In just nine days, we will be celebrating Hanukkah, “the feast of lights” or “the feast of dedication.” In the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus was down in Jerusalem for “the feast of dedication [i.e., Hanukkah], and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the Temple in Solomon’s porch” (John 10:22-23). Hanukkah is not like Christmas at all, even though they occur during the same month. Instead, it is closer to our July 4th celebration. For July 4th, we celebrate our victory over the British, and the beginnings of our country, the United States. Hanukkah is a celebration of Israel’s victory over the Seleucid-Greeks, who tried to force them to adopt Greek culture, Greek ways, and Greek worship. But not only does it celebrate Israel’s victory, their freedom, it also celebrates the dedication of the Temple and themselves again back to God and to the keeping of His commandments. So in this blog article, I would like to begin by looking at the historical account of Hanukkah, but not with Antiochus and the Seleucid Greeks, but with Daniel and the Jewish people being in the land of Babylon.
A COMPARISON OF DREAMS
In Daniel 2, God gives Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, a dream regarding the future kingdoms of this world in the form of a statue of a man made from various metals. These kingdoms are Babylon (the head of gold), Medes & Persians (chest and arms of silver), Greece (belly and thighs), Rome (legs), and a future end-time global empire (feet of iron and clay). As we can see, as we move down the statue, we not only forward in time from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, but the quality of the metals go down as well.
In Daniel 7, Daniel likewise has a dream regarding the same empires, but in Daniel’s dream, they appear not as a statue of a man, but as wild beasts: Babylon (a lion with eagle’s wings), Medes & Persians (a bear raised up on one side with three ribs in its mouth), Greece (a four-headed leopard with wings), and Rome (a dreadful and terrifying beast with iron teeth). However, after the fourth beast, it mentions, not a fifth beast but “another horn,” who had “the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts” and who pulled out “three horns” (Daniel 7:8).
WHY THE DIFFERENCE IN DREAMS?
I believe the dreams present a look at the same time period differently because God presented to Nebuchadnezzar a view of the kingdoms from the outside. From the viewpoint of people, these were wondrous kingdoms to behold; however, to Daniel God gave a view of these same kingdoms from the inside, a look at their heart and spirit, and from an internal perspective, they were “wild beasts.”
A SUBSEQUENT DREAM
In Daniel 8, Daniel is given a subsequent dream to his previous dream during the third year of the reign of Belshazzar, the king of Babylon. Daniel has a dream of two specific beasts: a ram with two horns (Medes & Persians) and a male goat (Greece). In his dream, he says he saw the following:
And I saw him [the male goat] come beside the ram, and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered the two horns, and the ram had no strength to withstand him. So he hurled him to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power. (Daniel 8:7)
This prophecy of “the male goat” is a perfect picture of Alexander the Great. He conquered the empire of the Medes & Persians (the ram with the two horns) quickly, as well as all of the known world at that time. He won battle after battle, war after war, with no one being able to stop him. But then in verse 8, the prophecy continues:
Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns towards the four winds of heaven. (Daniel 8:8)
According to world history, Alexander the Great rose to great power, “magnifying himself exceedingly,” but then at the age of 33, on June 10, 323, B.C., he died suddenly. To this day, there is an ongoing debate among historians about how he died, theories include poison, murder, or a relapse of Malaria. When asked, though, as he was dying, who would get his kingdom, he replied, “the strongest.” As a result, his empire was fought over for forty years by his four generals (the “four conspicuous horns”). But then continuing on in the prophecy, we learn the following:
From one of these, the small one, sprang a horn which grew to great size toward the south and east and toward the land of Splendor….It magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down. (Daniel 8: 9, 11)
Then Daniel heard a voice in his vision ask, how long would this be allowed to happen, and the response was 2,300 evenings and mornings, and “then the holy place will be properly restored” (Daniel 8:14). This prophecy of the “little horn” regards Antiochus Epiphanes and the events that the feast of Hanukkah commemorates.
HANUKKAH: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION
The historical account of the war between Israel and the Seleucid Greeks is found in the book of I Maccabees. Although this book is in the Catholic Bible, it is not in the Hebrew Tanakh or in the Protestant Christian Old Testament. So for the convenience of readers who are not familiar with the account, I have provided the following summary.
Approximately 148 years after the death of Alexander the Great is when the historical events that Hanukkah commemorates occurred. It begins when Antiochus IV, “a sinful shoot,” became ruler of the Seleucid Greek dynasty in 175 B.C., a region which included Israel (I Maccabees 1:10-11). Afterward, there were some Jews who saw financial advantages to adopting a Hellenistic (or Greek) lifestyle, and so they abandoned God and His Torah (Teachings, Instructions).
After winning a battle against Egypt in 170 B.C., Antiochus turns his sights on Israel, particularly Jerusalem. He plundered the city and the Temple, taking the holy items and the Temple treasures, “leaving the place a shambles” (I Maccabees 1:25). Also, he took the women and children as slaves, stole their cattle, and then burned the city (I Maccabees 1:32-33).
MANDATING A GREEK LIFESTYLE
Antiochus then issued a proclamation that everyone was to adopt a Greek lifestyle, including the worship of the Greek gods (as well as himself as a god). Due to his own “god complex,” he ascribed to himself the name “Epiphanes” (“god manifest”).
PERSECUTING TORAH-OBSERVANT JEWS
Antiochus also forbad the Jews from practicing any form of Judaism, such as prohibiting any of the following:
- Any form of Temple worship;
- All biblical feasts, including the weekly Sabbath; and
- All Torah study and observance, including the following of the dietary laws and circumcision of boys at eight days old.
Instead of obeying God and His Torah (Teachings or Instructions), they were to worship the Greek gods, eat unclean food, and sacrifice pigs on the altar. Anyone found worshipping the God of Israel or keeping the Torah, or practicing any of its teachings, would be killed (I Maccabees 1:46-52).
INTENSIFYING THE PERSECUTION
On the 15th day of Chislev in 167 B.C., the statue of Zeus was erected above the altar, as well as other altars to him around the surrounding towns of Judah (I Maccabees 1:57-58). In addition, any copies of the Torah that were found by the Greek soldiers were torn up and burned (I Maccabees 1:59).
KILLING WOMEN AND CHILDREN
Also, any woman who was found to have circumcised her baby was killed, along with her male infant, in accordance to the edict, and her dead baby was hung around her neck. Also, any other member of the household who participated, along with the one who circumcised the infant, were killed as well.
SOME ENDURE – SOME DO NOT
Although the persecution was intense, there were many who remained faithful to the God of Israel and His Torah; many chose to die rather than to profane God’s “holy covenant” (I Maccabees 1:62-66). Unfortunately, though, there were also some who did not remain faithful but chose to abandon God and His Torah, rather than endure any further persecution. They adopted the Greek lifestyle and began worshipping the various Greek gods.
MATTATHIAS AND HIS SON REVOLT
When Antiochus’s men came to the town of Modein to make the Jews there offer a sacrifice to the god Zeus, a priest by the name of Mattathias and his sons refused to participate. Mattathias told them:
Even if every nation living in the king’s dominion obeys him [Antiochus], each forsaking its ancestral religion to conform to his decrees, I, my sons and my brothers will still follow the covenant of our ancestors. Heaven preserve us from forsaking the Law [Heb. Torah] and its observances. As for the king’s orders, we will not follow them: we will not swerve from our religion either to the right or to the left. (I Maccabees 2: 19-23)
Upon completing this statement, a Jew was going to betray God by offering a pig on the altar, but Mattathias killed the man and began a rebellion, killing as well the king’s men who were also there. Then he ran through the town, rallying the people to join him in their fight against the Greeks. They then took refuge in the hills (I Maccabees 2:25-28).
JUDAH ASSUMES COMMAND
After a year of fighting, Mattathias died in 167 B.C., but before he did, he placed his son Judah in charge of the war against the pagans (I Maccabees 2:66). Judah was nicknamed “Maccabees” (“hammer”) because of how he “hammered” at the enemy. Eventually, after two more years, Judah and his troop won their battle against the Greeks.
A SHOCKING DISCOVERY!
Upon the Greeks’ final defeat in 165 B.C., Judah and his men went to Jerusalem to re-dedicate the Temple. However, when they arrived,
they found the sanctuary [Temple] a wilderness, the altar desecrated, the gates burned down, and vegetation growing in the courts as it might in a wood or on some mountain, while the store rooms were in ruins. They tore their garments and mourned bitterly, putting dust on their heads. (I Maccabees 4:38-40)
CLEANSING THE TEMPLE
After a time of mourning, Judah selected priests who were faithful to God and blameless in their observance of the Torah to clean and purify the Temple, to remove the stones that had been used to construct the altar to Zeus, as well as the stones of the Temple altar that had been profaned by the blood of the pig that the Seleucid Greeks had offered on it (I Maccabees 4:42-45).
WHAT DO WE DO WITH THESE STONES?
Judah and his men were not sure what to do with the Temple altar stones once they had been removed, so they took them outside the Temple and set them in “a suitable place on the Temple hill to await the appearance of [the] prophet [i.e., the Messiah] who should give a ruling about them” (I Maccabees 4:46).
Could these be the same stones that Yeshua (Jesus) alluded to when He rode into Jerusalem, and when the religious leaders tried to get Him to silence the crowd, He told them, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:40)
REDEDICATING THE TEMPLE
Once the stones had been removed, they selected rocks that were naturally cut by the weather and sand, and built a new altar where the old one had once stood (I Maccabees 4:47). They cleaned the Temple, replaced the vessels and items that had been stolen, and set up the items in the Temple as God had instructed in the Torah (I Maccabees 4:47-51).
INSTITUTING THE OBSERVANCE OF HANUKKAH
Then on the 25th day of Chislev (which occurs from mid-November to mid-December), in the year 165 B.C., they re-dedicated the Temple back to God and to His service. They “made it a law that the days of dedication [Heb. Hanukkah] of the altar should be an annual celebration for eight days beginning on the 25th day of Chislev with ‘rejoicing and gladness’” (I Maccabees 4:52-61).
THE MIRACLE OF THE OIL
According to most books that are written about Hanukkah, as well as the story as it is told within most synagogues today, the celebration is observed for eight days in remembrance of the miracle of the oil. This account is not found in I Maccabees, but in the Talmud. According to this account, when the priests were cleaning the Temple, they were looking around for the oil used to re-light the Temple menorah (or lampstand). However, there was only enough oil for one day. But in obedience to the Scriptures, the priests went ahead and re-lit the menorah. However, the next day the priests discovered that the Temple menorah was still lit. And the next and the next, until eight days had passed, giving the priests time to make more oil, so that the menorah could remain lit. This is why Jews during Hanukkah eat foods fried in oil in order to commemorate this miracle.
BUT DID THE MIRACLE OF THE OIL REALLY HAPPEN?
According to Rabbi Michael Strassfield, in his article “What’s Hanukkah?” outside of the Talmud, there is no mention of the miracle of the oil. It is his belief that the miracle of the oil was invented to get the attention off of the miracle that a small band of men held off and beat a large army. Many Jewish men died fighting the Roman troops, believing that what God had done for the Maccabees, He would also do for them.
However, according to I Maccabees, Hanukkah was instituted specifically for eight days – not because of the miracle of the oil – but because it was modeled after the feast of Tabernacles (Heb. Sukkot), which the Maccabees could not observe while they were still battling the Greeks from the mountains of Judea (Strassburg).
GOD FULFILLED HIS PROPHECY
Indeed, God did keep His prophetic word. The “little horn” did rise to great power and for a time did gain power over the “land of Splendor” [Israel], but his time came to an end, and the Temple was, indeed, properly restored, as God promised.
If anything, the celebration of Hanukkah should remind us of the following:
- That our God is a faithful God who keeps His Word, even in the hardest of circumstances;
- The freedom to worship and honor the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by obeying His Torah from our hearts is something that must be fought for continually since today we see that freedom being slowly taken away from us.
- We must also remember that the Torah is not “bondage” or some “legalistic hardship,” as I hear mainstream Christianity teach, but it is a blessing from God that we have been given to teach us about God, Messiah, holiness, and what it means to be “the people of God.”
So let us always strive to remember the faithfulness of our God and to hold on to the freedom that God has given to us to walk in His ways.