I am sure that many of you have heard of the holiday called ‘Hanukkah.’ What is this Jewish celebration and more importantly, does it hold any significance for us as Christians?
Hanukkah (sometimes spelled Chanukah) is a part of Jewish history which occurred about 150 years before the birth of Christ. Though the details of Hanukkah are not found in our Bible, they are contained in a group of writings known as the Apocrypha. For centuries the books of the Apocrypha were included in many copies of scripture; however, in the late 1800’s the decision was made to remove them because they are not considered to be a part of God’s inspired Word. Some books of the Apocrypha are fanciful and of no use; yet others, such as 1st and 2nd Maccabees, provide us valuable historical information. One such piece of important history are the events that brought about Hanukkah.
Hanukkah is normally celebrated for eight-days, beginning on December 24 and lasting through January 1. We should note that the celebration of Hanukkah does not correlate with the celebration of Christ’s birth.
Why does this holiday last for eight days? It’s all because of a miracle the Jews believe occurred in the Jewish Temple. The word Hanukkah means ‘consecration’ and refers to a time when the Jewish temple was cleansed and rededicated. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First we need to understand the events that brought about the need for this rededication. Consider what we read from the book of Daniel.
Daniel 8:5 While I was watching, suddenly a male goat appeared from the west, crossing the land so swiftly that he didn’t even touch the ground. This goat, which had one very large horn between its eyes, 6 headed toward the two-horned ram that I had seen standing beside the river, rushing at him in a rage. 7 The goat charged furiously at the ram and struck him, breaking off both his horns. Now the ram was helpless, and the goat knocked him down and trampled him. No one could rescue the ram from the goat’s power.
Much of the prophecies found in the book of Daniel involve various world empires that God has brought into being and whom He has used for His purpose and glory. One such great empire was the kingdom of the Greeks led by a man known as Alexander the Great. He is the goat referred to in the passage we have just read. It is said that by the time Alexander was age thirty, he had already conquered the known world. But then we read this about this powerful ruler –
Daniel 8:8 The goat became very powerful. But at the height of his power, his large horn was broken off…
Alexander died of malaria at the age of 33. After his death, his kingdom was divided up among his four generals.
Daniel 8:8 …In the large horn’s place grew four prominent horns pointing in the four directions of the earth. 9 Then from one of the prominent horns came a small horn whose power grew very great. It extended toward the south and the east and toward the glorious land of Israel. 10 Its power reached to the heavens, where it attacked the heavenly army, throwing some of the heavenly beings and some of the stars to the ground and trampling them. 11 It even challenged the Commander of heaven’s army by canceling the daily sacrifices offered to him and by destroying his Temple. 12 The army of heaven was restrained from responding to this rebellion. So the daily sacrifice was halted, and truth was overthrown. The horn succeeded in everything it did.
Shortly after the generals divided the kingdom, they began to war against each other. Caught in the midst of this conflict was the land of Israel. Israel eventually fell under the rule of a man known as Antiochus III.
It Antiochus’ intention to make his empire completely Grecian and so he did all he could to remove all Jewish influence and culture from the land of Israel. Many Jews who did not love God embraced his godless philosophies which only made matters worse for Jews who did. After his death, his son Antiochus Epiphanes took over the kingdom and became even more determined to succeed in this restructuring of Israel. In today’s passage we see that a part of his policies involved the ‘cancelling of the daily sacrifices in the Jewish Temple.’ (see Daniel 8:11)
We will stop here for today and return to our history lesson again tomorrow. I am sure that some of you by this time are wondering, “Why in the world are we studying something like this?”
We must keep in mind that when Daniel first wrote these prophecies, men such as Alexander the Great and Antiochus Epiphanes had not yet been born. At the time of Daniel, their empires were still hundreds of years in the future. How then did Daniel know of these men? He knew because the God who controls history revealed these details to him.
The Bible says of God –
“For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’” (Isaiah 46:9-10)
Join me again tomorrow as we go a little deeper into the story of Hanukkah.