Chanukah (Hanukkah) :
On the 25th of Kislev (December 4th) Jewish homes across the world will be lighting the first of eight candles using the servant (shamash) candle in the midst of the Menorah (candelabra). During these eight days gifts will be exchanged, latkes will be eaten, games will be played, and prayers will be offered.
Many Christians mistakenly opine that Chanukah is merely a Jewish Christmas. Although there are similarities (gifts, lights, and celebration) the truth behind Chanukah is that without it, Christmas could not be. In fact, Chanukah is quite different than any other holiday. Chanukah is known as the Feast of Dedication as well as the Festival of Lights.
What makes Chanukah different? If Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a descendent of Alexander the Great’s general, Seleucus, succeeded in his mission the Jewish people would have been assimilated into the Syrian Greek culture (resistance is futile), and the Messiah could not have been born to a “ha’almah” (young maiden or virgin). Isaiah says:
Then YHVH spoke again to Ahatz (Ahaz, or Ahab), saying, "Ask a sign for yourself from YHVH your God; make it deep [as Sheol] or high [as heaven]." But Ahatz said, "I will not ask, nor will I test YHVH!" Then he said, "Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of “et-elohai” (Yeshua-my God) as well? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a “ha’almah” will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. "He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken" (7:10-16, AB Version).1
Whether or not “ha’almah” in the above context means virgin or young maiden, the fact remains that YHVH gave specific instructions that the priests were not allowed to marry a divorcee or an impure woman (Leviticus 23:1-15). Although the word in Leviticus for virgin is “betulah” the idea that YHVH would accept anything less to bring forth “E’manu-El” (God with us—the Messiah) is quite preposterous. Furthermore, the Isaiah passage—which is a direct Messianic Prophecy fulfilled during the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot-the real Christmas)—can easily take us off the main point of this blog. Therefore, I will discuss in later blogs the significance of Sukkot for the believer.
Back to Chanukah! Antiochus IV rose to power in 175 B.C.E. During that time nothing really changed for the Jewish people at first until, however, by 167 B.C.E., he outlawed Judaism and set up an altar to Zeus in the Second Temple. Some have suggested that it was a mere statue; however, if you were to look at the coin of Antiochus IV you would see his image on the front and on the back there would be an inscription of Zeus sitting on a weird looking throne. This throne (omphalos) in Greek is known as a “navel.”2
The story of this navel is that Zeus sent out two eagles and where they met back together was considered the center of the world. Thus, the army would erect these “navels” throughout the Mediterranean atop the holy places of worship of the conquered gods of their enemies. These navels looked somewhat like a beehive made out of stone. The outside of the omphalos had a carved knotted net and it’s opening was hollow from the top and tapered-down wider at it’s base.
The theory was that the omphalos could be set up above the grave of the conquered god.3 Therefore, you would have this image in the Second Temple of YHVH with Antiochus Epiphanes sacrificing vile and unclean animals as a direct slap-in-the-face to the god of the Jews. How unfortunate, for Antiochus IV that is, that he didn’t realize he was messing with the wrong god. The very, God of all gods; YHVH the Lord of Hosts!
Anyhow, that was about the tip of the iceberg for Mattathias and his five sons. One of his sons, Judah, nicknamed Maccabee (the hammer) was the one to lead the charge and with a small rebellion conquered Antiochus and his army.
The story behind the eight days was that the Menorah (Candelabra) of the Eternal flame was out of sanctified olive oil. It wasn’t that they didn’t have enough oil to burn; insomuch, the oil used in the Eternal Flame had to be purified and sanctified, which took eight days to complete the process. Whether or not the oil story is true, it’s still a pretty amazing miracle. (More of the story can be read in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees. Although they are not canonized, they are quite historical, especially 2 Maccabees.) You will also be able to read about it through the Jewish historian, Josephus.
What then is the significance of Chanukah for the believer in the Messiah Yeshua? Every believer, Jew or non-Jew, should celebrate Chanukah because it is not only a celebration of victory over Israel’s oppressor, but a reminder to the significance of all believers celebrating over the future Anti-Christ. Furthermore, Yeshua Himself celebrated Chanukah, and He is the Light and Eternal Life for men. For the believer, Chanukah is more than, “Eight Crazy Nights” as Adam Sandler would suggest; it is a celebration of light over darkness, life over death, and true worship over pagan worship. He and only He sits upon the seat of Glory ready to conquer over all His enemies.
Celebrate Chanukah, and rejoice over the victory you have in Messiah, Yeshua!
Adrian A. Bernal
2. Wikipedia, The Free Dictionary <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omphalos> (30 November 2007). Note: Wikipedia should not be used for academia; neither collegiate nor undergraduate schools of any kind due to the nature of it’s information resources. I have used it as a beginning to your own research on the subject. However, Wikipedia can be used to further a person’s understanding in many areas.
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