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Why Celebrate Hanukkah

The Festival of Lights

It has been said that rituals are only valid if they change the individuals that participate. Hanukkah is a festival that was designed to do just that. The God-given traditions of Hanukkah are filled with prophetic insight and Messianic symbolism that were designed by God to prepare the people of Israel for the New Covenant that causes God’s laws to be written on the tablets of their hearts rather than on tablets of stone according to the prophet Jeremiah. The Rabbis say that Hanukkah is meant to serve as an introduction and preparation for the FUTURE redemption of Israel when the Messiah will come to transform the DARKNESS of the world into the LIGHT of the Messiah’s Reign on earth.

Hanukkah is meant to draw the participants, into the Bible’s final prophetic unfolding of the final deliverance from the final galut. (Exile from God).

The Festival is based upon an event that took place during the period known to Christianity as inter-testmental period or the 400 hundred silent years––the years during which no prophet was heard in the land of Israel following the prophet Malachi.

In 175 BCE, Antiochus IV became the ruler of Syria.  He wanted to rule the entire world and be worshipped as G-d. Antiochus issued a decree in Israel that all Jews were to stop worshipping in the Temple and cease practicing their religious laws or face death. On the 15th of Kislev, 168 BCE, Antiochus sent his troops to sacrifice a pig on the bronze altar of sacrifice, thus desecrating the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. He dedicated God's Temple to his gods.

Two years later, Antiochus sent an official to the town of Modin-in near Jerusalem to be sure his decrees were being carried out. An elderly priest, Mattathias killed the king’s emissary and fled with his family to the mountains. Mattathias and his five sons joined other fugitives and formed a small army that fought against the king’s soldiers. Under the leadership of Mattathias’ son, Judah Maccabee, they battled successfully against Antiochus’ troops in a town named Emmaus. They returned to Jerusalem to begin the enormous task of re-purifying the Temple and ridding it of the Syrian idols.

When the priests were preparing for the service of re-dedication, they could only find one small cruse of unprofaned oil, which would have been sufficient for only one day. On the 25th day of the month of Kislev three years after it was polluted, Judah Maccabee rededicated the Temple and lit the lamps of the Temple menorah using the unpolluted cruse of oil. The small amount of oil miraculously lasted eight days.

Although Hanukkah is not one of the Feasts of the Lord described in Lev. 23, Yeshua celebrated it. It is known as the Season of Miracles, and the Festival of Lights. It is the Feast of Dedication described by the apostle John in his gospel.

John’s gospel, many may know, does not follow the pattern of the other three gospels. John was writing specifically to Jews to prove Yeshua’s divinity based upon the traditions of the Hebrew sages concerning the expected Messiah.  He carefully addresses each messianic tradition and each Feast, pointing to Yeshua as the reason or focus.

The gospel of John records that Yeshua went to the Temple during the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) and taught in Solomon’s Porch.

“And it was at Jerusalem the Feast of the Dedication, and it was winter. And Yeshua walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.” (John 10:22-23)

Hidden beneath the surface of the Scriptures are often subtleties that have great significance. Solomon’s Porch, for instance, was built into the eastern wall of the Temple area and was used mainly as a place for rabbinical teaching. Hanukkah, from the Hebrew word ‘chanak’, means to initiate or begin. But, its Hebrew root is associated with the word ‘kheenuk’, which means education or training.

In Solomon’s Porch, the place of rabbinical instruction, during the Season of Miracles, Yeshua taught.  His teachings that day were not shrouded in parables, as was often the case. Instead He openly stated that the miracles He performed served as witnesses to His divinity. Another interesting thing about Solomon’s Porch was that it spanned two areas of the Temple––the Court of Israel and the Court of the Gentiles symbolically demonstrating to us that Yeshua’ teachings and miracles were for both Jew and non-Jew.

On an individual level, Hanukkah is seen as a time of personal dedication and renewal––a time to purify self and ‘begin again with God.’  Our menorahs have replaced that of the temple and we have replaced the Levites and priests. We are to be God's priests whose ministry is not restricted to the temple, soldiers in the army of God.

On a deeper prophetic and revelatory level, the rabbis teach that the Hanukiah (the 9-branched menorah) holds the key to the victory over a greater, more powerful enemy than the people of God have ever faced before; they call it the Captivity of Edom. The Captivity of Edom is galut (exile) within, spiritual exile from God. It causes individuals to be internally split, holding on to two conflicting, diametrically opposed cultures: the Greek or Western culture vs. the ethical and moral beliefs of the Bible. Where Antiochus failed in his attempt to destroy Israel through outward assimilation, Edom has succeeded to do inwardly to many Jews and Christians especially in the West. This captivity, the sages said, would be the last one before Israel’s redemption and the coming of the Messiah.

The Hanukkah menorah is different from the Temple menorah in that it has nine branches instead of seven. It is called the Hanukiah, meaning, “to begin again with God”.  One candle is called the Shammash or Servant Candle. It sits higher than all the others and is lit first. The other eight candles must be lit by the Shammash rather than by a match.

The Hanukiah represents an important spiritual truth. In Jewish teaching, the number seven represents the natural, physical world [The world was created in seven days.] and the number eight represents that which transcends the natural realm, that is, the spiritual realm. For this reason the rabbis call the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah the Days of Eight, or days of transcendence from the natural to the spiritual.

The story of Hanukkah relates the miracle of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, transcending their limitations by the power of God. The one-day’s supply of oil for the Temple menorah that lasted eight days pointed to another spiritual reality, that the oil of God can never run out.

The Hanukiah pointed to the New Covenant that God made with mankind through the death of the Messiah, Yeshua. The ninth candle, the one that is set higher than all the others, is the Servant Candle, which must be used to light all the others. Yeshua is the Servant Candle, the physical Torah and source of all wisdom and understanding. Only He can give man the light he needs. In speaking of the Messiah, John said:

“Yeshua said, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but [shall] have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)

In the Bible, pure oil is used to represent the presence of God, the Holy Spirit. Just as the Holy Spirit came upon and filled Yeshua at His baptism in the beginning of His ministry, the Holy Spirit must fill each new believer. Yeshua, the Word of God, can bring the light of understanding only to those who are filled with the pure oil of the Holy Spirit. The oil that lasted for eight days testifies to the fact that the oil of the Holy Spirit does not burn like ordinary oil but lasts eternally.

The survival tactic that God gave believers to end the Captivity of Edom, the galut within, is to be filled with the Spirit of God. With Him, each new day offers the opportunity to have Yeshua light the oil of understanding within “to begin again with God.”

“By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” (1 John 4:13)

Yeshua, the Servant Candle, the Shammash, is the Light of the World, the Word of God (the Torah is Light) who brings the light of wisdom and understanding to us so that we can bring light to others, making known to the world the miracle of salvation.

It is customary to put the Hanukiah in the window so those passersby can see it and be enlightened to the eight-day miracle which G-d performed for the Maccabees in keeping the lights of the Temple Menorah burning and to remember the miracle of their military victory. The passersby represent the unenlightened world. Our lives, like our menorahs, should be visible for the world to see.

“Yeshua said, ‘You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden...Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.’” (Matthew 5:14-16)