Chanukkah - The Festival of Lights

by Joseph Hunting

It is not without significance that Israel has chosen the Menorah, or seven-branched candlestick as its national emblem. This highly symbolic and beautiful candelabrum was originally made of pure beaten gold and was located in the Holy Place in the Tent of Meeting or Mishkan. Today there is no Mishkan or Temple and no golden Menorah but a giant bronze replica stands opposite Israel's Knesset in Jerusalem as the emblem of the Old-New State of Israel.

The origin of Chanukkah, sometimes called the Festival of Lights, occurred during a siege of Jerusalem in the year 168 B.C.E. when the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes ordered a swine to be sacrificed in the Temple and forbade the Jews to observe the keeping of the Law.

It was during this time that the Hasmonean priestly family known as the Maccabees rallied a handful of followers at Mod'in where they revolted against the Syrian garrison. After a series of battles the Syrians were defeated in 165 B.C.E.

Under Judas, the Maccabean army captured Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple of everything that had defiled it during the occupation of the Syrians. However, the Menorah was missing. As they were unable to rededicate the Temple without the sacred lampstand a makeshift iron one was constructed and on the 25th of Kislev (December) the Temple was rededicated to the Lord amidst much rejoicing. But there was one serious problem. There was only sufficient oil for one day's burning, and it would take several days or even a week before the Menorah could be relit. Then a miracle happened. The Menorah burned steadily for eight days during which time adequate supplies of oil were obtained.

Although Chanukkah is not one of the great holy convocations mentioned in Tenach it has been faithfully observed throughout the centuries. Surprisingly it is one of the Jewish festivals that is recorded in the New Testament. "And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the Temple in Solomon's porch" (John 10:22-23).

A celebration of Chanukkah of great significance was during World War 1 when the allied armies under General Allenby surrounded Jerusalem which was then under Turkish control. As the first Chanukkah candles were being kindled in Jewish homes throughout Palestine the Holy City was captured without a shot being fired in its defence. This amazing incident was the beginning of a new era. The gates of Jerusalem were flung open, and following the Balfour Declaration which was drafted that year the new homeland for world Jewry had its early beginnings.

Unlike the seven-branched Menorah the Chanukkah candlestick has eight branches with a smaller light-holder from which the other eight are lit. On the first day of Chanukkah only one candle is lit. On the second day another is lit and so on until all eight candles are lit on the eighth day commemorating the eight days during which the Menorah burned on a mere one day's supply of oil.

There is deep significance linking the original function of the Menorah, which was the only light in the Tabernacle or Mishkan in the Wilderness, with the fact that this beautiful emblem has been chosen by the modern State of Israel as its official insignia. Isaiah speaks of a time when "... darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." (Isaiah 60:2-3).

It is no coincidence that as Chanukkah candles are lit on the 25th of Kislev and Israel celebrates the Festival of Lights that those who love Israel's Messiah commemorate His birth on the 25th day of the equivalent month in the Gregorian calendar. He, too, is the One of whom Isaiah writes: "I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thy hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, AND FOR A LIGHT OF THE GENTILES." (Isaiah 42:6).