The Jewish Celebration of Lights
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. John 10:22
There was oil enough for the needs of a single day.
A miracle was wrought and it burned eight days. Talmud B, Shabbat 21b
Hanukkah is a cheerful Jewish holiday celebrated in December. This joyous celebration is held the twenty-fifth of Kislev to the third of Tevet according to the Jewish calendar. As prophesied in the book of Daniel, the Greeks had control of Jerusalem. Antiochus Epiphanes and his disdain for the things of the Lord was at the climax of Jewish suppression. In 165 BC the Jews fought back and gained temporary victory over the Gentile rulers. The brave Jewish leader Judah Maccabee (called the Hammer) led a fierce military campaign to reclaim the temple from the Syrian (Greek) ruler. Upon regaining control of the temple, the priests began to set in order the furnishings and prescribed means of worship. One thing they were required do was to light the large menorah. The temple menorah as described in the Second Book of Moses (Exodus) was seven feet high and made of solid gold. The priests then lit the temple menorah. There was only enough oil to light the menorah for a single day. Tradition explains the oil lasted not just for one day but even for eight days. The temple menorah had seven lamps as commanded in the Law of Moses. The home menorah to celebrate Hanukkah usually has eight lamps or candles. This way there is a distinction from the seven branched one in the temple. Also the eighth light stands for this unique event when the oil lasted beyond the one day. Each candle in the Hanukkah menorah represents one of the eight days the oil lasted in the temple after the Jewish takeover. There usually is a small ninth candle in the Hanukkah menorah. This ninth candle is a servant candle used to light each of the other ones. The lasting oil also represents the Lord's provision and care for his chosen people, the Jews.
Hanukkah means “dedication.” Hanukkah is a feast of dedication and is a time to remember the rededication of the Jerusalem temple. Light is the traditional theme of Hanukkah. Menorah is a Hebrew word for candelabrum. The eight branched candelabrum is called the hannukiyah. It is traditional not to do work when the menorah candles are lit. It is also tradition to place the menorah where the lit candles can be seen from outside the house.
The books of the Maccabees recounting the history of this Jewish activity do not mention the miracle of the oil. Josephus, a Jewish historian, first mentions the Festival of Lights. The Talmud then later also speaks of this rededicating of the Temple. Josephus and the Talmud were written after the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
This Jewish holiday of Hanukkah celebrates the happening that the one small jar of oil lasted the whole eight days; that the Maccabees won a war for religious freedom for the Jews; and that the Jews have survived for thousands of years of oppression in many nations around the world.
In Israel, Hanukkah is a national holiday. Large menorahs are displayed on public buildings and in the synagogues. Modin, a town north of Jerusalem, is the hometown of the Maccabees. A special ceremony is held in Modin to begin the Hanukkah holiday in memory of the Maccabees Torch runners go from Modin to Jerusalem. The prime minister of Israel lights a public menorah with this same torch. The torch runners then proceed to Mount Zion to take part in a memorial service for those who died in the Holocaust.
Five traditions which are part of the Hanukkah celebration in the Jewish home are: celebrate for eight days; light candles in a menorah; eat latkes (sufganiyot or jelly doughnuts – or potato cakes); give small gifts; and play the dreidel game. Children are also involved in these activities. Some sing the classic Hanukkah song, “Ma’oz Tsur,” also know as “Rock of Ages.” The Thirteenth Psalm is read called “A Psalm of David” or “A Song of Dedication of the Temple.”
The feast of dedication is associated with Jesus Christ. He went into the temple at that time (John 10:22-23). Light is the theme of this festival. Jesus identified himself with light. “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12) The temple menorah stands for the light which shows access to God. Jesus Christ is like that menorah, showing and making the way for sinners to have true access to God. The Hanukkah menorah is set in a window or other prominent place for all to see. May we who have trusted Jesus Christ as Saviour make the Lord prominent in our lives and let the light of Christ shine from us.
“I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12:46)
James Utter 11/2018
Read this article on the author's website here.