Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Hanukkah!

“Then came Hanukkah; it was winter in Jerusalem.
Yeshua was walking in the Temple around
Solomon’s Colonnade.
Then the Judean leaders surrounded Him, saying,
‘How long will you hold us in suspense?
If You are the Messiah, tell us outright!’”

(John 10:22-24 TLB*)

Very few know that the Bible records Yeshua (Jesus) in Jerusalem for the joyous celebration of Hanukkah. In most Bible translations, it is called the
"the Feast of Dedication."

A quick look in a concordance will reveal it is indeed the eight day celebration of Hanukkah. In fact, the Hebrew word, Hanukkah means dedication. The holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC.

Although Hanukkah is not one of the biblical observances found in Leviticus 23,
it is a very significant holiday containing a powerful and timeless message.

It was around 168 B.C. that Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his hoard descended on Jerusalem slaughtering thousands, pillaging and desecrating the Temple, sacrificing a pig on the altar and erecting a statue to Zeus that all Jews were required to bow down to and venerate. All biblical observance was forbidden.

The heartrending account of the siege of Jerusalem, as well as the dramatic record of God's deliverance through a tiny band of God-fearing men is found in the historical book of 1 Maccabees. It's worth a read. It may bring a tear or two to your eyes. Following are a few random quotes:

"...the princes and elders mourned, the virgins and young men were made feeble, and the beauty of women was changed. Every bridegroom took up lamentation, and she that sat in the marriage chamber was in heaviness. ...the king sent his chief collector of tribute unto the cities of Juda, who came unto Jerusalem with a great multitude, and spake peaceable words unto them, but all was deceit: for when they had given him credence, he fell suddenly upon the city, and smote it very sore, and destroyed much people of Israel. And when he had taken the spoils of the city, he set it on fire, and pulled down the houses. But the women and children took they captive... And they put therein a sinful nation, wicked men, and fortified themselves therein. They stored it also with armour and victuals, and when they had gathered together the spoils of Jerusalem, they laid them up there, and so they became a sore snare: For it was a place to lie in wait against the sanctuary, and an evil adversary to Israel. Thus they shed innocent blood on every side of the sanctuary, and defiled it:

Her sanctuary was laid waste like a wilderness, her feasts were turned into mourning, her sabbaths into reproach her honour into contempt. And every one should leave his laws: so all the heathen agreed according to the commandment of the king. Yea, many also of the Israelites consented to his religion, and sacrificed unto idols, and profaned the sabbath.

For the king had sent letters by messengers unto Jerusalem and the cities of Juda that they should follow the strange laws of the land, And forbid burnt offerings, and sacrifice, and drink offerings, in the temple; and that they should profane the sabbaths and festival days: And pollute the sanctuary and holy people: Set up altars, and groves, and chapels of idols, and sacrifice swine's flesh, and unclean beasts: That they should also leave their children uncircumcised, and make their souls abominable with all manner of uncleanness and profanation: To the end they might forget the law, and change all the ordinances. And whosoever would not do according to the commandment of the king, he said, he should die.
...they put to death certain women, that had caused their children to be circumcised. And they hanged the infants about their necks ... many in Israel were fully resolved and confirmed in themselves not to eat any unclean thing. Wherefore the rather to die, that they might not be defiled with meats, and that they might not profane the holy covenant: so then they died. And there was very great wrath upon Israel." 1 Maccabees Ch. 1
The horrendous occupation served to try the hearts of the Israelites. Sadly, many chose compromise and forsaking "the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the heathen." While others defied the wicked ruler's edicts, paying with their lives and abominable punishments. Some pious men fled the blasphemies and lawlessness to the mountains, vowing never to forsake the covenant of the Lord.

In time rebellion arose under the strong leadership of Mattathias Maccabeus who admonished his sons:

"Now therefore, my sons, be ye zealous for the law, and give your lives for the covenant of your fathers. Call to remembrance what acts our fathers did in their time... Was not Abraham found faithful in temptation, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness? Joseph in the time of his distress kept the commandment and was made lord of Egypt. Daniel for his innocency was delivered from the mouth of lions. Fear not then the words of a sinful man: for his glory shall be dung and worms. To day he shall be lifted up and to morrow he shall not be found, because he is returned into his dust, and his thought is come to nothing. Wherefore, ye my sons, be valiant and shew yourselves men in the behalf of the law; for by it shall ye obtain glory. As for Judas Maccabeus, he hath been mighty and strong, even from his youth up: let him be your captain, and fight the battle of the people. Take also unto you all those that observe the law, and avenge ye the wrong of your people. Recompense fully the heathen, and take heed to the commandments of the law. So he blessed them, and was gathered to his fathers. 1 Maccabees Ch. 2

"Then his son Judas, called Maccabeus, rose up in his stead. And all his brethren helped him, and so did all they that held with his father, and they fought with cheerfulness the battle of Israel. ...he went through the cities of Juda, destroying the ungodly out of them, and turning away wrath from Israel..."1 Maccabees Ch. 3

After about two years of guerilla-like fighting, this small band of zealous Jews led by Judah Maccabeus miraculously routed the vast heathen armies, the enemies of God, thus reclaiming Jerusalem and the Temple.

"It is no hard matter for many to be shut up in the hands of a few; and with the God of heaven it is all one, to deliver with a great multitude, or a small company: For the victory of battle standeth not in the multitude of an host; but strength cometh from heaven. They come against us in much pride and iniquity to destroy us, and our wives and children, and to spoil us: But we fight for our lives and our laws. Wherefore the Lord himself will overthrow them before our face: and as for you, be ye not afraid of them." 1 Maccabees Ch. 3

The great victory delivered into into the Maccabees hands seemed hollow when they  found Jerusalem "laid void as a wilderness, no children went in or out; the sanctuary was trodden down, and the joy was taken from Jacob, the pipe and the harp had ceased." When they found the holy Torah scroll, they also found the heathens had desecrated them with painted images. They put on sackcloth and ashes and fasted, rent their garments and cried out to the LORD

"Then said Judas and his brethren, Behold, our enemies are discomfited: let us go up to cleanse and dedicate the sanctuary. 
And when they saw the sanctuary desolate, and the altar profaned, and the gates burned up, and shrubs growing in the courts as in a forest, or in one of the mountains, yea, and the priests' chambers pulled down; They rent their clothes, and made great lamentation, and cast ashes upon their heads, And fell down flat to the ground upon their faces, and blew an alarm with the trumpets, and cried toward heaven. Then Judas appointed certain men to fight against those that were in the fortress, until he had cleansed the sanctuary. So he chose priests of blameless conversation, such as had pleasure in the law: Who cleansed the sanctuary, and bare out the defiled stones into an unclean place. And laid up the stones in the mountain of the temple in a convenient place, until there should come a prophet to shew what should be done with them.

Then they took whole stones according to the law, and built a new altar according to the former; And made up the sanctuary, and the things that were within the temple, and hallowed the courts. They made also new holy vessels, and into the temple they brought the candlestick, and the altar of burnt offerings, and of incense, and the table. And upon the altar they burned incense, and the lamps that were upon the candlestick they lighted, that they might give light in the temple. Furthermore they set the loaves upon the table, and spread out the veils, and finished all the works which they had begun to make. And offered sacrifice according to the law upon the new altar of burnt offerings, which they had made. Then all the people fell upon their faces, worshipping and praising the God of heaven, who had given them good success. And so they kept the dedication of the altar eight days and offered burnt offerings with gladness, and sacrificed the sacrifice of deliverance and praise. Thus was there very great gladness among the people, for that the reproach of the heathen was put away. Moreover Judas and his brethren with the whole congregation of Israel ordained, that the days of the dedication of the altar should be kept in their season from year to year by the space of eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month Casleu [Chislev], with mirth and gladness. " 1 Maccabees Ch. 4
Thus the miraculous victory was finally realized. The Holy Temple was cleansed and rededicated. Moreover, God's People were cleansed and rededicated—for a time. Zeal for Adonai was returned to Israel. 

Another miracle story emanating from the rededication of the Temple is the story of the oil. When the Temple menorah was restored, which is to burn continually before the LORD (Leviticus 24:2), only one day's worth of oil was found, yet it burned for eight days continuously as new sanctified oil was prepared. Thus, Hanukkah is known by two names: the Feast of Dedication and the Festival of Lights.

The overarching themes that infuse this joyous holiday are timeless and profound:
  • DEDICATION & LIGHT Adonai no longer dwells in a Temple of Jerusalem stone, but in temples of living stone. You and I carry His Name before a world populated by Antiochus Epiphanes challenging, coercing, enticing, and sometimes demanding that we compromise His inconvenient Truth or our values, in order to be accepted or avoid loss. Even among "believers," we often face such moral dilemmas. Hanukkah rips away the mask of appeasement. One cannot appease evil or compromise God's Word. Hanukkah bids us to trust valiantly in our God and His holiness. "God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5).
Yeshua, the Light of the World, was in the restored Temple in the Jerusalem, at the Feast of Dedication. Would this event have been important to Him? It was vitally important, as the Kingdom, Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Priesthood had to be restored to Israel to set the stage for His appearing! Yeshua would not have come to Antiochus' defiled ruins and a desolate, uninhabited Israel. This was not the redemption plan. Therefore, although the Maccabees historical documents are not considered canonical text, the events that unfolded were certainly prophetic in nature and under the Hand of the Almighty as He continues His infinite engagement in the work of creation ... to complete it to His glory, when all mankind will recognize their loving Father, Creator, Holy Spirit, Son of David, Son of God, when He is One.

Songs, Prayers & Food Tell the Story with Joy
Deuteronomy 6:4-7 says we are to teach our children to love the LORD. This in part is the purpose of the yearly cycle of observances and the traditional ways in which we celebrate, to tell HIS-story from generation to generation. Each Hanukkah, Jewish families tell the story of the brave Maccabees who refused to turn their back on God and Torah, of the families that suffered terribly under the godless Antiochus Epiphanes, the enemy of the God of Israel, and of the Jews who did compromise and joined him, turning their back on God. We tell our children of the miraculous faithfulness of God to the faithful few who trusted, and how God has preserved the Jewish People against all odds throughout millennia. The story of the miracle of the oil is told and objects are used that help the children remember. 

An eight-branched menorah, called a hanukkiah is lit to commemorate the eight days the Temple menorah (a seven-branched lampstand) burned. And foods fried in oil are served: Potato pancakes, called latkes (laht' kez) and jelly doughnuts, called sufganyot (soof' gahn yote). In the ancient world, and in poorer lands, oil is a precious commodity. Thus it is extravagant to prepare such fried foods. The luxurious usage of oil is declaring trust in Adonai for provision, sustenance, and survival. Again, it is a visual lesson of a spiritual truth to be remembered and passed on, generation to generation, not to be lost in this eight day joy-filled holiday of bright decorations, songs and festivities. 

This Hanukkah celebration was taking place as Yeshua spoke and said that it was His works that really tell who He is. In 10:25 Jesus goes on to say, “...the works that I do in  my Father’s name, these bear witness of me.” How intriguing to think that it was works that defeated the Syrians against great odds, that it was works that restored the Temple and re-instituted the sacrifices, and that it was possibly a miraculous work that kept the Menorah lit for eight days. ...And it is works that identify each of us as being a part of God’s family.

Works do tell who we are, don’t they? Each year around the world and for eight days the candles of the hanukkiah are lit in remembrance of this story and in celebration of what doing the work of God once brought. As we reflect on that story why don’t we think on what works we might do for our God, that His light may bring hope through us to a dark world. "For we are His workmanship—created in Messiah Yeshua for good deeds, which God prepared beforehand so we might walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10

חג חנוכה שמח

Chag Chanukah Sameach! Wishing you a Joyous Hanukkah Festival!

With Love,
Michael and Sarah Lynn
  *Tree of Life Bible New Covenant
CALENDAR: Chanukah 2012 Kislev 25-Tevet 2
HANUKKAH BEGINS at SUNDOWN SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8 (1st candle is lit) and is CELEBRATED through SUNDOWN SUNDAY, DECEMBER 16 (light all 8 candles)