The Background story behind Hanukkah – by Fiona Sorbala
The background to the Hanukkah story is the restoration of both Temple worship and the ability to keep God’s commandments. Around 200 BC the Seleucids, were in power in the Greek Empire. Then in 175 BC Antiochus Epiphanes came to the throne and declared himself divine, although his nickname was the madman! He forbade the Jewish people from speaking Hebrew language and Temple worship; even going as far as slaughtering a pig in the Temple!
A few years when I was exploring the message of Hanukkah and its connection to the vision of the Golden Lampstand that Zechariah saw; I was overjoyed to discover that the Rabbis saw a prophetic and messianic link to Hanukkah. Jewish tradition infuses all of the festivals and so we often find that they speak prophetically to our faith in the Messiah.
There was a priestly family known the Maccabees who rose up as an opposition force because the loss of the Temple. The loss of the Sanctuary of God in their midst was to their mind unbearable. They understood the lesson taught by God to Zerubbabel when the Lord spoke to him.
In Zechariah Chpt 4, a passage that is read every year during Hanukkah. In it we read about the vision of the Golden Menorah; there were 2 trees, one on each side of it and each had its own supply of oil. The main purpose of the vision was to teach Zerubbabel what he will need in order to be able to accomplish the task set by God; that of rebuilding the Temple after the return from the Babylonian exile.
Zech 4:6 Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.
Here we find a deep connection between the Maccabees in their revolt against the Greeks and the lesson that Zerubbabel must learn from the vision of the Golden lampstand. Listen to what Judas Maccabee said in the Apocrypha (intertestamental book), in 1 Maccabees, which is where most of the information about the Hanukkah is found:
1 Maccabees 3:18-19 …Judas answered, It is no hard matter for many to be shut up in the hands of a few; and with the God of heaven, it is all one, to deliver with a great multitude, or a small company: For the victory of battle stands not in the multitude of an host; but strength cometh from heaven.
Just as Judah the Maccabee declares, Zerubbabel needs the help of heaven to be able to do what the Lord is calling him to, the task of rebuilding the Temple. One of the hidden lessons of Hanukkah is that God still makes this strength available to his Servants, and that of course include us. There is a strength, that comes from heaven to empower us to do what we are called to by God, tin order to accomplish the tasks that He sets for each one of us.
You see just as Zerubbabel must learn, it’s not by might –our human strength or our resources, money, power and even talent, nor by the power of our will to achieve that success comes. It is only by God’s power, which as Juda the Maccabee declared; is the strength that flows from heaven and that comes from God to us.
The rabbis also say that the vision teaches us not to rely on flesh and blood, in other words not to rely on our own physical strength or our own wisdom, but on the power of God. They remind us of what happened to Goliath when he came in the power of his height and his strength and his past victories and yet he fell by the and all with him when David stood with a small slingshot and took aim and in the power of God, he felled that giant. He understood what the Lord needed to teach Jehoshaphat and what He must teach all of us is
2 Chron 20:15 and he said: “Listen all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat. Thus, Adonai says to you, ‘Do not be afraid or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.
This is what Judas understood when the Maccabees went to war against Antiochus Epiphanes, namely that they went in the power of God. An army of priests and peasants defeated a wicked and powerful king who had sought to destroy the people of God by destroying the faith of the people and forbidding the practice of Judaism, setting himself up as a god and defiling the Temple with pagan sacrifices to God and doing the unthinkable – pig’s blood in the sanctuary.
The moral of the story is this: God is showing us a picture of what can be achieved when we step forward not in our own strength and wisdom but in the Lord’s and then we too like the Maccabees will see victories and perhaps even miracles.
The Lord wants us to be connected to a different source of power – a power that comes from a source that is His resource to share with us. Like Zerubbabel, we must learn that the power to build the power to accomplish our tasks come from God and that the necessary resource for God’s work is the Holy Spirit and God promises Zerubbabel a rich resource in the Spirit of God to accomplish His work. When we trust in our own resources – whether they be small or great in the eyes of man – then we don’t enjoy the full supply of the Spirit.
The rabbis also teach that this vision is prophetic and speaks to the coming of a Messiah who will rule in the power of the Spirit and that what He will achieve will not only infuse the entire world but define it.
Then there is the role in society! According to Jewish tradition, we are to take the lit Hanukiah and place it in a window to declare the Hanukah miracle to all who would see it. Interestingly the rabbis talk about how we have role as priests to kindle the light of God in others to ignite the flame of the person’s “lamp” so that he or she can then ignite and inspire others.”
1 Pet 2:5 You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Sounds to me like a model for evangelism and discipleship and sounds as we sing from the same hymn sheet or rather reading the same Book!
Each night as we light the candles to remind ourselves of the miracle of the oil. As many of you know when the Maccabees had retaken the Temple and set it to rights, they went to light the 7 branched Menorah in the Holy Place they could only find enough oil to last a day, but it lasted for the 8 days it took to rush up to the Galilee and press the oil and return to Jerusalem.
And each night we light the candles to represent each of the 8 days. So why do we have a 9 branched Hanukkah Menorah? The 9th Candle called the Shamash which means servant. Very prophetic pointing forward to Yeshua; the Servant of Isaiah and the Light of the World who sheds His light in us. Both John and Paul speak this truth.
John 1:9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
And Paul in 2Cor 4:6 said:
2 Cor 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
And each night as the candles are lit the Jewish people are also reminded of their role in the world, and of their eternal calling as the people of God to be a light to the nations. And isn’t that a calling that we have too. Yeshua declared in:
Matt 5:14 “You are the light of the world.
In ancient times the Rabbis believed that the Menorah was a reminder of the pillar of fire that gave them light during their 40-year wandering in the Wilderness and that Jerusalem was the “light of the world.” The very title that Yeshua used to describe his own ministry being the One who came as the Light of the World
John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.
And he came to lead out of our spiritual Egypt and bring us to the Promised Land of the Kingdom of God. And He has filled us with that light so that we can share his light with others.
How did the rabbis know that as they teach that the call of the Jewish person is to ignite the lamp in others, that Yeshua would come and tell the whole world, that this is the calling of all who will follow Him? I love the fact that there are times when the teaching of the Rabbis aligns perfectly with the teaching of Yeshua (Jesus) and I am convinced that the Lord has helped them by His Spirit to see these things so that it will all make sense one day when they too recognise Him as their Messiah.
So, this year as I light my Hanukkiah I am reminding myself and reminding you that we are to be light and that we are to be bearers of His light; because Yeshua the Light of the world has come and that the power to live for God comes from God through the Holy Spirit who will provide for us help from Heaven. And one day we will see Yeshua face to face, and He will be Heaven’s Menorah
Rev 21:22-23 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
Yeshua is the lamp of heaven a living Menorah who lights up our lives and our challenge is to bring His light wherever we go and to all those whom we encounter: this is our calling!