What is Hanukkah? You probably know that it is a Jewish holiday, but what is being celebrated on Hanukkah? Some think of Hanukkah as the Jewish version of Christmas, but you may be surprised to learn that it has nothing to do with a Jewish Christmas.
It is actually a holiday that began December 6th. In this Bible study, let’s give some attention to the this Jewish holiday called Hanukkah, and let’s invite what we learn into our lives and draw some Bible lessons.
The history of Hanukkah begins with Alexander the Great and his death at the age of 33. Between the Old Testament and the New Testament, there is a period of history of about 400 years. It is during this time that we find Alexander the Great.
When Alexander the Great died at the age of 33, he had no heir to his throne. There was a child that had been conceived. When Alexander died, there was a question as to what to do with his vast empire. It has been said that Alexander conquered the world, and then wept because there was nothing else to conquer. He had a vast empire, but he had no heir, so no one knew what to do with his empire after he died.
Eventually, all of his territory began to fall into the hands of his chief generals.
The son of General Seleucus came into power, and his name was Antiochus. Antiochus went down and attacked General Ptolemy in Egypt. He was successful in his military campaign and took control of all of Egypt except for one key city called Alexandria. All of this was done in secrecy so as not to alert Rome.
Two years later, Antiochus went down a second time to wage war on Ptolemy in Egypt. This time, he was going to take the city of Alexandria. He traveled down to Egypt with the intention of taking the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Somehow the Roman empire became aware of what he was planning, and sent an Ambassador named Gaius with a company of soldiers to Antiochus, and told him not to go after Egypt.
Antiochus hesitated, so Gaius drew a circle in the sand around Antiochus, and told him that before he left the circle, he was to give him an answer. The point was implied that if Antiochus tried to step out of this circle with the intention of going to war with Egypt, Rome will wage war against him. (This is where we get the expression, drawing a line in the sand.) Antiochus wisely decided to call off his attack and return home to Syria.
For Antiochus to travel back home to Syria, he had to pass through Palestine. He was angry because of his confrontation with the Roman Ambassador and being forced to call off his attack. In his anger, as he was making his way back to Syria, he attacked Jerusalem. There was a huge battle between the Syrian army led by Antiochus and the city of Jerusalem. The city was destroyed, 40,000 Jews were killed, and another 40,000 Jews were led into slavery.
Out of anger, Antiochus declared war on the entire Jewish nation, but the war was actually declared on Jewish culture. He tried to destroy the Jews by destroying their way of life. He accelerated the process of Hellenizing the Jews (making the Jews adapt to the Greek culture) that was started by Alexander the Great.
After some time, there arose an old Jewish priest named Mathias Maccabee. He had five sons: Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Johnathon, and Judah.
Matthias because outraged because of what Antiochus had done, so he revolted against Antiochus and his army. He killed a man that was in the temple worshipping Zeus. He and his sons then went out into the desert and waged guerilla warfare against Antiochus and the Syrian government. This became known as the Maccabean war.
Matthias was an elderly man. With the hardship of fighting a war and fighting the elements in the desert, Matthias died. His five sons continued the war. Specifically, his son Simeon became chief counsel, and Judah became the General. These sons were known as the Maccabees. They were so successful in their guerilla warfare that they defeated Antiochus, reclaimed Jerusalem, drove out the Syrian forces, and restored the Jewish traditions, worship, and ceremonies. For the next 100 years, the Jews were able to live in relative peace because of the war that was waged by Matthias and his five sons.
It is their restoring Jerusalem and reclaiming the temple that is the history behind the Jewish holiday known as Hanukkah. Hanukkah is the Hebrew word for “dedication.” It is actually a feast that is known as the Feast of Dedication.
The Maccabees were successful in restoring the feasts, worship, and the customs of the Jews. They had rededicated the temple that had once been defiled. They began an eight day feast that praised God for His involvement.
When they went back into the temple, tradition says that they had only a very small amount of oil. According to tradition, this small amount of oil was in a container that was sealed and stored and dated all the way back to the days of Samuel. They opened up the container and used the oil to light all the candles in the temple. But there was only enough oil to last one day. Supposedly, this little bit of oil miraculously lasted eight days. After eight days, new oil had been produced and was brought into the temple to light the candles from that point forward.
The feast of Hanukkah is a feast where the Jews will light candles to remind themselves how God miraculously caused their small amount of oil to last them eight days.
A menorah is a candle holder that has seven candles. There is a special Hanukkah menorah that holds nine candles. There is one candle that sticks up in the middle, and there are four candles on either side of it. The candle in the middle is what they use to light the other eight candles. They light a candle every day for eight days. On day one of Hanukkah, one candle is burning. On the second day, two candles are burning. On the third day, three candles are burning. And they do this every day until all eight of the candles are lit. This is done to remind the Jews about how, in the days of the Maccabees, God miraculously caused a small amount of oil to last eight days.
Also during the feast of Hanukkah, they would play a game with spinning tops where one would spin the top. When it finished spinning and fell over, it would expose one of four letters of the Hebrew alphabet. These letters represented words that formed an important Hebrew phrase. The phrase said, “A great miracle was done here.”
The Jews also believe that Hanukkah is a time when you should eat oily foods. So they would make potato pancakes, jelly filled donuts, and other oily foods. Hanukkah was an eight day feast where they would light a candle, play these Jewish games, and eat oily foods. And it was all done to remind them about a time in their history where the temple was restored and a supposed miracle was performed.
There are some valuable Bible studies that we can apply from this Jewish holiday. What really stands out in the story of Hanukkah is the powerful influence of a father. The sons of Matthias had a respect for God and for the spiritual and religious traditions because of the influence of their father.
Do you realize that when the Jews celebrate Hanukkah, they are remembering the actions of a father more than two thousand years ago? They are still being influenced today because of what one parent did more than two thousand years ago.
What does the Bible say about the influence of a parent?
This is a verse that is often used by parents to remind their children to be obedient. Yet, we forget that this is speaking to parents just as much as it is speaking to children. If children are to obey their parents, then that means that parents are expected to give their children rules to obey. Parents are expected to set boundaries and be the authority to which children must submit.
Who is in charge at your house? Society tells us that we are should not have expectations of our children or demand certain behavior because it might upset them. There are parents who do not want to say no to their children, because they don’t want them to throw a fit. A father tells his child to do something and the child refuses to do it, and the father does not force the child to submit. Who is in charge in that house?
Look at those two words “training and admonition.”
When you put those two thoughts together, fathers are told to raise their children by giving them knowledge and by disciplining them. How important will being a follower of Jesus be to your children? How important will worshipping God be to your children? How important will living moral, upright lives be to your children?
We make decisions that makes sports an important part of our children’s lives. We teach our children that it is important to have a good education. We teach our children the importance of money and savings. But we neglect to teach them how important it is to put God first in your life. We teach our children that worshipping God is to be a priority, but how quickly do we forsake the assembling of the church?
What is important to you is what is important to your children. If worshipping God is not a priority to you, it isn’t going to be a priority to them. When your children eventually grow old and face the prospect of stepping into eternity, what is going to matter? How well they played in some sporting event? How much money they were able to save? How much of an education they received? How much time they got to spend with relatives? How great a career they managed to have? What will matter is one thing. Are they lost or are they saved? Where they are spiritually will begin with you and the kind of influence you had on their spiritual development as children when their value system really begins to take shape. The influence of a parent is unmistakable, although often underestimated.
From Hanukkah, we can learn about the influence of a parent. Let’s leave this Bible study with the words of Jesus.
You are the light of your community. You are the light of your workplace. You are the light of your home. Let your light so shine so that your neighbors, your coworkers, members of your household can see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. You be a light to those around you, so that they can see that by your decisions, by the language you use, the attitude of your heart, that you revere God.