Wednesday, December 5, 2007
What About Hanukkah?
Kelly had asked me what I thought of Hanukkah since it is only mentioned once in the Bible and the history of the celebration is found in Maccabees, which is not part of the Jewish Bible or most Protestant versions of the Bible. I decided to wait on answering it until it was the time when we would actually be thinking about it (and also we have so many, many things we want to discuss and research that some of them just had to wait!). So I thought I would give a little of the history and explain how we view it in our home.
Celebrating Hanukkah, or the festival of light, began around 165 BC. The name Hanukkah comes from the Hebrew word for dedication, and is used to commemorate the victory of the Jews in the war and the reclaiming of the temple (an altar to Zeus had been placed there). This is the story that is round-about mentioned in Maccabees, but it is not the same as the story preserved elsewhere and it is more of a belated Sukkot, since they could not celebrate their Sukkot during the war. That is also why the time-frame of 8 days likely came into it. The festival of lights, however, referrs to a miraculous happening regarding the sacred oil for lights. When they came to the temple, there was only enough oil to last one night. Yet the light remained lit for eigth nights. This is why the current celebration includes the lighting of the Menorah, or a mantle with 9 candles (8 for the days of miracle and one as the servant candle to light the others). The custom also is to eat foods fried in oil and to play the dreidle game (which is very easy for kids and has some history of its own that could be used to teach a unit lesson). Children are also given small gifts (like coins) to celebrate the prosperity of the Israelites. The two stories have been meshed and mingled and are often told as one today.
Thought the celebration of this day (for which ever reason or both combined) is recorded in John 10:22-23, it is not a Feast of Israel in the sense that Purim, Pesach, and the others commanded in Deuteronomy are. It is instead a national holiday of sorts, like our Independence Day. It is a celebration of the reclaiming of the temple and most likely a miracle of the sacred oil combined, but it is not a holy festival in that sense. It is certainly a day of joy, and of course Yahweh was the orchestrator of the many miracles that brought the desired outcome. There are other festivals listed in the Bible that are not holy in that sense as well, but they are still important to the culture of the Jewish people. Wedding feasts, the celebration of birthdays (Genesis 21:8- it was customary to wean a child at 2 and then celebrate the 'new' stage in his life), and others were talked about in the Bible but not given direct instruction to celebrate them at all, or if so how to keep them. They were still a source of great joy, and we are to have joy in our lives. Each of us will find different seasons of life to celebrate, but they will be personal in nature depending on the journey Yahweh has specifically put us on. The Feasts in Deuteronomy are communal and commanded- they are set apart for Yahweh's purposes and are therefore different.
So again I would compare it to the celebration of Independence Day here in America. It is a very important reminder of the history of the nation, it is a celebration of our freedom to worship the true and living God, and we are called to be in subjection to and pray for our government leaders. Just like we have Thanksgiving to celebrate the establishment of religious freedom and then Independence Day to commemorate when we had to fight to preserve that freedom, the Israelites have Sukkot to commemorate the covenant of Yahweh and his desire for them to worship him in a movable temple and then Hanukkah to commemorate the fight to secure the freedom to worship him in the temple established in the Promised Land. It is a very similar comparison and I have no objection to celebrating either day, because both are entirely about rejoicing in the goodness of our Father Provider.
For more on Feasts and Festivals, see www.chosenpeople.com