Posts Tagged ‘Chanukah’

Chanukah is far more important than we Christians give it credit for. Everyone is familiar with of a menorah. It symbolizes and epitomizes the Chanukah story. But your average Christian, may not know the story. Knowing the story is important and so I will share an abbreviated version with you here.

In 168 B.C.E. the Jewish Temple was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus. This upset the Jewish people, but many were afraid to fight back out of fear. Then in 167 B.C.E. the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus made the observance of Judaism an offense punishable by death. He also ordered all Jews to worship the Greek gods.

Jewish resistance began in the village of Modiin, near Jerusalem. Greek soldiers forcibly gathered the Jewish villages and told them to bow down to an idol, and then eat the flesh of a pig –practices that are forbidden to Jews. A Greek officer ordered Mattathias, a High Priest, to subject himself to their demands, but Mattathias refused. When another villager stepped forward and offered to cooperate on Mattathias’ behalf, the High Priest became outraged. He drew his sword and killed the villager, then turned on the Greek officer and killed him too. His five sons and the other villagers then attacked the remaining soldiers, killing all of them.

Mattathias and his family went into hiding in the mountains, where other Jews wishing to fight against the Greeks joined them. Eventually they succeeded in retaking their land from the Greeks. These rebels became known as the Maccabees.

Once the Maccabees had regained control they returned to the Temple in Jerusalem. By this time it had been spiritually defiled by being used for the worship of foreign gods and also by practices such as sacrificing pigs on the altar. Jewish troops were determined to purify the Temple by burning ritual oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days. But to their dismay, they discovered that there was only one day’s worth of oil left in the Temple. They lit the menorah anyway and to their surprise the small amount of oil lasted the full eight days.

This is the miracle of Chanukah that is celebrated every year when Jews light a special menorah for eight days. That is why we light one candle on the first night of Chanukah, two on the second, and so on, until eight candles are lit.

Some think, “Well, this is nice and all, but that’s Old Testament, so why should we celebrate it today?” Because Jesus also celebrated Chanukah:

“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, how long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” –John 10:22-24

Notice that the Jews wanted to know if Jesus is the Messiah because they think he might kick out the pagans and set up his kingdom just like the Maccabees did over a hundred years prior. They were now under Roman rule and they were ready for independence.

We also need to realize that while Jesus was at the Feast of Dedication, the subject of the Rabbi’s discussion on that day was most likely about the Temple dedication. So immediately we see that Jesus not only celebrated Chanukah but made the effort to be at the temple during this time. So if it was good enough for our master to celebrate a feast that commemorates the dedication of God’s temple, then why shouldn’t we follow his example?

The Messiah can be seen in every one of God’s feasts, including Chanukah:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” –John 8:12

Jesus is the light of the world, symbolized by the menorah, but even more specifically Jesus is the central light from which the other lights are lit.

The ninth candle in the center of the menorah is called the shamash or the “servant” candle. It is used to light the other ones. Jesus said, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” –Matt. 20:28

Just as the candles on the menorah must be lit by the shamash (servant) candle, so we too must be lit by the servant, Jesus the Messiah, before burning bright in the world as a light to others; and our light will guide others to Jesus in the form of serving one another. This is Jesus’ message on Chanukah for us today.

Happy Chanukah!

 

Many of us know the romanticized version of the Christmas story: Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem to humble parents, where three wise men came bearing precious gifts and worshipped the baby Jesus. Unfortunately, most of our beliefs concerning the birth of the Messiah come from greeting cards and TV holiday specials. It’s what I call: ‘Greeting Card Theology’. Although this may make for good television, Scripture gives us a much greater version. It also gives us a better understanding of what it means to be a family.

The circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus were controversial to say the least. Mary and Joseph were betrothed when Mary told Joseph she was pregnant. The meaning of being ‘betrothed’ is foreign in our modern culture. Being betrothed was a much stronger commitment than a simple engagement. It was one that required a writ of divorce to break.

It was during their betrothal when Mary went to Joseph and told him that she was pregnant.  I can imagine this caused Joseph to have moments of doubt and embarrassment, since he was not sexually active with Mary. We’re told that Joseph thought about leaving her, but after God spoke to him in a dream, he chose to believe Mary. I’m sure that Joseph’s friends questioned his decision to stay with his pregnant fiancée. Yet he stood by her. Joseph fought through a battle of scorn and ridicule but believed in God. He believed the child Mary carried was God’s son and accepted God’s call for him to care for both Mary and Jesus.

Can you imagine what it was like when this family sat down at the dinner table? The kids sitting around that table may have known that Jesus didn’t have the same mom and dad as them. Joseph sat at that table knowing that he was not Jesus’ biological father. Even so, I believe that Joseph thought of Jesus as much a part of his family as his biological children. This shows us that fatherhood is much more than simply fathering a child. It involves setting a godly example for our children and blessing them just as our Heavenly Father has blessed us.

I could go on about how Scripture proves that Jesus was not born in winter, and that the wise men (many more than three) did not find Jesus as a newborn baby in the manger. But that would not change your traditions of Christmas Trees, singing carols, or exchanging gifts.

The Gospel of John Chapter 10 is often referred to as the Good Shepherd Scripture. However, right in the middle of this chapter in verses 22 and 23 the writer notes: “Then came the Feast of Dedication (Chanukah) at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.”

My wife and I have a blended family of yours, mine, and ours. I tend to follow the Jewish traditions of Chanukah, while my wife and our children still enjoy the Christmas traditions. So we decided to combine the two and celebrate what we call: “Chanumas”.

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On the first night of “Chanumas” we invite our grandchildren over and I recite the story of the Maccabees and the story of the first Chanukah. Before lighting the first candle on the Chanukah menorah I recite the blessing:  “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season. We kindle these lights for the miracles and wonders, for the redemption you performed, and for the battles which you won for our forefathers in those days at this season. During all eight days of Chanukah these lights are sacred and we are not to make ordinary use of them, but only to look at them in order to remember and give thanks and praise to your great name – for your miracles, your wonders, and your salvation you made available to us through your son, Yeshua Ha ’Mashiach.”

After lighting the Chanukah menorah, we enjoy sitting in the glow, recalling the miracles of yesterday and today. Afterward, we enjoy watching the grandchildren open their “Chanumas” gifts and listening to the shrieks of joy as they play Dreidel for chocolate coins, called gelt.  SAM_1393

“Chanumas” does not follow Jewish or Christian tradition. “Chanumas”  is not about Scriptural  correctness. It’s about family. It’s about who I am as a father. Often, we form our impression of who God is by who our earthly father was. But that impression could be just as misleading as our ‘Greeting Card Theology’. Some of us may have had great dads; but some of us not so great. And some of us may have had horrible dads that caused us to have a negative impression about God. But that can be repaired. Some of you may have never received an encouraging word from your father. You may have known only criticism and even molestation. God can heal that too. Malachi 4:6 says, speaking of the Lord, “…And He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…”  The heart of the Christmas season is not about when Jesus was born but that he came to earth to die for our sins. While he was in our midst he touched us with healing; he spoke words of encouragement and affirmation over those who hadn’t heard them. People like Matthew the tax collector, the man who was born blind, the Samaritan woman who’d been married five times, the emotionally unstable Peter, and the woman who was caught in adultery.

Somehow I think that Joseph, whose wife became pregnant before they were married, may have had some influence on the young Jesus and was the vehicle that God used to help bring His blessing to the world. Now, God wants us to be vehicles of blessing through touch and through words. Like Joseph, God might be calling you to an untraditional path of Fatherhood. Maybe you and your spouse have created a blended family like ours. Our idea of how we want life to go is not always God’s plan for our life. God’s plan is purposeful and perfect.

During this Christmas season I encourage you to be the father your children need you to be, whether biological or other. Use Joseph as your example. God has called you to care for your family. And fulfilling this calling is the highest of all achievements.

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Black Friday – Shopping Malls – Christmas Lights – Parties and gift exchanges. To many, this is what Christmas is all about. Each year around this time many prepare to celebrate Christmas while our Jewish friends and TORAH observant believers celebrate Chanukah. (The Feast of Dedication)

This year Chanukah falls on December 8th and continues for eight days through December 16th. Sadly, in many homes Chanukah has become as commercialized and secular as Christmas. Playing Dreidel, giving out gelt, (chocolate coins) and exchanging gifts for eight days  has as much to do with the real reason for Chanukah as Christmas trees and mistletoe have to do with the birth of Jesus.

It may come as a surprise to many Christians that Chanukah is mentioned in the New Testament whereas Christmas is not. The observation of Christmas began in 354 A.D. from an adaptation of an established pagan holiday. While there are several estimates regarding the birthday of Messiah, we know it was not in winter because the flocks were in an open field, indicating sometime prior to November. (The cold rainy season in Israel) In fact, Chanukah highlights a historical event that Jesus himself pointed to as the key to understanding the prophecies concerning His return!

Many Christians refer to John Chapter 10 as the Good Shepherd verse. However, in verse 22 there seems to be a strange inclusion: right in the middle of this chapter the writer notes the following: “And it was at Jerusalem the Feast of Dedication, and it was winter.” (John 10:22) Why is this reference here?

The Bible is a very integrated system with 66 books written by over 40 authors over thousands of years, and yet it all comes together as a whole. Every word, every number, every place and every name appear to be the result of supernatural engineering. The rabbis say that we won’t really understand the Scriptures until the Messiah comes. But when He comes, He will not only interpret the passages for us; He will interpret the very words; He will interpret the very letters; He will even interpret the spaces between the letters!

This is not just a colorful exaggeration. Jesus himself said: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one yot or one tittle shall in no way pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

A “yot” and “tittle” are Hebraisms: a “yot” is one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet that we might mistake for an apostrophe. A “tittle” is a tiny notation that distinguishes some of the letters. The phrase that Jesus used is equivalent to our dotting of an ‘i’ or the crossing of a ‘t’. These words, from our Lord Himself; seem to verify what may seem to be the rather extreme view of the rabbis. Thus we discover that every detail of the Bible is there by design. Since we have concluded that nothing in Scripture is accidental or trivial, why does this detail in John 10:22 exist? What is the “Feast of Dedication”? The dedication is of the Temple, of course. But let’s explore this further.

A Historical Reference

There have been only two Temples: the original one built by Solomon, which was ultimately destroyed by the Babylonians; and Nehemiah’s, which was built when the captives returned after the Babylonian Captivity. (This “Second Temple” was used by Herod and was the Temple that was in place during the time that Jesus lived on Earth) Solomon’s Temple was dedicated in the month of Tishri. (The seventh month of the Jewish year)  So this can’t be the reference we’re looking for since this was in the autumn. John 10:22 alludes specifically to a feast of dedication in winter. Nehemiah’s Temple was dedicated in the month of Adar. (The 6th month of the Jewish calendar) So this can’t be it either since Adar is in the spring. Now before you get too confused, the key to this riddle requires some important historical background.

A century earlier, in 168 B.C., the ruler Antiochus IV (“Epiphanes”) son of Antiochus the Great became the successor of his brother, Seleucus IV, who had been murdered by his minister, Heliodorus, as king of Syria. (175-164 B.C.) Antiochus was a cruel and tyrannical ruler. He purposed to eradicate the Jewish religion and replace it with Greek polytheism. The observance of all Jewish laws, especially those relating to the Sabbath and to circumcision, were forbidden under penalty of death. Representatives of Antiochus IV enforced the edict. They would search the land and whoever had a copy of TORAH, had observed Sabbath or the rite of circumcision was condemned to death. He pillaged the city of Jerusalem, took 10,000 captives, stripped the Temple of its treasures, and built a pagan altar on the Great Altar of Burnt Sacrifices.

On the 25th of Kislev (The ninth month of the Jewish calendar and Antiochus’ birthday), a pagan sacrifice was brought on this altar for the first time. He required a pig to be offered in every village. He also erected an idol of Zeus in the Holy of Holies. This desecrating sacrilege has a technical name: “the abomination of desolation.” (I think it’s interesting that many Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter with a holiday dinner that includes serving ham)

Maccabean Revolt

In the village, an aged priest named Mattathias lived with his five sons. When officers arrived to carry out Antiochus’ decrees, Mattathias killed both the first Jew who approached the pagan altar to offer sacrifice and the royal official who presided, and Mattathias and his sons fled to the hills. This spontaneous revolt grew into a full-scale uprising: Mattathias and his five sons became the nucleus of a growing band of rebels against Antiochus.

Mattathias died soon after, leaving leadership in the hands of his son Judas, whose nickname “Maccabeus” (“the hammer”) became the source of the popular name given to the family and its followers. Under Judas’ brilliant leadership, what had begun as a guerrilla war turned into full-scale military engagements in which the smaller Jewish forces managed to defeat the much more powerful Syrian armies, and they succeeded in throwing off the yoke of the Syrian Empire.

On the third anniversary of the desecration of the Temple, on the 25th of Kislev, 164 B.C., the Temple worship was reestablished. The altar and all of the vessels used in the earlier sacrilege were destroyed and replaced with new ones, and the Temple was rededicated. It is this re-dedication that is still celebrated among Jews and TORAH observant believers to this very day as Chanukah.

A Key Technical Term

The desecration of the Temple in 167 B.C. included the definitive event known as the “abomination of desolation.” The term “abomination” in the Bible is a common term for idol worship. The “abomination of desolation” refers to the ultimate extreme form of idol worship: placing an idol on the most sacred spot on Earth: in Jerusalem, inside the Temple in the Holy of Holies. So why did John highlight Chanukah by alluding to it in the New Testament? Because Jesus Himself pointed to this specific historical detail as the key to understanding prophecy concerning the Last Days.

When will the end come?

Four disciples came to Jesus privately, asking Him about His “Second Coming.” He answered with a series of “non-signs”: certain things that will occur “but the end is not yet.” Then He highlighted a critical event as the key to the prophecy: “When you, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whosoever readeth, let him understand), then let them who are in Judea flee into the mountains; Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house; Neither let him who is in the field return back to take his clothes.” (Matthew 24:15-18)

In other words, when this event happens, it will be essential for them to get out of town immediately!   Jesus also saved each of us many hours of tedious research by referring us to the Book of Daniel. (By the way,we are also under His orders to understand)  Jesus’ reference to the “abomination of desolation” was, of course, was not speaking of the Maccabean Revolt, but a similar event yet in the future.

The Destruction of the Second Temple

Just as Jesus had predicted, in 69 A.D. the Roman Legions, under Titus Vespasian, laid siege to Jerusalem. Over a million men, women and children were slaughtered in that terrible war! Finally, on the 9th of Av, 70 A.D. the Temple was destroyed. (Av is the fifth month in the Jewish calendar and is traditionally regarded as the most tragic) It was this event that the Gospel writers’ account focuses on. Both Luke and Matthew highlight a group of signs, which Matthew dubs as “the beginning of sorrows”:

“And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:6-8)

Matthew’s account focuses on what follows this group of signs while Luke focuses on what precedes these signs. Jesus warned his disciples that when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies, they were to get out of town and don’t go back! Luke wrote that “this generation will not pass until all be fulfilled,” and 38 years later in 70 A.D. (The same length of the generation that died in the wilderness) Jerusalem fell.

A Misleading View

There are those who view the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. as the “abomination of desolation.” There are several problems with this view.

First, there was a war going on. There was no opportunity for the Romans to install false worship of any kind inside the Temple. The Temple was inadvertently set on fire, and the interior, which was wood overlaid with gold, burned thus melting the gold. The soldiers were ordered to take it apart stone by stone to recover the gold, just as Jesus had predicted. All of this was well documented by an eyewitness, Flavius Josephus, whose classic works are readily available.

The view that the abomination of desolation has already occurred, in addition to being historically inaccurate, also requires the bizarre allegorization of the rest of Jesus’ presentation. Matthew 24:29-31 hasn’t happened yet.

The abomination of desolation didn’t happen in 70 A.D., and it couldn’t have happened over the subsequent 1900 years because there has been no Temple in Jerusalem to be thus defiled. It remains the key milestone to trigger the exodus of those believers remaining in Jerusalem at that time. Every year at the celebration of Chanukah we need to recall this background and reflect on its prophetic significance!

A Third Temple Needed

When will it happen? When there is, once again  a Temple in Jerusalem. Three times in the New Testament there is reference to the rebuilding of the Temple prior to the Second Coming of Messiah. Despite the shaky political climate in Israel, there are preparations underway in anticipation of a rebuilt Temple. In Yeshivas in Jerusalem, priests are presently in training. Almost all of the required implements have been fabricated by the Temple Institute. And it is rumored that ground-penetrating radar and infrared recordings are being used to find the precise foundations of the original Temple.

The Holiday Message

John 10:22 highlights Daniel’s famous prophecy and focuses our attention on this key milestone in the end-time scenario. So as we celebrate the holidays this year, let us also  remember Chanukah and be reminded that preparations are presently underway to set the stage for the final countdown. What an exciting time to be alive!

“For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” (Habakkuk 2:3)

Happy Holidays!

Chanukah commemorates events that took place around 168-165 B.C. The Jewish people were under Syrian domination and ruled by the Syrian king Antiochus. The Jews were forced to abandon their culture and religion. He made sure the Jewish people could not use the Temple to worship God. He erected pagan idols in the holy place and worst of all; he sacrificed a pig on the altar!

The Jewish people were utterly defeated and demoralized—until a small band of guerilla soldiers known as the Maccabees rekindled their hope. Within three years, these warriors miraculously recaptured Jerusalem and the Temple.

Note that Chanukah (which means dedication) was not named for the brave warriors. The real victory was being able to freely worship the God of Israel once again. The Temple was rededicated on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, in the year 165 BC. What is not commonly realized is that this holiday is found within the pages of the New Testament Writings. Yeshua (Jesus) celebrated Chanukah as recorded in John 10:22-30:

Now it was the Feast of Dedication (Chanukah) in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

It was on Chanukah that Messiah publicly revealed his Messianic identity by proclaiming to them, “I and the Father are one.”(v.30)

Another aspect of Chanukah is that Yeshua mirrors that of the Servant Candle (Shamash). He taught his disciples to serve others as he did. He came to serve and not to be served. The Servant Candle is a picture of the Suffering Servant Messiah as prophesied in Isaiah 53:5.

But aside from the Messianic tones, the primary message of Chanukah is that we should reject pagan influences and follow what is written for us in the Scriptures.

How do we celebrate Chanukah? The Chanukah menorah is placed in a window to publicize this great miracle. The candles are placed in the menorah from left to right and the candles are kindled from right to left. The center candle is called the Shamash. (Servant / helper) The Shamash is removed, lit, and used to kindle the other candles then returned to its holder.

The blessings are said with the Shamash already lit, but immediately prior to lighting the Chanukah candles: 1.)”Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the universe, who sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.” 2.)” Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the universe, who made miracles for our forefathers, in those days at this season.” The following paragraph is said each night, after the first light has been kindled:

“We kindle these lights for the miracles and wonders, for the redemption and the battles which You performed for our forefathers in those days at this season through Your holy priests. During all eight days of Chanukah these lights are sacred and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them, but only look at them in order to express thanks and praise to Your great name, and for Your miracles, and Your wonders, and Your salvation.”

After lighting the Chanukah menorah, we enjoy sitting in the glow and read from the Hallel over the course of Chanukah week. The Hallel is a sequence of praise and gratitude-themed Psalms found in Psalms 113-118. We occasionally sing songs and recall the miracles of yesterday and today.

A number of other customs have developed, including: Eating “oily” foods like fried potato latkes (pancakes) and jelly donuts in commemoration of the miracle of the oil, giving Chanukah gelt (chocolate coins) to children, and spinning the dreidel, a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side.

In times of the Syrian persecution when Torah study was forbidden, Jewish children would learn by using a dreidel and pretend to be playing a game to fool soldiers. Today’s version of dreidel is where players use pennies, nuts, raisins, or chocolate coins as tokens or chips. Each player puts an equal share into the “pot” and the players take turns spinning the dreidel. The letters on the dreidel are nun, gimmel, hey, shin ― the first letters of Nes Gadol Haya Sham – “A Great Miracle Happened There.”   Click here for instructions on how to play Dreidel.

Chanukah demonstrates the Jewishness of Yeshua. The scriptures clearly show that the Messiah Yeshua was born of a Jewish mother, he is a descendant of King David, and belongs to the Tribe of Judah. His coming was foretold by the Jewish Prophets. All of these things confirm His Jewishness. However, the “clincher” for us is his observance of the Feast of Dedication (Chanukah) as related in John 10:22-23. The fact that he traveled, in the middle of winter, from Galilee to Jerusalem, tells me that Yeshua was serious about His Jewishness.

As we kindle our Chanukah candles, let us remember this shining Son of Israel, who loved his people and lived out the message of the Servant Candle of Chanukah.