Hebrew Festivals- The Voice of Hope

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the LORD that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts.(Leviticus 23:1-2)

      The roots of Christianity run deep in the soil of Israel. However, many Christians are unaware of about their rich Hebrew heritage. During this Hanukkah season, I would like us to take some time and reflect on some of what the Lord tries to communicate with His people regarding His festivals in Leviticus 23. The Jewish festivals are all stories of HOPE. The Feast of Passover tells us that a people enslaved, powerless and without rights can win their freedom with God’s help. The Feast of Pentecost tells us that a people unloved by their contemporaries can become the covenantal partner of God himself. The Feast Tabernacles tell us that even a homeless nation, living in temporary dwellings, is still on a journey with God to the Promised Land. The New Year (Rosh Shanna) and Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) are festivals of a different kind of hope. The three pilgrimage festivals are about the community of God, its history and its future in-CHRIST.

     These celebrations tell us that we are not prisoners of our past. We are not condemned forever to be haunted by the wrong we once did. We can repent and be forgiven; we can begin again. The Jewish priestly service on these holy days contains a line that in itself is the most explicit rejection of an individual’s fate in the Western-Philosophical sense. The Greek Delphic
oracle told of decrees that could not be averted, however hard people tried. BUT on the high holy days Judaism says to the contrary, ‘Penitence, prayer and charity avert the evil decree.’ In Judaism there is no such thing as a decree that cannot be averted (Book of Jonah). Therefore there is no future that is bereft of hope.

     The social legislation of Judaism is a minutely articulated set of instructions for building a society of hope. No one is to be allowed to be destitute. The produce of the field and the wealth of the town must be shared. No one is condemned to a lifetime of slavery. One day in seven, all are free. No one is to be indebted forever. Every seven years, all debts are cancelled. No one is forced to sell his or her ancestral inheritance in such a way as to rob their children or grandchildren of their heritage. In the jubilee year, land returns to its original owners. The entire legislative structure is aimed at creating a CULTURE OF HOPE! Even Judaism’s ritual laws are based on this principle. Tzitzit, the command to make fringes with a thread of blue on the corners of garments, appears in the Bible immediately after the episode of the spies in which the people lost hope of inheriting the land. The cord of blue was to remind Jews of heaven, and the knowledge that in fighting their battles they were not alone.

     Hanukkah is such a festival… sundown December-8-2012 marked the start of Hanukkah for this year. Our Lord Jesus Christ celebrated this awesome Jewish Feast: “And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication (Hanukkah), and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.” John 10:22-23. The word for dedication used in John 10:22 literally mean “renewal”, or “re-dedication”. The Hebrew word for rededication is “hanaka”. Interestingly, the Greek word is “anakaino”, which sounds like Hanukkah if you think about it. The meaning of Hanukkah is something we all can apply to our lives. Here’s a quick synopsis of the historical background of Hanukkah:

In 168 B.C.E. the Jewish Temple was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus. This upset the Jewish people, but many were afraid to fight back for fear of reprisals. Then in 167 B.C.E. the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus made the observance of Judaism an offense punishable by death. He also ordered all Jews to worship Greek gods. He slew forty thousand inhabitants of Jerusalem, and sold forty thousand more as slaves. In addition to this, he sacrificed a pig on the altar of burnt-offerings, and a broth being made of this, he sprinkled it all over the temple. He desecrated the temple!

Jewish resistance began in the village of Modiin, near Jerusalem. Greek soldiers forcibly gathered the Jewish villages and told them to bow down to an idol, and then eat the flesh of a pig – both practices that are forbidden to Jews. A Greek officer ordered Mattathias, a High Priest, to acquiesce to their demands, but Mattathias refused. When another villager stepped forward and offered to cooperate on Mattathias' behalf, the High Priest became outraged. He drew his sword and killed the villager, then turned on the Greek officer and killed him too. His five sons and the other villagers then attacked the remaining soldiers, killing all of them.

     Mattathias and his family went into hiding in the mountains, where other Jews wishing to fight against the Greeks joined them. Eventually they succeeded in retaking their land from the Greeks. These rebels became known as the Maccabees, or Hasmoneans. The city and temple were recovered three years afterward by Judah Maccabaeus (Son of the High Priest Mattathias), and the temple was purified with great pomp and solemnity. The ceremony of purification continued through eight days, during which Judah Maccabees celebrated the praise of God with hymns and psalms (Josephus, Ant., b. xii. ch. 11). “They decked, also, the forefront of the temple with crowns of gold and with shields, and the gates and chambers they renewed and hanged doors upon them,” 1 Mac. iv. 52-59. On this account it was called the feast of renovation or dedication. Josephus calls it the Feast of Lights, because the city was illuminated, as expressive of joy. The feast began on the twenty-fifth day of Chisleu, answering to the fifteenth day of December. The festival continued for eight days, with continued demonstrations of joy.

      Jewish tradition tells us that the Jews were determined to purify the Temple by burning ritually pure oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days. But to their dismay, they discovered that there was only one day's worth of ritually pure oil left in the Temple. They lit the menorah anyway, and to their surprise the small amount of oil lasted the full eight days.

     This is the miracle of the Hanukkah oil that is celebrated every year when Jews light a special menorah known as a Hanukkiyah for eight days. One candle is lit on the first night of Hanukkah, two on the second, and so on, until eight candles are lit.

     Hanukkah is the re-dedication of the Temple for God’s people. Hanukkah conveys the struggle that the people of God have had in this world, and celebrates their victory against stronger foes – victories only God Himself can secure. It is a holiday commemorating God’s care of His people. For the Christian, it is helpful to understand these Jewish roots of our faith. Of course, we are no more required to celebrate Hanukkah than we are any other holiday. Nevertheless, the significance of Hanukkah is in the great reminder of Christ:

  1. The menorah in the Temple had seven branches for candles. But, the Menorah used in Hanukkah has nine branches. It is called Hanukkiyah. Why NINE? Because the central candle (the Shamash – “Servant Candle”) is used to light the other eight. All the eight candles of Hanukkiyah must be in a straight line while Shamash (the 'servant candle') should be out of alignment with the other candles and should be positioned at the middle of the candelabrum, positioned slightly higher than the rest of the candles. Jesus Christ, the One who is seated on-high with the Father (Eph.1) is that Servant Light (John 1), and He has come to light every person’s soul who is born into this world. You have His Light available for you!
  1. 2. In the midst of so much chaos, the light burned in the Temple for eight days. But the light we have in Jesus Christ will never go out. It doesn’t come from us, it comes from God. Sometimes we have things in our lives that try to hinder that light. But this Hanukkah, whether you celebrate or not, please be reminded of God’s faithfulness to us, and in return, let us rededicate ourselves to be faithful to Him. Don’t let your light be dim! LET IT SHINE IN THIS WORLD…

• Sacks, Jonathan (2010-03-31). Future Tense: Jews, Judaism, and Israel in the Twenty-first Century (pp. 247-248). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
• http://biblicism.wordpress.com/2008/12/17/the-significance-of-hanukkah/
• http://judaism.about.com/od/holidays/a/hanukkah.htm
• http://www.hanukkahcelebrations.com/candles.html