Hanukkah 2014 began at sundown last night with the first candlelighting radiating light and hope in the troubled and dark times that besiege readers, viewers and listeners whenever they tune into the news source of their choice. The constant onslaught of tragic headlines–from school shootings to the horrors perpetrated by ISIS and ongoing devastation in the Middle East, to violence in Sydney and racial unrest and protest in many U.S. cities–all paint a grim picture of the dark state of the world. Hanukkah commemorates such a time in Jewish history when Greek and Syrian domination turned their world dark but was overthrown in the Maccabean revolution in the second century B.C. With the overlords defeated and religious freedom restored, history records a miracle still remembered today during the Hanukkah season.
The Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes IV was on a mission in 168 B.C., to quell Jewish religious observances and worship and force them to conform to Syrian culture and religion. He not only ravaged the temple but in a calculated move to anger and offend the Jews at the very core of their being, he defiled the holy of holies, the most sacred space in the temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar, an animal considered to be unclean by Jewish standards making this desecration an act of the highest offense. He outlawed all Jewish religious practices on pain of death and enforced his demands of idol worship by martial law.
The Maccabee family rose up in protest and over the course of three years, led an army of devout commoners, armed with only the simplest of weapons in guerilla warfare against a force that outnumbered, out-equipped and out trained them by far. Though they were labeled as militant fanatics at the time, the little man standing up to tyrannical overlords inspired hope in the Jewish people being crushed under the dark despotism of foreign rule.
They took back the Temple mount, purified the temple, replaced the profaned altar and were preparing to rededicate the Temple when they discovered that they were critically low on the sacred oil necessary to carry out the worship, ceremonies and celebrations. It would take eight days to make another batch and they only had enough to burn the candles for one day. The miracle of hope at Hanukkah, which means dedication, is that the oil kept the light radiant for eight days, enough time for a new batch to be made so that the worship and celebration continued unhindered, giving glory and praise to Yahweh for delivering them from the time of darkness at the hands of their enemies.
Although Hanukkah was added to the Jewish calendar by rabbis and not by divine command, as are many of the Jewish festivals, it symbolizes the spiritual strength of the Jews who held tight to Yahweh and were granted victory over a vastly superior force and provision for their faithfulness. Hanukkah celebrates not only the military victory against hopeless odds in a time of great darkness for the Jewish people, but also the spiritual victory that demonstrates the importance of maintaining faith and hope in Yahweh, even when all seems lost. The lights on the menorah shine out each year reminding the Jews that their God is the light that radiates in their dark times and brings hope to the hopeless. As long as the strength of their faith does not wane, the spirit of Hanukkah will remain alive in their constant dedication to the principles of Yahweh as a shining witness to His sufficiency for every need and the answer to darkness both then and now.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Image courtesy of slgckgc- Flickr License