Chanukah Series: The Story of Chanukah

Jesus came to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Dedication, also referred to as the Festival of Lights, or Chanukah (which means “rededication.”  (John 10:22). Although this holiday is celebrated each year by the Jews, it is not one of the Holy days. The Jews have celebrated the Feast of Dedication, Chanukah, since 164 B.C. They are celebrating two key miracles—a great Jewish military victory and a spiritual triumph in the Temple at Jerusalem.

Temple at Jerusalem

Temple at Jerusalem

Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday that does not have a foundation in the Bible, like other celebrations, like the Passover (which celebrates Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt, found in the book of Exodus) or Purim (which commemorates the Jews’ victory over Haman and his attempt to destroy Israel, found in the Book of Esther).  The reason the Bible does not mention Chanukah (other than Jesus’ participation in John 10:22) is because the events of Chanukah actually occurred about 300 years after the Old Testament was completed.  There was a 400-year gap of silence from God from Malachi, until Messiah was born. During this gap, the Israelites experienced these two miracles:

First, the Jew’s victory was achieved in 165 B.C. when the Maccabees defeated Syria. Antiochus IV, King of Syria, had just been defeated in Egypt. In his frustration, he attacked Judea and killed men, women and children and also invaded the Temple in Jerusalem. He stole the golden altar, menorahs and other vessels. He showed contempt for the God of Israel by sacrificing a pig to Zeus on their altar and commanded that only pigs could be sacrificed there (pigs are considered the dirtiest of animals and Jewish law required a lamb).  Antiochus IV cooked a pig in the Temple and poured its broth on the holy Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) scrolls and all over that altar.  This was a blow and a disgrace! He tried to forbid Jewish worship and force Greek culture on the Jews.

Antiokhos IV

Antiokhos IV

Syrian officers were to enforce cruel and blasphemous decrees. And the punishment for not abiding by these and other decrees was death. Thousands of Jews were needlessly slaughtered by Antiochus and his army. Mattahias and his five sons, including Judah Maccabee, organized themselves into a guerilla army and led Israel to victory over the Syrians and on the 25th of Kislev, rededicated the Temple and consecrated a new altar. This was a miracle because the Syrians were superior in military strength.

Judas Maccabeus

Judas Maccabeus

The second miracle happened when they relit the altar. There was to be an eternal light at the altar, but there was not enough consecrated (purified) olive oil to keep it burning for more than one day. It took them a week to prepare more because the oil had to be oil not touched by pagans or used for sacrifices to the false gods.. The eternal flame signified God’s presence in the Temple at all times, the same way we light an eternal flame in memory of a president or great person, in remembrance of them.

The Maccabeans lit the eternal flame anyway, even though they knew they only had enough o keep the flame burning for one day. The people trusted in God and claimed victory because of God’s hand. But a miracle happened there as the lamp stayed lit for eight days until the new oil was ready. This is how Chanukah became known as the “Festival of Lights.”

Today, Chanukah is celebrated using a special Chanukah menorah with nine lights or candles.

                                     Chanukah Menorah

                                     Chanukah Menorah

As you can see, Chanukah is not the Jewish substitute for Christmas, but a completely different holiday. Both holidays recognize God as being the center and providing for His people.  God provided victory and a miracle for the Jews on Chanukah and God provided the birth of His Son on Christmas.