What if Chanukah is more than just candles and presents? What if it isn’t really the memorial of a miracle? What if the real Chanukah story is actually a rallying cry for the Jewish people, and a graphic exhortation to all who have dedicated their lives to serve the Messiah?
Chanukah: The Rekindling of Righteousness
Today, the occasional, passing homage to the real story of Chanukah is too often lost in the buzz of wintertime festivities. As a result, what many do not remember about Chanukah is its unsettling, unsanitized, and all-too-important origins.
The real story of Chanukah is a story of turmoil and upheaval for the nation of Israel. It is a story about the attempted assimilation of the Jewish people, and the anti-Semitic spirit set against them. It is a story of sin and corruption; oppression and persecution; liberty and—ultimately—victory.
The real story of Chanukah begins approximately 200 years before Yeshua, with the latest of Israel’s foreign dictators, Antiochus Epiphanes, slaughtering many of the people of Israel, plundering the city of Jerusalem, and taking women, children, and livestock captive. He then enforced the widespread adoption of his very own one-world religion that could seal the fate not only of Israel, but of all the surrounding nations.
With so many Jews having already willingly subjected themselves to Antiochus’ rule, the next step in securing Israeli acceptance of his religion was to make the keeping of Torah and the continuation of the Temple service crimes against the state. By the abolition or abrogation of anything related to the Torah and the Temple service, everything that defined and distinguished Israel from the nations would be eliminated. The king’s scheme was ingenious, the goal astonishingly self-evident: Cause the Jews to “forget” who they are, and one can rule the world.
What came next was astonishing—censorship, witch hunts, executions, the butchery of innocents . . . the beaten path of assimilation, once so willingly trodden by some, was now the road of forced passage and a death march for the rest. The immoral, alternative lifestyle previously dismissed and tolerated in Israel had suddenly become the religion of the state—with all else outlawed and forbidden. Being Jewish—retaining any semblance of the unique, distinct peoplehood of Israel—was now, officially, a crime. The traitorous, individualist assimilation of yesterday was no longer a free choice for the people. Now, for the entire nation, there was only one option: choose to convert, or die.
But all was not lost; for even as many were crushed by the evils of oppression, a stalwart few would reignite the peoples’ fire for God.
Mattathias, a faithful priest and father of Judah Maccabee, lamented Israel’s ruin and his overwhelming sense of helplessness to stop it. As he witnessed the atrocities, he recognized the gut-wrenching pattern of Israel’s former troubles in foreign lands. With the ancient, embedded memory stirring in his inmost parts, Mattathias’ heart knew full well how the coming sequence of events would unfold.
When the officers of the king arrived in the city of Modein to compel the people to make the sacrifices, they were met with a visibly resistant Mattathias. Sensing his antagonism, they attempted to appeal to him on a level they wholly expected would reach any Jew.
The officers dangled the carrots of flattery, prestige, and obscene wealth before what they must certainly have thought to be just another corruptible Jew. They also endeavored to cajole Mattathias into compliance by pressuring him to conform to the ways of his peers. But with this Jew, trying to capitalize on men’s usual weaknesses would prove to be a serious miscalculation. In appealing to his flesh, they succeeded only in unleashing the unquenchable, righteous zeal of God.
Mattathias answered [the officers] in a loud voice: “. . . God forbid that we should forsake the, Torah and the commandments. We will not obey the words of the king nor depart from our religion in the slightest degree.” As he finished saying these words, [Mattathias] killed the messenger of the king who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he showed his zeal for the, Torah, just as Phinehas did with Zimri, son of Salu (see Numbers 25:6-13). Then Mattathias went through the city shouting, “Let everyone who is zealous for the, Torah and who stands by the covenant follow after me!” Thereupon he fled to the mountains with his sons, leaving behind in the city all their possessions.
1 Maccabees 1:19-28 (NAB)
The rallying cry of the devoted priest rang after him as he sped through the streets of Modein. Many who could no longer bear the crushing weight of unrighteous oppression gathered with their families and followed Mattathias out into the desert.
Mattathias and his devout band of zealots fought the fight of righteousness, though it would not be until after Mattathias’ death that the fruit of his dedication would be fully grown.
Judah Maccabee, the warrior son, would promptly pick up his father’s torch and lead the way to the victorious re-dedication of the Temple, and the institution of Chanukah, the Feast of Dedication.
The spark of righteousness of a faithful few set a restoration movement on fire. Their zeal was marked by an absolute refusal to conform, and a consummate fervor for the Torah, the covenant, and the God of their fathers. Fathers and mothers dedicated their lives and the lives of their children to the sole cause of reviving Israel.
May the real story of Chanukah ignite within us the same passion for righteousness and the restoration of God’s own people, Israel.
Adapted from Kevin Geoffrey’s book The Real Story of Chanukah.