Today of course is the 6th day of Hanukkah and tonight we will light 7 candles. Hanukkah has several names such as Feast of Dedication, or Festival of Lights. It is a celebration of the miracle of the Temple lights staying lit for 8 days regardless of the fact that they only had oil for one night.
But I need to back up a bit and give you a Cliff’s Notes version of the origins of Hanukkah.
All through our history, Jews have been dogged by the issue of assimilation. In the face of hostility, in ancient times and in the present, we have asked ourselves: should we uphold the faith of our ancestors, even if that means risking life and limb, or should we just conform to the surrounding culture?
The question became particularly pressing during the Hellenistic period (approximately fourth to second centuries B.C.), after Alexander the Great conquered the Western world. The Apocryphal books of First and Second Maccabees recount the battle of assimilation vs. anti-assimilation that raged during this period of Hellenization that swept the Near East.
During the time of the Maccabees, the Israelites were wedged between two of the kingdoms established after Alexander’s death: Ptolemaic Egypt and Selucid Syria. With the ascent of the chauvinistic Selucid Antiochus IV, who called himself “Epiphanes” (lit. “visible god”), the delicate balance of power tipped in the direction of the Syrians and the fragile position of the Jews became even more precarious. A certain Jason bribed Antiochus and obtained the position of High Priest. Jason proceeded to dress Jerusalem in Grecian trappings but did not tamper with Jewish ritual and religion to the extent that more radical Hellenizers did.
Three years after the start of his reign, Antiochus deposed Jason and replaced him with Menelaus, a staunch Hellenist who out-bribed Jason. Jason laid siege to Jerusalem, but Antiochus’ army quashed his forces, later pillaging and slaughtering the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
During the time of darkness that followed, the Selucids slew many Jewish people, all the while defiling and pilfering the Temple in Jerusalem and attempting to scrub out all traces of Jewishness. To show his utter contempt for the Jewish faith, Antiochus sacrificed a sow in the Temple to the Greek god Zeus.
These abuses continued until Mattathias and his son, Judah Maccabee, led a revolt to bring us out of Antiochus’ darkness into light. Through the heroic actions of a band of guerilla fighters, the Maccabees (as Judah and his brothers were called) regained Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple, and restored the practice of Judaism.
Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple after its defilement under Antiochus. 1 Maccabees 4:59 tells us:
“Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev” (NRSV).
Moreover, Hanukkah originally resembled Sukkot, partly because the Maccabees were forced to celebrate Sukkot in the wilderness. 2 Maccabees tells us:
“They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the festival of booths, remembering how not long before, during the festival of booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals” (2 Maccabees 10:6, NRSV).
Hanukkah was thus established to echo Sukkot and to commemorate the triumphs of an ancient band of brave Jews who stood up for their way of life and faith in the one true God in the face of overwhelming odds.
According to later rabbinical tradition (not to be found in 1 and 2 Maccabees):
“When the rule of the Hasmoneans prevailed and they defeated the Hellenes, they searched and finally found a tiny pitcher of oil which bore the seal of the High Priest. In it was enough oil to last no more than one day. And a miracle occurred—it endured for eight days! For this reason a period of eight days was marked off for thanksgiving and praise.
The oil miraculously burned for eight days which was the necessary time to prepare a new supply of sacred oil for the temple menorah.
If we back up a few weeks on the last day of the feast of Tabernacles some water from the Pool of Siloam had been poured out in the vicinity of the altar in the Temple. Yeshua had made His appeal for the spiritually thirsty to come to Him and quench their thirst with living water (John 7:37-39). Then the four golden lamps which had illuminated Jerusalem throughout the feast were extinguished.
Soon after this Yeshua’s voice was heard again, making another bold claim pertinent to this feast.
John 8:12 “I am the light of the world. The one who follows Me will no longer walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
This is the second significant “I am” saying of John’s Gospel, in which Yeshua is both unashamedly identifying Himself with the true and living God, and offering Himself to His people.
Light and living water had been two of the symbols of the feast of Tabernacles. In a clearly Messianic prophecy, light and living water are brought together with the appearance of the Lord on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4; Zechariah 14:6-8). The feast of Tabernacles is imposed even upon the enemies of Israel, and those who will not come to this light, and those who will not drink of this fountain, find themselves excluded from the benefits of the kingdom of God (Zechariah 14:16-19).
When the children of Israel left Egypt, the Lord went before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22). Not only is Yeshua the guiding light of Israel, but also a light to lighten the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6). The Apostle Paul turned to the Gentiles in fulfilment of this universal mission of the gospel (Acts 13:46-47).
Yeshua is offering Himself in a personal way to be our light, and our salvation (Psalm 27:1). When we “follow” Him we no longer walk in darkness, but have the light of life (John 8:12). Like the man born blind, we declare that “whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).
On a practical level, this possession of Yeshua as the light of our life should be reflected in our daily walk. We are now the bearers of light to a dark world. We need to renew our faith day by day by taking upon ourselves the armor of light (Romans 13:12).
The source of our light is found in Yeshua Himself. Any light that we may have is at best a pale reflection of His, much as the planets reflect the glory of the sun. The closer we walk with him, the brighter we shine.
Then at last in the Olam Haba, or end times, we shall be translated to a place where the Lord manifests Himself as an everlasting light, and where we shall behold His glory as never before.
Isaiah 60:19-20 No more will the sun be your light by day, nor the glow of the moon be your light, but Adonai will be your everlasting light, and your God for your glory. (20) No more will your sun set, nor will your moon wane, for Adonai will be your everlasting light, as the days of your mourning end.
It is a place where sorrow and mourning shall flee away. There shall be no sun, no moon, no candle, no artificial light, but we shall reign forever and ever basking in the light of God’s glory.
Revelation 22:5 Night shall be no more, and people will have no need for lamplight or sunlight—for Adonai Elohim will shine on them. And they shall reign forever and ever!
Yeshua pronounced the name of God: “I am.” This fact was not lost on His detractors. He testified of Himself, that He is the light of the world. He summons us out of the darkness of corruption into the light of life.