“At that time, they were celebrating the feast of Hanukkah in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.” (John 10:22-23)
Jesus’ best friend, John, tells us that Jesus was in Jerusalem for Hanukkah; the Feast of Dedication. So why don’t his followers celebrate it too? Well, some of them do. Hanukkah is a Jewish feast, but not one of God’s commanded feasts in the Bible. The holiday is famous for its nine-branch candlestick (instead of the seven-branch one mentioned in Exodus) and donuts! But the roots of the Feast of Dedication might be more biblical than most people realize.
The Story of Hanukkah
The usual story told is one of a miracle of a small amount of lamp oil that supernaturally kept the temple menorah lit eight times as long as it should have, after the Jewish Maccabees overthrew the Greeks and reclaimed (rededicated) the temple in 165 BC. In Jewish communities around the world today, the oil miracle is celebrated with lots of oily food like donuts (sufganiot) and fried potato latkes, and children play games with a spinning top (called a ‘dreidel’) with the first letters of the words “A great miracle happened there” on each side. In Israel, however, the dreidel’s letters spell “A great miracle happened here”!
The Greeks had ruled Israel since Alexander the Great had invaded in 329 BC, and had become more and more tyrannical and restrictive, banning Torah study, circumcision, and sacrificing anything except pigs on the temple altar. At one point, Jews were forced to eat the flesh of a pig that had been sacrificed in this way. This proved to be a step too far, and a violent rebellion led by the Maccabee family rose up to fight and take back power from the Greeks. The temple had been defiled with all kinds of Greek statues and vile practices, but it was now time to cleanse and rededicate it. The seven-stick menorah needed ritually pure oil to keep it perpetually burning, but there was only enough to last for one day, and it took seven days to produce this purified oil in accordance with tradition. Amazingly, the story goes, the oil lasted not for one day, but for a full eight days, giving them enough time to produce more oil in the correct manner. The temple was rededicated to the God of Israel, and his order was restored.
This is why the hanukkiah candlestick has nine branches instead of the usual seven of the menorah – to remind us of the eight day miracle, and the one “servant light” from which all the others can be lit. There are many great themes we can pick up on here as those who love Yeshua – our servant light, the light of the world – and this festival of dedication can be a great time to dedicate ourselves again to him, as his temple.
The festival lasts for eight days, and a candle is added to the hanukkiah candlestick each day, until all eight are lit and shining brightly from the window. At this time at the end of the ninth month of Kislev, there are games, treats and gifts for children, and lots of sufganiot!
But the origins of the Feast of Dedication seem to go back even further
In Haggai chapter two, which was written around the time of the rebuilding of the second temple, God calls his people to pay attention to a particular date. That date is the 24th day of the ninth month, the Jewish month of Kislev. He says it three times, in verses 10, 18 and 20 –
“Consider, I pray you, from this day and forward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the LORD’S temple was laid, consider it…”
It is interesting that this is just one day before the day that Hanukkah is celebrated today, and is focused on the theme of dedicating the temple to God, and starting over afresh. God promises in verse 9,
“The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former, saith the LORD of hosts; and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts.”
He also quizzes his prophet, Haggai, about what makes things unclean. Haggai answers God’s questions correctly, and God tells him the bad news:
“So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the LORD; and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean.”
But nonetheless, God also brings the good news – that from this date, he promises to pour out abundance and blessing. The first chapter tells us that those who had returned from exile had been distracted from rebuilding the temple, and had put their own houses first instead. God’s house had been forgotten and neglected. But as the temple was built, so God eagerly moves to bring his blessing – he is faithful even when we are not.
How good God is! How merciful and eager to forgive! He is powerful enough to carry away all of our uncleanness and defilement, and longs to bless us abundantly. That second temple was indeed greater than the former, as Yeshua walked around its colonnades, even on the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, for the Feast of Dedication. There was no uncleanness in him, but by his blood, we are made clean. He was there to celebrate Hanukkah, and we can celebrate it too, by rededicating the temple of our lives to him.
Come, Lord Yeshua, and fill the temple of our lives! We dedicate ourselves again to you, at this special time of Hanukkah – the Feast of dedication. And let’s have a donut to celebrate!