Chanukah—The Story of a Few Devout Men
Have you ever celebrated Chanukah? Some Christians consider this Jewish holiday “extra-biblical” because it’s not included in the Feasts of the Lord in Leviticus 23. The circumstances that eventually culminated in the eight-day celebration were prophesied some three centuries earlier, however, though not specifically named in Scripture.
Around 534 BC, Daniel predicted:
And forces shall be mustered by him [Antiochus IV], and they [Greco-Syrians] shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation.
Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits (Dan. 11:31-32).
Each year, the Jewish community rehearses the historical account of a Seleucid tyrant named Antiochus who attempted to destroy Judaism in the second century BC. He was not the first, nor sadly the last.
The Seleucid Empire emerged after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC lasting from 312 – 64 BC. Antiochus IV, the eighth in the line of Seleucid succession, ruled Syria, parts of Asia Minor and Mesopotamia. He claimed the title Epiphanes, which means “the manifestation of god,” though the historian, Josephus, called him a maniac.
Antiochus Epiphanes promoted a more aggressive strategy of assimilation than that of Alexander to solidify control over his vast kingdom. To achieve his objective among the Jewish population, Antiochus IV slaughtered a sow on the altar, thereby desecrating the Temple of Jerusalem. He also erected an image of Zeus as representative of himself in the temple courtyard. Jewish people were then forced to demonstrate their allegiance to Antiochus and renunciation of Judaism by eating pork.
A Miracle Happened When Jerusalem Was Reclaimed
The Jewish population living in the Seleucid Empire attempted to function within the strictures of prevailing Greek culture up to that point. Antiochus IV’s abominable strategy became the catalyst for the prophesied rebellion as righteous men united in defense of worship of the One-true God.
When agents of Antiochus came to the village of Modi’in located northwest of Jerusalem, a temple priest named Mattathias and his five sons refused to comply with the anti-Semitic policies of the Syrian tyrant. A year into the ensuing conflict Mattathias passed away. His son, Judah, emerged as the leader.
Nicknamed Maccabee, which literally means “The Hammer,” Judah and his followers are known as the Maccabees. This resolute band of a few devout men persevered and reclaimed Jerusalem just three years later. Ultimately, the Jewish population was granted greater freedom under Antiochus V when the Syrians were driven from Judea following two more decades of engagement.
Just as the prophet Daniel had predicted, God empowered the noble Maccabees to,“carry out great exploits“ (Dan. 11:32). With Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in their possession, work immediately began to purify the desecration. Almost to the day three years after the resistance began, the newly purified temple was rededicated.
A Miracle Happened When the Temple Was Rededicated
Tradition states that only one-day’s supply of oil was found for the Temple Menorah. The menorah was relighted using the oil on hand and miraculously burned for a full eight days until more oil could be prepared.
The celebration of Chanukah highlights not just the Miracle of the Oil, but more importantly, the ability of a few to restore the light of truth when darkness threatens to overwhelm. Chanukah demonstrates that the actions of noble individuals who are empowered by God can have lasting influence.
God demonstrated His power in similar ways prior to the time of the Maccabees. Remember the exploits of Deborah, Gideon, David, Nehemiah and Esther? Each stood against formidable enemies, but triumphed with God’s help.
Chanukah celebrates the victory of the light—exemplified by worship of the One-true God—over the darkness of anti-Semitic repression. Chanukah is the annual reminder that the schemes of the wicked fail!
1) Coin of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. (Photo credit: [Public domain]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
2) Seleucid Empire. (Photo credit: By (own work), The Oxford Bible Atlas,1962/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
3) Yehuda Maccabee (Judas Maccabeus), Or Torah Synagogue in Acre, Israel. (Photo credit: By Dr. Avishai Teicher/Pikiwiki Israel/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
4) Jerusalem Temple Model, Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo credit: Charles E. McCracken Archives/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
5) Temple Institute Holy Menorah – Western Wall Plaza, Old City Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo credit: Charles E. McCracken Archives, Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
Copyright © 2017 Charles E. McCracken, text content (updated 2022). Repost/Reprint with permission. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.