The Voice of Hanukkah
Have you ever felt that God is silent? Or perhaps it seems like He is not listening to your prayers, nor is He concerned about your particular situation? Since Malachi, God had not spoken through His prophets to the Jewish people for about 400 years. Some historians call this era the silent period – but is God ever truly silent? Let’s take a look at what transpired during these so-called silent years, where the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah has its origin.
How it all Started
A brilliant army commander named Alexander was conquering the entire known world including Europe and Egypt in 332 BCE. At the age of 30 he sought to unify all his conquered lands through the cohesive force of Greek culture known as Hellenism. I think Alexander would have definitely been on several People Magazine covers as the world’s youngest conqueror.
But alas, Alexander the Great died at 33 years of age, leaving his empire divided between four generals. One of these generals, Antiochus received a part of Alexander’s kingdom including Israel. But why would Antiochus be interested in Israel? Because this small country was strategically located as the land bridge between the continents of Asia and Africa leading to Europe. Therefore, the one who controlled Israel controlled the entire region.
The goal of Antiochus Epiphanes was to conquer Israel and Hellenize all the Jews. This idea of Hellenization has to do with assimilation, forsaking the Jewish lifestyle and embracing a pagan lifestyle. Antiochus wanted the entire nation of Israel to forsake the God of Israel and to worship the Greek gods with all the paganism that this would entail. During this dark time Israel felt like God was silent and did not intervene to deliver them.
Faithful Unto Death
Antiochus, with his well-trained Syrian army, the best in the world, entered Jerusalem. They took over the Holy Temple, defiled it by erecting an idol of Zeus, the supreme deity of the Greek temple in the courtyard of the Holy temple, and worst of all, offered a pig as a sacrifice on the holy altar. But they did not stop there. These powerful, cruel Syrian soldiers went from town to town forcing local leaders to defile their altars with swine’s blood and flesh.
If people refused to obey their orders, they would face a slow and tortuous death. However, God broke the silence through His faithful remnant. These faithful servants never gave up their faith in the God of Israel. In fact, during this period of history, those martyrs who were tortured for their faith became an inspiration to the first century believers as they gave up their lives for Yeshua.
The Silence is Broken
God’s silence was finally broken through one priestly family. When the Syrian soldiers came to a small town of Modi’in, a few miles northwest of Jerusalem, they demanded that the elderly priest Mattathias the Maccabee and his five sons sacrifice a pig, but they refused. Instead, they chose to stand firm in their faith. This act of zealousness and courage was the beginning of a three-year battle.
A Great Miracle Happened Here!
Of course, the Israelis were not only outnumbered, they also lacked weapons. But little did the enemy know that the Jewish people possessed a secret weapon and a defense that had no equal. The Lord Himself is Israel’s protection and an everlasting refuge. And miracle of miracles after three years of struggle, on the 25th of Kislev (December) the Jewish people were given a victory. The Temple was recaptured, cleansed, and rededicated. And that’s how Hanukkah began exactly three years from the day of the Temple’s defilement by the enemy. From that time forward Hanukkah or the Feast of Dedication became a yearly remembrance of the victory that God gave Israel.
We all can identify with Israel. None of us are immune from the attacks and oppression of the enemy (1 Peter 5:8). Often it may seem like God is silent and even distant from our heartaches, however we need to remember that God is faithful to His promises and to His people. Scripture reiterates that our God is near to the broken hearted and His ear is open to their cries (Psalm 34:15-18). We need to trust Him continually.
Messiah Celebrates Hanukkah
When Yeshua went up to the temple to celebrate Hanukkah, He used this occasion as a teaching opportunity. John 10:22-23 informs us, “At the time of the Feast of the Dedication [Hanukkah] took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon.” The Jewish people were looking for another deliverer who could give them victory, this time over the oppressive Roman regime. I imagine that many felt that God was silent, nevertheless the messianic hope burning within their hearts was not extinguished, and this is why they peppered Yeshua with questions about who He was.
“The Jews therefore gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:22-28).
God Still Speaks
In retrospect, when the people of Israel were merely looking for temporary and physical deliverance, He accomplished far beyond their expectations. Messiah, through His atonement, provided freedom from the bondage of sin, and life everlasting. Likewise, today when we heed His voice and answer His call to follow Him, He will do the same for us.
God is never silent. He still speaks. But do we hear His voice? Just as at that first Hanukkah, God answered their prayers and delivered Israel from the Syrian tyranny, so today God hears our prayers and provides protection from the enemy of our souls. We need to trust in His faithfulness and remain faithful to Him. Let us rededicate our personal “temples” and bring Him a sacrifice of praise for what Messiah accomplished on our behalf. My heart’s desire and prayer to God is that our ears, even the ears of the lost sheep of the house of Israel, will be opened to hear His voice.