Hanukkah and Christianity

Well, this is one of those odd years where Hanukkah starts in November.

In fact, it starts tonight.

Now to most of you, Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas, right? I heard it described once that “some Jew wasn’t happy that Christian kids got presents and had a Santa Claus, but Jewish kids didn’t, so he came up with Hanukkah and Hanukkah Harry.”

Of course this is all balderdash.

Hanukkah is biblical, Jesus celebrated it, and I can prove it.

The Hebrew word “Hanukkah” (חנוכה) means “dedication” – it was known as the Feast of the Dedication.

There’s one, and only one reference to this feast, and that’s in the tenth chapter of John, verses 22 and 23:

Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.

Why was it only mentioned here? Weren’t the Feasts and Holidays declared back in Exodus and Leviticus – in the Law?

While it’s true that the major holidays were declared in the Law, there are many more minor observances, most of them in the Talmud or dreamed up by rabbis.

There were a little more than 400 years between Malachi and the birth of Christ, where the Canon of Scripture is quiet, but history books, and non-canonical scripture isn’t.

There are several Apocryphal books, one which is First Maccabees, which tells of a great battle and cleansing of the temple. In the fourth chapter of 1 Maccabees, verses 36-59, the story is told.

For some historical background on the issue at hand, In 168 BC, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the king of the Seleucids (the Syrian portion of the Greek Empire), invaded Judea, outlawed the Jewish religion, and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods.

Later in that year, his soldiers descended upon Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people.

In 167 BC, Antiochus IV personally entered the Second Temple (built under the governorship of Zerubbabel) and then desecrated it by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls.

Led by the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons, a large-scale rebellion broke out against Antiochus IV and the Seleucids. When Mattathias died in 166 BC, his son Judah, known as Judah Maccabee (which means “the Hammer”), took over the rebellion, and within two years (165 BC) the Jews had successfully driven the Seleucids out of Jerusalem.

But because the Temple had been desecrated and profaned, they needed time to clean it and rededicate it to the Lord. In later accounts, we read of a “miracle” regarding the lamp oil which took place right after the Temple was cleansed.

The “miracle” of the one-day supply of oil miraculously lasting eight days is first described in the Talmud (Jewish traditions written about AD 200–AD 500), which says that after the forces of Antiochus IV had been defeated and the Temple recovered, the Maccabees discovered that almost all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned.

The account in 1 Maccabees doesn’t reference the miracle of the oil, and since there’s no reference to it in scripture, we need to find where it came from in other areas. I mean, why would our Lord and savior associate Himself with a holiday of such minor, bordering on heathen roots?

The miracle described is very similar to two other miracles recorded in 1 Kings 17:12–16 (Elijah and the widow of Zaropheth) and 2 Kings 4:1–7 (Elisha and the widow’s oil), so there is certainly biblical precedent for God performing such a miracle.

The “miracle” of the one-day supply of oil miraculously lasting eight days is first described in the Talmud (Jewish traditions written about AD 200–AD 500), which says that after the forces of Antiochus IV had been defeated and the Temple recovered, the Maccabees discovered that almost all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned. They found only a single container that was still sealed by the High Priest, with enough oil to keep the menorah in the Temple lit for only a day. They had no choice but to use it, yet it burned for eight days, until new oil was pressed and made ready. This account is found in the “Megillath Antiochus” which is usually dated to the first or second century AD.

So, Jesus knew of the Apocryphal version, as it was remembered because it was a major milestone in Jewish history and life, and although early in the life of the Talmud, Jesus probably knew of the miracle of the oil as well.

It’s funny, Jews always have a habit of taking things not their custom, putting a humorous spin on them and make their own. We all know the Christmas and Glenn Beck inspired “Elf on the Shelf” – complete with little elf doll and children’s book. Well in the spirit of Hanukkah, we have the “Mensch on the Bench” – yes, complete with little mensch doll, with candle, and children’s book.

The children’s book talks about the miracle of the and the role the mensch plays in protecting the light. My gosh, can we take a story and run with it or not?

Anyway, getting back to our biblical aspects of Hanukkah, as I said, it’s mentioned only once, and that Jesus knew of it. Because of its significance to the Temple, we can see in the writings of the historian Josephus, that up to the destruction of the second temple, lights were burned during this feast, which became known as the Festival of Lights,

This feast and festival in Jesus’ day was more like our Thanksgiving. They sang psalms, feasted with friends and family, went to the Temple or local synagogue to hear Scripture read and to give thanks to God for the freedom to worship Him, and for his deliverance from the hand of Israel’s enemies. It also probably included the ceremonial lighting of candles or oil lamps at the synagogue and in homes.

The mention of Hanukkah was no accident by John, nor was it mere coincidence that Jesus showed up. Prior to this, Jesus declared Himself light of the world in John 8:12 and 9:5 and he brought a blind man out of his darkness to the light of sight in John 9.

The prophet Isaiah in chapter 42 declared that the Messiah would be a light to the Gentiles and open blind eyes.

Hanukkah seemed the perfect time to declare His deity, so in verse 30, we see just that, “I and The Father, are one.”

Being God, with His very presence bringing glory to the Temple, how could Jesus, the very embodiment of light, deliverance, and peace, abstain from appearing in the Temple for the festival which commemorated those very things?

Today, Hanukkah has become secularized in that it’s become so commercialized, that the faith-based aspects aren’t as evident as they once were.

We play Dreidel with Hanukkah gelt (a children’s game with a top and foil wrapped chocolate coins). I’ve always said that this is I learned aspects of gambling.

We eat oil fried foods like latkes, or potato pancakes, and jelly donuts. Oil fried you ask? The miracle of the oil, remember? But this nothing to do with the miracle.

Yeah, we light the menorah each night – but then it’s off to exchange gifts. Sort of sounds like Christmas a little, yeah, lip service is paid to the birth of Christ – if at all in some households, then it’s off to a brunch, then presents are exchanged.

But Messianic Jews look at Hanukkah and Christ as the Light of the World. Matthew 5:16 tells us to let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

This means we’re to, if you will, to be menorahs, to others, to bring others from darkness to light. 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul tells us, For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Like the menorah which shines in your front window at night to lead one out of darkness, we are to do the same.

So, as you can see, although Hanukkah isn’t a high holiday, or a major holiday laid down in Torah, and it’s not spelled down in scripture, it is referenced once in scripture, Jesus respected and observed it as a Jew, and we can infer, based on other scripture that the holiday is biblical.

Am I saying that you need to run out, buy a menorah and Hanukkah candles and learn Hebrew blessings? Absolutely not.

Am I saying that you should learn all you can about the celebrations of the roots of our Christian faith? Absolutely!

Hanukkah Sameach!

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