Hanukkah: What Night Is This?

In Blogs, Jewish Culture and Customs by David M. Levy1 Comment

T he wind howled as it blew snow briskly against the house. A candle brightly flickered in the window, standing stately in its solitary beauty to mark the occasion. Mother was busy in the kitchen preparing the traditional dinner which she serves every year on this special day.

A spirit of excitement fills the house as happy children anticipate the gifts they have eagerly awaited. After dinner father gathers the family around him to retell the old, old, story.  Family members listen intently as father explains the meaning of this night, and the miraculous story behind it.

I know what you’re thinking, Ah! Yes! Christmas is a wonderful and miraculous story!

Wait a minute! Who said anything about Christmas? This story is far from being a Christmas story. This is a Hanukkah story. “A what?” you say. “What is Hanukkah? A word I never heard, and cannot even spell it!”

Well, let me tell you all about it in a few words.

Jewish people observe a festival called Hanukkah on Kislev (November/December) 25. Hanukkah (Dedication) is also called “The Feast of Dedication” or “The Feast of Lights.” It is an eight-day commemoration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the victory of Judas Maccabee over the Syrian-Greek emperor, Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BC. From 175-165 BC Antiochus controlled Judea. Wanting to Hellenize the Jewish people, he issued a decree that all Jewish people worship and serve the Greek gods. He took over the Temple in Jerusalem; set up idols in the city and Temple; burned the Torah (law of Israel); forbade the practice of circumcision, keeping of Jewish feast days, and observance of the Sabbath. Those disobeying suffered death. He desecrated the Temple site by sacrificing a pig, and offering its flesh and blood upon the altar to the god, Zeus Olympus.  He then desecrated the Torah scrolls by pouring the broth of a roasted pig over them.

Matthias, a Hasmonean priest, and his five sons from Modi’in (3 miles from Jerusalem) revolted against Antiochus’s edict, and courageously, aggressively, and violently fought against the Syrian army. Within three years they had defeated and driven the Syrians out of Israel. They cleansed the Temple of the Greek idols, removing everything the Syrians had desecrated. While cleansing the Temple they found a small jar of consecrated oil, just enough to keep the Eternal Light in the Temple burning for one day. But miraculously the lamp burned for eight days, giving the priest enough time to prepare and consecrate the holy oil used in the great menorah (seven-branched candelabra). The Temple was rededicated on the 25th of Kislev in 165 BC.

Christmas and Hanukkah are a time of proclaiming the deity of the Messiah.”
Today, a candle is lit each day for eight days to commemorate the miracle in the Temple. The Hanukkah menorah (lampstand) has nine candleholders instead of the traditional seven. Eight are for the eight candles and a ninth in the middle, called a Shamash (servant), is used to light the other candles.

Well, a lovely story, you are thinking. But I am not Jewish, so what is that to me? “I am a Christian and celebrate the birth of Christ,” you say. Maybe you are Jewish, and thinking, Yes, a wonderful, miraculous, story that we can celebrate at this season of the year. Thus, we don’t have to think about Christmas that Gentiles celebrate.

Sorry, Jewish and Christian friend, but you are both wrong. Here are six reasons why.

IT IS A NIGHT OF DELIVERANCE

Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Jewish people over spiritual oppression and defilement of the sacred Temple. Christmas tells of the Messiah’s coming to deliver man from the real spiritual oppression he is under, the oppression of sin. To Joseph, the angel revealed, “And she shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people [i.e. Jewish people] from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

IT IS A NIGHT OF LIGHTS

At Hanukkah, eight candles are lit commemorating the miracle of the light on the menorah that burned for eight days in the Temple. At Christmas we remember a great light that came into the world.  With Simeon (a Jewish man) of old we echo out the words he spoke at Jesus’ dedication in Herod’s Temple, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:30–32). To the Jewish people of His day Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John. 8:12). He went on to say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

The Shamash (servant candle) used to light the other Hanukkah candles is beautifully fulfilled in Jesus. Speaking of Himself, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus is the true Hanukkah light.

IT IS A NIGHT OF GIFT GIVING

A gift is given to children within a family on each of the eight days celebrated at Hanukkah.  Christmas is a time of telling the story of God’s greatest gift to the Jewish people and mankind. The Scripture says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16–17). Out of a deep love for humanity, God sacrificially gave His Son to die for the sin of mankind, thereby providing salvation to Jew and Gentile alike who put faith in Him as Savior. This salvation is a present possession that will be eternally enjoyed by all who believe.

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IT IS A NIGHT OF PEACE

Hanukkah commemorates a time of deliverance for Jewish people from their enemies, when peace came to Israel. Christmas is a time when Christians focus on Jesus Christ, who is identified as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). He said to all who believe in Him, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

IT IS A NIGHT OF MESSIAH’S DEITY

It was at Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22–33) in Jerusalem, that Jesus the Messiah proclaimed His deity. He said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30)—one in essence and nature. Not only did He claim to be Israel’s Messiah, but He claimed to be divine, as much God as God the Father. The Jewish people who heard Him that Hanukkah understood very well that Jesus stated He was God. Christmas and Hanukkah are a time of proclaiming the deity of the Messiah. As the angel said about His birth, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

IT IS A NIGHT OF PROMISE

A great promise was made at Hanukkah to those who put faith in the Messiah. Listen closely to Messiah’s words to those who put faith in Him, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28). Jesus the Messiah guarantees the gift of eternal life to all who believe. They “shall never perish” under any condition.

The flickering candle of Hanukkah, gracing the window of every Jewish home, shines forth with deeper significance in light of Jesus’ Messianic claim. He is God, come to Earth to light up the darkness and provide the light of eternal life to you, whether Jewish or Gentile.

What night is it? It is your night! It is a night that can make a destiny difference in your life!

About the Author
David M. Levy

David M. Levy

David M. Levy is the media resource specialist and a Bible teacher for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.

Comments 1

  1. I always enjoy and appreciate reading all about my Saviour from those whom I get to learn more about. In Jesus we are neither Jew nor Gentile we are all brothers and sisters in Christ .

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