution. He said that we are the desecrated temple and need to be cleansed and rededicated to Yehovah. Remember that we are now the temples of the Holy Spirit and we must keep our temples clean (I Cor 6:19). He taught us that we need a long-term (eternal) relationship with Yehovah to fix our spiritual emptiness, because a physical solution cannot fix spiritual problems.
The defeat of their enemies and the re-dedication of the Temple brought back fresh hope to the Jewish people. How fitting that this month, called Kislev in Hebrew, means hope. This relates to the people looking hopefully to the longer, brighter days of Spring, since Kislev 25 occurs very close to the Winter solstice (the shortest day of the year). Yeshua, the Light of the world, brings us eternal hope.