is Chanukah for believers?

Tonight is the first night of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. I know of many believers who wonder if they should celebrate this holiday and even some Christians who celebrate Chanukah instead of Christmas. My eyes have been opened to this even more since living in Israel, so I started researching more about what Chanukah is really about. So as we wrap up our day watching the Qatar World Cup (in Hebrew! that’s a wild concept…) & eating pizza after hosting Jesus’ birthday party for the neighborhood, I wanted to write some thoughts on Chanukah as we enter into the first day of this unique holiday.

Chanukah is ultimately an 8-day celebration in remembrance of God’s faithfulness to help His people overcome their enemies and provide light in the darkness. In 168 BC, the king of the Seleucids (Syrian part of the Greek Empire) invaded Judea, banned the Jewish religion, and killed thousands of Jewish people. The next year, this same king entered the Second Temple, built an altar to Zeus, and sacrificed pigs (a ritually unclean animal for Jews) in the place meant to purely worship the God of Israel alone.

This persecution continued until Mattathias and his son, Judah Maccabee, led a revolt that allowed them to retake Jerusalem, the Temple, and the freedom to practice Judaism. After the horrific desecration to the Temple, they needed to cleanse and rededicate it for holy worship unto the one true living God of Israel. The Maccabees wanted to celebrate this event for eight days with rejoicing, similar to the way they would have celebrated Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), and thus this holiday was born.

According to (later) Jewish tradition, when they cleansed the temple, they found only one container of ritually clean oil that could be used in the temple menorah. It was only enough for one day, but it ended up lasting eight days. This is the legendary miracle of light where some Jews believe God allowed their light to keep burning as a symbol of their spiritual light overtaking the darkness in the land. This is why Chanukah is also called “The Festival of Lights.”

It’s imporant to note that Chanukah is not a Jewish alternative to Christmas. It is a totally separate holiday that celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple- an event that happened about 200 years before Yeshua walked the earth. This feast was, however, observed in Yeshua’s time. This is why you won’t find Chanukah in the Old Testament as a major biblical feast- the event happened after the Torah was canonized- but you will see Yeshua heading to the temple to celebrate this feast in the book of John (10:22-23). In that time it was known as the “Feast of Dedication” (“Chanukah” means “dedication” in Hebrew) as a clear reference to the event it celebrates, and Jesus was walking into the very temple that was rededicated during the Maccabean revolt!

For believers, the theme of fighting for truth is noteworthy. This is something that we are instructed to do as believers in the Truth (Jn 14:6). The second theme of horrific antisemitism is not only a lesson in staying faithful in religious persecution, it’s a lesson in some of the persecution that Jews specifically have faced in their history. As Gentiles who are grafted into their story, it is so important that we educate ourselves on their history with God and know the narrative we’re stepping into. It’s also part of our job as Gentile believers to be watchmen for antisemitism in the Church and in our nations (Is. 62:6, Ez. 3:17, Ez. 33:1-33, Is. 52:8, Prov. 8:34). We need to be alert and ready to fight antisemitism and not let this kind of persecution happen again. The third theme of miraculous light illuminating the darkness so closely resembles some of our beliefs that Jesus is the Light of the world, believers are called out of darkness and into His light, and are then commanded to be a light to the world (Jn 8:12, 2 Cor. 4:6, Matt. 5:16). We are children of light (Eph. 5:8, 1 Thes. 5:5)! So although Chanukah isn’t a Christian holiday, there are still some very applicable lessons we can learn from this feast and the event it commemorates.

Now, this is not a call for all Gentile believers to celebrate Chanukah. In fact, even in Israel, we are celebrating Christmas with our House of Prayer community. This is, rather, a way to glean a deeper understanding of God through the lens of the Jewish perspective. It is a way to understand the type of community Yeshua lived in, realize the history of persecution against His beloved people, recognize Yeshua as the light of the world, as well as to take the calling of being His dwelling place & building Him a resting place seriously. This is a wonderful season to take time to reflect and thank God for His goodness, faithfulness, light, truth, and hope. He protects, empowers, and strengthens us just as He did the people of Israel during the time of the Maccabean Revolt. He is truly the same yesterday, today, and forever (Mal. 3:6, Heb. 13:8).

I thank God for sending Yeshua as the light of the world to reveal the character and desires of the Father. I thank God for holidays like Chanukah to remind us of the importance of standing up for truth and the reality that God desires a holy resting place on the earth with His chosen people. And I thank God for holidays like Christmas to remind us that Yeshua is the Truth & the Light, and we rejoice in His birth and life on earth (Jn 14:6, 8:12). I thank God that Yeshua came and made the way to make us living temples of His Spirit- a holy calling and honor that I never want to take lightly (1 Cor. 3:16-17, 1 Cor. 6:19-20, 2 Cor. 6:16, 1 Peter 2:4-5).

So Happy Chanukah, and Merry Christmas. May God bless you and your pursuit of truth and light- and may the Spirit lead you to the Man who embodies both.

if you have an extra moment:

read: John 10:22-42 and this article for more Hanukkah Facts

listen: “Show Me Your Face” by Upperroom

One response to “is Chanukah for believers?”

  1. Thank you Caitlyn for sharing your insights on this Jewish holiday and what it means for us as believers. I really enjoy reading your blog. Happy Hanukkah to you and Michael and your new friends!

    Liked by 1 person

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