The symbol of Hanukah is the nine-branched candlestick. We often think of it as a festival of light, which blurs with every other festival of light found in so many cultures and faiths. But the true story is one of rededication. Leviticus 27 has laws on how a person can dedicate their house, and in Israel housewarming parties are called “Hanukat Beit” parties - “dedication of the house” parties. The Hanukah story is of a housewarming party for the ultimate house.
The festival of Hanukah is about the rededication of the temple after it had been defiled by the Greeks during their conquest of Israel, in the time between the Old and New Testaments. In 165 BC, the Jewish people rose up against the occupying Greeks, and fought to take back their temple and for freedom to practice the Jewish faith. Hanukah is a time to remember their victory, and the story of how the pure and holy oil necessary to light the temple menorah miraculously lasted for seven days longer than expected. It’s about taking back the temple, cleansing it from all impurity and giving it back to God for his holy purposes.
You may know that Yeshua himself celebrated Hanukah - it says in John 10:22, “Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter”. The Greek word can be consecration, dedication, making new again. It then notes how Jesus walks into the sacred place - the holy temple. But it was not so holy about 200 years previously... The Greek tyrant, Antiochus Epiphianes IV, was a brutal and cruel oppressor who took delight in desecrating the Jewish religion. He had pigs slaughtered on the temple altar and forced the Jewish people eat the flesh, banned circumcision and reading the Bible, and made them to bow down to idols. The law and the temple were violated as he filled the holy place with Greek gods. The Jewish Maccabbees rose up in rebellion and recaptured the temple, cleared it of all the defiling objects and rededicated it once again to the God of Israel. This was something to celebrate indeed.
There are the two main stories told at Hanukah - the miracle of the oil, and the political victory over the Greeks - but there are other stories and legends connected with Hanukah to be found in ancient Jewish literature, some of which concerned the dedication of the second temple, built at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah on their return from exile in Babylon.
Haggai was prophesying at that time, and in Haggai chapter 2, we see God emphasising a particular date, three times over - the 24th of the 9th month - in verses 10, 18 and 20. Hanukah is the 25th of Kislev (the 9th month - Kislev is a Babylonian name) but Jewish feasts always start the evening beforehand. The chapter is about consecrating the temple, and what makes things “holy” and “defiled”. The people of Israel had been sinning so badly that God removed them from Israel and sent them to Babylon, but now they had come back, eager to follow God’s ways and restore his temple. Beforehand, there was a time of curse and want, but now God promises blessing. It was, in essence, a national rededication:
“‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on—consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the LORD’s temple. When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,’ declares the LORD.
‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.
“‘From this day on I will bless you.’”
Could it be that the roots of Hanukah go even deeper than the overthrowing of the Greeks? Perhaps the Jewish festival of rededication goes all the way back to the consecration of the second temple - and of the people themselves.
This is a perfect time to rededicate ourselves once again to God and his purposes, and to pray for the people of Israel to do the same. As believers in Yeshua, we know that WE are his temple, and his Spirit lives in us. The shekina glory, found in the holy of holies, lives inside you and I because we have been purified by the blood of Yeshua, our sacrifice. Please pray too for Jewish people everywhere to come to a true and deep faith in God through his Messiah, Yeshua, and dedicate themselves to him as his dwelling place this Hanukah.