Israel and the Diaspora Jewish Holidays

Hanukkah, Night One

Written by my friend Aaron Gann, reproduced here with permission.

TLDR: They tried to kill us, we survived, lets eat.

Tonight, starts the Feast of Dedication, Hanukkah. During these next eight days, we will celebrate the miracles that God performed on our behalf, eat fried foods, and tell the story of the Maccabees, a family of Jewish believers who refused to be assimilated into the worldly culture of the Hellenistic Greco-Syrians and instead initiated a rebellion against the antichrist-like figure Antiochus Epiphanies. It is also a time of reflection as we remember that our Messiah, Yeshua, our Eternal High Priest, is called the Light of the World and that we who follow Him will never walk in darkness. We remember that just as the Maccabees refused to forsake their God for the world, so too are we, “in the world but not of the world.”

Tonight, let us tell the story of Hanukkah.

It was a time of looming darkness; it had not been long since Israel had finally returned from the seventy long year exile of the Babylonian/Persian Empires. They had come back and rebuilt the temple and had enjoyed a time of prosperity. A time of relative peace in which they could freely worship The Lord and offer the sacrifices on the altar, so long as they lived under Persian rulership as a vassal state. But, as all earthly empires do, the Persian empire fell to the new power of the Greeks under a man by the name of Alexander the Great.

How the Greeks ruled was vastly different from the Persian Empire, which allowed people to govern themselves, instead they instigated a practice known as Hellenization. In short, Alexander began to Greekify the populace of those that he conquered. These nations would learn to speak Greek, study Greek Philosophers, go to see Greek sports and worship Greek gods. By doing so, the people would willingly follow the Greek rulers as, after the first or second generation, they became unrecognizable from the people who had conquered them in culture.

Alexander was so flattered…that he allowed them to retain their culture, language, and worship

However, things were different with Jerusalem, when Alexander had begun his march against the holy city, legend has it that the high priest went out to meet him, paying him homage. He then proceeded to tell Alexander how their prophets had written about him and that they were fully aware of his coming. Alexander was so flattered, so the legend goes, that he allowed them to retain their culture, language, and worship, they simply had to offer a sacrifice to God on his behalf. Unfortunately, Alexander died, as all men do, in his early thirties and without heirs.

Antiochus was a narcissistic man who gave himself the name Epiphanies, a name which conveyed godlike illustriousness.

His kingdom, therefore, was divided amongst his four generals; Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, and Seleucus. Though all four play a special role in history, they two most important ones are the last two, the Ptolemies in the south and the Seleucids in the north of the Land of Israel.

Israel was originally under the control of the Ptolemies in the south and now closely related to Egypt. It was during this period of Jewish history that the influence of Hellenization that had been delayed under Alexander was now beginning to take root. Not by force, but voluntarily. Many Jewish people began to dress in Greek clothes, use Greek mannerisms and even had abandoned their language in favor of Greek. It was during this phase that the Greek translation of the Torah, what we know as the Septuagint or the LXX, was written.

The Seleucid Empire, however, began to make war with the Ptolemies and eventually captured Israel. Under this dominion came even greater influence of Hellenization and the eventual rise of a man by the name of Antiochus, a general king who would cause some of the worst persecution that the Jewish people have ever known.

Antiochus was a narcissistic man who gave himself the name Epiphanies, a name which conveyed godlike illustriousness. In short, he believed himself be like a god. Unlike Alexander who left the Jewish people alone, Antiochus began forcing Hellenization upon them. He set up Greek events and stationed a Hellenistic high priest in the temple, and the Jewish people began to split between themselves, would they agree with this new way of life or stay true to the law that God had given them?

This conflict between the Jewish people culminated after one of the most humiliating experiences Antiochus had ever faced. Antiochus had begun a new campaign against the Egyptians in the south, but unbeknownst to him, they had established an alliance with the growing empire of Rome. Antiochus was met by a Roman General who told him to stop everything that he had been doing and turn back home. Antiochus, extremely dishonored told the man that he needed time to decide and the man simply, drew a circle around Antiochus, telling him to take all the time he needed but he was not to step out of the circle until an answer was given. Antiochus, realizing that he could not defeat two empires on separate fronts decided to retreat. And so, this man who reckoned himself to be like a god, was told what he could and could not do by a mere soldier and was forced to retreat in shame.

Thus, he was given the title Maccabee which means “the Hammer” because he hammered the Greeks wherever he struck.

Back in Jerusalem a rumor had begun that Antiochus, rather than being forced to retreat, had been killed. Those who had despised what Antiochus had begun doing to their people began to rejoice, holding festivals and throwing down the high priest he has established, reinstating their own proper priest. Antiochus marched back by the city and saw what had transpired, and so his fury was kindled against the Jewish people more than it ever had been before.

He marched into the city and declared to them to join him or die and began to tear apart the things in the temple, destroying the precious objects. He set up a statue of Zeus over the altar and sacrificed a pig, an animal that was strictly unclean and not be sacrificed. He made it illegal to practice anything from The Law. No circumcision, no Torah reading, no Sabbath, no worship of any god other than his. Those who defied these laws were executed in painful, often humiliating, ways to establish fear. There were many martyrs during this time. The rest of the people, the ones who agreed with Hellenization joined Antiochus and became prominent men in his empire.

After his victory in Jerusalem, he ordered his men to go from town to town, erecting altars and forcing the priest, or synagogue leader, to sacrifice a pig upon this altar, thus swearing their allegiance to the Antiochus and his gods. However, in a little town of Modi ‘in, a man by the name of Mattathias, an elderly priest, refused. This prompted another young man in the crowd, who was in favor of Antiochus, to make the sacrifice instead. Mattathias slew him and the Seleucid general before the sacrifice could be made, and He and his sons began a revolt against the Seleucids in what became known as the Modi‘in revolt.

Mattathias, being an old man, passed away shortly after the rebellion began and his son, Judah, took over. Judah and his men began a series of Guerilla tactics against the Greek armies and began driving them back. Thus, he was given the title Maccabee which means “the Hammer” because he hammered the Greeks wherever he struck. This went on for three and a half years, but eventually, they were able to make their way into Jerusalem and when they saw the desolation, the Maccabees began to clean it. They toppled the statue and washed the altar, and decided that because they were unable to celebrate Sukkot in its proper time, they decided to celebrate it now on the 25th of Kislev, which was an eight-day festival.

this one jar of oil lasted not one day, but all eight until more oil could be prepared for use

Later Jewish tradition also tells us of another miracle that occurred. When it came time to light the Menorah, the seven-branched lampstand that stood in the Holy Place, they could only find one jar of oil, which would only last one day. The problem also was that it took eight days to prepare this special oil and so if they lit it now, it would be unable to burn perpetually as God had commanded, however they decided to light it regardless, in order to rededicate the temple fully and this one jar of oil lasted not one day, but all eight until more oil could be prepared for use.

Thus, we celebrate Hanukkah for eight days, to remember the miracles that God performed on behalf of the Maccabean army, as realistically they should not have been as successful as they were, that they were able to cleanse the temple at all and that He caused the oil to last a miraculous amount of time.

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