Judas Maccabeus Before the Army of Nicanor drawing by Gustave Dore

Chanukah: History and Messianic significance

The story of Chanukah or Hannukah began before Judas Maccabee killed his first Greek, and the culmination didn’t end with him. The events were no surprise to God either. He told the prophet Haggai something spectacular would happen in His temple during the time we now call Chanukah. Today’s talk starts all the way to the days of Darius the Mede and touches us in the 21st century.

Most of our copies of the Bible do not include the books of 1st Maccabees and 2nd Maccabees. The first book is very historical, factual, while the second book is a more spiritual book and shows how God worked in. A friend of Judah Maccabeus, named Jason, is considered the author of the books. Most of our copies stop at Malachi, skipping over the 200 years or so in between, as though Yeshua‘s birth happened in a historical vacuum but that is far from the truth. God was still working with His people even during the time period between the book of Malachi and Yeshua‘s birth. The books of the books of 1st Maccabees and 2st Maccabees record this history.

Readings: 1st Macc. 1:41–61 NRSV; 1st Macc. 4:41–61 NRSV; 2nd Macc. 1:1–9 NRSV; 2nd Macc. 10:1–8 NRSV

Chanukah map and chart

Judah Maccabeus sent his friend Jason to Rome by to try to broker an alliance between Israel and the Romans. At this time, the Romans were just beginning to become an empire. They had conquered a few regions in Europe but had not yet touched Africa and Asia. Greece was still the superpower at the time.

Judah Maccabeus saw Rome’s potential as a worthy partner and ally. Rome had a senate, and at this time Rome was still a republic where the “dictator” was picked from amongst the Senate, served for one year, and then the next dictator would serve his one year term. This was before Julius Caesar became dictator for life.

Judah Maccabeus saw that it could be advantageous to strike an alliance with Rome, while it was still somewhat weak because he saw that they were ascending and if he allied with them when they were “young”, the alliance would be on a more equal footing than if they started an alliance with Rome after they were strong.

Jason went to Rome and spoke with the Roman government. They readily accepted an alliance with Israel. They agreed to mutually defend each other.

Maccabean restoration foretold by prophet Daniel

The visions in Daniel 7 predicted these events and give a real insight into it. Prophet Daniel, through Darius the Mede, was able to help reestablish God’s Temple in Jerusalem and return the Jews to their land.

These events began in the 145th year after the Alexander the Greek conquered the known world. Up to this point, they had to pay heavy taxes and tributes to the Greek government but they were largely independent in controlling their own domestic affairs.

The Greeks liked Israel because they were the land corridor between Greece and Egypt. They were also a wealthy land, which meant the territory ended up being a part of a tug of war between the Greeks in Egypt and the Greeks in Syria.

That changed in ninth month and 25th day of the month of Kislev of year 145 of Greek rule.

Martyrs for God’s Word

When Antiochus decreed that all the empire should live in Greek culture and abandon their own cultures, a priest of the High Priestly line named Mattias and his five sons: John, Simon, Judas/Judah, Eleazar and Jonathan lead a rebellion against this brutal assimilation decree.

The assimilation campaign was a brutal, bloody affair. Killing people who had their boys circumcised or kept the Sabbath. The Syrian Greeks sacrificed a pig on God’s altar. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back to a high priestly family like Mattias Maccabeus’s. They fled Jerusalem to Moedim after this because the king’s order was to kill anyone seen obeying God’s Torah. Many people died, they were not spared.

As the king’s edict spreads from town to town, it eventually reached Moedim. Mattias Maccabeus was commanded to slaughtered a pig and when a Jewish man tried to obey the order, Mattias Maccabeus killed him and the king’s men as well. That brought the king’s wrath on them and they had to flee again into the Judean hill country with a lot of caves, easy to hide in. The few Godly people who were left fled the towns and cities into the wilderness and mountains, too.

Maccabees stand up

There was a key difference between these two groups. The Maccabee family knew how to wield the tools of violence. They knew how to fight and how to kill if necessary. The others who had fled did not. That caused problems later because the others thought they were fleeing to keep God’s law.

As the Greeks sent out their soldiers into the wilderness, they encountered these groups of Torah-obedient people. The gentiles would encounter them on the Shabbat.

Not only did these Torah-observant people not know how to fight well, they adamantly refused to fight on the Shabbat because of its holiness and refused to resist on the Shabbat. The Greeks simply annihilated them.

However, Judah Maccabeus and his sons were not fighting the Greeks because they wanted to die for the Torah, they wanted to live for God. It was the position of the Maccabees that they would not perform any military attack on the Shabbat but they would defend themselves if they were attacked on the Shabbat. Don’t pick a fight or start a fight on a Shabbat or a holy day but if someone picks a fight against you on a Shabbat or a holy day, you defend yourselves and finish the fight. The goal was not to obey God’s laws but to obey God. This was a hard lesson for them to learn.

It’s the same principle as Yeshua healing people on the Shabbat. The Shabbat was for life, not for death.

Mattias Maccabeus died shortly after the battle began. He appointed his son Judas Maccabeus their general and the rest of the sons were explicitly told to obey Judas as the general. Mattias appointed his son Jonathan or Simon as high priest. Since Mattias Maccabeus was the only high priest left, he had that authority.

Even though they were always outnumbered by the Greeks, they ultimately won against them after three years of battles. That is important. They did not only attack and kill Greeks. They also had to attack and kill fellow Jews who were treasonously siding with the Greeks against them and breaking Torah. It was part of the purification.

The temple and altar were desecrated on the 25th day of the ninth month (Kislev) of year 145 of Greek rule over the land of Israel. The Greeks had slaughtered a pig on God’s altar, it was desecrated. It could not wash them off and reuse them. They had to start from scratch.

Three years to the day later, on the 25th day of Kislev of year 148 of Greek rule over the land of Israel, the temple and the altar was cleansed and rededicated. This is the origin of the holiday called Hanukkah.

Festival of Dedication linked to Festival of Booths

Hanukkah is not a holiday mentioned in the Torah. It’s not a holy day, but neither is the Fourth of July, yet all Americans celebrate it. It is a remembrance of rededication.

There’s a reason that the Maccabees books are not included in Scripture. 1st Maccabees is a sterile history book and 2nd Maccabees is more spiritual. It rehashes the events of 1st Maccabees, but there are spiritual allusions that do not match what is in the Torah. They were Hellenistic Jews. There’s a lot of Greek spirituality, philosophy, regional ideas of God. It would be nearly impossible to rectify the Maccabees’ worldview with the rest of Torah would be nearly impossible.

There was never any holy day celebrated in the month of Kislev, the ninth month, before this occurred. When Judas rebuilt the temple, the glory of the LORD was not there. Haggai’s prophesy was only partially fulfilled in Judas Maccabeus’s time.

“And now see that you keep the festival of booths in the month of Chislev….” (2Macc. 1:9 NRSV)

They were asking the Jews in Egypt to keep the Feast of Tabernacles, aka Sukkot, in both the seventh and ninth months. It is recorded in 2nd Macc. 10:1–8 NRSV that they celebrated the rededication of the temple as a belated celebration of Sukkot. They celebrated the rededication for eight days, because Sukkot and Shmeni Atzeret cover eight days. This is why they sent the command to celebrate Hanukkah in a similar manner to Sukkot.

Haggai 2 was written during the second year of King Darius. It was a prophesy that started out telling the people they were profaning the temple with their half-hearted unclean sacrifices so when the Greeks came in and defile it with a pig. It wasn’t defiling it anymore than it had already been defiled. There is a reason why all this happened:

“In those days certain renegades came out from Israel and misled many, saying, ‘Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us.’ This proposal pleased them, and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.” (1st Macc. 1:11–15 NRSV)

Takeaway for today

The corruption and Hellenization of the Jews didn’t happen in a vacuum or instantaneously. They were not truly clean. You can’t just say you’re following God, you actually have to walk the walk and unfortunately, many of the Jews were already forsaking God’s rules before Antiochus came along.

We should celebrate Hanukkah as a time of rededicating ourselves to God, a time that is out of the ordinary. These events were prophesied by Daniel and Haggai. Yeshua Himself celebrated it. That alone make it important.

We are also still waiting for the Third Temple, the one made without hands, the one Daniel prophesied about. This means that the events of Hanukkah will happen at least one more time in history before Yeshua returns. This is another reason why these events are relevant even in the 21st century.

Reader: Jeff. Speaker: Daniel Agee.

Banner image: Gustave Dore. “Judas Maccabeus Before the Army of Nicanor.” The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments. Drawing. Stuttgart, Germany, 1885.


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