The Hebrew People: Constant Captivity
Israel had been enslaved and oppressed on and off for over 1,000 years by Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Media-Persia. They were the runts of the ancient near middle east, and rarely ruled their own land without fear. The later books of the Old Testament indicate the constant struggles the Jews faced as they tried to rebuild their homeland.
Soon after the close of the Old Testament canon around 400 B.C., Greek military mastermind Alexander the Great had conquered most of the population of earth. Israel easily knuckled under the powerful presence of the Greek empire. Soon after his greatest achievements, however, Alexander died at the tender age of 33, leaving his kingdom to his lesser military generals.
To make a long, fascinating story short for my A.D.D. culture, the Jews came under the political and cultural oppression of the Greeks. The pressure was on in Jerusalem for the Jews to conform to a more Hellenized, cultured form of religion and national life. Many Jews indeed adopted Greek thinking – yet the holy city of Jerusalem continued to hold out against the contemporary changes sweeping the rest of the known world – after all, Yahweh, God of all the heaven and earth, greater than the pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses, had promised to dwell with His people in the temple in Jerusalem.
The Jews had already learned that idolatry brought severe punishment, having been destroyed by Babylon and carried into generations of exile. A small, faithful remnant in Jerusalem was committed to obeying Yahweh God, though the whole nation go Greek.
Into this tinder box came a spark when Greek general Antiochus IV Epiphanes robbed the Jerusalem temple to pay some war debts incurred during a skirmish in Egypt. He probably didn’t think it such a big deal, as Israel was under his domain at the time, so it would have been reasonable in his mind to “borrow” some temple treasure.
You can imagine the reaction of the faithful Jews, seeing a foreign, unclean army going into the holy temple, carrying off the sacred instruments. This would have stirred the old nightmares of Babylon, only a few hundreds years earlier, entering the holy city and burning it to the ground. Seeing their religion and culture were in danger, the Jerusalem Jews began to stand up against Greek culture and rule.
Bad Times for All
Antiochus treated the revolt as an all-out insurrection, and invaded Jerusalem. As the prophet Daniel had foretold, Antiochus entered the holy of holies in the temple, and desecrated the altar of Yahweh by setting up over it an altar to Zeus. Upon this altar he sacrificed a pig, letting the blood run over the Jewish altar.
This was the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel hundreds of years earlier, and it was a declaration of war against the God of Israel. War and violence broke out in the land. While thousands of Jews were slaughtered, a rebel army formed and began to turn back the Greeks. Judas Maccabeus and his family eventually took back Jerusalem and ejected the Greeks from Palestine. Jewish autonomy was to last for around a century until Rome took control… but for the time being, a rare period of Jewish independence had begun.
Hanukkah: the Festival of Lights
Jewish tradition tells us that the temple was cleansed and re-dedicated to the worship of Yahweh on the 25th day of Kislev (correlating to our November-December). When the Jewish army and priests went back into the temple, they found the sacred lampstand only had enough oil for about 1 day of light, but when they lit it, it miraculously stayed lit for the entire 8 day period of purification.
Thus from 165 B.C. onward, the Jews have celebrated the 8 days of Hanukkah to commemorate the re-dedication of the temple, and the miraculous light that came to the temple in purification…
The True Light Shines in the Temple
In John 8:12, Jesus stands in the temple in Jerusalem, less than 200 years after the first Hanukkah, and proclaims “I am the light of the world! Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” He was standing in the place of the lampstand; He was the one who had purified the temple in John 2:15-16, and He was there to claim His own place as the true light.
Jesus was claiming to be the One who is true light in the temple of God – He was standing there calling out to His people Israel, offering true light, religion, purity, sanctification, and life. He even claimed to be greater than the temple (Matt. 12:5-6).
In His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus shines as the true light of Jerusalem’s purification – He is the Hanukkah lamp of lamps, He is the oil that never runs dry, He is the purpose and reason for every celebration… He is the beautiful, perfect reason for the (Hanukkah) season, and in Him the perfect sacrifice for sins has been accomplished.
Thanks for reading,