The Feast of (Re)Dedication
Steven E Daskal, December 2015
Maybe you’ve heard of Khanukah. Khanukah is commonly known as “the festival of lights,” but what it REALLY means is “The Dedication.” Khanukah is a holiday we Jewish people celebrate every year. I’d like to tell you a little more about this fun holiday.
Jewish people all around the world have celebrated Khanukah for over 2100 years. Unlike Yom Kippur, the “Shlosh Regalim,” or Purim, Khanukah is not a holiday we are commanded to celebrate in the Old Testament. In fact Khanukah itself isn’t even mentioned in the Old Testament, though the events leading up to it were prophesied by Daniel (11:19-45). The holiday was only mentioned once in the New Testament (John 10:22), for that matter. Khanukah celebrates a miraculous event that happened over 200 years after the last book of the Old Testament was written and about 160 years before Jesus was born. In a very real sense, if Khanukah had never happened, Christmas would have been impossible. But most Jewish people don’t realize that Jesus is the Messiah, the Prince of the House of David, of the Root of Jesse, promised to them by God throughout the Old Testament.
The story of Khanukah is an incredible piece of history that teaches us how God comes to help those of uswho are willing to stand up for His Name and His glory, no matter how big the task or no matter how powerful the opposition.
It reminds me of a verse in the Old Testament found in the book of the prophet Zechariah: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.” (Zech 4:6)
Nearly 22 centuries ago Judah Makkabee, became very famous. He was a Jewish man who was led by the Spirit of God to defeat an evil, corrupt king by the name of Antiokhus the 4th. Antiokhus was a Greek, a descendant of one of Alexander the Great’s generals. He was the king of Syria — and the enemy of the descendants of another of Alexander’s generals, the Ptolemies, who were the rulers of Egypt. The last of the Ptolemies was Cleopatra… but that’s another story.
Now this particular Antiokhus the Fourth called himself Ephiphanes. Talk about khutzpah — or being full of himself and having a lot of nerve — this dictator called himself “the visible God!” He’d never created anything. He’d never performed a miracle like Moses or Elijah the Prophet had performed to glorify God. He didn’t act in a loving or merciful way. But being a Greek, most of the false gods he grew up believing in, like Zeus, Ares, or Hercules didn’t do those things either.
Some of the outrages Antiokhus Epiphanes did to the people who believed in the one true God, the God of the Patriarchs, of Moses and David, included:
# He would not allow the Jewish people to believe in God, and he made it illegal to worship the God of Israel or carry out the proper sacrifices as laid out in the Torah.
# He and his soldiers burned any copies of the Bible they found
# He did not allow them to keep the Sabbath.
# He executed anyone who circumcised their children
# He rewarded those Jews who rejected God and instead worshipped him.
# Jewish people were forced to eat pig’s flesh
# He defiled — the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by having pigs and goats sacrificed there to himself and other pagan gods, AND he put a statue of himself in the Holy of Holies, the innermost and most sacred place in the Jewish temple. That’s idolatry!
Many God-fearing Jews fled to the mountains of Judea and Samaria (the lands today known as the West Bank). But Antiokhus sent his armies out to find them and either force them to worship him, or be killed. If Antiokhus had been successful, the Jewish people would have been killed or forcibly made to renounce their faith. No Jewish people loyally obedient to God: no Zechariah and Elizabeth and their miraculous child of their old age, John the Baptist; no young Jewish virgin of the House of David named Mary able to bring the Son of God into the world.
Fortunately, God has promised He would always raise up a Remnant from among the Jews who would be loyal to Him, no matter what, and He would redeem them. This is what happened in the dreadful days of Antiokhus IV.
And that brings us to Judah ben Matathias, also known as Judah HaMakkabee — Judah THE HAMMER. His father Matathias (Matthew), was an old priest, a Kohanim, of the tribe of Levi. He refused to obey Antiokhus’ officials, and struck down one of them after the Greek forced another Jew to sacrifice a pig on an altar to Antiokhus. Matathias soon died of old age, but his son, Judah, rallied together an army of Jewish fighters who were going to defeat this horrible King Antiokhus in the name of the Lord, or die trying.
There was only one BIG problem, King Antiokhus had an army of 47,000 soldiers and Judah Makkabee had an army of only 3,000.
But Judah Makkabee and his army remembered that realized that God had once said, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty (Yahveh Saba’oth).” They remembered how Gideon’s little army of 300 choice men defeated the hordes of the Midianites (Judges 6 & 7). They remembered how David’s armies had defeated the larger, better armed forces of the Philistines. So they did something very important. They prayed to God for help. You see, King Antiokhus may have had a bigger, better armed and trained army, and a whole empire behind him, but he didn’t have the Spirit of the ALL-MIGHTY God on His side. After many battles, Judah Makkabee and his small army with the help of our Almighty God defeated Antiokhus and his huge army. God gave Judah Makkabee skill and wisdom as a general, and showed him how to use the rugged mountains, surprise, and rapid movement to defeat the heavier, slower moving Greeks and Syrians with their chariots and armor. It was the origin of what today we call “guerrilla” or insurgency warfare. It was a true miracle. Nobody could believe it! They won against all odds. And why? Because they not only prayed to God for help but because they said that their God came first and they would not worship an idol of any kind. They stood up for their faith.
And so Judah Makkabee and his army triumphantly returned to Jerusalem. They cleansed God’s Temple (this was of course the Second Temple, the temple built in the time of Nehemiah and Ezra, rededicated the temple to God, and worshipped God again in His temple.
And that brings us to the Khanukah Menorah. Unlike the usual Jewish menorah (we usually use candelabras today, rather than pouring oil into a menorah, but we call the ones we use for Khanukah menorahs anyway) which normally had six or seven branches, the Khanukah menorah, also known as a Khanukiah, has, as you can see, nine – four on each side, and one raised one (usually in the middle or on the right side). This allows for lighting the raised candle and an additional candle, one per night, adding up until on the last night of the festival, all nine would be lit.
Why the Khanukiah? What does that have to do with the Makkabees or their victory over the pagans? Well, in the temple was something called the Ner Tamid, the eternal light. It was like the Olympic torch, but the Ner Tamid was much much bigger. It was as tall as a 7-storey high building. It represented God’s presence in the temple. It was supposed to burn all the time to remind our people that God was always in their midst.
There is a legend, which explains that when Judah Makkabee and his army rededicated the temple that they only found enough uncontaminated, or clean, oil to keep the eternal light burning for one day. But miraculously the oil kept burning for 8 days until they could make and sanctify another load of oil. And that is why we light the candles for 8 days. And that is also why Jewish people traditionally eat Latkes (Hebrew for potato pancakes) or Sufganiyot (Hebrew for donuts), both of which are traditionally cooked in oil to remind ourselves of Judah Makkabee and his army who: stood up for God; would not worship idols; and trusted God for their victory believing that it was “Not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord Almighty” that they would defeat the evil Antiokhus.
And I want to ask each of you a question? Do you think you would be willing to be like Judah Makkabee? He put God first in his life and was willing to stand up for God against evil. Are you willing to do the same?
Maybe at work or school someone will say something horrible about God. Or someone will make fun of you for reading the Bible or praying. Or someone might say you should not believe in Jesus. What will you do? I want to challenge each of us to be like Judah Makkabee, and stand up for what is right, stand up for our God.
Actually Judah Makkabee and the story of Khanukah and the candles reminds me of another hero in the Bible. Can anybody guess who that is? I will give you a clue. He said these famous words; “I am the light of the world”
Do you know what His name means? Salvation
Just as Judah Makkabee saved the Jewish people 22 centuries ago because of God’s faithfulness and mercy, so Jesus comes to save us today, both Jews and Gentiles. Do you remember the Ner Tamid, the eternal light, in the temple? Well Jesus is that light today. When Jesus said “I am the light of the world” He went on to say “he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
That eternal light is now shining in the hearts of those of us who follow Jesus. I hope that each of you has that light shining in your hearts. I want you to think of Jesus’ light that is shining in each of our hearts. And how he asks each of us to stand up for Him and shine His light to those around us.