In our last program we began learning about Hanukkah, also known as the Feast of Dedication and the Festival of Lights. This annual celebration is mentioned in the New Covenant, in John 10, it took place in the winter time and while Hanukkah isn’t one of the 7 mandatory Feasts of the Lord, it is an annual celebration that has been part of Jewish culture for close to 2,200 years.
Hanukkah is the commemoration of the rededication of the Temple after it was defiled by Antiochus Epiphanes, the ruler of the Seleucid Empire.
The Feast of Dedication
In Israel’s history there has only ever been two Temples. When the Jews were wandering in the wilderness and afterward conquered the land God promised them, they had a mobile Tabernacle, and once they entered the land, the Tabernacle, also known as the ‘Tent of Meeting’ was established at Shiloh where it remained for approximately 300 years or so, but David wanted to honour God by building a permanent and glorious Temple. Solomon his son was tasked with the job and Solomon built a staggeringly magnificent Temple which lasted about 400 years until it was destroyed by the Babylonians.
After the Jews returned from their captivity in Babylon, they began rebuilding the temple under Nehemiah’s leadership and the result was quite a humble building, so humble in fact that many wept and grieved because they remembered the glory of Solomon’s temple. However, when King Herod the Great came to power under the Romans he embarked on a very extensive makeover of the humble effort of Nehemiah’s day, which basically resulted in a complete rebuild and the 2nd Temple and it took 46 years to complete and it was magnificent. (Neh, Jn 2:20)
Both the first and second temples were dedicated at different times; Solomon’s Temple was dedicated in the month of Tishri which is in the Autumn and Nehemiah’s Temple was dedicated in the month of Adar which is in the Spring, but the Feast of Dedication was in the winter…so what particular temple dedication was it referring to?
In the year 168 BC, the Seleucid Empire controlled the region and Antiochus IV, Epiphanes was on the throne. He came to the throne through murder and intrigue and he was a particularly nasty character; he was cruel and barbaric and after some failed military campaigns his already simmering hatred of the Jews took a brutal turn and he determined to eradicated Judaism and replace it with Greek paganism instead. He passed laws that forbade the Jews from observing their laws and in particular, the laws pertaining to the Sabbath and circumcision, and disobedience resulted in death. Monthly searches were conducted and if anyone was discovered to be hiding a copy of the Torah, or had circumcised their baby boys or were seen to be observing the laws of the Sabbath they were executed…and they were executed in unbelievably cruel ways.
Antiochus Epiphanes ransacked Jerusalem, took 10,000 inhabitants captive, stole all the treasures from the Temple, he built an altar in the Temple on the Great Altar of Burnt Sacrifices defiling it, then on the 25th of Kislev, which just happened to be Antiochus’ birthday, he bought a sacrifice to the Temple – a pig – and sacrificed it on the altar and ordered a pig to be offered as a sacrifice in every village! To complete his blasphemy and offenses against the Jewish people and their God, he also had an idol to Zeus placed in the Holy of Holies.
In Greek religious mythology, Zeus was considered the father of all the gods, so the most high god. This was a direct challenge to the One True God and a monstrous insult.
Remember, the Holy of Holies was the exact place on planet earth where God’s presence was said to reside, and where the Ark of the Covenant used to stand, with the Mercy Seat. This event, this act of desecration was given a name, it was known as ‘The abomination of desolation.’
When God’s Temple was defiled and corrupted in that most heinous way, it sparked the Maccabean Revolt and after about 3 years of armed resistance, the Jewish fighters defeated the armies of Antiochus. When the fighting was over the Temple was cleaned out and purified and worship was re-established, then on the 3rd anniversary of the defiling of the Temple – the 25th of Kislev in 164 BC – the Temple was rededicated.
Re-establishing the function of the Temple required pure olive oil – produced under very strict guidelines – for the lighting of the Menorah candelabra which has seven branches; the centre branch is called the servant and it’s from this branch that all the other branches were lit one by one.
The miracle of the rededication of the Temple was that there was only enough oil to last one day and it was going to take at least a week to produce more oil. However, that one day’s portion of oil lasted for eight full days straight until more oil was ready. That’s the miracle of Hanukkah.
Today, the Feast of Dedication is known as Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights, it’s an eight-day holiday and it’s celebrated with a slightly modified Menorah, which has nine branches instead of seven, representing the 8 days of continuous light burning from only one day’s worth of oil, plus the servant branch.
On day one of Hanukkah, the servant branch is lit and that candle is then used to light the first branch. On day two, the servant branch is lit and is used to light the first and second branches and so on until the eighth day when the servant branch lights all the branches of the Hanukkah Menorah.
In our next program, we’re going to look ahead to the future to see what significance Hanukkah has for both Jews, Christians and the whole world.