Wednesday, November 6, 2013

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - December 4, 2007: Chanukah or Hanukkah?

Chanukah or Hanukkah?
Which way do YOU spell it?  And why would I even wonder, not being the least bit Jewish?  

Several years ago, a gentleman at church handed me a paper he had written on the significance to us Christians of the events that occurred around 167 B.C. and which sparked the annual memorial of Hanukkah.  I looked at him with a great deal of skepticism (and a little sadness, for I was sure he was some sort of weird fanatic), but I took the paper home and read it anyway.  Then I googled the topic to death to make sure he had his facts straight.  By the end of the exercise, I was so excited about the miracle performed and its obvious footprints leading up to God's plan for our salvation that I couldn't wait until the next Hanukkah to teach my kids about it!  I'd paste the whole document in here, but I'd have to get his permission, which would mean I'd have to tell him where my blog is, and then I wouldn't be Mrs. Anonymous Queenofthehill anymore.  So, if you'd like to read the thing, just let me know and I'll send it to you in its entirety.  He told me long ago I could share it that way.  Meanwhile, I'll just use excerpts.

So without further ado, from another source, here's the short version of what happened:

Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and nights, starting on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar (which is sometimes in November and sometimes in December on the Gregorian calendar). In Hebrew, the word "Hanukkah" means "dedication."

The holiday commemorates the rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Jews' 165 B.C.E. victory over the Hellenist Syrians. Antiochus, the Greek King of Syria, outlawed Jewish rituals and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods.

In 168 B.C.E. the Jews' holy Temple was seized and dedicated to the worship of Zeus.
Some Jews were afraid of the Greek soldiers and obeyed them, but most were angry and decided to fight back.

The fighting began in Modiin, a village not far from Jerusalem. A Greek officer and soldiers assembled the villagers, asking them to bow to an idol and eat the flesh of a pig, activities forbidden to Jews. The officer asked Mattathias, a Jewish High Priest, to take part in the ceremony. He refused, and another villager stepped forward and offered to do it instead. Mattathias became outraged, took out his sword and killed the man, then killed the officer. His five sons and the other villagers then attacked and killed the soldiers. Mattathias' family went into hiding in the nearby mountains, where many other Jews who wanted to fight the Greeks joined them. They attacked the Greek soldiers whenever possible.

About a year after the rebellion started, Mattathias died. Before his death, he put his brave son Judah Maccabee in charge of the growing army. After three years of fighting, the Jews defeated the Greek army, despite having fewer men and weapons.

Judah Maccabee and his soldiers went to the holy Temple, and were saddened that many things were missing or broken, including the golden menorah. They cleaned and repaired the Temple, and when they were finished, they decided to have a big dedication ceremony. For the celebration, the Maccabees wanted to light the menorah. They looked everywhere for oil, and found a small flask that contained only enough oil to light the menorah for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. This gave them enough time to obtain new oil to keep the menorah lit. Today Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days by lighting candles in a menorah every night, thus commemorating the eight-day miracle.

I had always believed that Hanukkah was a celebration of some long-ago military victory for the Jews and why should I care about that?  But what is actually remembered at Hanukkah is the miracle of the oil which enabled the rededication of the temple [of Jesus]. 

But the gentleman who wrote the paper says it best:

"If there had not been a re-dedication of the Temple before Jesus came, that is after it was desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanies, there would have been no Temple in which Jesus could be dedicated to God (Luke 2:25 -32). There would have been no Temple for Jesus to attend at Passover as a 12 year old boy (Luke 2:41 - 48) where he questioned the teachers of the Law. There would have been no Temple in which Jesus taught and prayed.  Finally there would have been no Temple in which the veil could be torn from top to bottom, declaring access to God for all through our Eternal High Priest.
 I am thankful for the Maccabees and that God gave them success in battles against overwhelming odds. I am thankful God's Temple was there in Jesus' time. And I am glad to be able to remember God's mercy and miraculous intervention to make it so."

It is important to note that it does not have the same status of the Holy Days of Leviticus 23, although it is mentioned in the bible.  Another quote from the paper:

"You may be surprised to learn that when Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd, He was in the Temple area at the season of Hanukkah. He had healed a blind man by making mud and putting it on his eyes, and was called into question about the source of his healing power. Read about it in John Chapters 9 and 10.

So how do I know it was at Hanukkah that this happened? Notice this casual mention, so easy to overlook, which is found in verse 22 of John chapter 10:

And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.

Hanukkah is the feast of dedication spoken of here. It refers to the re-dedication of the Temple which occurred before the birth of Christ in the period many call "the inter-testament period" of time. (That is the time frame between the end of the writings of the Old Testament and the birth of Christ and the writings of the New Testament.) An historical sketch of the reason for the need to re-dedicate the Temple, and the miraculous event reported to have occurred in the process follows this article.

 Some who fear anything which seems too "Jewish" and don't want to admit Jesus observed Hanukkah might tell you John 10:22 is talking about the Feast of Tabernacles. Their claim to authority for such a claim is based upon the fact that Solomon's Temple was dedicated at the Feast of Tabernacles. However, this argument quickly falls apart when we note the qualification the Apostle John gives us "… and it was winter." No serious student of the Bible will argue that Tabernacles ever falls in winter. It is a post-harvest festival sometimes referred to as a feast of "ingathering" and always takes place in autumn, not winter.

It is interesting that Jesus chose this occasion to heal a blind man. Notice what the scriptures have to say about the eye:
MAT 6:22    The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single,
            thy whole body shall be full of light.
Hanukkah is a festival of lights. This because of the miracle of the oil needed to purify the Temple. Jesus chose this time to bring light to a blind man. Coincidence? I don't think so. He also used the symbology of another "Jewish" practice to teach and preach. Notice his use of the "living water" analogy on the Last Great Day of the Feast of Tabernacles which is recorded in John 7:37-38. This on the day when the people engaged in traditional, symbolic water pouring ceremonies as part of their worship of God."

As I said, I was hooked.  As a Christian, I've tended to overlook how the Jewish traditions impacted Jesus' messages to us.  I do observe the biblical Holy Days, but sans the parts that are just "tradition."  I'm a fan of sticking to the bible. 

So what about the symbols of Hanukkah?  They are great teaching and retention tools for children.  The menorah is self-explanatory; you light one additional candle each day (plus the one in the middle which you use to light the others) until all 8 candles are lit on the final evening.  Makes sense, since the oil miraculously lasted 8 days.  And what of those weird little dreidels?  The symbols on each side together add up to "A great miracle happened there."  (If you are in Israel, they instead say  "A great miracle happened HERE.")  They were invented as a toy to teach children the Hebrew language in a time when it was forbidden.  The game is played with candy or coins and you win or lose depending on which symbol is facing up on your turn.  And the latkes you hear so much about?  Their only significance is that they are made from oil -- oil to remind you again of the miracle.  Potatoes didn't exist in Israel in the time of the Maccabees. 

So, how do the King and I celebrate Hanukkah?  Not being Jewish, we don't see any reason to follow the strict tradition of the Jews in doing so.  We read the story of the Maccabees to the kids, usually on the first night (tonight!).  We emphasize that this all made it possible for Christ to be in that Temple to do His great work and note how this was over a hundred years before that and isn't it wonderful how God has worked so many miracles to send us our Savior.  We light the candles at some point near sunset each night (if we're home) for 8 nights because we think it is a great teaching tool to show the kids how long this miracle extended.  It can be hard for them to picture what a big deal 8 days is.  If possible, we join with another Christian family we know for one meal at some arbitrary point within the 8 days and experiment with the interesting traditional foods and let the kids play dreidel together.  We emphasize what "a great miracle happened there."  We do not give gifts to each other or to the children. 

So these days, we view Hanukkah as yet another tool in our arsenal of teaching the kids about God.  Since we have incorporated this memorial into our calendar, we have met several other Christian families or individuals who recognize the time in some way or another.  Have you?

Irrelevant Side note:  I traveled to Israel long ago and noticed the local beer was called "Maccabee," so there's another mystery cleared up!

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