The Biblical Holiday of Hanukkah
Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah or Hanukah), is an annual festival of the Jews celebrated on eight successive days to honor the restoration of divine worship in the Temple after it had been defiled by heathens. The return of their religious liberty was to them as life from the dead and, in remembrance of it, they kept an annual holiday on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev. Kislev is the third month of the Jewish calendar corresponding, approximately, to early December in the Gregorian calendar. Jesus kept this festival. The principal source for the story of Hanukkah is found in the Talmud.
The biggest lesson of Hanukkah was the power of the spirit, the ability of God’s people to live by God’s commands. …Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts (Zech. 4:6). In between the Testaments, around 164 b.c., the Maccabees (or Hasmoneans), led by Judah Maccabee, wrested Judea from the rule of the Seleucids–Syrian rulers who supported the spread of Greek religion and culture. Hanukkah commemorates the recapture of Jerusalem by the Maccabees and the establishment of the Temple. The Temple had been profaned by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of Syria and overlord of Palestine. The Maccabees ruled Judea until Herod took power in 37 b.c.e.
Hanukkah centers around a nine-branch menorah. The Temple menorah has seven branches. The Hanukkah menorah has nine branches, eight to remember the eight days of Hanukkah and one is the shamus, the candle used to light the other candles (this is usually either higher or separate from the other eight branches).
Hanukkah in Bible Times
Nearly twenty-two centuries ago,
during the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem,
the events took place that the Jews memorialize
each year at Hanukah time: The Jewish people had
returned to the Land of Israel from the Babylonian
Exile, and had rebuilt the Holy Temple, but they
remained subject to the reigning powers: first,
the Persian Empire, then later, the conquering
armies of Alexander the Great.
Alexander the Great was a kind and
generous ruler to the Jews. He canceled the Jewish
taxes during Sabbatical years, and even offered
animals to be sacrificed on his behalf in the
Temple. After the death of Alexander, his kingdom
was divided among his generals. Judea was caught
in the middle and ended up under the system of
the Seleucid Dynasty, Greek kings who reigned
The Jews Under Syrian Rule
A Syrian tyrant, Antiochus IV, was
the new king who ruled Judea. He worshipped the
Greek gods, but he did allow the Jews to worship
YHWH. During the years of Greek power, many Jews
started to embrace the Greek culture and its Hellenistic,
pagan way of life. These Jewish Hellenists helped
Antiochuss goal to abolish every trace of
the Jewish religion.
Desecrated the Temple
Eventually, King Antiochus decided
to go into Jerusalem and take the treasures in
the temple and forbid the Jews from keeping their
holy traditions, such as the Sabbath, kosher laws,
studying their holy books, and the practice of
circumcision. To prove his point he desecrated
the Holy Altar by sacrificing a forbidden, unclean
pig on it. The Temple was dedicated to the worship
of Zeus Olympus. An altar to Zeus was set up on
the high altar. The Jews were forced to bow before
it under penalty of death. The Holy Temple was
invaded, desecrated, and pillaged of all its treasures.
Many innocent people were massacred, and the survivors
were heavily taxed. Antiochus went so far as to
proclaim himself a god, taking the name EpiphanesGod
Flavius Josephus, a renowned historian
who lived at the time of the Apostles recorded
the horrifying event of that time in this way:
(Antiquities of the Jews Book 12, Chapter 5) And
when the king had built an idol altar upon Gods
Altar, he slew swine upon it, and so offered a
sacrifice neither according to the law, nor the
Jewish religious worship in that country. He also
compelled them to forsake the worship which they
paid their own God, and to adore those whom he
took to be gods; and made them build temples,
and raise idol altars, in every city and village,
and offer swine upon them every day (254). He
also commanded them not to circumcise their sons,
and threatened to punish any that should be found
to have transgressed his injunction. He also appointed
overseers, who should compel them to do what he
commanded (255). And indeed many Jews there were
who complied with the kings commands either
voluntarily, or out of fear of the penalty that
was denounced; but the best men, and those of
the noblest souls, did not regard him, but did
pay a greater respect to the customs of their
country than concern as to the punishment which
he threatened to the disobedient; on which account
they every day underwent great miseries and bitter
torments (256). For they were whipped with rods
and their bodies were torn to pieces, and were
crucified while they were still alive and breathed:
they also strangled those women and their sons
whom they had circumcised, as the king had appointed,
hanging their sons about their necks as they were
upon the crosses. And if there were any sacred
book of the law found, it was destroyed; and those
with whom they were found miserably perished also.
A Wicked High Priest
Some Jews drifted into the Greek
Ways, changed their names from their Hebrew names,
and followed the Greek modern practices,
giving up the old ways of their ancestors.
One hellenized Jews Hebrew name was Joshua,
but he changed it to the Greek name Jason. He
offered King Antiochus a bribe so he could take
over the position of the High Priest.
The High Priest Jason
constructed a gymnasium near the Temple, and demoralized
his fellow Jews with pagan customs and licentious
Another Hellinized Jew came along and offered
a bigger bribe and Jason was replaced. Jason then
gathered an army and attacked Menelaus in the
Holy City, slaughtering many of the Jews. Antiochus
interpreted this civil squabble as a revolt against
his throne, and sent his armies into Jerusalem,
plundering the Temple and murdering tens of thousands
of Jews. Altars were erected with statues of the
Greek gods and goddesses in every city and town.
Soldiers forced Jews to make offerings, to eat
forbidden foods, and to engage in other immoral
Many other Jews resisted, and refused
to follow Greek practices, and would not bow down
to the Greeks pagan idols. The Greeks tried
to get Jews to abandon the Torah and commandments,
but God was in charge. Many times God had fought
the Jewish battles, against all odds, delivering
the evil to the righteous and the outnumbered.
God helped the Jews to organize the common people,
farmers, workers, and servants, and they began
to fight the Syrian persecutors.
This small group of Hasmoneans,
under the leadership of Judas Maccabee, employed
guerrilla warfare and drove the Syrians out. The
Maccabees regained control of the Holy Temple,
and began the task of purifying it. The altar
which had been defiled by the sacrifice of a pig
upon it was torn down and rebuilt. All new holy
vessels were crafted. A date for the rededication
of the Temple was setthe twenty-fifth day
of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which occurs approximately
in the Roman month of December (A.T.O.M. 1995).
Taking unhewn stones, as the law
commands, they built a new altar on the model
of the previous one. They rebuilt the Temple and
restored its interior, and consecrated the Temple
courts. They renewed the sacred vessels and the
lampstand, and brought the altar of incense and
the table into the Temple. They burnt incense
on the altar and lit the lamps on the lamp-stand
to shine within the Temple. They decorated the
front of the Temple with golden wreaths and ornamental
shields. They renewed the gates and the priests
rooms, and fitted them with doors. When they had
put the Bread of the Presence on the table and
hung the curtains, all their work was completed
(Killian 1996). The Temple was then rededicated
to God with festivities that lasted eight days.
When the Jews cleaned out the temple
idols, they found only one small cruse of oil
with only enough oil for one day to light their
holy lamps. They decided to light the Menorah
(the Temple candelabra) even with the small amount
of oil. To everyones amazement the menorah
miraculously burned for eight days until new oil
The congregation of Israel decreed
that the rededication of the altar should be observed
with joy and gladness at the same season each
year, for eight days, beginning on the twenty-fifth
of Kislev. The light of the menorah is the symbol
of the light of Yahweh. The fact that the light
burned even when no supply was left is a perfect
symbol of the eternity of Gods Word. The
heart of the celebration, is not only the Rabbis
retelling of the saga of revolt and renewal, but
also the retelling of the divine experience of
the miracle of the oil.
Jewish Customs of Hanukkah
Jewish tradition sought to embellish these
days of celebration. It is the practice to have
festive meals for the eight days, and in addition
to Latkes, jelly doughnuts fried in oil became
popular. (Both symbolize the miracle of the
oil.) Other popular sources of joy are the Hanukkah
gifts and Hanukkah gelt (money.) The major ritual
ceremony of the holiday is the lighting of the
Hanukkah menorah. The eight days are marked
by prayers of thanksgiving, special songs of
praise (for the miracles and redemption), the
Shmoneh Esrei (the central silent prayer) three
times a day, and grace after meals.
Lighting the Candles
Some Jews light one candle the first night
and add one additional light every subsequent
night. Others Jews start with all eight candles
lit and decrease one every night.
Since the object of the lighting is to publicize
the miracle, the candles are usually placed
near windows: to remind others of the holiday
and the redemption. It is customary to light
the candles right after sundown. After the destruction
of the temple the menorah became the most important
Jewish pictorial motif: what had been a holy
implement became the symbol of Judaism. The
main prophetic reading of Hanukkah is the prophecy
of Zechariah, which ends,
might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith
the Lord of hosts (Zech. 4:6).
A Hallel is a song of praise celebrating Gods
mighty acts on behalf of His Chosen People,
the nation of Israel. The complete text of the
song is contained in Psalms 115 through 118.
The complete HALLEL is recited in the morning
service throughout the eight days of Chanukah.
The prayer of Al Hanisim, in which
we give thanks to God for all the miracles of
Chanukah, is recited in the Shmone Esrei (Amidah)
as well as in the Birkat Hamazon (grace after
meal) each day of Chanukah.
Reading the Torah
The Torah is read each day of Chanukah, specifically,
the story of the dedication of the Tabernacle
in the desert and the special gifts donated
by the leaders of each of the twelve tribes
of Israel in connection with the dedication.
This Torah portion is read on Chanukah because
the Tabernacle was completed on the twenty-fifth
of Kislev, the same day in which the miracle
of Chanukah took place close to one thousand
Spinning the Dreidel
Those who would like to quickly part with their
gelt play the game of Dreidel (spinning top).
On the Dreidel are Hebrew letters Nune, Gimel,
Shin, and Hay. On the surface, those letters
stand for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham - A great
miracle happened there Each player puts
the same amount of something nuts, raisins,
pennies, or chocolate coins in the middle, which
is called the pot. Play proceeds
clockwise around the circle of players. Each
player takes a turn spinning the Dreidel. Whatever
the Dreidel lands on decides what you are to
HAY: you get half of the pot.
GIMEL: you get ALL of the pot.
NUNE: you get nothing.
SHIN: you must put 1 (nut, or raising, or penny,
etc.) in the pot.
Whoever has the most in the end wins! The Rabbis
are opposed to gambling games and it became
customary to give any Dreidel money to charity.
The Messiah in Hanukkah
The Torah did not require Jews to be at the Temple
in Jerusalem, as this was not one of the pilgrimage
festivals. Every one observed it in his own
place, not as a holy time. Yeshua was there that
He might improve those eight days of holiday
for good purposes.
Yeshua walked in the temple in Solomons
porch when the Sadduciens asked him How
long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be
the Messiah tell us. They pretended to
want to know the truth, as if they were ready
to embrace it; but it was not their intention.
Yeshua answered them, I told you, and ye believed
not: the works that I do in my Fathers
name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe
not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said
unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know
them, and they follow me (John 10:25-27). He
had told them, and they believed not; why then
should they be told again, merely to gratify
Hanukkahs theme is of a miracle. During
Hanukkah Yeshua spoke of His miracles: If I do
not the works of my Father, believe me not.
But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe
the works: that ye may know, and believe, that
the Father is in me, and I in him (John 10:37-38).
Yeshua wanted the people of his day to see His
miracles and believe in Him as a result. His
miracles point to his divine and messianic identity.
In this way Yeshua personifies the message of
Hanukkah: God actively involved in the affairs
of his people. Hanukkah reminds us that God
is a God of miracles, not just of concept and
religious ideals. He has broken through into
human history and continues to do so today.
All of us who know Yeshua can speak of Gods
working in our lives (Gilman 1995).
Yeshua is the Light of the World
Yeshua preached three sermons in which he declared
Himself the light of the world, and all three could have been during Hanukkah,
the Festival of Lights. (It is not clear from
the text when this incident happened, but it
was some time between the Feast of Tabernacles
and the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah); both
of these celebrations focused on light).
Then Yeshua said unto them, Yet a little
while is the light with you. Walk while ye have
the light, lest darkness come upon you: for
he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither
he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the
light, that ye may be the children of light.
These things spake Yeshua, and departed, and
did hide himself from them (John 12:35-36).
Just before Yeshua announced that He was the
Light of the world, Yeshua had shone upon the
conscience of those who accused the adulteress.
Read the story in John Chapter 8. John also
records Yeshua healing a blind man (John 9:1-12) at
about the same time (John 8:12 and John 9:5) that Yeshua
declared himself to be the Light of the world.
When he had thus spoken, he spat on the
ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he
anointed the eyes of the blind man with the
clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool
of Siloam, He went his way therefore, and washed,
and came seeing (John 9:5-7).
The story of Hanukkah can be compared with
end-time happenings described in the books of
Revelation and Daniel. Antiochus is a type of
the antichrist. Just as happened under the rule
of Antiochus, Daniel prophesied in Daniel 9:27
And he shall confirm the covenant with many
for one week: and in the midst of the week he
shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to
cease, and for the overspreading of abominations
he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation,
and that determined shall be poured upon the
The same powers promoted by Antiochus are in
the world today. Worldwide immorality, and idolatry
are the norm. We must come out and be separate.
And what agreement hath the temple of God with
idols? for ye are the temple of the living God;
as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and
walk in them; and I will be their God, and they
shall be my people. Wherefore come out from
among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord,
and touch not the unclean thing; and I will
receive you. The deceiver stands waiting to
devour in this present culture (2 Cor. 6:16-17).
Was Yeshua Conceived on Hanukkah?
Many believe that our Messiah, the light
of the world, was conceived on the festival
of lightsHanukkah. The Bible does not
specifically say the date of Yeshuas birth.
It was not during the winter months because
the sheep were in the pasture (Luke 2:8). A
study of the time of the conception of John
the Immerser reveals he was conceived about Sivan
30, the eleventh week (Luke 1:8-13, 24). Adding
forty weeks, for a normal pregnancy reveals
that John the Immerser was born on or about Passover
(Nisan 14). Six months after Johns conception,
Miriam conceived Yeshua (Luke 1:26-33); therefore
Yeshua would have been conceived six months after
Sivan 30 in the month of KislevHanukkah.
Was the light of the world, conceived
on the festival of lights? Starting at Hanukah,
which begins on Kislev 25 and continues for
eight days, and counting through the nine months
of Miriams pregnancy, one arrives at the
approximate time of the birth of Yeshua at the
Festival of Tabernacles.