Hanukkah is a celebration of events in Jewish history that took place more than two thousand years ago. The historical events behind this holiday are recorded in two books called “Maccabees,” which were written between the time of the Tanach and the re-newed Testament, and were also described in the historical works of Flavius Josephus, in his “Antiquities of the Jews,” (Book 12, Chap. 5).
A powerful Syrian tyrant named Antiochus IV Epiphanes held the Jews prisoners in their own land for three years. Antiochus brought a huge army from Syria to destroy the Jewish religion and to force Jews to worship Greek gods. Antiochus tried to force the Jews to live like Greeks. He made laws to prohibit all Jewish practices, and he put Greek idols in the marketplaces and in the Temple. He even commanded that pigs, a scripturally unclean animal, be sacrificed in the Temple. He personally sacrificed one and poured its blood over the Holy scrolls and on the altar. Antiochus took over Jerusalem and ruined the Holy Temple of YHVH. The Jews fought back, but they were outnumbered and might not have survived if it hadn’t been for a strong man named Judah on their side. Judah and his four brothers were men of priestly descent, and refused to obey the new laws. Judah became the leader after his father, Mattathias’ death. Judah and his followers were called “Maccabees,” which means, “hammer” in biblical Hebrew. They lived in the village of Modi’in and led a small, brave army against the Syrian forces. The Maccabees used their street-smart brains to fight the troops of Antiochus. Judah and his troops finally won back the city of Jerusalem and freed the Jews, but the Temple was badly damaged and defiled. The priests of YHVH had to clean the Temple, making it pure again, which would take eight days according to scripture. Finally, on the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month Kislev, in the year 165 B.C.E., the Temple was “rededicated,” or declared holy again. It was declared a holiday. The name of this holiday, Hanukkah, is derived from the Hebrew word for “dedication.”
The eight days of Hanukkah today reflect the eight days during which the Temple was being purified. Today, we light a special eight-branched menorah called a Hanukkiyah (or sometimes called an eight-branched menorah) each night in celebration. A ninth taller branch is also lit each night in which the others are taken from, called the “shammash”, meaning “servant” in Hebrew. Oil was used in the time of the Temple for burning the Menorah, but today, many of us use wax candles or electric bulbs in our household menorahs.
In the book of Yochanan (John), chapter 10, verse 22, it is written:
“Then came Hanukkah in Yerushalayim. It was winter, and Yeshua (Jesus) was walking around inside the Temple area, in Sholmo’s Colonnade.” (Complete Jewish Bible)
The story of Hanukkah can also be compared with future end-time happenings described in the books of Revelation and Daniel. Antiochus is a type of the antichrist. Just as happened under the rule of Antiochus, Daniel prophesied in the Book of Daniel 9:27:
“He will make a strong covenant with leaders for one week (of years). For half of the week he will put a stop to the sacrifice and the grain offering. On the wing of detestable things the desolator will come and continue until the already decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator.”
Every year in Israel, on the first night of Hanukkah, a special torch is lit in the town of Modi’in and carried by relay to a giant menorah in Tel Aviv. For those who love YHVH, Hanukkah is the celebration of a great triumph in Jewish history, in which the people of YHVH survived an enemy as powerful as Antiochus, and every enemy who has followed since! It is a time in history when we clearly see that idol worship should not hold a place within the temple of our hearts, our synagogues, or our churches! As believers in the One True YHVH, we have much to learn from Hanukkah. It is clear that the words of Yeshua, along with the prophets and historians, paint a clear picture of YHVH-breathed survival for His people today.
This year, may we receive Yeshua, our Servant Shamash, and light our candles for eight days of holiness within our Spirit-filled Temples; thus, creating a living torch, dedicated to relaying the Truth of the Torah to a very dark world.
Read: Romans 6:11-23
- We were slaves/servants to sin.
- Now in Yeshua we are servants to the Lord.
Discuss: Single out the Shamash on the Hanukkah menorah, which is the servant candle that you use to light the rest of the candles. Use it as an object lesson…
Point out that the Shamash pictures the Messiah. This special candle is used to give the other candles their light. In the end, it is given a separate place, a place of honor. So it is with us who are servants of Messiah: we are to give ourselves to Him for His use, and when He returns He will give us honor! The Shamash is a great illustration for what the servant of the Lord is.
- What does the Shamash do?
- Why do you think it is placed apart from all the rest of the candles?
- What do servants do?
- Why are servants separate from others?
Pray: Ask YHVH to help you to yield yourselves to righteousness and to continue to serve the Lord.
Play “Shamash for a Day!”
Decorate a shoe box to look like a candle. Each family member writes several ideas for how to serve one another-each idea on a separate slip of paper. (Ideas: pray for Mom and dad, make someone’s bed beside your own, share a special treat, share a Bible verse, etc.) Each day of Hanukkah, family members take turns being the shamash. The shamash’s job is to pull out at least one idea and do it the following day. What a way to shine Yeshua’s Light, by being a servant, like Him!
Read: I Maccabees 4:30-59
“Seeing that the army was strong, he prayed thus: “Blessed are you, O Savior of Israel, who broke the rush of the mighty one by the hand of your servant David and delivered the camp of the Philistines. into the hand of Jonathan, the son of Saul, and his armor-bearer. Give this army into the hands of your people Israel; make them ashamed of their troops and their cavalry. Strike them with fear, weaken the boldness of their strength, and let them tremble at their own destruction. Strike them down by the sword of those who love you, that all who know your name may hymn your praise.”
Then they engaged in battle, and about five thousand of Lysias’ men fell in hand-to-hand fighting.
When Lysias saw his ranks beginning to give way, and the increased boldness of Judas, whose men were ready either to live or to die bravely, he withdrew to Antioch and began to recruit mercenaries so as to return to Judea with greater numbers.
Then Judas and his brothers said, “Now that our enemies have been crushed, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it.”
So, the whole army assembled, and went up to Mount Zion. They found the sanctuary desolate, the altar desecrated, the gates burnt, weeds growing in the courts as in a forest or on some mountain, and the priests’ chambers demolished. Then they tore their clothes and made great lamentation; they sprinkled their heads with ashes and fell with their faces to the ground. And when the signal was given with trumpets, they cried out to Heaven.
Judas appointed men to attack those in the citadel, while he purified the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests, devoted to the law; these purified the sanctuary and carried away the stones of the Abomination to an unclean place. They deliberated what ought to be done with the altar of holocausts that had been desecrated. The happy thought came to them to tear it down, lest it be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it; so they tore down the altar.
They stored the stones in a suitable place on the temple hill, until a prophet should come and decide what to do with them. Then they took uncut stones, according to the law, and built a new altar like the former one. They also repaired the sanctuary and the interior of the temple and purified the courts.
They made new sacred vessels and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they burned incense on the altar and lighted the lamps on the lampstand, and these illuminated the temple. They also put loaves on the table and hung up curtains. Thus, they finished all the work they had undertaken.
Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, that is, the month of Chislev, in the year one hundred and forty-eight, they arose and offered sacrifice according to the law on the new altar of holocausts that they had made.
On the anniversary of the day on which the Gentiles had defiled it, on that very day it was re-consecrated with songs, harps, flutes, and cymbals. All the people prostrated themselves and adored and praised Heaven, who had given them success. For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar and joyfully offered holocausts and sacrifices of deliverance and praise. They ornamented the facade of the temple with gold crowns and shields; they repaired the gates and the priests’ chambers and furnished them with doors. There was great joy among the people now that the disgrace of the Gentiles was removed. Then Judas and his brothers and the entire congregation of Israel decreed that the days of the dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness on the anniversary every year for eight days, from the twenty-fifth day of the month Chislev.”
- What happened to the temple?
- How do you think the Hebrews felt when they found it destroyed?
- What did they do to repair it?
Pray: Ask YHVH for hearts and minds like the Maccabees. Pray that you can be dedicated to preserving and living the ways and Word of YHVH in today’s ungodly society.
Read: 1 Corinthians 3:16 & 17
Discuss: The worst thing that Antiochus Epiphanes did was try to turn the Jewish people away from YHVH. He put a big idol (false god) and sacrificed a pig in the Temple to keep people from worshipping the one true God.
Hanukkah is a fun holiday, but it’s also a time to think of ourselves as temples. If you have invited Yeshua into your heart, the Bible says His Holy Spirit lives inside of you just like YHVH’s Spirit once dwelled in the Temple. When we allow other people or things to be more important to us than YHVH, it’s like having idols in our hearts.
The title for this holiday is derived from Numbers 7:4 which recounts the dedication of the tabernacle in the time of Moses.
Talk about dedication and its importance in all areas of our lives.
- What does it mean to be dedicated to YHVH? (Emphasize the concept of YHVH being the most important priority and first in every area of our lives.)
- Can things, as well as people, be dedicated to YHVH? Explain.
Pray: Talk to YHVH about your desire to be dedicated. Ask Him for help in specific areas.
Read: 1 Chronicles 29:11; Psalm 98:1; 1 Corinthians 15:57
Discuss: What was the real miracle at Hanukkah?
There is good historical evidence that the Hanukkah story concerning the miracle of the burning oil never happened! The story says that when the Jewish people wanted to light the great menorah in the newly dedicated Temple during the Maccabean revolt, there was only enough oil to last one day. But YHVH did a miracle! He caused the oil to last eight days, long enough to purify more oil.
The problem with the above story is that none of the most ancient sources for the history of Hanukkah (I, II Maccabees and Josephus) mention the above miracle. This does not mean that it never happened. It just means that the earliest and best sources for the history of Hanukkah never mention it. The miracle is first mentioned in the Talmud (Torah commentary), compiled about five or six hundred years after the first Hanukkah.
Does this mean that there wasn’t a miracle at Hanukkah? Indeed, there was a great miracle! It was both a spiritual and a military miracle.
First, the greatest miracle was that in the increasingly assimilating and hellenistic Jewish society, there rose up a family of faithful Torah-observant, YHVH-fearing Jews who made a courageous stand against those who were ignoring the Covenant of YHVH. Not only did Mattathias encourage his own family to live for YHVH, they also, in turn, were able to inspire others in their nation to do so. In the end, YHVH honored that courage and dedication to Him.
The second miracle came on the battlefield. The Maccabees and their followers were vastly outnumbered, out-equipped, and out-trained by their Antiochian enemies. Yet, through courage, smart tactics, and faith in YHVH, YHVH granted them the miraculous military victory they needed.
What about the eight days? It has been suggested that Hanukkah was celebrated for eight days because the Maccabees hid in the hills to fight their enemies and were not able to celebrate Sukkot. Therefore, when they celebrated their victory in Jerusalem, they included in their celebrations the eight-day celebration of Sukkot.
What was the real miracle at Hanukkah? The answer is that YHVH granted both a spiritual and a military victory to those who were dedicated to Him.
- Can we expect YHVH to help us even in the face of great danger? Explain.
- What purpose did YHVH accomplish when He helped the Maccabees? For you?
- What other miracles can we remember in our lives?
- What other great works has YHVH done for which we can sing praises to His Name?
Pray: Praise YHVH and thank Him, for He has done great and mighty things throughout all of history!
Read: Psalm 145:1-7
Discuss: The importance of remembering what YHVH has done for us in the past because, in doing so, we remember YHVH!
- Name some ways that you have received blessings from YHVH.
Pray: Thank YHVH for the blessings He has given you.
Read: Matthew 5:14-16
Discuss: It is traditional for Jews to place the menorah in a window so that others may see and know that their home remembers YHVHs deliverance.
As Hebraic believers who understands the importance of commemorating the fact that YHVH is a God who goes before His people in battle, we too can put our menorot in the windows of our homes. We are His “called-out ones,” called to stand out as lights in a dark world, the living stones of His Temple dedicated to His service. We can stand courageous and strong against the ever-present powers of assimilation that endlessly seek to make us put a “bushel over our light.”
We are to stand up to these “armies” and say, “We are the people of the living God!” We are to know as Yehoshua knew, “no one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life” (Joshua 1:5). No matter what the army facing us looks like, we will not back down from who we are called to be, the “called-out ones” of the living God, to Him be the glory and power for ever and ever. Amen!
- Why is it important for people to know we are dedicated to being a light in a dark and evil world?
- How can we let people know what He has done for us?
- Discuss this whole theme in light of Matthew 5:14-16 and Acts 1:8.
Pray: For at least one person you know who doesn’t yet know Yeshua. Pray for those in the land of Israel. Pray that we all as Hebraic believers will embrace the Torah to live it. And we will again “see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve YHVH and those who do not.” (Malachi 3:18)
Read: Romans 12:1-2; John 17:13
Discuss: Review the story of the Maccabees again. Emphasize the gladness and joy the people had when YHVH granted them victory over their enemies and permitted them to rededicate the Temple. Re-read I Maccabees 4:59 where it says “all the congregation of Israel decreed that the days of the rededication of the altar should be observed this season … with gladness and joy.”
- What does it mean for our lives to be “a living sacrifice”?
- What does our spiritual service of dedication/worship to YHVH consist of?
- What is the real source of our joy? (Read the whole of John 17.)
Pray: Pray using expressions of joy, praise, adoration, and thanksgiving to YHVH for the joy of knowing Messiah Yeshua.
Read: John 1:1-14; John 8:12; John 9:5
- What does this passage call Yeshua?
- What does verse 9 mean when it says Yeshua gives light to everyone?
- What is the Light of Life?
- What have you learned these past eight days?
- With all the candles lit, what do we have plenty of? (Light!!)
- What are some things light does for us?
- What happens to darkness in the presence of light?
Discuss: Talk about applying the things we have learned to our lives.
Pray: Turn out all household lights, have everyone look at the menorah lights and pray to know yourself as shining lights for Yeshua.