Why Disciples of Yeshua (Christians) Should Celebrate Hanukkah!

Hanukkah/ Feast of Dedication

by Christine Egbert

Did you know that although Hanukkah is not mentioned in the first five books of Torah, or even the so-called Old Testament (because the events which brought it about had not yet occurred), that it is mentioned in the gospel of John? You probably never recognized it though, for the translators translated Hanukkah. It means dedication.

John 10:22 “And the Feast of Dedication took place in Jerusalem, and it was winter.”

So what is this Feast of Dedication? And why does Israel celebrate it? 

It all started with Alexander the Great, who conquered Syria, Egypt, and Palestine. Under Alexander’s relatively benevolent rule Jews were allowed to practice their religion and to retain some autonomy after their return from captivity in Babylon. During this time many Jews assimilated. Many adopted the Greek language and a Hellenistic culture, while others did not.

After Alexander’s death, his generals divided up the empire, and in 175 BCE, Antiochus Epiphanies IV took the throne. Antiochus was a type and shadow of the antichrist, who Scripture says will seek to change YHVH’s TIMES and LAWs. Antiochus outlawed circumcision, the Sabbath, and the study of the Torah. He imposed horrific torture on all who dared to disobey.

Under Antiochus’ reign of terror, soldiers publicly executed circumcised babies along with their mothers, and compelled Jews to worship Zeus and eat pork. Today’s Jewish prohibition against speaking YHWH’s name first began as an Antiochus’ anti-Torah decree to Hellenize the Jews (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashannah 18b).

The Maccabees

Well, old Mattitias Maccabee–known as the Hammer–got mad as Heaven. He wasn’t going to take it anymore. So he and his five sons raised up a small resistance army to fight the Syrians. After Mattitias died, his son Judah Maccabee, a type and shadow of the Messiah, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, became the leader. After a mere three years, these Jewish resistance fighters, made up of a few thousand guerrillas, defeated 20,000 Syrians on the hills of Jerusalem as recounted in the Book of the Maccabees, volumes I & II. And in Antiochus’ final act of defiance, he ordered his men to sacrifice a pig and smear its blood on the altar. Now Israel had to cleanse the temple and rededicate the altar to YHVH.

Sukkot In Kislev

Ever heard the expression Christmas in July? Well, for the Maccabees the Feast of the rededication of the temple (Hanukkah) became a type of Sukkot in Kislev. In the Second Book of the Maccabees, the Jews called the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) the festival of Sukkot in Kislev”, which on the Gregorian calendar is the month of December. Since these Jewish guerrillas were fighting in caves on Tishrei 164 BCE and unable to keep the biblically mandated eight-day Feast of Sukkot, they postponed it until they could. So after purifying the temple and altar, they celebrated it’s rededication to YHVH on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, their Sukkot in Kislev. For eight days, they offered hymns of praise and waved palm branches, recalling that only a few months earlier (during Sukkot), they were hiding in caves. Now YHVH had given them victory. Now His temple was purified. (II Maccabees 10:6-7).

Feast of LIGHTS

But there is still another connection between Sukkot and Hanukkah. Sukkot commemorates not only the wandering of the Jews in the desert and their dwelling in huts, but also Solomon’s dedication of the First Temple. For King Solomon gathered all of Israel together in the seventh month of Eitanim (Tishrei) on Sukkot to dedicate that very first temple. (I Kings 8:2, 12) This, as well as the miracle of one day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, accounts for Hanukkah’s length. Known also as the Feast of Lights, Hanukkah’s candle lighting is reminiscent of a ceremony from Sukkot: Simchat Beit HaShoavaThe water drawing ceremony, with its all-night dancing in the Temple, called for immense lamps to light the temple’s courtyard.

Many believe the oil lasting eight days might be a myth because it was not mentioned in the Books of the Maccabees. However, the Babylonian Talmud Shabbath 21b says this:

What is [the reason of] Hanukkah? For our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislew [commence] the days of Hanukkah, which are eight on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient for one day’s lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit [the lamp] therewith for eight days. The following year these [days] were appointed a Festival with [the recital of] Hallel and thanksgiving.

Still, another source in my research attributes the story of the miracle-oil to a legend originating with the Pharisees. The detractors claim the Pharisees resented the Maccabees because Mattathias’ son Simon, after becoming High Priest, gave himself the title of nasi: a prince. The Pharisees saw this (and rightly so) as an outrage because a King had to come from the lineage of David per scripture. So seeking to diminish the Maccabees role in the story of Hanukkah, they invented the miracle of the oil.

Decide this one for yourself, because I don’t know which account is true. But I do know this. YHVH is able, if He wanted to, to cause a one-day cruse of oil to last for eternity. So why not 8 days?

MESSIANIC SIGNIFICANCE: Hanukkah like Purim, another Jewish holiday that the TORAH does not command we observe, bears much Messianic significance. Esther and Mordecai thwarted Haman’s plans to eradicate the Jews, preserving the lineage through which Messiah would come. Likewise, had the Maccabees not defeated the Greeks, the Gospel story could not have unfolded as it did. Both victories were a timely part of God’s plan.

Traditions For Celebrating Hanukkah

The Hanukkiah, a nine-branch Menorah, is to be lit nightly. The shamesh is the servant light, the longest one in the middle of four smaller on each side. We, as Messianics, recognize the servant candle as representing Yeshua. Starting on the far right, after lighting the servant candle, a candle is added each night for a total of eight nightsThen each succeeding evening an additional candle is placed to the left of the previous night’s candle. On Friday, the Hanukkah lights should be kindled before the Shabbat candles. And on Saturday, one should wait until Shabbat ends to light the Hanukkiah. Tradition says the hanukkiah should be placed in a window to publicly proclaim the miracle of the lights.

Two Brachot (blessings) are traditionally said before lighting the candles. Then, on the last night of Hanukkah, a third blessing is added. After kindling the first candle, and while the others are being lit on following nights, a prayer is recited, declaring the miracles YHVH performed “in those days at this season” through the brave priestly family of the Maccabees. It concludes the lights are holy and are not to be used as a light source; only to be seen as an expression of gratitude and praise to YHVH. Jews, of course, say HaShem, which means THE NAME, since they still, since the days of Antiochus, wrongly abstain from uttering God’s name.

MAOZ TZUR is the universal song of Hanukkah or Chanukah. It tells of centuries of oppression in Egypt, Babylon, at the hand of Haman, and the Syrian-Greeks, and for centuries following the destruction of the second Temple. This song of hope fills Jews with the courage to face the future and the desire to see the coming of Moshiach–Messiah. “May it happen speedily in our days, Amen.”

During the eight days of Hanukkah the entire Hallel (David’s Psalms of praise) are recited daily during the Shacharit (morning) prayers. And to honor women, whom the Syrian-Greeks systematically abused, women are to do no work during the first hour of the candle lighting. The tradition also honors Judith, who decapitated the Syrian-Greek general, Halifornus, then hung his head out the window, demoralizing the Syrian-Greek army and hastening the Jewish victory.

The Dreidel

Since Torah study was a crime punishable by death during the terror filled reign of Antiochus, Jews pretended to be playing with a DREIDEL as their cover. This four-sided spinning top, called in Hebrew a s’vivon” bore the Hebrew letters Nun, Gimel, Hay, and Pay. “Nes Gadol Hayah Po, means a great miracle happened here. Outside of Israel, in the diaspora, the dreidel bore the letters Nun, Gimel Hay, and Shin: “Nes Gadol Hayah Shom”, a great miracle happened there.

Traditional food for Hanukkah is sweet, fried and loaded with cheese.

Loukoumades are deep-fried puffs dipped in honey or sugar to represent the cakes the Maccabees ate, along with Soofganiyot (also Sufganiyot) and zelebi. Pancakes, another traditional dish, are served as a reminder of the food hurriedly prepared for the Maccabees as they went into battle. The oil they are fried in reminds us of the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days when there was enough to last only one. Latkes, tradition says, are symbolic of the cheesecakes served by the widow Judith mentioned above. Today potato and vegetable latkes are the most common.

Traditional Hanukkah Songs

MI Y’malel is one of my two favorites. It’s English lyrics are:

Who can retell the things that befell us,
Who can count them?
In every age, a hero or sage
Came to our aid.

Hark!
This time of year in days of Yore
Maccabees the Temple did restore
And tonight our people as we dream
Will arise, unite, and be redeemed.

Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages) is my second favorite Hanukkah song. It’s English lyrics are:

Rock of Ages let our song,
Praise thy saving power;
Thou amidst the raging foes,
Waste our sheltering tower.

Furious they assailed us,
But Thine arm availed us,
And Thy word broke their sword,
When our own strength failed us.
And Thy word broke their sword,
When our own strength failed us..

In closing, allow me to impart some final thoughts. Remember that traditions are not evil of themselves. They can enrich our lives, so long as our traditions do not conflict with what the TORAH teaches. And if you decide to celebrate Hanukkah, don’t do what many secular Jews started doing about forty years ago, and turn it into a Jewish form of Christmas. The so called Hanukkah bush (an artificial white Christmas tree decorated in blue) is just as Pagan as a green Christmas tree decked with silver and gold.

Hanukkah commemorates rededication of YHVH’s temple. For now we are His only Temple. And as such, we are blessed to house in our very bodies His Ruach ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit). So as we prepare to celebrate the Rededication of the second Temple, if you are still worshiping YHVH the way Pagans worshiped their sun-gods, STOP! Repent! Rededicate your temple!

May the flame of Yeshua blaze brightly in you this and every Hanukkah!

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