THE JEWISH FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS
Each year, during the season in which Christian nations celebrate the coming into Bethlehem of the Light of the World, Jews around the world are celebrating another “festival of lights” – Hanukkah. Hanukkah is a Hebrew word meaning “dedication.” It is found in the Hebrew Bible, for instance, in II Chronicles 7:9 when Solomon dedicated the altar for the First Temple. And the New Covenant in John 10:22 speaks of Yeshua/Jesus as walking on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the feast of Hanukkah.
The eight-day Jewish celebration bearing that name (December 3-10 this year) remembers the cleansing and re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after it had been recovered by the Jewish forces of Yehuda Maccabee in 164 BC. The Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, seeking to coerce Jews into abandoning their religion and culture for that of Greece, had issued edicts forbidding circumcision, Torah Scrolls, and observance of Jewish Sabbaths and Hebrew feast-days.
He had defiled the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by offering a pig on the altar and raising up in the Sanctuary a statue to the Greek god Zeus. As chronicled in the First Book of Maccabees (a respected historical account of Jewish history found in the Apocrypha), a revolt was launched by the priest Mattathias and later led by his son Yehuda (Judas) Maccabee. It resulted in the defeat of the Syrian forces, after which the defiled Temple was cleansed and re-dedicated. The victorious warrior Yehuda ordained “that the days of the dedication of the altar should be kept in their season from year to year by the space of eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month of Kislev, with mirth and gladness” (I Maccabees 4:59).
So why is it also known as “The Festival of Lights”? Another source relates how during this cleansing there was only enough sanctified oil left to burn in the Temple menorah for one night—yet a miracle occurred and it continued burning for eight days! This miracle has given rise to a tradition associating this holiday with oil and light (“Festival of Lights”). At Hanukkah, Jewish families in Israel and around the world bring out a special eight-branched menorah (light-bearer). On each branch is either a candle, or a tiny oil lamp. Beginning with the first lamp, a new one is lit each evening, until on the eighth evening all eight lamps are shining in Jewish windows around the world! Remembering the oil, special jelly-doughnuts fried in oil are available in shops around the city. And for breakfast, latkes—potato pancakes fried in oil and eaten with apple sauce—are a specialty cooked in many homes throughout the week. It is a festival of joy, with children receiving gifts, and helping in the lighting of the candles each evening.
We believe that Hanukkah is first of all, a season for Jews to remember the faithfulness of their God in preserving them as a people entrusted with His word, from their enemies which sought to destroy them. The prophet Daniel predicted the coming of this enemy, many years before he arose (Daniel 11:31-). But the people “who knew their God” were able to “display strength and take action” (vs. 32)—and the Children of Abraham were able to continue living in the Land and worshiping the God of their fathers.
The “Servant” Candle
“In Your light, we see Light!” – Psalm 36:9
As Messianic Jews, we see signs in our celebration of Hanukkah which point towards the Light which was to come! As mentioned earlier, part of the celebration includes the use of a special eight-branched menorah (hanukkiah) upon which a new oil lamp or candle is lit each evening. However, the source of this lighting comes from a lamp on a special ninth branch of the menorah. This branch is called shamash—“servant.” Each lamp is ignited from the flame already burning on the ninth branch, the Shamash. Remarkably, the reading from the Prophets which is always read in synagogues on the Saturday falling within Hanukkah includes the following words from Zechariah 3:8, “Behold, I am bringing forth my servant, the BRANCH.” Although a different Hebrew word for servant is used here, there is no doubt that it refers to the Servant-Messiah, sent by the Father – the Light Inextinguishable, who illumines, supplies light for all coming into the world (John 1:9)!
Hanukkah—the Feast of Dedication—the Festival of Lights is a season for
* Allowing the Holy Light of the Spirit to shine within ourselves, revealing any idolatry or uncleanness which may have defiled our bodies (which are the Temple of the Holy Spirit), and removing it. Of re-dedicating our bodies as a living sacrifice to God.
* For surrendering ourselves anew to the infilling of the Holy Spirit whose anointing comes from an inexhaustible supply.
* For letting our “lights” shine brightly in the darkness—reaching out and joining with those of other believers on behalf of Truth and Life.
A popular Israeli Hebrew Children’s song for Hanukkah is called Banu Hoshekh L’garesh (“We have come to drive out darkness”):
We have come to drive out darkness, in our hands light and fire:
Each of us is a small light, but together we are a strong, steady light.
Flee Darkness into the Blackness
Flee before the Light!
* Pray for the army of Messianic believers in Israel—that they be led by Ruah haKodesh – the Holy Spirit/Wind of God in coming into array, to tear down strongholds of idolatry and demonic deception in our nation, and lead Israelis into the Light of the true New Covenant promised them in their Messiah—who is The Branch!
חנוכה שמח! A Happy Hanukkah!
* This article by the authors is appearing in a slightly altered form in the current issue of the Polish magazine Inspiracje.