Although Chanukah is not one of the seven appointed Feasts of the Lord, it is still an important feast for the Jewish people. For Christians, Chanukah is worthy of our attention and may become an honored celebration in your home.
Historically, the account of the Chanukah story occurred in the intertestamental period, that is, sometime during the 400 “silent years” between the writings of the prophet Malachi and the Gospels. We find much of our information about Chanukah in the Book of Maccabees, found in the Apocrypha, a series of extra-biblical books added to some bibles (the Apocrypha is not considered the holy, inspired Word of God, but is considered a valuable historical resource).
Chanukah, meaning dedication, commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC by the Maccabees exactly three years after it was desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes (Dan 8:13-14).
Chanukah falls on 25th of Kislev on the Jewish calendar, in either November or December on the western calendar. Chanukah is also known as Hag Ha-Orim, the Feast of Lights. This name, which is found in the writings of Josephus, an ancient Jewish historian, is based upon a legend. As the legend goes, after the Temple was rededicated, the people wished to rekindle the Menorah (seven-branched lamp stand); but there was only sufficient purified olive oil to light the Menorah in the Temple for one day, and it would take eight days to purify further supplies. According to tradition, however, the Menorah burned miraculously eight days—enough time for the fresh supplies to be prepared.
In 165 BC, the Greek empire under Antiochus IV Epiphanes imposed Greek culture, philosophy and religion on Israel and throughout the empire. The Greeks built an image of their god Zeus on top of the Jewish Temple altar and desecrated the Temple by sacrificing pigs (an unfit animal for sacrifice). This a fulfilled prophesy in the book of Daniel. The abandonment of all Jewish worship and customs was enforced by terror. A Jewish revolt led by Judah Maccabee was successful in driving out the Greeks and the temple was cleansed and rededicated.
Antiochus Epiphanes—The Little Horn Daniel 8:9-14
The Feast of Dedication is not found in the Old Testament; however, prophetically we find two verses in the Book of Daniel that speak of the events from which this feast arose. The first scripture describes the “little horn”. This scripture does not refer exclusively to the future Antichrist of Daniel 7, but rather depicts a type of antichrist, in this case Antiochus Epiphanes.
9 And out of one of them came a little horn, which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Glorious Land. 10 And it grew up to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and some of the stars to the ground, and trampled them. 11 He even exalted himself as high as the Prince of the host; and by him the daily sacrifices were taken away, and the place of His sanctuary was cast down. 12 Because of transgression, an army was given over to the horn to oppose the daily sacrifices; and he cast truth down to the ground. He did all this and prospered.
This passage indicates a ruler or the “little horn” arising from four horns as Daniel tells us in a previous passage. The four horns are the four regions of the Greek empire that were divided after the death of Alexander the Great. Antiochus Epiphanes arose from Syria, one such division of the Greek empire. He grew “exceeding great toward the south (Egypt), toward the east (Mesopotamia) and the toward glorious land (Israel).”
Daniel further indicates that the little horn would make war with the Jews. Antiochus Epiphanes was successful in that endeavor by persecuting and murdering the Jewish people.
The Abomination of Desolation—Daniel 8-11
Daniel makes ten prophetic statements providing evidence as to how Antiochus would commit the Abomination of Desolation.
First, “he exalted himself.” Epiphanes means “the manifest God”. He exalted himself to the level of deity.
Second, he elevated himself “as high as the Prince of the host.” Sometimes the “host” or the “stars” is a reference to angelic hosts and sometimes it is a reference to Israel (Genesis 15:5). The “prince” or leader of Israel at that time was the High Priest. Under the Mosaic law, he could not be replaced except by death. Antiochus replaced the High Priest at his will.
Third, “by him the daily sacrifices were taken away.” Antiochus Epiphanes stopped the sacrificial system. This fulfilled prophecy was recorded in the book of I Maccabees 1:44-45.
Fourth, “the place of His sanctuary was cast down,” meaning desecrated. This fulfilled prophecy was recorded in I Maccabees 1:21:59 and II Maccabees 6:1-5.
Fifth, “an army was given over to the horn.” Antiochus was victorious militarily and many Jews were persecuted and died.
Sixth, “to oppose the daily sacrifices,” true biblical worship was prohibited in the Jewish Temple and pagan worship instituted (sacrificing pigs to their god Zeus).
Seventh, it was all accomplished “because of transgression,” that is, Antiochus achieved the “abomination of desolation” by breaking the Law of God.
Eighth, “he cast truth down to the ground” by forbidding the reading and practice of the Mosaic law (I Maccabees 1:56-58).
Ninth, “he did all this,” as a willful king. Antiochus did his own will, disregarding the will of God.
Finally, the 10th statement Daniel makes about the “little horn” is “he did all this and prospered.” Antiochus Epiphanes succeeded in his goal to paganize the Jewish people.
Daniel 8:13-14 provides us with an even more specific prophecy as to the timeline of when this would occur:
13 Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said to that certain one who was speaking, “How long will the vision be, concerning the daily sacrifices and the transgression of desolation, the giving of both the sanctuary and the host to be trampled underfoot?” 14 And he said to me, “For two thousand three hundred days;[a] then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.”
In the year 171 BC, when the High Priest Onias was murdered, the persecutions of the Jews began. Onias was the only biblically legitimate priest according to the Law of Moses. After his death, Antiochus appointed a wicked brother of Onias to the position of High Priest. From that time until the temple was cleansed, the high priests were illegitimate according to the Law. History tells us that the Temple was cleansed on the 25th day of Kislev in the year 165 BC. So from the time that the rightful High Priest Onias was murdered, on the 9th of Tishri, 171 BC, to the time the temple was cleansed on the 25th of Kislev, 165 BC, was a total of 2300 days! Thus, the persecutions and desecrations of Antiochus Epiphanes lasted 2300 days, perfectly fulfilling Daniel’s prophecy! (I Maccabees 4:36-59, II Maccabees 10:1-9)
By breaking down this passage, piece by piece and comparing it to historical accounts, we can clearly see that this prophecy was indeed fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes. But this is only half of the story. The Jews were not completely defeated; otherwise, the Feast of Dedication would not exist!
Following is the story of Chanukah as recorded in the Book of Maccabees.
I Maccabees 11-62
And there came out of them a wicked root, Antiochus the Illustrious, the son of king Antiochus, who had been a hostage at Rome: and he reigned in the hundred and thirty-seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks. In those days there went out of Israel wicked men, and they persuaded many, saying: Let us go, and make a covenant with the heathens that are round about us: for since we departed from them, many evils have befallen us. And the word seemed good in their eyes. And some of the people determined to do this, and went to the king: and he gave them license to do after the ordinances of the heathens. And they built a place of exercise in Jerusalem, according to the laws of the nations: And they made themselves uncircumcised, and departed from the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the heathens, and were sold to do evil.
And the kingdom was established before Antiochus, and he had a mind to reign over the land of Egypt, that he might reign over two kingdoms. And he entered into Egypt with a great multitude, with chariots and elephants, and horsemen, and a great number of ships: And he made war against Ptolemy king of Egypt, but Ptolemy was afraid at his presence, and fled, and many were wounded unto death. And he took the strong cities in the land of Egypt: and he took the spoils of the land of Egypt. And after Antiochus had ravaged Egypt in the hundred and forty-third year, he returned and went up against Israel. And he went up to Jerusalem with a great multitude.
And he proudly entered into the sanctuary, and took away the golden altar, and the candlestick of light, and all the vessels thereof, and the table of proposition, and the pouring vessels, and the vials, and the little mortars of gold, and the veil, and the crowns, and the golden ornament that was before the temple: and he broke them all in pieces. And he took the silver and gold, and the precious vessels: and he took the hidden treasures which he found: and when he had taken all away he departed into his own country. And he made a great slaughter of men, and spoke very proudly.
And there was great mourning in Israel, and in every place where they were. And the princes, and the ancients mourned, and the virgins and the young men were made feeble, and the beauty of the women was changed. Every bridegroom took up lamentation: and the bride that sat in the marriage bed, mourned: And the land was moved for the inhabitants thereof, and all the house of Jacob was covered with confusion. And after two full years the king sent the chief collector of his tributes to the cities of Juda, and he came to Jerusalem with a great multitude. And he spoke to them peaceable words in deceit: and they believed him.
And he fell upon the city suddenly, and struck it with a great slaughter, and destroyed much people in Israel. And he took the spoils of the city, and burnt it with fire, and threw down the houses thereof, and the walls thereof round about: And they took the women captive, and the children, and the cattle they possessed. And they built the city of David with a great and strong wall, and with strong towers, and made it a fortress for them: And they placed there a sinful nation, wicked men, and they fortified themselves therein: and they stored up armour, and victuals, and gathered together the spoils of Jerusalem; And laid them up there: and they became a great snare. And this was a place to lie in wait against the sanctuary, and an evil devil in Israel.
And they shed innocent blood round about the sanctuary, and defiled the holy place. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem fled away by reason of them, and the city was made the habitation to strangers, and she became a stranger to her own seed, and her children forsook her. Her sanctuary was desolate like a wilderness, her festival days were turned into mourning, her sabbaths into reproach, her honours were brought to nothing. Her dishonour was increased according to her glory, and her excellency was turned into mourning. And king Antiochus wrote to all his kingdom, that all the people should be one: and every one should leave his own law.
And they drove away the people of Israel into lurking holes, and into the secret places of fugitives. On the fifteenth day of the month Casleu, in the hundred and forty-fifth year, king Antiochus set up the abominable idol of desolation upon the altar of God, and they built altars throughout all the cities of Juda round about:
And they burnt incense, and sacrificed at the doors of the houses, and in the streets. And they cut in pieces, and burnt with fire the books of the law of God: And every one with whom the books of the testament of the Lord were found, and whosoever observed the law of the Lord, they put to death, according to the edict of the king. Thus by their power did they deal with the people of Israel, that were found in the cities month after month. And on the five and twentieth day of the month they sacrificed upon the altar of the idol that was over against the altar of God.
II Maccabees 10-18
The Death of King Antiochus
11 We thank God because he saved us from great danger. We were like men ready to fight against a king,12 but God drove the enemy from our holy city.13 (A)When King Antiochus arrived in Persia, his army seemed impossible to defeat, but they were cut to pieces in the temple of the goddess Nanea by an act of treachery on the part of her priests.14 King Antiochus had gone to the temple with some of his most trusted advisers, so that he might marry the goddess and then take away most of the temple treasures as a wedding gift.15 After the priests had laid out the treasure, he and a few of his men went into the temple to collect it. But the priests closed the doors behind him16 and stoned him and his men from trap doors hidden in the ceiling. Then they cut up the bodies and threw the heads to the people outside.17 Praise God for punishing those evil men! Praise him for everything!
18 On the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev we will celebrate the Festival of Rededication just as we celebrate the Festival of Shelters. We thought it important to remind you of this, so that you too may celebrate this festival.
- What do the candles stand for in the Chanukah Menorah (wiki.answers.com)
- Hanukkah. (workofheartandsoul.wordpress.com)
- Judah to Jesus: After the Maccabees (thequeenofthejews.wordpress.com)