Hanukkah

The Feast of Dedication or Festival of Lights

At the mention of John 10, most Christians immediately think of Jesus, The Good Shepherd. I have often preached on John 10:1-18 and heard many messages on that text, but don’t recall ever hearing a sermon from the latter part of this chapter.

There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, “He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?” Others said, “These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?”

And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon's porch. Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, “How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, ”I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one.”

Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?” The Jews answered him, saying, “For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.”

Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand, And went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode. And many resorted unto him, and said, “John did no miracle: but all things that John spake of this man were true.” And many believed on him there. (John 10:19-42)

It is noteworthy that what is described in these verses occurred during Hanukkah. I will comment on this later.

What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights or Feast of Dedication, is observed for eight days, beginning on the evening of the 25th day of the month of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar. This may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar. It commemorates the historic victory of a small band of Maccabees over the ruling Syrian-Greek regime, called the Seleucid Empire. The actual celebration is of the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem.

The story of Hanukkah began in the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine, but allowed the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy. More than a century later, however, Antiochus Epiphanes became king of the Syrian-Greeks. He forced the Jews to worship the pagan idols and adopt the Greek culture. Whole families of Jews were executed for their observance of the Sabbath and circumcision. Tens of thousands of men, women, children and infants, who would worship no other gods, were martyred.

In 167 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes marched to Jerusalem, entered the Temple and defiled it. He set up an idol of his god, Zeus, in the Temple and built an altar to Zeus. On the altar, he sacrificed a pig, which the Torah prohibits the Jews to eat. The pig's blood was brought into the Most Holy Place where even the High Priest alone could only enter on the Day of Atonement. This abomination was unheard of before.

In the Judean village of Modi'in, citizens were called into the town square by Seleucian soldiers. An altar was built, and the old priest Mattathias was ordered to sacrifice a pig for the townspeople to eat. Mattathias refused to defile himself or his people. The soldiers insisted, offering great financial incentive.

Finally, another man from the village volunteered to collaborate with the Syrian Greeks. As the man approached the pig, Mattathias suddenly ran forward and assassinated the collaborator, striking the man with a large mallet or hammer. (Thus the name "Maccabees"<Hammer>, for the Hasmoneans)

The five sons of Mattathias drew their weapons, struck down the soldiers, and headed for the hills. They were joined by many fellow revolutionaries, and so began a lopsided revolt against the mighty Syrian Greek Empire. Soon after, the leadership of the ragtag Jewish army passed to Mattathias' son, Judah, nicknamed the Hammer, or in Hebrew, Maccabee. Thereafter, the revolutionaries were known as The Maccabees.

After three years of Jewish guerilla warfare, the rebels achieved victory. On the 25 of Kislev, 165 BC, the Maccabees triumphantly entered the defiled and half-demolished Temple. They then began the process of rededication.

The undying, eternal flame of the Temple Menorah, the great seven-branched lamp-stand, so central to the worship of Israel, had been extinguished. The Greeks had desecrated nearly all of the sacred oil used for the Temple Menorah. Only a small container remained, containing a one day supply. It would take eight days for the priests to consecrate more oil. Nevertheless, the High Priest kindled the Menorah and a miracle happened: The Menorah flame continued to burn for eight days!

To commemorate the event, it was decided that henceforth, an 8-day holiday would be observed annually by kindling the 9-lamp Menorah. Thus Hanukkah became known as the Feast of Lights or Feast of Dedication.

The Hanukkah Menorah (also called a Chanukiah/Hanukiah) has nine branches, eight to commemorate this eight day feast. In celebration, each night of Hanukkah Jews light candles on their menorah, beginning with the shamash (Hebrew: "attendant"). The other lamps are lit by the shamash, which is given a distinct location, usually in the center, above the other eight lights. Other Hanukkah festivities include playing dreidel and eating oil-based foods such as doughnuts and latkes.

Significance of the Occasion
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon's porch.

Before Jesus was born, there were 400 “silent years in which no prophet brought messages from God, but the faithful never lost hope. The prophecies of the Messiah were too numerous to ignore and political conditions in Israel had become almost unbearable so that the people were calling out to Jehovah. Scribes and Rabbis continued to teach the law and the prophets in synagogues and of course in the temple, but they also felt obligated to remind the people of the promises of a Messiah. The prophet Daniel was famous both in Babylon and Israel as a prophet whose prophesies always came to pass exactly as he had predicted. The six-hundred-year-old prophecies of Daniel 9 were of particular interest because he gave a timeline for the Messiah. Luke 3:15 says, And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not. John the Baptist prepared the hearts of God’s people, the Jews by giving them fresh hope of the appearance of the Messiah. At the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, John declared Jesus to be that promised Messiah. “The fullness of time had come” Galatians 4:4.

In verses 24-28 the Jews (leaders of the Jews) began questioning Jesus about his authority. In verse 24 they ask him to tell them clearly if he is the Messiah and accuse him of speaking unclearly. Now read verses 25, 30-33. Could he get any clearer than that? Why do they want to stone him then? Apparently they are convinced that the Messiah God promised could NOT be from him!

Conclusion
Jesus claimed to be the Light of the World and equal to God, yet he came as a humble servant. Isaiah gave us the significance or meaning of the original menorah with seven lamps in chapter 11:1-2.

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.

(See also: "Seven Spirits of God")

Ralph V Harvey