Whether referred to as the Feast of Dedication or the Festival of Lights, the celebration of Hanukkah holds great significance for both the Jew and Christian alike. One of the main symbols of Hanukkah, the menorah, holds great symbolism as well. So, how did Hanukkah come to be? What is the historical and spiritual significance of Hanukkah? What does the menorah symbolize for the believer in Christ?
Let’s take a look…
In 167 BC, Syrian-Greco forces seized the Jewish temple and dedicated it to the worship of the Greek god Zeus. The Jewish people were, understandably, distraught, but fear of governmental retaliation kept them in check. Antiochus Epiphanes, the governor, then made the observance of Judaism a capital offense. Following that, in a move copied directly from Daniel’s experience in Babylon, the Jewish people were ordered to worship only Greek gods.
It was in the village of Modi’in that the seeds of revolt began to break through the hardened ground of apathy. It was there that Greek soldiers gathered the villagers and forced them to bow down to an idol. Then, in a move meant to pour salt on the wound, the villagers were forced to eat the flesh of a pig. It was when soldiers ordered Mattathias, the local high priest, to bow and eat that the unrest began. Not surprisingly, Mattathias refused submit. When a villager stepped forward and offered to participate on Mattathias’s behalf, the high priest drew his sword and, in a fit of rage, killed the Greek soldier and the indulgent villager. Mattathias’s five sons, along with zealous villagers, armed themselves and killed the rest of the garrison in the village.
Mattathias and his family fled the village to hide in the mountains, and other incited Jews later joined them. Eventually the revolutionaries, who came to be known as the Maccabees, were successful in taking back their city and ultimately in regaining control of the temple in Jerusalem. Mattathias, who by this time had died, had ceded leadership of the revolt to his third son, Judah Maccabee (Judah the Hammer). Judah ordered the temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be erected in place of the polluted altar of Zeus, and new holy vessels to be made. When all had been completed and the time of dedication had come, it was discovered that there was only enough olive oil to keep the light of the menorah lit, not for the full eight days, but for only one day. The priest lit the wick anyway, and the flame burned for eight full days!
In the years that followed, this became a major feast in the land of Israel. Because the word Hanukkah stems from a word meaning “to dedicate”, we find references to this feast translated in many English Bibles, not incorrectly, as the Feast of Dedication. The Jewish people commonly call it “The Festival of Lights” and that is because out of that celebration (which occurs in the winter, before Christmas) came a peculiar menorah. The traditional menorah has seven branches and illuminated the Holy Place, wherein was the table of showbread and the altar of incense. In the New Testament book of Revelation, the seven branches represent the seven churches of Asia Minor as well as the church across the years. Recall the explanation given in the Book of Revelation:
The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches. ~ Revelation 1:20
The tradition of the nine-branched menorah comes from the eight-day miracle and the ninth mystery candle. Some rabbis believe seven of the branches represent the traditional menorah while the eighth branch represents new beginnings (which, historically, is the meaning of the number eight).
Here is a clip from our show, Ron Phillips from Abba’s House with my friend Rabbi Curt Landry, explaining the significance of the menorah…