The light that did not go out
Updated: Dec 19, 2020
(Part 1 of 2)
A succession of foreign despots rule the land who demand absolute obedience. Even more, the people are forced to abandon their faith and driven to follow their rulers' religion. After decades of oppression a family finally rises up and sparks a fight to win the land back and restore national identity.
It’s a storyline straight out of a TV series but it is the true story behind Hanukkah (dedication).
This week from December 10 to 18, Jewish people all over the world commemorate their liberation from Greek tyranny in 164 BC. The head of the Hasmonean family, Mattathias (Mattisyahu), a priest in God’s Temple, killed a Greek official who ordered him to sacrifice to a pagan god. This led to retaliatory attacks by Antiochus IV against the Jews.
Mattathias continued the fight against the Greeks with one of his sons, Judah leading the struggle after his death. Judah was called Maccabee* as he fought against the Greeks. It was three years later that the Hasmoneans were able to reclaim Jerusalem, purify the temple, and restore worship to God.
Hope in darkness
Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem and the restoration of the temple worship of God. It is very meaningful to the Jewish people because it reminds them of how God saved them from being eradicated from the face of the earth. Jesus Christ himself observed this festival.
The Greek occupation was a very diabolical time for the Jews. Some Jews willingly embraced Hellenism. There were priests involved in murder and usurpation of temple leadership. Judaism was outlawed later making teaching the Torah (first five books of the Bible) a crime.
Women who insisted their babies be circumcised were killed with their babies. Jews were coerced to eat pork and sacrifice pigs to Greek gods that were set up in the temple of God. Brides were forced to sleep with Greek officers before they could be with their husbands.¹
Throughout Biblical history, God always raised a champion for His people in times of great persecution. Among the many Jews who did their best to remain Jewish despite being cruelly Hellenized, Mattathias rose up and fought against the defilement of God's temple. The Hasmoneans subsequently ruled Jerusalem for several generations until suffering defeat in the hands of the Romans.
For hundreds of years after that period and even to today, the Jewish people have been waiting for the Messiah who is supposed to save them and bring about peace to all people. They are expecting a Messiah King much in the vein of Judah Maccabee who will establish a kingdom here on earth.
From the time God said to the serpent in Genesis 3:15:
I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will bruise your head,
and you will bruise his heel,
satan has been aggressively trying to destroy man's relationship with God. Since the Israelites are the chosen people of God, he has also orchestrated every inconceivable act to defile and wipe them out throughout history.
It is amazing though because with every war waged against them, the Jewish people always survived and thrived afterward. That is a testament to God's threefold promise to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3:
Now Yahweh said to Abram, “Leave your country, and your relatives, and your father’s house, and (1) go to the land that I will show you. I will (2) make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who treats you with contempt. (3) All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.”
Those promises have so far come true when Israel was granted statehood in 1948. They occupied the land that was given them but it was relatively small compared to what God originally laid out for them.
Through their hard work and ingenuity, the arid land became a place of abundance making them a top exporter of vegetables and fruits to Europe today. They also rank 3rd in the global startup tech ecosystem ranking.²
The Jews continue to give major contributions to science, banking, finance, film production, technology, business, and arms trade in the world. For almost 20 years now, Israel has been a major first responder in providing aid and long-term assistance to countries in the aftermath of calamities.
It is uncanny though to see present day circumstances run parallel to the events surrounding Maccabean times.
In the last century, we've seen Israel go through several pogroms (violent attacks by local non-Jewish populations on Jews in the Russian Empire and in other countries³). In this century, we're seeing a rise in anti-Semitism in the United States and Western Europe.
In a study published in 2016, 49% of the Israeli population identify as "secular".⁴ The remaining population who follow Judaism are further divided into subgroups thus furthering the gap between religious beliefs. Tel Aviv, Israel's economic hub, is also one of the top gay cities in the world. The Knesset (Israel's parliament) has been racked with much disagreement of late which resulted to a government in disunity.
The only missing element in this picture is the Messiah.
Up next: The Light of life
*The name is attributed to several possible meanings: a phrase from a battle cry, a Greek word meaning “strong” or “fighter,” a Hebrew word "makav" for hammer, (Judah being the “hammer of God”), another Hebrew word "mekabeh" or extinguish (the fire of the Greeks), an acronym for the initial letters of Matityahu's name, and an acronym for some verses in the book of Ezekiel.⁵
¹B. (2020, December 08). Hanukkah - the Oil of Joy for the Poor in Spirit. Retrieved December 11, 2020, from https://free.messianicbible.com/holiday/chanukah-oil-joy-poor-spirit/
²Israel Startup Ecosystem Map & Rankings:. (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2020, from https://www.startupblink.com/startups/israel
³U. (n.d.). Https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/pogroms. Retrieved December 11, 2020, from https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/pogroms
⁴Lipka, M. (2020, May 31). Religion and politics in Israel: 7 key findings. Retrieved December 11, 2020, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/03/08/key-findings-religion-politics-israel/
⁵Shurpin, Y. (2017, December 03). What Does "Maccabee" Mean? Retrieved December 11, 2020, from https://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah/article_cdo/aid/3860786/jewish/What-Does-Maccabee-Mean.htm