In this Covid-19 world we are living in today, what does Hanukkah mean to me? This seems a valid question since I did not grow up celebrating Hanukkah. I grew up in a small Christian family that went to church each week, and celebrated Christmas and Easter. The only things I knew about Jews and Judaism were what I read in the Bible. As far as I knew, I had never met a Jew at all growing up. It wasn’t until I started going to college, and I made an effort to find out about Jews, Judaism, and the Synagogue that I learned not only about who they were and their history, but I learned that most Christians are basing many of their opinions about the Jewish people, the Jewish faith, and the synagogue on a perception and view that is no longer true or valid. Judaism today is not the same as it was in the New Testament times of the first century, C.E., just as the Christianity of today is also not what it was in the first century, C.E. Both have greatly changed over the past two thousand years.
HOW HANUKKAH IS USUALLY VIEWED
But in my studies I noticed that most people look at Hanukkah as a celebration or observance of a past historical event, the victory of the Maccabees (Jews) over the Seleucid-Greek army. After winning the war, they discovered that the Temple in Jerusalem had been severely trashed, defiled, and profaned. The altar even had to be taken apart and a new altar built, new furniture made, and the temple scrubbed and cleansed so that it could be dedicated back to God. In fact, that is what the word Hanukkah means: “dedication.” So in winning this war, the Maccabees gained the political and religious freedom for their people, so that they could then honor and worship God in the way that He wished to be honored and worshipped.
WHY HANUKKAH IS IMPORTANT TO OUR COVID-19 WORLD
And although there may be other things associated with Hanukkah, this is what it is about at its central core. And in this COVID -19 world where this sickness is being used to slowly change the United States into a more Socialist regime, I cannot think of a better holiday for every American to grab ahold of, whether they are Jewish or not, than Hanukkah. It should provoke us to defend our political and religious freedoms that are slowly being erased from our day-to-day lives.
WHAT HANUKKAH MEANS TO ME
But for me, Hanukkah has come to mean more than just a historical observance. It has come to be a reality in my life in that every year, it represents for me a new beginning. Yes, every year this temple of my life becomes defiled and profaned with pride, arrogance, selfishness, and sinful actions and desires, and it needs to be cleansed and purified, so that it may be rededicated back to God for His use and worship. This does not mean that I have to wait until Hanukkah to have this happen, but every Hanukkah I am reminded of this miraculous act of grace in my life.
HANUKKAH – A WAY TO BUILD A SHARED EXPERIENCE WITH JESUS?
In the New Testament, we read,
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. (John 10:22-23)
Imagine my surprise when I learned that “the feast of dedication” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Hanukkah. So why was Yeshua (Jesus) in Jerusalem for Hanukkah? For the simple reason that Yeshua (Jesus) is a Jew celebrating and remembering a national historical event with His countrymen. That in itself provoked my interest. I wanted to learn all I could about this feast. By finding out about Hanukkah and the events that led up to its observance, I began to gain insight into what it might have meant to Yeshua (Jesus) and other Jews of His time. And by also beginning to observe it, I was slowly beginning to build some “shared perceptions and experiences” between Yeshua (Jesus) and me.
It was when I began to realize that I could keep these commandments, the feasts, that I began to see the commandments and feasts as “shared experiences and perceptions” with Yeshua (Jesus). And in doing so, He became even more real to me. And although there may be some Christians who may find what I am about to say surprising, maybe even shocking, but I also began to see Yeshua (Jesus) more interesting, someone that I truly wanted to get to know. It was not His deity that drew me to Him but His Jewishness.
HANUKKAH – MORE THAN A LESSON IN HISTORY?
So it was at that moment that Hanukkah, and the rest of the Bible, became more than just a book of stories and rules about what I was supposed to do and what I was not supposed to do. It was no longer a “rule book,” but it became a living part of my life. Soon bit by bit, the other feasts and commandments became a living part of my life as well. For years, I grew up in church where I was taught that no matter how much I tried to please God, that no matter how much I struggled, I could never be good enough to please Him. I would always fall short; I would always be a sinner whose very best was nothing more than a dirty, used tampon (menstrual cloth) to God. Even with my very best, I could never please God or put a smile on His face.
CONTRAST BETWEEN WHAT THE CHURCH TAUGHT ME AND WHAT THE BIBLE ACTUALLY TEACHES
It is because of this, I was taught why Yeshua (Jesus) had to die on the cross because of my sins. But even though He died on the cross for my sins, I still could never keep God’s commandments. I would always fall short. And this is what I was taught growing up in the church. In the TANAKH (i.e., “Old Testament”), people were saved by the law, but now, as a result of Messiah’s death on the cross and His resurrection, we are now saved by grace through faith in what He has done for us. Yeshua’s (Jesus’) death, I was taught, brought the law to an end. However, when I became an adult and have studied the Scriptures now for over forty years, I discovered that the church has been wrong about the law and about Yeshua’s (Jesus’) death bringing that law to an end. For example, in the giving of the commandments in the first five books of the Bible, God says forty-five (45) times that His commandments are eternal, so how could they have come to an end? Did God lie? And Yeshua’s (Jesus’) death did bring a law to an end, but it was not the law of God, but the law of sin and death.
Also, Christianity’s teaching that people were saved by the law in the Old Testament is also wrong. If that were indeed the message God wanted to get across, then He would have given the commandments to Israel while they were still slaves in Egypt. He would have then told them that when they could keep them, then He would redeem them from Egypt. But this is NOT what God did. Instead, He redeemed them FIRST, and then He brought them to Mt. Sinai where He gave them His commandments. Consequently, then, God’s law was not given to redeem anyone, but it was given to a people who were already redeemed to teach them how to live with God and with one another. Therefore, Christianity’s teaching that the law is “legalism,” “bondage,” and has been brought to an end or annulled are all horribly wrong.
WHAT DOES GOD PROMISE THOSE WHO KEEP HIS LAW?
Rather than putting chains on me, I have discovered that God’s law has brought me closer to Him. Yeshua (Jesus) didn’t die to free me from God’s law, but so that I could have the Holy Spirit in me so that through the power of the Spirit, I could walk in obedience to them, keep His commandments, and please God. He died so that I could put a smile on God’s face. But I had to do more than simply read the Bible, I had to live it out in my life. As James writes in his epistle, the Bible had to become a mirror of me:
For if any be a hearer of the word, and NOT A DOER, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway (immediately) forgets what manner of man he was. But whoso looks into the PERFECT LAW OF LIBERTY, and continues therein, he being NOT a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. (James 1:23-25; emphasis added)
In this passage, James refers to God’s laws as “the PERFECT LAW OF LIBERTY” based on Psalm 119,
And take not the word of truth utterly not out of my mouth; for I have hoped in Your judgments. So shall I keep Your law continually forever and ever. And I will walk AT [or IN] LIBERTY: for I seek Your precepts. (Psalm 119:43-45; emphasis added)
In this passage, we can see God’s law called “the word of truth,” “Your judgments,” “Your law,” and “Your precepts.” And because we keep God’s law, it says that we will walk “in liberty” or “freely.” And the reward for keeping God’s law and commandments is that we will be blessed in our life. We see this in the book of Joshua,
This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; but you shall meditate therein day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then you shall make your way PROSPEROUS, and then you shall have GOOD SUCCESS. (Joshua 1:8; emphasis added)
Now where does God say that if we can keep His commandments that when we die, that we will be able to go to heaven? It is not there, or how about what it teaches in the Psalms?
Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in His law does He meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and WHATSOEVER HE DOES SHALL PROSPER. (Psalm 1:1-3l emphasis added)
And here again, the promise given for obedience is not “heaven” or “eternal life,” but a blessed and prosperous life. And even in James, who is pulling his statement about God’s law from the law itself, from Joshua, and from the Psalms, when he writes, “but a doer of the work, this man shall be BLESSED IN HIS DEED” (James 1:25). So is James teaching us new doctrine here? Absolutely not! He is teaching us exactly the same things as the rest of the Scriptures.
GOD WANTS MORE FROM US THAN US GOING TO CHURCH
However, what I did learn from the church was how to be what James calls “a forgetful hearer,” one who hears the word but does not do anything with it. Yes, my family and I went to church every time the church doors were open. We would sing songs in worship, give tithes, and then sit through a two-hour sermon in most cases, and then we would go home to grab something to eat, spend the afternoon relaxing, and then come back Sunday night for more worship, tithes giving, and another sermon. Although we did this three times per week (twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday night) and we heard the Word, it really did not substantially change how we lived our lives Monday through Saturday, outside of our dedication for going to church and supporting it with our tithes.
It wasn’t until I started keeping the various biblical feasts and commandments, beginning with Hanukkah, that I began to see myself in the mirror of God’s Word. The Bible – from Genesis to Revelation – was no longer about the Jews and the early Christians, it was about me, my God, and my kingdom family. I was like Rahab and Ruth who were engrafted into God’s people, Israel, and was made a part of the kingdom family and about His plan to establish His Kingdom here on earth. As a part of Israel, I have a role to play in that kingdom and in helping God in bringing others into His Kingdom family.
OBEDIENCE TO GOD’S LAW – BECOMING MORE LIKE GOD?
In keeping the Sabbath, the biblical feasts, including Hanukkah and Purim, and the dietary laws, as well as others, I am not becoming more “Jewish,” but God calls His commandments “His ways,” “His commandments,” “His feasts,” so by observing them, if anything, I am becoming more like God. I am following Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) admonition in Ephesians: “Be you followers (or imitators) of God as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1).
In the Passover, for example, I am not only to read the passage, but I am to see myself as being delivered from Egypt personally. In the book of Exodus, we read,
And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say to you, What does this service mean to you? That you shall say, It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when He killed the Egyptians, and delivered OUR HOUSES, and the people bowed the head and worshiped. (Exodus 12:26-27; emphasis added)
Did you notice that it was “OUR HOUSES” that were delivered, not “their houses.” We are to put ourselves in the account, to make it our own history, not just the history of another people, another time. We are to see ourselves as being delivered in the Passover, in the Exodus account, and even in the giving of the commandments that God gave to both native-born Israelites and to the Gentiles (non-Jews) that came out of Egypt with them (see Exodus 12:38; Numbers 11:4). We are, in fact, to see ourselves in each and every account. God wants to make His word a living reality in our lives – not just something we read about as part of our daily devotion.
NOT LIVING UP TO THE LIFE GOD HAS CALLED US TO LIVE
I find it sad to say that there are many Christians who are living far below the life that God has called them to live due to the teachings they receive in their churches. If you erroneously believe that you cannot keep the Sabbath (even though they keep Sunday), or that they can keep the biblical feasts (even though they keep pagan-rooted celebrations, like Christmas, Lent, and Easter), then they are not even going to try to keep what they have been convinced is only doomed to failure. Christianity’s error is in seeing the law being about salvation, rather than God describing Himself and His desired standard for those who would come to be His Kingdom people.
OTHER CHRISTIAN MYTHS AND ERRORS ABOUT THE LAW
Also, contrary to Christian teaching, keeping the commandments does not make one perfect. There is not a single verse in the entire Bible where God says if you can keep the commandments, then you will be perfect. For example, if God expected us to be perfect, He would not have allowed for divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-2). Also, if God expected us to be perfect, then He would not have allowed us a make-up day to observe Passover (Numbers 9:6-14), nor would He have provided the cities of refuge where people could go, in case they kill someone (Numbers 35:6, 9-15; Deuteronomy 19:1-6), and the biggest evidence that God knew that we are imperfect people is the Temple-sacrificial system. There is absolutely no evidence that God expected perfection; instead, He expected us to willingly and lovingly obey Him as His people.
Also, when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, Daniel, who had been taken captive to Babylon, did not go, “The Temple is gone, the priesthood is gone, and there are not any sacrificial animals being given anymore, and since we cannot do those things, then we might as well give up and not try to do any of the commandments.” No, that is not what he did. Instead, he and his friends did as much of the commandments as they could, and God blessed them for their obedience. Therefore, again, the argument that if we can’t keep all of it, we might as well not bother with any of it is definitely not supported by the Bible.
In addition, there is also no statement made by God in the entire Bible where God says that if we keep the commandments, then He will have to take us to heaven. Neither one is there, and yet I have heard Christian ministers say that we cannot keep the commandments because we are not perfect, or that if we could keep the commandments, then God would have no choice but to take us to heaven. Interesting what gets taught, even though neither idea is actually biblical.
WHICH PART OF THE LAW AM I TO KEEP?
The fact is that God did not expect any human being to keep all 613 commandments in the Old Testament and 1056 commandments in the New Testament. Some of the commandments deal with kings, and since I am not a king, I do not have to do those. Some of the commandments deal with what priests were to do in the Temple, and since I am not a priest, I do not have to keep these. Also, there are commandments that deal with farming, but I am not a farmer, and others that deal with women, and I am not a woman. I only have to keep those commandments that deal with me, a common man. So this Christian teaching about having to keep all 613 commandments is obviously the teaching of those who have not spent any time studying the various commandments, as well as a horrible misuse of James’ teaching,
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. (James 2:10)
If we put this statement back into context, which many Christians do not do, then we learn that James said this to provoke his Jewish brethren to be more observant of God’s commandments, particularly when in comes to treating all people equally, whether they are rich or poor, which they were not doing then and many churches are not doing today. He was not using that statement the way that many Christians do: to try and prove that it is fruitless to even try to be obedient to God – the exact opposite of how James used it. Consequently, then, the Christian argument against God’s laws as being for all people for all time is deeply flawed.
WHAT HANUKKAH HAS COME TO MEAN TO ME
It was with Hanukkah, I began my journey to learn the truth of God’s word. God teaches us so many things in His commandments that are worthwhile in so many ways, but because of Christianity’s traditional teachings that the law is not for Christians, there are many things that so many people are missing out on. For me, it represents –
- The historical events of the war between Israel and the Seleucid-Greek empire;
- The story of the martyrs who were willing to die rather than compromise their obedience to God’s Word;
- The story of the Temple that was trashed, defiled, and profaned by the world, and yet it was cleansed and fixed up, and rededicated back to God; and in the same way, my life that has been trashed, defiled, and profaned when I allow Yeshua, from the tribe of Judah, to come in and begin cleaning and fixing up my life, so that I can get back to serving God;
- It tells us the truth that God expects His people to keep His commandments, Sabbath and feasts, dietary laws, etc., and not the lies of the adversary that tell us that we are better off not keeping God’s commandments or that His commandments are impossible to keep.
- It also symbolizes the time, based on my own research and studies, when the angel Gabriel came and told a young Jewish virgin, Mir’yam (Mary) that she was going to give birth to the promised Messiah.
- It also represents the truth that even when life is at its darkest, we can bring the light of God into that moment, whether that light is God’s holiness, His Written Word – the Torah, or His Living Torah, the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus).
As you can see, there are many positives in not only observing Hanukkah, but in teaching it to our families, friends, or even to our congregations. It is my hope and prayer that if you do not already observe Hanukkah, that you will take this opportunity to check it out and begin to bring a new level of experience with God’s Word to life in your day-to-day walk with God and the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). Trust me when I say that it will be a decision that you will not regret.