The History of Hanukkah, the Cleansing of the Temple, and the Light of the World

The History of Hanukkah, the Cleansing of the Temple, and the Light of the World

Biblical prophecy is akin to history written in advance. Events leading up to Hanukkah were foretold in Daniel 8 whilst Babylon was still an empire. Daniel was residing in a fortified palace in Susa about 250 miles east of Babylon, located in modern day, southwestern Iran. He had a vision which Gabriel interpreted. The prelude to the story of Hanukkah reaches back to when Alexander the Great defeated Darius III of Persia in 333BC.

The notable horn in Daniel 8:5, (Alexander the Great) would come across the surface of the whole earth without touching the ground. In the preceding chapter Daniel had a similar vision of which Greece was depicted as a leopard with wings. Comparing this with a cheetah taking nine metres bounds and leaving the ground at optimum speed helps one to relate with the thought conveyed. Alexander conquered nine-tenths of the known world at the age of 28 and achieved that astonishingly quickly.

Alexander died just before his thirty third birthday hence when he was ‘strong’, his kingdom was divided between four of his generals Cassander, Lysimachus, Seleucis  and Ptolemy. The little horn referred to in Daniel 8:9 was Antiochus Epiphanies, the Greek Syrian ruler. The Seleucids and Ptolemies warred over Judea and Epiphanes emerged victorious. Alexander had been generally favourable towards the Jewish people during his brief reign and according to Josephus even made a sacrifice in the temple according to the Jewish customs. Nonetheless Antiochus Epiphanes had other ideas.

To determine the precise historical details of Daniel 8 verses 9-14 which occurred in the intertestamental period, we need to make use of the Apocrypha and the writings of Josephus. The Apocrypha is important as a useful historical account though is not canonical nor authoritative for doctrine. Our Lord quoted extensively from the Tanakh though never quoted from the Apocrypha and neither does the Brit Hadasha (New Covenant). Flavius Josephus was captured shortly prior to the destruction of the Temple and survived the siege at Masada. He had been an Essene, Sadducee, and Pharisee and was well- qualified in compiling his historical accounts. These two sources therefore help us piece together the historical details prophesied in Daniel 8. This is covered mostly in I Maccabees and 2 Maccabees and in Chapter 12 ‘From the death of Alexander the Great to the death of Judah Maccabees in Jewish Antiquities’.

The history preceding Hanukkah

Antiochus Epiphanes introduced a gymnasium, gentile customs and removed circumcision in Judea. A gymnasium seems innocent enough and even a pleasant and healthy pastime, though Greek athletes often competed in the nude and this was all part of his ideology of Hellenising Judea. Like restrictions being imposed and the boycotting of Jewish businesses before the Holocaust, the early warning signs were evident. The sanctuary was taken by powerful force and the table of bread, the altars, lampstand, censers, utensils, curtains, silver, and gold were taken. Much blood was shed and there was mourning, great fear and also shame.

Two years later, tribute was extracted by speaking ‘peaceable words’ falsely and many people were killed, and buildings were destroyed. Jerusalem was plundered and houses were burned. Women, children, and livestock were stolen. To make matters even worse, the city of David became a citadel and renegades were employed. Offerings and sacrifices in the temple were forbidden and the temple’s holy items were replaced with idols and shrines. The ultimate act was sacrificing a pig on the altar.

Whoever refused to comply with these extreme measures would die and many in Israel remained resolute and gave their lives instead of acceding to his commands. The Hasmonean family stood firm and Matthias and his sons mourned when this happened. The King’s officers later came to Modein about 20 miles North West of Jerusalem. They refused to offer a profane sacrifice although another Jewish man immediately came forward to offer a sacrifice. Matthias killed both that man and the officer on the altar, reminiscent of the zeal of Phinehas in Numbers 25:1-18. He followed his actions and proclaimed, “Let everyone who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!”

Matthias quickly formed an army and engaged in guerrilla warfare though he was aging. His son Simon would soon act as their father figure and Judah Maccabee would command the military force. They fought Apollonius and a large force from Syria and won. They also defeated the Syrian army. Antiochus mustered a greater army with the intention of wiping out and destroying the strength of Israel and the remnant of Jerusalem.

Judah encouraged his men and recalled when the Israelites had emerged victorious from the Red Sea. They had fasted and put on sackcloth and ashes and opened the book of the law. He brought to their attention that all peoples would know that there is one who redeems and saves Israel. After conquering their foes they sang, “for He is good, and His mercy endures forever”.

The Temple Cleansed

Antiochus considered himself divine or “God manifest”. He even had coins minted and claimed to be an epiphany or revelation from God. How long would his scheming last? Daniel 8:13-14 foretells the transgression of desolation to last for 2300 days and his tyrannical regime lasted from 171BC to 165BC.

An Englishman’s home is his castle. Imagine if your home and been taken from you and used as a squatting facility and had been looted and overgrown. Plants had overgrown on the outside and it looked shabby and derelict. Bibles and books had been destroyed and the rooms were full of idols and the sight and smell of which made you want to exit promptly.

The sanctuary of the Lord’s house was desolate. Altars has been profaned with the blood of pigs. The gates had been burned, the holy items had been removed, weeds grew in the courtyards.  Again they tore their clothes in anguish. Are we concerned with God’s holiness? They fought those who had taken charge of the sanctuary and appointed blameless priests. The altar was replaced. The interior was rebuilt, holy furniture was brought in and the courts were consecrated. Interestingly they did this during the same season and very day that it had originally been profaned.

They fell on their faces and worshipped the Lord, and the sanctuary was dedicated with songs, harps, lutes, and cymbals. The dedication of the altar was celebrated for eight days. They restored everything and there was great joy, and it was determined that from the 25th of Kislev the eight days of dedication of the temple would be celebrated each year thereafter. Evidently the  feast of dedication is mentioned in John 10:22-23 when Yeshua was in Solomon’s Porch at that time.

Hanukkah and the Light of the World

At Hanukkah, some focus on the oil in the lamps lasting for eight days when the amount of oil was only supposed to be sufficient for one day. Though neither I or II Maccabees mention that and nor does Josephus, it is referenced in the Talmud. But more importantly, in many ways Hanukkah resembles the feast of Tabernacles. Jesus the Messiah revealed Himself during the Feast of Tabernacles saying “I am the Light of the world” in John 8:12. This was a clear and emphatic statement concerning His divinity and considering the presence of the giant Menorah lamps. Also, Yeshua took on flesh and tabernacled among us (John 1:14; c.f. Isaiah 9:6-7 ).

In essence, the first Hanukkah was an overdue Feast of Tabernacles. Consider the timing and that both feasts last for eight days and are accompanied by palms and of course menorahs. 2 Maccabees 10:6-7 states that “They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the festival of booths, remembering how not long before, during the festival of booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals. Therefore, carrying ivy wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his holy place.”

One of the Haftarah readings at Hanukkah is 1 Kings 7:14-50. It is no coincidence that Solomon dedicated the temple at Tabernacles (1 Kings 8:2) and Jesus the Messiah was in Solomon’s porch during the feast of dedication (John 10:22). He was asked if He was the Messiah and He replied, “I and My Father are One.”

The oil reminds us of the Holy Spirit. Another haftarah reading is taken from Zechariah 2:4-4:7 and chapter 4  is a prophecy concerning lampstands. The song “Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning” and “sing hosanna to the king of kings” reminds us that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to live a life serving God rather than succumbing to the trappings and enticements of the world. The latkes and pancakes are a helpful reminder of the oil of the Spirit and the dreidel a tangible reminder of the resourcefulness and determination to study the Scriptures despite intense persecution.

For the believer in Yeshua, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19) and the command is given to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice unto the Lord (Romans 12:1). Hanukkah is a good time to consider how we can rededicate ourselves to the Lord and to examine our hearts and our motives (2 Corinthians 13:5). It is important that we do not conform to the image of this world but seek to please God and walk in His ways. A follower of Yeshua is a light of the world (Matthew 5:14) and their light should so shine before others that they may see those good works and glorify the Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).