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Every year leading up to the end of December, for really about as long as I can remember, the debate begins about whether or not Christians should celebrate Christmas. Staunch defenders of the holiday argue that it is “the celebration of the birth of Christ”, even though it is pretty much proven that it is not, while others point out that the origins of the celebration are blatantly taken from pagan religions and how the Bible says we are not to participate in such things. While this battle is likely to rage on for many years to come, another factor has come into play in more recent years: Hanukkah.
Yes, that “weird Jewish alternative to Christmas” is becoming as much of a Christian celebration as it is a Jewish one. As the Spirit of God is moving in a global movement being hailed with such names as “The Torah Movement”, “The Hebrew Roots Movement”, “The Jewish Roots Movement”, or “The Messianic Movement” where, among other things, Christians worldwide are celebrating the Feasts of Yahweh listed in the Bible—many even abandoning completely the celebration of Christmas and Easter—Christians have taken a strong interest in Hanukkah. Perhaps for some it is merely a way to continue in a winter holiday tradition that is much more Biblical, but it seems that many simply want to live pleasing to the Father and have come to realize that to do so we must do Bible things in Bible ways. Therefore, we should do those things we see Messiah doing in Scripture and not doing those things we know He would not do if He were walking among us today. Whatever the reasons, Hanukkah, which is also called “The Feast of Dedication” and “The Festival of Lights”, is being celebrated by Christians more than ever. Consider what the Bible-based homeschooling organization Heart of Wisdom shared in an article on December 7, 2016 titled Christians are Celebrating Hanukkah:
Many Christians are celebrating Hanukkah this year. WHY?
We study a Hebrew book-written by Hebrews; we serve a Hebrew Lord-who had Hebrew disciples; we desire to follow the first century church-which was first predominately Hebrew; and through Christ, we are grafted into a Hebrew family! It makes sense to study the Hebrew culture. To fully comprehend our Christian faith, we should know about this fascinating heritage. This is a refreshing, new, exciting way to view the Bible!
Much of the Bible is mysterious to most Americans. The perplexing phrases, puzzling actions, the sometimes difficult-to-understand words of Jesus, unconventional holidays, and parables are only understood with an awareness of the Hebrew culture. Celebrating the feasts is not works nor a way to earn a way to heaven. We are obeying Deuteronomy 6 teaching our children God’s ways. Hanukkah is not one of the seven God appointed Feast, it is a Jewish appointed feast to remember a miracle. Jesus observed Hanukkah.
Yes, Christians are celebrating Hanukkah, and not just a few. I was in a store the other day, a high-end department store, and they had a section of Hanukkah decorations and merchandise. One thing I looked at was a marshmallow treat with Hanukkah decorations on it. I turned it over to look at the ingredients and, sure enough, the marshmallow in it contained gelatin. If you are not already aware, gelatin is most commonly made from the skin and bones of pigs. It is sometimes sourced from other animals, including clean animals like fish and cows, but unless it is marked as kosher gelatin it is generally assumed that it is pork gelatin. Obviously, a Torah-observant Jewish family who has spent their entire lives learning the ways of God’s Torah would know better than to eat something with gelatin in it. So, who are they marketing this product to? The only conclusion is that these things are marketed to Christians who, despite starting to follow Torah, have not yet learned to obey the Dietary Laws.
In the same store I saw a decorative item that was light blue with a darker blue Star of David on it and inside the star is a dove with a leafy branch in its mouth, what is often used in Christianity to represent the Ruach HaKodesh (God’s Spirit of Holiness). The item looked more Christian than Jewish and really didn’t look totally like a Hanukkah decoration so much as something Christians would display in support of Israel and the Jewish people. It was quite clear that these were products designed to cater to Christians who are now celebrating Hanukkah, whether or not they have chosen to reject Christmas.
Another thing to consider is what Pastor Rod Parsley of World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio says in his book God’s End Time Calendar: The Prophetic Meaning Behind Celestial Events And Seasons. After a discourse about the seven Major Feasts of God during the spring and fall seasons, he makes the following statement:
The Jewish people today celebrate two other feasts. One is Hanukkah, a celebration of the rededication of the temple by the Maccabees around 165 BC. The other is Purim, a celebration of the events described in the Book of Esther. Both are important…
Yes, you read that correctly, according to Rod Parsley Hanukkah is important.
I have noticed that many major retail stores, like the one mentioned above, are stocking entire sections of Hanukkah materials: gift bags, gift paper, decorations, Hanukkiahs (the eight-branched menorah used during Hanukkah celebrations that I will get into later in this message), dreidels, and some grocers are even stocking Hanukkah-specific food items. Some might write this off as marketing to large Jewish populations, but I did some digging into that and the numbers don’t add up.
Where I live, as it is obviously this area where I have witnessed first-hand the explosion of Hanukkah items in retail stores, the population is estimated around 1, 265,000 people. Of that, it appears the population of Jewish people is between 25,000 and 30,000 people. Many, though certainly not all, of these Jewish people live in a specific part of the area considered to be the “Jewish area”. As such, there are a number of Jewish shops where articles of worship and holiday items can be purchased. Additionally, observant Jews are not all that likely to go into non-Jewish stores to purchase Jewish items as these things might not be kosher or approved by Rabbinic authorities, something very important to observant Orthodox Jews.
So, who are these retailers targeting? Like I stated above, it would seem they are supplying these items for the growing number of Christians who are celebrating this holiday! These two trends—the growing number of Christians celebrating Hanukkah and other Biblical festivals and the explosion of Hanukkah merchandise in retail stores—seem to be growing simultaneously and at the same rate. Christians are returning to the ways of the Bible by the masses. This is a strong indication that we are nearing the end of days, something that the story of Hanukkah has strong prophetic connections to.
The story behind the celebration of Hanukkah is primarily based on events that occurred in what many Christians refer to as the “Intertestamental Period”, which is a gap of time, approximately 400 years, between the last writings in what is called the “Old Testament” and the opening of the Gospel record in what is called the “New Testament”. I want to take a moment here and give a brief overview of these events, but I don’t want to dwell too long on them because there are other things I want to cover and there are numerous resources available to study this period of history.
The records for this story are primarily derived from two Jewish writings that were concluded to not be part of the divinely inspired writings that make up the Bible, this from both Jewish and Christian compilers of the Scriptures, but they still hold valuable historical relevance and offer insights into what was going on with God’s people during this “Intertestamental Period”. These writings are two books: 1 & 2 Maccabees.
During this time there was a Greek rule over the land that traced back to Alexander the Great. While Alexander appears to have allowed people in his kingdom to live out their faith, that changed a few generations later when a man known as Antiochus IV Epiphanes rose to power. He demanded conformity to the Greek culture and persecuted God’s people in terrible ways. Like many today who blindly conform with the anti-biblical ways of the Government and the Church, 2 Maccabees 4:7-17 (CEB) records these words:
After Seleucus died and Antiochus (who was called Epiphanes) received the kingdom, Jason the brother of Onias gained the high priesthood by corruption. He offered the king, in private communication, 20,520 pounds of silver, and an additional 4,560 pounds from another source of revenue. He also promised to pay another 8,550 pounds of silver if he were permitted to set up, under his own authority, a gymnasium and a place for training the young people, and to enroll those living in Jerusalem as citizens of Antioch. When the king had granted this and Jason had taken possession of his office, he immediately made his fellow citizens change to the Greek way of life. He set aside the customs established for the Jews by royal generosity, negotiated through John the father of Eupolemus (the one who had made the official journey to secure friendship and alliance with the Romans). He abolished the lawful government and introduced customs contrary to the law. He eagerly founded a gymnasium right below the elevated fortress and induced the most honorable of the trainees to wear the traditional Greek hat. So the Greek way of life caught on very quickly, and the adoption of foreign customs increased because of Jason—an excessively wicked and ungodly man who was no high priest. Even the priests were no longer devoted to the service of the altar, but they treated the temple with contempt. By neglecting the sacrifices, they hurried to participate in the lawless wrestling spectacles in the arena as soon as the discus-throwing event was announced. They ignored their ancestral honors and sought after Greek status symbols instead. For this reason a dangerous situation engulfed them. Those same people to whom they were devoted and whose way of life they wished to imitate became their enemies and inflicted punishment on them. To be ungodly in the face of the divine laws isn’t a light matter, as the following events would reveal.
If we were to change a few names and dates, this passage may very well describe the way Christians have assimilated into the American culture today. Consider that last verse from this passage, “To be ungodly in the face of divine laws (God’s Torah) isn’t a light matter…” But this did not end well for the Hebrew people under the rule of Antiochus. 2 Maccabees 7:1 (GNT) says, “…a Jewish mother and her seven sons were arrested. The king was having them beaten to force them to eat pork.”
As you may know, particularly if you are already among the many who are seeking to live a life pleasing to God by following His Torah, eating pork and other things specified as “unclean” in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 is stated as being an abomination and detestable in God’s eyes. 1 Maccabees 1:4 (GNT) says, regarding the actions of Antiochus, that:
He ordered them not to offer burnt offerings, grain offerings, or wine offerings in the Temple, and commanded them to treat Sabbaths and festivals as ordinary work days. They were even ordered to defile the Temple and the holy things in it. They were commanded to build pagan altars, temples, and shrines, and to sacrifice pigs and other unclean animals there. They were forbidden to circumcise their sons and were required to make themselves ritually unclean in every way they could, so that they would forget the Law which the Lord had given through Moses and would disobey all its commands. The penalty for disobeying the king’s decree was death.
Eventually, the king would desecrate God’s Temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing a pig on the altar of incense and erecting a statue of Zeus within the Temple. It is also said that the blood of the pig was sprinkled on the stone altar where say the Ark of the Covenant. Whatever details may be right or wrong, clearly there was a defiant assault on God’s Holy Temple, and that’s the most important thing to consider here.
But there was a group of Hebrews who had enough. They fled to the wilderness where they could get close to God. They refused to abandon God’s Torah!
Led by a man named Mattathias, they began to formulate a revolt against the persecution. After Mattathias passed, his son Judah Maccabee took the reigns and led a revolution against Antiochus. This eventually led to the liberation of the Hebrew people and they were able to rededicate the Temple after replacing the altar that had been desecrated. The altar had to be replaced because the pig is an unclean animal and the Torah commands that if an unclean animal comes into contact with a porous stone used for cooking food that stone should be destroyed and replaced. While the altar was not a stone cooking stove, this rule still applies as this is the Most Holy Place in the Temple and certainly it would be unfitting to allow the blood of the pig to remain on the place where the Ark of the Covenant was to sit and the blood of the Passover lamb sprinkled.
The entire story speaks of our liberation in Messiah. Antiochus is viewed by most Bible historians and those who study Eschatology as being a foreshadow of the Antichrist spoken of in the Book of Revelation. Everything about this story and the celebration of rededicating God’s Temple speaks to us of prophetic end-times events, the preserving of God’s people, and the freedom we have through obedience to God’s Torah. Through the lives of the Maccabees and the celebration of Hanukkah we can rejoice in the Torah and commit to live a life dedicated to obeying God’s Commandments. It is a time when we dedicate our lives, our bodies, and our entire being—the Temple of the Ruach HaKodesh (1 Corinthians 6:19)—to complete adherence to the Torah because we love God just that much. Messianic Jewish author and teacher Kevin Geoffrey says in his book The Real Story Of Chanukah: Dedicated To The Death:
Oh, that we as a people—we as the Jewish people; we as the disciples of Messiah—would be so willing to lay down our lives for what we believe!
Are we willing to face arrest and torture; whipping and scourging; scalping and maiming? Are we prepared to have our tongue cut out, our hands and feet lopped off, our skin and hair ripped from our bodies? Could we bear being seared in a boiling caldron, our life billowing out of us in a cloud of smoke, fried away as steam from our mangled bodies? Would we still praise our Maker while being forced to watch our loved ones tormented and made sport of… or every single one of our children butchered before our eyes?
…or can we as disciples of Messiah barely endure a harsh word or a nasty look for the sake of our convictions?
All of these things described by Geoffrey are recorded in the books of the Maccabees as being done to those who refused to defy God’s Torah. American Christianity knows nothing of this as most don’t even get that harsh word or nasty look because of their tolerant and conforming version of Christianity based in humanism and counterfeit grace. Consider what Pastor Art Azurdia of Trinity Church of Portland said in his sermon Describing Authentic Faith: “Authentic faith is not merely believing in God. It is believing God.”
Being a Believer is not believing in the existence of God. James 2:19 tells us that even demons believe in the existence God, and as such they tremble in fear of Him. I’ll tell you, there are a lot of “demons” in Churches too. They believe in God. They sing in the choir about God. They greet people at the door and usher them to their seat. They even have the audacity to pray with people at the conclusion of the worship service. But do these people actually BELIEVE GOD? The evidence is seen in whether or not they live in obedience to the Torah of God. Because to BELIEVE GOD is to believe His Word, and to believe His Word results in obeying His Word. Those who do not obey the Bible do so because they don’t believe it. 1 John 2:4 (TLV) says, “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” I have even heard people say of specific commandments, like the food laws or keeping the Sabbath or celebrating the Feasts, such things that would be unbelievable if I hadn’t heard it with my own ears, like: “Well, I don’t believe that part of the Bible.”
Yes, people have actually said this to me. Such people, by the very definition of the word, are UNBELIEVERS. After all, the very definition of the word “unbeliever” is “someone who does not believe something”. So, if you don’t believe the part of the Bible where God tells you what to eat or not eat, you are an unbeliever by biblical definition. If you don’t believe in keeping the Sabbath, you are an unbeliever by biblical definition. If you don’t believe in celebrating the Holy Feasts, you are an unbeliever by biblical definition. If you believe it’s alright to celebrate pagan holidays in spite of the Bible specifically telling us not to embrace pagan ways or to use pagan ways in our worship of Yahweh, then you are an unbeliever by biblical definition. Let us be like the Maccabees who were willing to die at the hands of an evil king rather than break the Torah of our God.
Eight Nights Of Light
One of the alternate names for Hanukkah is The Festival of Lights. This primarily comes from a Rabbinic legend stating that a great miracle took place during the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees.
It is believed that a primary and more accurate reason why Hanukkah is an eight-night-long celebration is because the Maccabees, in their zeal, did not want to wait any longer to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, which they were unable to celebrate during the rule of Antiochus. As the rededication of the Temple took place on the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, roughly mid to late December on the modern calendar, it had only been a few of months since the Feast of Tabernacles should have taken place. As such, it is generally believed that Hanukkah began as a late celebration of Sukkot but continued as its own celebration.
A later story came about that when the Maccabees were restoring the Temple they were only able to find a single bottle of oil for the Menorah still sealed by the High Priest, enough to last only one day. It would take eight days to prepare more oil fit for Temple use, but it is said that they used the one bottle of oil they found and it remained lit for the full eight days until they were able to obtain more.
Many are quick to write this off as a Jewish fable, and certainly the facts available seem to indicate that this story was fabricated. Some believe it was made up to justify the celebration as it is against Jewish law to have a holiday that commemorates a military victory. But I’m not so sure we should discount this story completely. Maybe it came from some legitimate sources yet to be discovered, or maybe it was just passed down orally for a while. But Christianity and Judaism are built on a peculiar word: FAITH. This is especially true of Pentecostal Christianity, where faith is a major force, which is manifested in the miraculous. Dr. William A. Ward, a prominent Pentecostal minister in his day who graduated from the prestigious Wheaton College and held numerous degrees including a Ph.D., provides the following account in his book Miracles That I Have Seen:
When my oldest son was only seven years old, he and I left Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the car, headed for Charlotte, North Carolina, to conduct a revival in Garr Auditorium there. We were driving all night, and at two o’clock in the morning we ran out of gas when we were nearing the top of a mountain in western North Carolina. I had been wanting to buy gas for a long time, but we were driving through the mountains, and no gas station was open.
Out of gas, the power steering would not work properly, the power brakes would not function correctly, and we began to go back down the mountain. I could not see behind me, and the road was full of curves. I knew unless God helped us, we would be killed. I prayed, “Dear Lord, I must be the dumbest boy that You have in Your family, but I am still your boy. So I command in the Name of Jesus that this car run, gas or no gas, and take us to the next gas station safely.” I put my foot on the starter and the motor came on, purring like a kitten. We went up that mountain and drove about thirty miles up and down mountains, until we finally came to a gas station that was open.
I pulled into the service station and asked the attendant, “Do you mind putting a stick in my gas tank and telling me what you see?”
He put a stick in the tank. I heard it hit the bottom. It came up bone dry.
The attendant said, “You could not have gone another foot.”
I replied, “If your gas station was twenty or thirty miles up the road, and it was the only one open, I would have been able to run until I reached it, because I was running on the power of God, not motor fuel.” I then witnessed to him how I had come about thirty miles on empty.
Christians are kind of funny at times. They will believe a story like this because it’s from a known Pentecostal minister, but when it comes to a miracle from Bible times, if it’s not in the Bible it must be legend or some Jewish fable. It doesn’t matter that the Maccabees were God’s people and it doesn’t matter that had the events that led to Hanukkah never happened then the Jewish people likely would have been wiped from the face of the Earth, meaning the lineage needed to birth Messiah would have been cut off. Take a look at this excerpt from the article Here’s Why Christians Should Celebrate Hanukkah, which Charisma News published, by Susan Michael, U.S. Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, that says:
A common understanding of the December holiday season is that Christmas is the holiday for Christians and Hanukkah is the holiday for Jews.
Few Christians relate to Hanukkah since it is not one of the biblical feasts of Israel. But, the fact that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah should make Christians curious enough to investigate the possible importance of the festival to their faith.
It is no exaggeration to say that had it not been for Hanukkah, there could have very well not been a Christmas. Hanukkah prepared the way for the birth and ministry of Jesus. Therefore, Christians may want to not only wish the Jewish community a Happy Hanukkah, but also celebrate it themselves!
“If it’s not in the Bible, it must not be true… unless a known modern preacher said it, then we can say it’s true.” This is the mantra of a backwards religion, the chant of modern Christians who have no faith in their Bible but are gullible enough to place their the faith in some showboating preacher who can pull on people’s emotions. I have sat and watched in amazement for years the emotional responses of Christians to “good preaching” only to watch them go out and live in a way that is completely contradictory to what the Bible says—and often what that preacher they idolize said too. This should not be so!
I’m not saying that we should claim the story of the lights is truth. What I am saying is that we need to determine if we are going to accept things by faith. One thing I notice by some who follow Hebrew Roots Movement teachings is a stern determination to base everything on facts, and if you cannot prove a claim it must be discarded. In some cases this may seem valid, like the apparently false claim that Easter eggs originate from a ceremony where children were sacrificed to Ishtar and then eggs were dipped in the blood of the slain children turning the eggs red. There is no evidence that this particular thing happened, and it may be best to leave that alone since such a radical and sensational teaching with no real support can discredit a teacher of the Bible. Another example is a claim that pretty much every pagan god throughout antiquity was born on December 25th, something that is no more true than the claim that Yeshua our Messiah was born on December 25th. There are actual historical records that plainly tell us that these gods were not born on this date, though there appears to be a connection with “Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun”, but not so much that a god’s birthday was on this date. So whenever people make such a claim it’s best to just move on.
However, in the case of the Hanukkah lights, we do have some ancient documents that present it. They do not trace back to the time when the Maccabees restored the Temple, but they are also not quite modern either. Do we accept them as part of the celebration of Hanukkah? I guess that will have to be a decision each family will have to make. But I do think that with the miracles spoken of by many ministries today, we should not be so quick to discount the claim of a miracle in the actual Temple of Yahweh.
Once I was on my way to Church to do some volunteer work, but I had been delayed. I was still going to be on time, but I did not want to be further delayed. On the road leading to the Church I had to pass through a number of traffic lights, I believe there were at least seven, maybe eight. It is inevitable that on this stretch of road you will be stopped by at least one of them. I prayed a simple prayer as I turned onto that road, commanding all of the lights to be green when I got to them. Sure enough, I went through every light without it turning red and the last light turned yellow just as I was passing through it (so it was still green when I got to it). As many times as I have driven through all of those lights since, to my recollection I have never once done it again without at least one turning red and requiring me to stop. If I can experience that miracle of lights, I can certainly believe in faith that God provided light in His house for eight days with only a one-day supply of oil.
Hanukkah is a celebration of the miraculous. Let’s not be so foolish that we miss the miracle because we don’t see the proof.
Yeshua: The Light Of The World
In a recent message titled WWJB: When Was Jesus Born? I presented a number of theories leading to the likely date of the birth of Yeshua our Messiah being sometime during the Feast of Tabernacles between the years 3 B.C. and 1 B.C. With this in mind, the conception in the womb of the virgin Miriam by the Ruach HaKodesh would have occurred around the time Hanukkah is celebrated. Evangelist and Author Perry Stone makes the following remarks in his book The Prophetic Future Concealed In Israel’s Festivals:
It is possible that December 25, or at least that time of year, may have a connection to the birth of Christ, but perhaps not in the way most people think. It is very likely that, instead of marking His birth, it is possibly the season when Mary was visited by the angel and when she, shortly thereafter, conceived by the Holy Spirit. In other words, her conception may have taken place at or around the time of Hanukkah which begins on 25 Kislev.
Messianic Jewish author Sid Roth provides additional insight into this in his book The Incomplete Church:Unifying God’s Children:
Hanukkah is a story of miracles, sanctification, and salvation. What a fantastic time of year to share Yeshua. It is no accident that the Savior of the world was miraculously conceived during the Festival of Lights.
It’s very apparent that Yeshua was not born on December 25th, the time of the winter solstice and the date when it appears ancient pagan peoples celebrated the “rebirth of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun”, the deified sun. While some dispute the claims regarding the “birth of the sun god” and other claims along these lines, there appeared to be a number of reliable sources that endorse this claim as it is not exactly the same as the claims of various gods being born on this date. This was not the celebration of the birth of a god so much as it was the celebration of the sun being “reborn” in a sense as the days began to get longer again.
It appears that this is all connected to the Saturnalia festival in some ways too, one of the ancient pagan festivals from which Christmas is believed to derive from or is in some ways connected to. Regardless of where the truth ends and the legends begin with all of this, indications are that December 25th is associated with at least some and maybe a lot of paganism and is not connected to the birth of Yeshua at all. Though, as Stone points out, that time period appears to be connected to Miriam’s conception, but during Hanukkah as opposed to Christmas, as Christmas wouldn’t even exist until hundreds of years after Yeshua’s lifetime.
While this again is something we have to decide by faith whether or not we will believe, there is great significance in the notion that He was conceived during Hanukkah. This is, after all, The Feast of Dedication and The Festival of Lights and Yeshua is God’s dedicated atonement Lamb—the best of His flock—sent to be the Light of the world.
Yeshua Celebrated Hanukkah
The only mention of the celebration of Hanukkah in the entire Bible is in John’s Gospel. Let’s take a look:
Then came Hanukkah; it was winter in Jerusalem. Yeshua was walking in the Temple around Solomon’s Colonnade.
~John 10:22-23 (TLV)
This is a peculiar passage and contains the only reference to Hanukkah in the entire Bible. In many translations it uses the phrase “The Feast of Dedication”, so many Christians miss it because they are not familiar with that name for Hanukkah. Let’s take a look at a couple of references that further discuss this. Sid Roth, again from the same book mentioned above, goes on to say:
Yeshua used the Feast of Dedication (see John 10:22) to proclaim Himself as the Good Shepherd (see John 10:1-18). In the Jewish writings, shepherds frequently represented the leaders of Israel, both good and bad. (The Maccabees, for example, would have been considered among the good shepherds.) Yeshua, therefore, announced Himself as the Good Shepherd par excellence.
Also, Perry Stone makes these comments in another of his books, this one titled Breaking The Jewish Code: 12 Secrets That Will Transform Your Life, Family, Health, And Finances:
Some Christians are surprised to discover that Jesus (remember He was Jewish) went to Jerusalem to celebrate Hanukkah.
In Christ’s day, this celebration was called the Feast of Dedication. Since Hanukkah is celebrated on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev, and Kislev falls around the winter months (often in December), Jesus was at Jerusalem during winter. At that time, four large menorahs were placed outside the temple’s outer court. Priests would ascend large ladders and pour fresh oil in the branches to keep the temple compound bright. It was said that a person could stand upon the Mount of Olives and read a scroll at night because of the brightness of the lights.
It was also during this setting that Christ announced He was the “light of the world” and then proceeded to cure a blind man. Just as Hanukkah was a celebration of oil and light, Jesus was the light of the world, using the oil of the Spirit (anointing) to bring light to a blind man (John 9).
Many people have challenged the notion that this passage proves that Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah. After all, there is not actual mention of Him participating in the festivities, but as in so many other cases people miss what’s right in front of them because they are focused on what’s not there.
Yeshua spent a large part of His time rebuking the religious leaders of His day for following man-made laws and elevating their traditions to the same level as the Torah. In some cases the leaders actually esteemed their own laws and traditions as higher than the commandments of Yahweh. The famous Rabbi Maimonides once stated, “If 1,000 prophets, all the caliber of Eliyahu (Elijah) and Elisha, all propose a certain line of reasoning, and 1,001 Sages argue to the contrary, then ‘you will decide according to the majority.’” A good example of Yeshua’s rebukes to these leaders is in Matthew 23, a passage sometimes known as the “seven woes”.
If Yeshua were not accepting of the celebration of Hanukkah, it would seem reasonable that He would have rebuked it and this would be recorded in the Gospel record. After all, it seems equally noteworthy to consider that the Gospel writers who recorded the ministry of Yeshua felt it important in so many other cases to document His rebuke of man-made laws and traditions. We also know that He is recorded in the Gospels as celebrating other Feasts. So the fact that He was in the Temple for Hanukkah and did not rebuke the celebration as a man-made tradition would indicate that He most likely condoned it and participated in it.
If Yeshua were here with us in human flesh the way He was during the early first century, I believe He would celebrate Hanukkah just as it appears He did during His earthly ministry. He may rebuke some of the questionable traditions that have developed, but He would in all likelihood celebrate Hanukkah. On thing I am absolutely convinced of, however, is that He would NOT celebrate Christmas. But that is perhaps a discussion for another time.
Hanukkah is a wonderful celebration that has so much prophetic significance to the life and ministry of our Messiah. There are many traditions that have developed since the inception of this festive time, some good and some maybe not so good. I want to take a little time now and talk about some of these traditions.
Lighting The Hanukkiah
Sometimes referred to as a Hanukkah Menorah, the Hanukkiah is the nine-branched candelabrum that is used to celebrate Hanukkah. As already mentioned, this tradition developed from a story about a miracle with the oil causing the actual seven-branched Menorah in the Temple to burn for eight days on a one-day supply of oil. While there may be other reasons why the celebration lasts for eight days, it seems pretty obvious why the tradition of systematically lighting the Hanukkiah with a new candle added each day exists.
The proper method for lighting the candles on the Hanukkiah is to place the candles right to left, but light them from left to right. So, on the first night you would start with the Shamash—the servant candle, which I will talk about in a moment—and a lone candle on the right side of the candelabrum. The second night you would place two candles, first on the far right and then adding one to its left. But, on this night you would light first the second candle that is placed to the left of the first candle. So you will go night by night until the last night when all slots are filled on your Hanukkiah and you proceed to light them left to right. This process is interesting because it reminds us of Yeshua’s words recorded in Matthew 20:16: “So the last will be first, and the first last.” Generally the candles should be allowed to burn for at least 30 minutes, though most people allow them to burn all the way down each night. A set of Hanukkah candles provides enough candles to have new ones each night.
The candle at the center of the Hanukkiah is called the Shamash, which means “servant”. This candle is lit with an external flame and then used to light the other candles. In other words, the servant receives light from a “divine” source and then provides that light to those it serves. Does this sound significant? It should! Chosen People Ministries says the following in their booklet The Gospel According To Hanukkah:
The candles are lit using the middle candle—known by its special designation as the “servant” candle. This servant candle holds spiritual and theological significance for followers of Jesus the Messiah. Just as the lights of Hanukkah point us to the “Light of the World” – Jesus the Messiah, so the servant candle alludes to His servant-like attitude. Perhaps the most famous and compelling prophecy of the Messiah being a servant is found in Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
Yeshua is the Shamash, receiving His light from His Father and then distributing that light to His people, where the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
Along with the lighting of the Hanukkiah are a series of blessings that are recited before the candles are lit. The first blessing causes a bit of concern with some people because a portion of the traditional blessing states, “…has commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.” We know that God never actually commanded this in His Word, though I suppose technically He did command the lighting of the actual Menorah used in the Tabernacle and later the Temple. As this is a concern, I use a modified version where I change the word “commanded” with the word “allows”. Remember, Yeshua was in the Temple for Hanukkah. Whether you believe He celebrated it or not, He didn’t condemn it. So we can reasonably conclude that God permits us to celebrate this time with the lighting of the candles. With this change, here are the three blessings recited prior to lighting the candles:
First Blessing: “Blessed are You, Yahweh our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments, and has allows us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.”
Second Blessing: “Blessed are you, Yahweh our God, King of the Universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.”
Third Blessing (first night of Hanukkah only):“Blessed are you, Yahweh our God, King of the Universe, who gave us life and kept us and delivered us to this time.”
NOTE: Some people oppose the use of God’s personal name, Yahweh, and prefer to use “LORD our God” or “ADONAI our God”. This stems from a Rabbinic Jewish belief that His name is “too holy” to be spoken. It is ultimately a personal preference and you can choose whatever one works best for you and your family. There are alternate versions of these blessings available from various sources.
Another tradition that many do during the ceremony of kindling the Hanukkah lights is to read a small devotional as a family. I have prepared a Hanukkah Service Guide that you might find useful. There are several great Messianic Jewish ministries that also provide eight-day devotionals tailored to Hanukkah, or you can create your own, or even do a combination of both. A great topic to use in tailoring your own is to look at various places where light was a theme in Scripture, such as Genesis 1:3 where God begins the work of Creation by uttering, “Let there be light!”
This simple ceremony may seem ritualistic to some who have been involved with certain branches of Christianity, such as Pentecostals and Charismatics who are more accustomed to “moving in the Spirit” without “structured religious practices”, but once you understand the significance of these things it seems to “light up” in your spirit and cause you to want to do this. It is no longer a dead ritual when you realize just how much all of this relates to our Messiah and our walk of faith.
The Dreidel Game
Another tradition that has developed is a game called Dreidel. This game is traditionally played with a spinning top, called the dreidel, marked on four sides with letters from the Hebrew Alphabet: Nun, Gimmel, Hay, Shin. There are some modern alternatives to the spinning top. For example, a product called a fidget spinner is currently popular among American youth and I saw one of these items made into a dreidel.
The letters marked on the dreidel are actually an acronym for a phrase: Nes gadol hayah sham (A great miracle happened there). Tradition states that this game developed as a secret way to teach children the story of Hanukkah during a period of Jewish oppression.
To play Dreidel each player starts with a series of gold coins called gelt (today Hanukkah gelt is typically in the form of chocolate candies wrapped in gold foil made to look like coins). Depending on what letter the dreidel lands on determines if nothing happens (nun), you get the whole pot (gimmel), you get half the pot (hay), or you have to put coins into the pot (shin). It’s a fun idea and, particularly if you have children in your Hanukkah celebration, it is a great way to not only teach the story of Hanukkah but also teach about Jewish culture in general.
Another tradition during Hanukkah is to eat fried foods. This is also to memorialize the alleged miracle of the lights. Probably the two most popular items are potato pancakes of sorts called latkes, which are quite delicious in my opinion, and donuts. The standard donuts used are jelly-filled with powdered sugar on top, but really there is no rule about this. As a side note, it is recommended to fry foods in a healthy oil option like organic extra virgin olive oil or organic virgin coconut oil. The olive oil seems like it would be most appropriate for this particular holiday since olives and olive oil are so significant throughout the pages of the Bible, but coconut oil is considered much better for frying foods.
There is some debate about giving gifts during Hanukkah. Once again this is a matter of people not wanting to cross too far into the traditions of Christmas. However, it is really not wrong to give and the spirit of Biblical faith is found in giving. Some choose to only give one gift, either on the first or last night of Hanukkah, while others choose to give gifts all eight nights. I personally give the “bigger” gifts on the first and/or last night of the celebration and give smaller less expensive things each of the other nights.
I personally prefer the method of giving a gift every night of the week because it allows me to demonstrate to my family that God’s festivals are way better than the world’s holidays. After all, who would want to continue celebrating a one-day holiday steeped in pagan traditions and overrun by a secular commercialized agenda that has absolutely nothing to do with the Bible when you can celebrate something that is found in the Bible and that even our Messiah celebrated, something that goes for eight days, and you can share gifts the whole time? Seems to be an obvious choice; God’s celebrations are simply bigger and better!
Decorating Your Home
In decorating for Hanukkah many have also taken to the use of lights reminiscent of traditional Christmas lights, but sticking to blue and white strings of light, which are readily available in most any retail store that sells winter holiday décor. This seems most appropriate as one of the given names for the holiday is “The Festival of Lights”. Those who celebrate Hanukkah have more reason to light up their home than the fictional character Clark Griswold, who is known for his attempt to have more lights on his home for Christmas than anyone else in the neighborhood in the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
In addition to strings of lights, many have even begun using Christmas-like but Hanukkah-tailored trees, called a Hanukkah Bush, and wreaths. Some believe that this is too close to the “pagan ways of Christmas”, but actual history indicates that ancient Jewish people and pre-Christmas Christians decorated their homes with various greenery and the Christmas tree, despite claims by some, did not originate as a form of idolatry but may actually have been a tradition started by Christians to commemorate the Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden. At least there’s as much evidence of that theory as there is that the trees come from pagan idol worship: not much. There are Hanukkah tree toppers available and you could use the same blue, white, and silver color scheme traditional to Hanukkah to help distinguish it from the traditional Christmas Tree.
Yes, Jeremiah 10:1-5 appears to describe a Christmas Tree in detail, but further analysis of the text shows that it was talking about the basic practice of carving an actual idol figure. This, however, does not negate the concern with Christmas Trees. After all, Jeremiah is a prophetic book and as such the description can go beyond what it may have referred to during the time it was written. The practice of the Christmas Tree does do all of the things described in Jeremiah 10 and those who celebrate Christmas do have a habit of singing songs of worship to it like one would do an idol, such as the classic Christmas Carol “Oh Christmas Tree”, which is a literal song of praise and worship to the tree. But, I do not see anything necessarily wrong with decorating with a Hanukkah Bush, so long as you don’t sing to it. I also wouldn’t necessarily put gifts under it, but that’s just my personal opinion. I think that gets too close to questionable Christmas traditions. I set up a table to put gifts on. If you choose to have a decorated tree in your home, you can still set up an area away from the tree to place gifts.
A Not-So-Good Tradition
There are some things that develop, just like with most holidays, that I believe are questionable at best and should be avoided. One thing I have seen gaining in popularity is called The Mensch On A Bench. This item is a plush doll that looks like an Orthodox Rabbi and seems to take its inspiration from a blend of the Santa Claus legend and the Elf On A Shelf products. A read through the Mensch Rules shows how this is probably best left alone.
If you have not done so, I encourage you to read through my article Meet Santa Claus to learn the dark history of how that story developed. You may be shocked, and you will learn that it is not the innocent “fun” thing that many believe it is today. Some would read the information on Santa Claus and may be enticed to say, “Well, that’s not what it means to me.” Is that what they will say to God too, should He look sternly into their eyes at the judgment and ask why they did these things? Can you imagine it? “Oh God, you know that’s not what it meant to me. Don’t be such a party pooper. I accepted “Jesus” as my Lord and Savior, isn’t that all I needed to do?” I warn you not to take this attitude, because nothing in Scripture ever allows you to embrace something with a long and dark history of evil just because that’s “not what it means to you”. This attitude is a form of humanism and is completely contrary to what the Bible teaches. You don’t have to worry about God calling you out at the judgment if you simply leave these things alone!
The Bible warns against doing what is right in your own eyes (Judges 17:6). The Apostle Paul warned that there would come a day when, “they will not put up with sound instruction, but they will pile up for themselves teachers in keeping with their own desires, to have their ears tickled” (2 Timothy 4:3). The Apostle Peter said, “If you call on Him as Father—the One who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds—then live out the time of sojourning in reverent fear. You know that you were redeemed from the futile way of life handed down from your ancestors” (1 Peter 1:17-18). And God warned His people in His Torah, “Do not worship the Lord your God in the way these pagan peoples worship their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:4, NLT). I see nothing good coming from this Mensch On A Bench concept and I strongly advise against it as strongly as I advise people to have nothing to do with things like Santa Claus or Elf On A Shelf.
The Bible tells us to “come out from among them, and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17). Hanukkah offers the ability to do just that. As the world, including all those who aren’t even Christians, celebrates Christmas we have the opportunity to celebrate a time Yeshua Himself appears to have celebrated and be separate from the world and unto God. Wouldn’t you rather follow Yeshua than whatever the people of this world are doing? If He celebrated Hanukkah and not Christmas, I think that more than settles the issue for me. But if we incorporate things like this Mensch On A Bench into out celebration we are no better than those who practice demonic things like Santa Claus or Elf On A Shelf. “Come out and be separate” leaves no room for assimilation.
A Joyful Celebration!
Hanukkah may be a celebration that originated in dark times, the true story of this holiday born out of oppression and a commitment to stand by the Word of God even to the death, and there may be some things that are best avoided, but when it’s all said and done Hanukkah is a time of rejoicing.
It is said by some that Hanukkah lasts for eight days not necessarily just because of legend about a miracle of oil and fire but also because God’s people did not want to wait another year to celebrate the commanded Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles). One of the other names for Sukkot is The Season Of Our Joy, as it is a celebration of rejoicing unlike any other. This is perhaps because it too rides on the heals of a time of oppression in a sense. Not the oppression of God-hating people seeking to annihilate God’s people, but the self-inflicted holy “oppression” of repentance and atonement that takes place during the Ten Days of Awe immediately following the blowing of the shofar on Yom Teruah/Rosh Hashanah and leading into the great Day of Atonement. After going through that period and making a fresh commitment to serve our Messiah for another year we have all the reason in the world to rejoice for eight days.
Likewise, we have plenty to rejoice about during Hanukkah as well. As noted in an earlier citation, had there been no Hanukkah there would be no Christmas. Yes, I know Christmas is actually a counterfeit holiday and Yeshua was not born on December 25th (again, see my article WWJB: When Was Jesus Born?), but had not the Maccabees risen up and taken a stand for God then it’s entirely possible that the lineage prophesied for the Messiah would have been cut off and He would not have been born, hence, Christmas would never have been created either.
Now, despite these claims, I do believe that had it not been God’s plan for the Maccabees to stand against their oppressors He would have preserved a line of Hebrew people that trace back through David all the way to Israel (Jacob) allowing the Messiah to be born. After all, it’s a little foolish to conclude that God would ever have allowed the lineage needed for the Messiah to be cut off. But now that these things have happened, we see that Hanukkah does celebrate an important victory for God’s people that did ultimately lead to the birth of Messiah and the restoration of the Temple for His ministry. In other words, it appears that the story of the Maccabees is what God chose to use in carrying forward His plans. For this, we can and should rejoice during these eight days, what many refer to as “eight crazy nights”.
Rejoice because God preserved His people. Rejoice because God sent His Son and the Maccabees are an important part of the story. Rejoice because Miriam conceived the Messiah during this time of the year. Rejoice because there is coming a time when God’s Temple will be rebuilt and we will once again see the victory that Judah Maccabee and his men saw. Rejoice!
~Blessings and Shalom~
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