Tonight at sunset marks the beginning of Hanukkah/Chanukkah for this year. It’s a festival of remembrance, with sparkling lights and greasy sweet food! So grab yourself a jelly donut and let’s dive into the Hebrew and Aramaic word Hanukkah, which means dedication.
Hanukkah, in the Tanakh (Old Testament), was the dedication of sacred space.
For years the Hebrew people had a portable Tabernacle where they would worship God, but eventually they decided to build a permanent structure in Jerusalem, which would house the presence of YHWH. When the building of Temple was finally complete, king Solomon hosted a great celebration dedicating the Temple to YHWH:
2 Chronicles 7:5b, 8-10
So the king [Solomon] and all the people dedicated [wai-ya-kh’n’ku] the house of God…
…So Solomon held the feast at that time for seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great assembly that came from the entrance of Hamath to the brook of Egypt. And on the eighth day they held a solemn assembly, because they held the dedication [kha’nukkat] of the altar for seven days, and the feast for seven days. Then on the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people to their tents, rejoicing and happy in heart because of the goodness that YHWH had shown to David, to Solomon, and to His people Israel.
It was an incredible week of celebrations, full of heartfelt joy because YHWH dwelt among them in the Temple.
Centuries later, however, the Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s Temple and the Hebrew people were taken captive and exiled out of Jerusalem.
But after 70 years, YHWH brought them back home and the Temple was rebuilt under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra (ushering in what is known as the Second Temple Period). The newly built Temple was again dedicated to YHWH in a grand celebration:
And the sons of Israel, the priests, the Levites, and the rest of the exiles, celebrated the dedication [Aramaic: kha’nukkat] of this house of God with joy. They offered for the dedication [Aramaic: la- kha’nukkat] of this temple of God a hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel twelve male goats, corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel. Then they appointed the priests to their divisions and the Levites in their sections for the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses.
Fast forward another four hundred years and the Temple came under threat again. This time it was the Hellenistic (Greco Syrian) king Antiochus IV Epiphanes who persecuted the Jews. He outlawed their faith, and banned circumcision and Jewish dietary laws. He took over the Jewish Temple, where he set up a stature of Zeus and slaughtered pigs on the altar. His utter contempt for everything Jewish was the cause of the Maccabean Revolt, where Jews rose up, fought back, reclaimed the Temple, cleared out the pagan elements, and rededicated the Temple to YHWH. About 60 years later, Yeshua attended the annual memorial festival of Hanukkah in Jerusalem, which remembered the revolt and the miracles that followed.
We know that Yeshua (Jesus) went to Jerusalem during the Jewish festivals, including the Festival of Hanukkah (Dedication), because the Bible tells us so:
…At that time the Feast of the Dedication [Greek: Enkainia] took place in Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple area, in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then surrounded Him and began saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep. My sheep listen to My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Yeshua was at the Festival which celebrated the saving of the Temple and the rededication of sacred space. At the same time He was claiming to be sacred space himself (cue: “I and the Father are one”).
Earlier in John’s Gospel account, Yeshua indicated that His body was the temple (John 2:18-22). Yeshua was living sacred space, and He would commission the Spirit to each of His followers so that they too could become living sacred space, reflecting the image of YHWH:
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, so that He may be with you forever; the Helper is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him; but you know Him because He remains with you and will be in you.
I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you. After a little while, the world no longer is going to see Me, but you are going to see Me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I in you.”
Yeshua’s ministry focused in on YHWH’s Kingdom, the sacred space we are all invited into. Until we reunite with YHWH, we live here, bearing (as best we can) the Image of God. Yeshua promised to send the Spirit to live within us, so that we could truly reflect sacred space to this hurting planet. Much like the Temple, our hearts and lives are to be dedicated to YHWH. Sometimes we fall, and our walls come crumbling down, and we feel like exiles, far from God. But YHWH can give us the strength to stand up and rebuild the Temple. We may have to rededicate ourselves again and again, but He is always willing to help us pick up the pieces, because He wants us to stand tall and reflect who He is to this aching world.
The cultural celebration of Hanukkah is really about dedication and setting ourselves apart, but it also incorporates the miracle of light found in the story of the Maccabean Revolt. You can read more about it, and the Biblical word hanukkah, by clicking below:
Happy Hanukkah Everyone!
Next week: From old/ From long ago…