The reference to Hanukkah – or the Feast of Dedication – in John 10:22 is one of the oldest references in to it, and the only one found in the Bible. In brief, Hanukkah remembers the defeat of Antiochus Epiphanies by a ragtag army of priests and pious Jews under the leadership of Mattitayhu (Mattathias) Maccabee, and after his death, his son Judah Maccabee.
Antiochus IV Epiphanies outlawed Jewish life, tradition, and the Torah. In 186 BCE he desecrated the Temple after he found no image of a god set in the Holy of Holies, erecting a statue of Zeus with his own face carved into the statue, and sacrificed a pig upon the Altar of God. Yet, even against insurmountable odds, the Jewish people rose up, and ultimately defeated the most powerful army on earth at the time.
Mattatyahu (Mattathias) Maccabee believed with the same faith of Abraham. He acted in faith when he could not look to the Temple, as it was desecrated. His faith would inspire his sons, particularly Judah, as he would help lead this revolt for three years. Where did they find their strength? They knew that the Lord was with them, as He had promised to never leave them nor forsake them (Deut. 31:6). The war was won, except for the battle.
The “Maccabees” acted upon the hope that the Temple would be rededicated, and against all human odds, when the Jewish people regained control of the Temple, it was once again dedicated to His service. As you might imagine, the Temple was a mess, not only spiritually, but physically. In order to rededicate the Temple they needed holy oil, but it had been destroyed. Or had it? They looked, and they found. I wonder, why did they look for sealed holy oil beneath the debris of the broken containers? Can you imagine the mess left behind by this army of desecration? I would not imagine that they carefully broke the sealed containers of holy oil.
Their search shows the hope they were acting in, as I’ve oft said: hope takes hold, and faith holds on. They took hold of the hope that set the Temple back in their hands, and in that hope the Lord provided a miracle: eight days and nights of light. The oil burned but was not consumed until that final day, when the new oil was prepared, and the miracle faded.
Hanukkah comes from the verb root חָנַך, meaning “to initiate, to discipline, dedicate and train up.” Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up (dedicate) a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he turns not away from it.” This definition of חָנַך, is secondary to the primary meaning of חָנַך, meaning “to narrow.” From the time a child is born until their adulthood, we as parents are to raise them, train them, discipline them in order to prepare them for the years ahead; metaphorically, we are narrowing them, removing what is unnecessary, and refining what is necessary.
This is the same process we undergo as disciples of Messiah. He narrows us, along the narrow way, as we read, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow is the gate and difficult the way that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:13-14).
There are two traditions regarding the kindling of the Hanukkiah. One of the house of Hillel, still followed today, the other from the house of Shammai. Hillel said that for each night of the miracle, we should increase light in the world. Shammai said that for each night of the miracle, we should decrease light. The kindling of the Hanukkiah is a visible, public event: light going out. Hillel believed that the light shown in the public square should increase. Shammai, concerned with a disappearance of the Jewish people, believed the light should retract into one, representing the relationship between the Lord and the Jewish people. In a sense, both are right. The light of heaven should increase, but the unique relationship between the Lord and His people should remain intact. What is the answer?
The Festival of Hanukkah is the beautiful history of the victory of light over darkness. Hanukkah has deep roots in the Torah, the idea of spiritual dedication to the Lord, and the kindling of the lights of the Menorah in the Tabernacle. Yet, there is a profound, and wondrous connection between the celebration of Hanukkah, and light itself. At the beginning of creation, when the world is:
וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם
“And the earth formless and empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep.”
The Lord declares: “let there be light.” This is not an act of creating, but of revelation. From the beginning light overcame darkness, by the spoken Word of God. Hanukkah, the Festival of Light, begins every year on the 25th of Hebrew month of Kislev. To see how the Lord foreshadowed this victory of light over darkness remembered at Hanukkah, one would simply count to the 25th word of the Torah scroll – אוֹר/ohr, light – and see that from the beginning light has always been triumphant.
At Hanukkah we kindle light, fire, and increase light in the world, recognizing the exclusive relationship that we have with the Lord. The author of Hebrews explains in 1:7, “And of the angels indeed He says, ‘Who is making His angels spirits, and His servants a flame of fire.’” λειτουργός/leitourgos, servants here meaning minister, priest, one busy with holy things, servants of the king. The Lord sees you as a flame of fire, light overcoming the darkness in Messiah Yeshua/Jesus, who stands in our midst (Rev. 1:12-13), as we minister to those who are suffering as in darkness, formless, and feeling empty.
As the Messiah dedicates us, refining and narrowing, His light increases as we decrease; becoming, even a living representation of both rabbinic opinions cited above. We shine in the public spaces, but we must never be overcome by the influence of darkness. We are a flame of fire on the holy Menorah, dedicated to overcoming the darkness, through the fire of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God by His Son. As we are kindled, and rekindled, year after year, the miracle does not fade, it is continually renewed. Amen.
Be well. Shalom. And Hanukkah Sameach!