THE NER TAMID | THE ETERNAL HANUKKAH LIGHT
By Barri Cae Mallin Seif, PhD
“Then came Hanukkah, it was winter in Jerusalem. Yeshua was walking in the temple around Solomon’s colonnade. Then the Judean leaders surrounded Him, saying, ‘How long will You hold us in suspense? If You are the Messiah, tell us outright!'” John 10:22-23.
Hanukkah, also known as the Feast of Dedication, the Festival of Light, the Feast of Lights, means different things to different people. To Jewish children, it means a gift every night for the eight nights of Hanukkah. To the Jew, it can mean a similar holiday as to Christmas with its commercialism. However, to the believer in Yeshua Jesus, the holiday has a special meaning.
The word Hanukkah is found in the following Bible verses. It appears in Proverbs 22:6 “to train;” it appears as the word “dedication” in Nehemiah 12:27, 2 Chronicles 7:9, and Ezra 6:16. The word is best known in reference to the altar rededication mentioned in 1 & 2 Maccabees from the Apocrypha. An interesting fact about Hanukkah is that it occurred during the inter-testamental times, the silent years between the closing of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Covenant.
Hanukkah always occurs on Kislev 25. This holiday has one of the most remarkable backgrounds and one of the most vivid histories to be found in all biblical and historical texts. We begin with Alexander, born in 356 BC, son of Philip II who is king of Macedonia. From an early age, Alexander displayed tremendous military talent. He was made commander of his father’s army at the age of 18 and when his father was assassinated, he became king in 336 BC at the age of 20. Two years later, he invaded the Persian Empire.
Alexander had a burning desire to make Greek the official language of all of the nations of the world. He succeeded and brought the civilized world Greek customs, literature, architecture, language. When Greek culture merged with the culture of the Middle East, it created a new cultural hybrid – Hellenism.
Hellenism’s influence on the Roman Empire, Christianity, and the West was monumental. But it is the interaction between the Jews and the Greeks that is most interesting.
The initial interactions seemed positive. To the Jews, the Greeks were a new and exotic culture from the west. They produced philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Their love of wisdom, art, science and architecture set them apart from other cultures with which the Jews had interacted. The Greek language was considered so beautiful that the Talmud called it the most beautiful of all languages. The rabbis decreed that a Torah scroll could even be written in Greek (the Septuagint).
The Greeks had never met anyone like the Jews, the world’s only monotheistic nation, who had a unique concept of a loving God. The Jews had profound and complex legal and philosophical traditions. They had literacy rates and social welfare unheard of in the ancient world. When Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome, he did not write it in Latin, he wrote it in Greek.
Back to Alexander. The passion that fueled him to spread the Greek culture also fueled in the hearts of his generals who served him. When he died, he left no heir. His empire was divided into four parts and was given to four generals: Cassandra took Greece and Macedonia; Lysimachus took Asia Minor; Seleucius took Syria, and Ptolemy took Egypt. Seleucius’ father was named Antiochus. Seleucius built the capital and named it Antiochus, in honor of his father. Antiochus is also known as Antioch.
Antioch was one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Building it so was very wise because it became the third most important city back in the Roman Empire. Rome was first, Alexandria was second and Antioch was third. While much of the upper echelon of Jewish society and the Mediterranean world embraced Hellenism (even to the point of denouncing their Judaism by not circumcising their children, not keeping the kosher dietary laws, and not keeping the Sabbath), the vast number of Jews remained loyal.
This rejection of the Hellenistic lifestyle was viewed with great hostility by many Greeks and was seen as a form of rebellion. The exotic differences that attracted one to another now served as a tinderbox of fires for war. Since Israel was in between the warring Seleucid Syria and the Ptolemy Egypt, the Jews who refuse to assimilate were caught in the crossfire.
In 175 BC Antiochus IV came to power. He called himself Theos Epiphanes, God manifest. It is thought that he is extensively presented in prophecy in Daniel 8 and 11, as he is described as the proto-type of the ultimate final antichrist. In 168 BC, Antiochus went to war against Ptolemy in Egypt and conquered him and his army. This was a very important and strategic victory because Antiochus took control of Egypt.
Back then, Egypt supplied much of the grain for the entire region (remember Joseph?). So Rome sent an army down to Egypt to confront Antiochus. They told him to take his armies back to Syria or face war with Rome. With this ultimatum, Antiochus hesitated and asked for more time to consider. Rome would not relent; they demanded an immediate answer. Antiochus was forced to retreat but in his return to Antioch, passing through Israel, he vented his anger, vengeance, frustration and hatred upon the nation. He waited until the Sabbath when he knew that the Jews would refuse to bear arms.
He turned his army loose to conduct a massacre upon Jerusalem. He took an idol of Jupiter and placed it in the Holy of Holies and offered a pig on the sacred altar. From its juice, he desecrated all of the holy vessels in the temple. He called for harlots and had an orgy in the temple (I Maccabees 1:14-15, 40-50, 60-64) and forced every Jew to conform to Greek idolatry and customs.
In 167 BC, Antiochus sent an officer to Modi’in, a city in Northwest Israel. There was an aged priest, Mattathias Maccabee, who had five sons. The Maccabee family headed up the insurgency against Antiochus. In 166 BC Antiochus tried to crush the Maccabees. But Judah, Mattathias’ son, overwhelmed this group with a much smaller army. So Antiochus, in 165 BC, entered Israel with a great army. However, in Emmaus (Luke 24) Judah surprised Antiochus at night and almost defeated him (I Maccabees 3:43-60, 4:8-11, 19-25). Antiochus retreated, only to return to Israel later. He invaded Israel and Judah totally defeated him.
So Judah and his army and the people came to Jerusalem to re-consecrate and re-dedicate the temple. We are told in I Maccabees that because the sacred altar had been desecrated, the old stones were set aside until a prophet could tell them what to do with them. The small group began to rebuild the altar, stone by stone.
They desired to rededicate the Temple back to God and needed oil. Someone found a small amount, and although it was just enough for one day, they lit the oil anyway. A sentry trip to get more oil would take eight days: four days out to get the oil, four days to return. They had no choice. They needed oil, so the sentry departed.
The oil burned for an entire day, then two days, miraculously for three, four, five six, seven, eight days! The sentry returned and the oil was still burning, a miracle of light. That’s the Feast of Lights, the Feast of Dedication, the Festival of Consecration! (No oil meant no “Eternal Light” also known as the Ner Tamid. In every synagogue, even today, one light is left burning, the Ner Tamid, the “Eternal Light.”)
Hanukkah celebrates dedication and consecration and even anointing with the beautiful burning of oil. In order to get oil, the olives are pressed. From pressure comes beauty. Oil in the Bible, shemen in Hebrew, means “to shine or be glossy.” Oil on wood makes it shine. When one anoints something, it shines. Our Messiah, Yeshua Jesus, shines! He is the Anointed One!
The great Jewish prophet Hillel once said that one must ascend in matters of holiness and not descend. With that in mind, the Hanukkah menorah is lit and an additional light/candle added every night during the eight day holiday. If one travels to Jerusalem, there is light everywhere as the city is filled with lights from the many Hanukkiahs shown in windows.
So here we are in Israel. In John 10:22, we see Yeshua Jesus. The verse notes that it is winter; it is dark, yet the light of the world is in Jerusalem. It is interesting because Hanukkah is not in the Old Testament feasts like all of the others mentioned in Leviticus. It is not one of the big three: Pesach, Shavuot or Sukkot. But Hanukkah was the last great deliverance that the Jews had experienced, and there was no prophet in the land from the close of the Old Testament to John the Baptist.
Yet we see Jesus, we see Yeshua in Jerusalem, in the winter, in the Temple portico, surrounded by light. Here, in their midst, is Jesus. He is the Lord of Light in the Festival of Light. He declares his Messiahship here during the Festival of Light.
This wondrous holiday dedicates our wondrous Lord. Look at all of the lights at Christmas time – lights on buildings, homes, trees, businesses, windows, balconies, and storefronts. Light celebrates Jesus. He is the Light of the world, the Or HaOlam, the Hope of the world. The festival of Hanukkah celebrates His light and deliverance. Deliverance from death and the grave. Deliverance from darkness to light, from the profane to the sacred.
“Yeshua spoke to them again, saying, “I am the Light of the world. The one who follows Me will no longer walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” John 8:12.
“While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” 2 Cor 4:18.
Yeshua Jesus is the light of the world! He is glorious; He is eternal; He is the Ner Tamid, the Eternal Hanukkiah Light!
Barri Cae Mallin Seif is an instructor, author, and theologian. Her experience has led her through opportunities in corporate sales, Sunday school education, travel, Bible college instruction, authoring, conference speaking, and twice-annual trips to Israel as President of Maasay Yahdav, a charity that brings humanitarian aid to Israel twice yearly.
Barri holds a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Trinity Theological Seminary. Her focus was the Exegetical study of Romans 10:4. She earned an MBA from Amberton University with concentration in General Management. She earned a BA in Psychology at Stephens College.
Her published works include three devotionals, “Intimate Moments with the Hebrew Names of God,” Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1999. “The Name – HaShem Daily Devotional Worship,” CreateSpace Publishers, 2010. “There’s Just Something about That Name,” Bridge-Logos Publishers, 2011.