The Meaning of Hanukkah
By Sam Nadler
Hanukkah was established in 165 BC as a memorial to the purification and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. This cleansing was necessary due to its defilement three years earlier. In 168 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes, the king of Syria, captured Jerusalem, plundered the Temple treasury, and to add insult to injury, profaned the Temple by sacrificing a pig to Zeus on the Temple altar. His persecution of and attempt to Hellenize the Jewish people in Judea resulted in what is called the Maccabean revolt. Led by Judah Maccabee, the Israelis resisted and fought against the occupying Syrian army and, after three years, defeated them.
Why Eight Days?
The celebration lasted for eight days and began on the 25th of the month of Kislev (December). Hanukkah is thought by many people to be eight days long because of a legend regarding the oil in the Temple. According to this tradition, when the Maccabees recaptured and rededicated the Temple, they attempted to light the Temple menorah. This menorah, which was to burn continually, represented the eternal light of God. But alas, there was only enough oil to last for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days when the Temple was rededicated. However, the legend of the oil is not historically accurate due to the fact that it developed during the Roman occupation long after the events occurred. Why this legend? Perhaps to avoid the warlike aspects of the holiday, the legend of the oil became popular. After all, celebrating the overthrow of your oppressors would be perceived as politically incorrect by the Roman army and would likely have caused unwanted trouble for the Israelis of that day.
2 Maccabees 10:6 has a better explanation of why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days: when the Temple was rededicated for holy worship, the great Feast of Sukkot (or Tabernacles) had already passed. Hanukkah, therefore, was considered an additional second Sukkot for the victorious Jewish army.
Hanukkah today centers on a nine-branch menorah called a hanukkiah, in contrast to the Temple menorah which has only seven branches. The nine branches include the shamash, or “servant” candle, which is used to light the other eight candles. These represent the eight days of Hanukkah. Interestingly, the shamash is usually higher than, or separate from, the other eight candles. As a servant, it presents a beautiful picture of Messiah Yeshua! But as the name indicates, Hanukkah is about dedication, specifically, the dedication of the Temple of God.
Yeshua and Hanukkah
Yeshua identifies Himself with this holiday in John 10:22-31, where He gives His Hanukkah sermon, teaching that He is the greater Maccabee. We are a defiled Temple because of sin; a defiled Temple us infit for God’s holy service. Messiah came to dedicate and restore humanity back to God so we could worship Him in spirit and truth. As His temple, at every Hanukkah season we recognize that unless we are dedicated, we simply are not spiritually useful to God; we, therefore, live unfulfilled lives. Dedication is similar to the idea of holy, or kadosh, which means “set apart, to hallow, or to consecrate,” which carries the idea- for God’s use only. So also, Hanukkah illustrates God’s purpose for His Temple to be consecrated and dedicated for His worship and service only. Just as Judah Maccabee came to remove the enemies’ defiling hold over God’s Temple, Yeshua came that we would be “delivered from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son” (Col. 1:13).
The idea of dedication involves “limitation”. If we are truly dedicated to the Lord; we restrict ourselves for His use only. For all of us, spiritual maturity is the result of consistent dedication which is based on a relationship with God. Dedication is not just a matter of a well-rounded education, but rather being properly focused on the Word, as well as practicing consistent application of the Word. As with Abraham using his dedicated servants to free his nephew Lot from the enemy, who does God use today to free those dominated and ensnared by the enemy? He uses only the dedicated servants (Hanikim). It is not our ability but our availability that counts. The dedicated are spiritually successful and those who completely give themselves to God will share in His victory and glory. Many lives were sacrificed for the cause of liberating and rededicating the Temple. In a similar way, Messiah gave His life as a sacrifice to redeem us as a temple of the Holy Spirit.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? “For you have been bought with a price: therefore, glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor 6:19-20). Dedication is measured by sacrifice. When the Temple was dedicated it fulfilled God’s purpose. When you are dedicated to Him you find God’s purpose for yourself as well. Your heart is then His dwelling place, a purified altar for prayer. This is where we meet intimately with God. If you restrict your life “for God’s use only,” then you will find fulfillment.
Our Messiah is the perfect example of a dedicated life. “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He came only to serve. He gave up the glory of heaven to become a Servant and to fulfill the will of God. Yeshua is the Son of God who models for us the Sonship that faith brings. He is the Eternal Sanctuary of the Living God: “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Rev. 21:22)
Yeshua died for you. He paid a great price that you might be set free from the bondage of sin and live unto God. Victory is certain; therefore, be a dedicated temple of God. Dedicate, or rededicate, your life to Messiah, and have a happy Hanukkah.