wanted to send out a quick story I wrote several years back about the
story behind the Festival of Hanukkah. Tonight we celebrate the second
day of this eight day festival! I hope to have a more in-depth write up
by the end of the feast, Lord willing. But until then, I hope this wets
your appetite to find out more about this amazing holiday…a holiday
that even Yeshua celebrated in the New Testament! (Look it up!)
With that, here is the amazing miracle story of Hanukkah!
More than 2000 years ago after Alexander the Greats death, his four Generals divided His Kingdom into 4 parts. One of Alexander’s Generals, Antiochus III, became King over Syria and Conquered Judea. Antiochus was Greek and did not understand the religious customs and commandments that the Jewish people followed. His son Antiochus IV tried to take away the religious freedom of the Jews.
That is where the Story of Hanukah begins. In the year 162 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) Antiochus issued a decree, which said: “Antiochus, king of Judea and commander of the army, to the Jews. Be Warned. Anyone caught praying to God or obeying the Jewish law will be killed. ‘ALL JEWS MUST BECOME GREEK AND BOW DOWN TO Zeus.’” This frightened the Jews but it would not make them change.
Their ancestors had promised God to worship Him and Him alone, whatever the cost, so as not to break the covenant God had made with them. They continued to study their holy books and the Torah. (The first 5 books of Moses) Many horrendous acts were committed at that time by Antiochus’ soldiers. Yet, even then, the Jewish people would not stop studying and worshiping God. Finally Antiochus became so enraged that he ordered the Holy Temple of God invaded. His soldiers looted the building, pouring out all the holy oil for the menorah, making the floor thick with oil. They smeared filth on the walls, sent pigs into the Temple, sacrificed pigs on the altar, and as a final insult, brought a statue of Zeus and set it up in the Holy Place. Antiochus insisted on being called Antiochus Epiphanies, which means “God manifest,” enough to repulse any religious Jew. The Jewish community soon came up with an appropriate reflection of their feelings, calling him Antiochus Epimanies, which means “crazy man”.
The Jews were heartsick. Their Holy Temple had been defiled. Antiochus thought that the Jews were conquered and went on to Egypt to fight another land war.
But the Jews did
not lose hope. In the city of Modi’in lived an old, godly priest named
Matthias Hasmon. He lived with his 5 sons: Yehudah, Yonatan, Shimon,
Eliezer, and Yochanan. (Names in English = Matthew, Judah, Jonathan,
Simon, Eliezer & John) The Syrian soldiers chose Matthias to lead a
pagan ceremony knowing he was a priest of God and a great leader.
Matthias and his sons reacted with holy indignation, “enough was
enough.” They killed the soldiers and started a revolt against the
oppressors. Matthias said: “Antiochus will not rest until he has
destroyed us, we must fight back! It is better to die for God than to
live as slaves…God wants living servants and not dead law-keepers.
Whoever is ready to fight for God, come with me!”
Matthias and his followers moved into the Judean hills. Matthias rose up and said: “Everyone must learn to fight, my son Yehudah has been a mighty warrior from his youth. He will lead you.”
Yehudah began to train men and women, young and old, how to use bow and arrow, slingshots, spears and daggers.
Each night he sent people down from the hills to gather food, weapons, and information. The pious Jews became good warriors. Enemy soldiers who tried to climb the hills could not get very far. The Jews would hit them with sling stones and arrows; almost every one of them hit its mark. As certain as hammer-blows, was the aim of the Jewish warriors. For this reason they became known as the “Maccabees” which means “Hammers”. The Jewish people had to fight for their lives against the tyranny of the Greeks and Syrians.
Antiochus was furious when he heard that the Jews were fighting back, He wrote to his General’s in Jerusalem: “Antiochus,
king of Judea and the commander of the army, to his General in Judea.
Lose NO time. Assemble the army. Slay the Jews who fight in the hills.”
By this time in the fighting, Matthias had died of old age and his oldest son Yehudah had taken his place.
When the Jews saw the vast army they grew pale: “How can we, only a few thousand strong, make war against such a multitude?” Yehudah spoke up; “Victory does not depend on the size of the army but on heaven, Antiochus may have thousands of soldiers, but we have God.” The Jews were made strong through their faith in God. Encouraged by their leader’s words the Jewish people took up their weapons. Until then they had largely defended themselves in small-scale guerilla battles, but now the war had begun in earnest. The Jews fought on, pushing Antiochus’s forces farther back. After 3 years of fighting, the enemy lost heart. They saw that they could not defeat the Jews, so the put down their weapons, and gave up. When Antiochus learned that the Jews had defeated his men, he was so ashamed, that he drowned himself in the sea.
The Jews were free at-last; they came down from the hills and reclaimed Jerusalem. They faced the sober task of restoring the Temple to the true worship of God.
compound was in shambles, desecrated by the idolatry of the Syrians. The
Maccabees quickly cleansed the altar and restored the holy furnishings.
Of particular importance to them was the menorah — the lamp-stand, which symbolizes the light of God. They restored the lamp, and attempted to light it.
Jewish tradition recounts that as they were cleaning the Temple, they found a jar of oil that was still holy, with the seal of the priest on it. The people rejoiced over the oil, but they knew it would only be enough to burn for one day. It would take at least 8 days for new oil to be produced. What to do? They decided to light the menorah anyway; at least the light of God would shine forth immediately. To their amazement the oil burned not only for one day, but instead, burned for eight days until new oil was available. The people took this as a sign from God.
On the 25 day of the Jewish month, Kislev, in the year 165 B.C.E. Yehudah and the priests rededicated the Temple to the God of Israel. God had once more preserved his people through whom the Messiah would come only decades later! With the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago the holiday of Hanukah was born. Every year we recall the three-fold miracle of the oil, the miraculous military victory, and the restoration of the Holy Temple, God’s house, where all nations will come and someday worship. May the restoration of the Holy Temple come soon and bring with it the restoration of all things! And may the light of this holiday shine in our hearts, to remind us that, despite all the odds we face in this world, the God of the miracle story of Hanukkah still performs His wonders in this time and at this season.
Chag Sameach! Happy Holiday!