09 – Hannukah

The Persians were in power.

Just as the prophets Isaiah and Daniel had predicted, the Persians defeated the mighty Babylonians and became the world power. Their kingdom stretched 3,000 miles wide from Egypt in the southwest to Asia Minor in the northwest all the way out Babylon in the east. It was a new era for the Children of Israel. Under Persian King Cyrus’ orders, Ezra was appointed to lead the Israelites to return to their land and rebuild Jerusalem. They weren’t free of Persian rule – but at least they weren’t captives in a foreign land. For the next 100 years, the Children of Israel would work against tremendous odds to rebuild their nation into a shadow of the glory it once was, knowing in their hearts that God would one day redeem them from their foreign oppressors.

As the prophet Malachi breathed his last, the Old Testament period came to a close. His final words foretold the coming of an “Elijah” who would turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. The next 430 years were marked by the silence of God, broken finally by the voice of man dressed in camel’s hair, crying in the wilderness. When that day came, there was a new oppressor in town: the Romans.

While these 430 years are silent in the Word of God, in history, they were anything but silent.

The first wave of war started with the ‘leopard’ of Daniel 7. The Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, blazed like a ten-horned beast from west to east, conquering everything in their path.

Alexander the Great

Fulfilling prophecies in both Daniel and Ezekiel, Alexander’s military force brought a wave of revolution unlike anything seen before or since. Its mark on the region is still visible today, and his deeds are recorded as the most successful military campaign in history. In the wake of his might, his conquered kingdoms were brought new philosophy, new culture, new weapons, and most importantly, one language. After an 11-year campaign, Alexander the Great reached the borders of India and wept because he had no more lands to conquer. He died on June 11, 323BC, at the age of 33.

Alexander’s generals subdivided the kingdom into smaller regions:
* The Selucids controlled Babylon.
* The Ptolemaics (btw – Cleopatra was a Ptolemaic) controlled Egypt and Palestine (Israel).
* The Cassanders covered Greece and
* The Lysimachus kept Syria and Asia Minor.

But power is a fickle thing. Before long, the various generals (and their successors) took to warring against each other. The Selucids quickly wrested control of Asia and Syria from Lysimachus and eventually gained control of Palestine from the Ptolemaics. By the year 168BC, king Antiochus Epiphanes IV rose to his father’s throne and ruled over the Selucid empire – and the Jewish people.

Although the Ptolemaic rulers were largely indifferent to the peculiar religious habits of the Jews, Antiochus was quite the opposite. He heavily favored the ‘reformed’ Jews (the ones that favored Greek culture), held the pious Jews in disdain and routinely awarded the position of high priest to the highest bidder. When the pious Jews rebelled, Antiochus outlawed Judaism, banned circumcision, looted their Temple, and desecrated it by erecting a statue of Zeus and sacrificing pigs on the altar. Small wonder the prophet Daniel 400 years earlier called him “the abomination that causes desolation”.

Of the many cruel things you might do to a God-fearing Jew, desecrating his temple with swine should be the last on your list. When Antiochus gave the order to the Jewish priests to sacrifice a pig to the Greek gods, Matthias a Jewish priest, refused. When another Jew stepped forward to do the deed, Matthias drew his knife and killed the Jew, then turned and killed Antiochus’ official who gave the order. He and his 5 sons then led a massive revolt against Antiochus (the Maccabeean Revolt), and within two years, stunned Antiochus by wresting their freedom from the Greeks in 165BC. For the first time in over 400 years, the Jews were finally under their own control. The Greeks, who were increasingly distracted by growing attacks from the Romans on their western front, had finally been expelled from the holy lands.

Hanukkah Menorah

For his military prowess, Judah “The Hammer” Maccabee, son of Matthias, became a national hero and held in the same esteem as Joshua, Gideon and David. He set out to purify the desecrated Temple by ordering the creation of a new altar and new holy vessels to replace the defiled ones. According to the Talmud, an 8-day burning of olive oil was required for the eight day purification process, but only one day’s worth of oil was left un-desecrated. The pious Jews commenced with the purification process, and through a miracle that only God could bring about, the one day’s oil lasted all eight days while new oil was being made.

To this day, the Jews celebrate this eight-day “Festival of Lights” to commemorate the Lord’s miraculous provision and blessing on them as they purified His holy Temple. It commemorates His moral victory over Greek idolatry. Although this is a festival intended for Jews only, it also reminds us, as modern Christians, that defiling God’s worship is anathema to Him and His holiness should be vigorously defended. (See Lev 10 and Acts 5)

Although Hanukkah (aka, The Festival of Lights; The Festival of Dedication) was started in 165BC, and thus, never mentioned in the Old Testament, it is mentioned once in the New Testament. In John 10:22-23, we see Jesus going to the Temple during the Festival of Dedication.

The Jews gained their independence from the Greeks in 165BC and within a few years, set up the Hasmonean Kingdom of Israel (140BC-37BC). Their 100-year freedom featured several priests and kings as rulers, but never a king from the royal line of David. Although the blood line of David continued till Joseph & Mary, as prophesied by Jeremiah, that line of kings stopped ruling when Nebuchadnezzar dragged them off to Babylon in 586BC.

When the Romans finally seized control of the Jews in 37BC, they put a fellow named Herod, an Idumean (descendant of Esau) in as king. In order to curry favor with the Jews, he married a Hasmonean princess .. and later executed her and two of his four sons from that marriage on the suspicion that they were trying to seize his kingship I bet his younger sons were more than a little nervous when tip-toeing around their old man. Hint to traveling worshipers: don’t go to Jerusalem asking for the location of a child *born* king of the Jews. No telling what the sitting king might do to you. (Hint: read Matthew 2)