“Who is like You among the mighty, O Hashem?!” This message extolled on Judah the Maccabee’s shield of faith is the battle cry of Chanukah. One glance at the battles the Maccabees fought to be in the position to go up to Jerusalem to cleanse and re-dedicate the Temple, shows how impossible the odds really were. Recall that there were four major encounters with Seleucid forces: (1) the battle against Apollonius, (2) the battle against Seron, (3) the campaign at Emmaus, and (4) the clash at Beth Tzur. Please refer to “Kingdom Battle for Light” article http://wp.me/p158HG-ej for details.
The LORD left no doubt that the victories came from Him and Him alone. No wonder that the preeminent verse of this Winter One-der-land season is Zechariah 4:6: “‘Not by might nor by power but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.”
A couple days ago, I left the Chanukah redemption story at: “When Judah saw that the Syrian-Greeks had been routed, he said to his brothers, ‘Let’s now go up to the Temple, cleanse and re-dedicate it.’ They gathered their entire force and marched to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.” When the troops saw with their own eyes, the true condition of their place of worship, their hearts sank. It was a desolate place that had overgrown with vegetation due to its neglect. Its gates had been burned, and God’s Altar desecrated. These brave hearts melted into tender hearts as they outwardly expressed their grief by tearing their garments and crying out. We have to remember that the Temple (which we are) was and is supposed to be a resting place of God’s presence. God commands us to be holy, as I am holy, because that is what’s required to dwell with Him.
Judah wasted no time. The zeal of the Lord literally consumed him and his men. Judah the Maccabee had one objective – to get down to the sacred task of cleansing His people’s Temple. To accomplish this, Judah led his men to fight the garrison quartered in the citadel, so the Kohanim (i.e., the priests that were direct descendants of the first High Priest Aaron) could begin the purification process. Pay attention to the order in which God’s priests cleansed and re-dedicated the Temple, because it’s a spiritual guideline for us today to get rid of those things that make resonate at a lower frequency than hayah – perfectly righteous State of Being (See “Let There Be Light” article wp.me/p158HG-fl ). It will also point us to the areas in our lives that we need to build up according to God’s glorious ways that will promote a seamless path of life.
The first thing the Kohanim would have offered was the daily burnt offering, as God prescribed in the book of Leviticus; but the Seleucids had polluted God’s Altar. Therefore, the first thing the priests did was tear down God’s contaminated altar and build a new one. The Burnt Altar represents our heart and its emotions, affections and passions. Tearing down a defiled heart altar speaks about getting rid of those things that inhibit a full flow of life, light and love. It was upon this outer altar that the blood (i.e., life) of the offering was sprinkled and the sacrificial parts were burnt.
The Hebraic root of the word offering means “coming near,” so any type of offering was, and is, meant to bring oneself closer to God. The Hebrew word for “burnt” is olah, which literally means going up. Therefore, it was understood when one sincerely offers themselves or anything dear to themselves to the Lord for the purpose of drawing close to God, they spiritually go up to meet with the God of grace personally (Heb 4:16). By the way, any Burnt Offering was given exclusively to the LORD, and is considered to be a pleasing fragrance to God. The Burnt Offering is also called by another name – the Elevation Offering. As it names suggests, it raises one’s spiritual level. The Burnt Offering was considered to be superior to all others, because it was a voluntary sacrifice and it was offered in its entirety by fire.
The Kohanim were experts in what pleased their God, and knew that they were forbidden to use any altar that had been tainted, so they took God’s Burnt Altar apart and hid its stones in the Beis HaMokad – a structure situated in the northern wall of the Temple Court. Quickly, they constructed a new altar, so the morning sacrifices could commence the next day.
The second thing the priests of the Most High God did was set up the Golden Altar of Incense, which represents the prayers of the saints. They wasted no time. Immediately after the Kohanim built a new Burnt Altar, they fashioned new utensils used for divine service and brought the Golden Altar of Incense into God’s Sanctuary (i.e., The Holy Place). The Golden Altar and its utensils were placed exactly where the Bible prescribed them to be that very afternoon (I Maccabees 4:50-53). While the inner Golden Altar could be dedicated by the afternoon burning of incense, the outer Burnt Altar could only be dedicated by the sacrifice of the morning daily offering. Therefore, the Kohanim first act of sacred service was the Maccabees commencing with the afternoon incense service — prayer. Incense was burned every morning and every evening. The Jewish Sage Sforno suggests the Temple brought glory to God’s nation, the sacrificial offering created the “meeting place” between God and man, and the prescribed incense was meant to welcome the king and show him honor.
Thirdly, the purification priests baked twelve cakes (Panim bread) and placed them, as specified, on the Golden Table near the north wall in the Holy Place. The twelve specially baked loaves of “show bread” were to be placed on the Table at all times in two columns of six loaves. The Table, like the Ark of the Covenant, had a crown around it, which represents the crown of kingship and the king’s responsibility of safety and prosperity. It was believed that by virtue of the fresh bread that was placed on the Table weekly on the Sabbath, provision flowed to the entire nation. A visible manifestation to this miraculous and abundant provision was the Talmud teaches that a priest (Kohen) who ate even a tiny piece of the previous week’s showbread from the Table would have his innards blessed and he’d be fully satisfied.
The fourth item on the priest’s Purification-To-Do List was to hang the veil (Paroches) to separate the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The Hebrew word for this curtain speaks of how it was a tremulous curtain or a hanging of the fear of the Lord. When clothed with the fear of the Lord, we will not purposely disobey Him. The rule of this part of the Lord’s Spirit in us brings an ever-present awe, but it’s not a fear of punishment but something much higher – we fear not bringing glory and honor to the Awesome One. A spirit of the fear of the Lord allows us to love what He loves and hates what He hates for goodness sake.
The purpose of the veil in the days of the Maccabees was to protect people from God’s holy presence. They weren’t ready, because the perfect once-for-all blood sacrifice had not come. Originally, the veil was meant to keep people out of the Holy of Holies, except by God’s prescribed means (i.e., the High Priest going in once a year on the Day of Atonement with the blood of the substitute sacrifice and a golden censer). The figure of the cherubim woven on the veil speaks of the indescribable holy God, which no one can approach without the blood of the perfect sacrifice – the blood of the Lamb of God. This is the blood of at-one-ment that makes a way for us into the throne room of God. Prior to the veil being torn from the top down when Jesus dies on the cross, it barred man’s approach to the mercy seat of God and concealed His glory. Israelites knew the veil by the name “life.” Just as the cherubim guard the way to the Tree of Life (Gen 3:24), so did the cherubim on the veil in God’s Temple shut man out of the reality of eternal life before the first century AD until the veil in God’s Temple was torn from top to bottom by the crucifixion (Matt 27:51; Heb 10:19-20). Christ opened the way to God in a way that came from God.
The Kohanim set their sights on their fifth task – the Golden Light of God. The Golden Menorah was gone. Apparently, it was stolen during the many lootings of the Temple during the years of Syrian and Hellenist domination. It had consisted of 125-pounds of solid gold. The Kohanim were led to take seven iron spits, cover them with zinc, and craft them into a makeshift Menorah. The Golden Menorah was said to demonstrate the majesty of God’s Temple and display its glory. It’s flames were fed only by the purest olive oil.
Upon searching for this purest oil, the Kohanim found a flask of oil that contained only enough oil for one night’s lighting. Curiously, the oil had been sealed with the High Priest’s (Kahon Gadol) seal, which was surprising because that was never a requirement for oil flasks nor was it the practice to do so. Desperate times must have called for desperate purity measures. The flask’s seal was unbroken, and the contents had not been tampered with.
With great rejoicing the Kohanim filled the lamps with this oil and lit their make-shift Menorah. Miraculously, the oil burned for the eight days that it took to prepare and bring fresh oil that was fit for the Temple Light. This miraculous supply of oil is what the Chanukah Festival celebrates. It’s an eight day spiritual feast.
After the Kohanim had lit the lamps the first evening, they returned the next day on the 25th of Kislev in the year of 165 B.C.E. They offered the daily burnt offering. It was three years to the day after the holiness of Temple service had been interrupted when their outer altar was defiled with pagan sacrifices. The divine service to the King of Kings resumed with great rejoicing, music and song. The entire community celebrated the re-dedication of the altar with eight days of peace and thanksgiving offerings.
Recognizing that the miracle had eternal ramifications, Judah and his brothers, together with the Sanhedrin, declared that the festival of Chanukah be celebrated every year for eight days. The Maccabees used this opportunity to search out copies of the holy writings (Torah and the Prophets), and collected them in Jerusalem to ensure the continuation of the God’s Word. Judah sent a message to all Jewish communities that holy scrolls were now available to all who wished to copy them (II Maccabees 2:14-15).
The triumph celebrated by Chanukah was a partial one at best. Although the Temple area had been liberated and divine service re-instituted, parts of Jerusalem and nearly all of the countryside were still under the Seleucids control. Total independence would come many years later.
The Winter One-der-land Festival of Chanukah was proclaimed without a military or diplomatic victory (http://wp.me/p158HG-aH ). It’s important insight into the nature of the celebration of this Biblical Feast (John 10:22-23). Mattisyahu and his sons had risked their lives, (their all) for spiritual freedom, for the purity of their Temple, and the integrity of its service. This is the freedom ringing through this Winter One-der-land. It was not merely for freedom from foreign bondage. When their religious/spiritual freedom was taken from them, they rebelled. When it was restored, they rejoiced.
Copyright Dec. 14, 2012 – Author: Robin Main.
- 500 Questions and Answers on Chanukah by Jeffrey M Cohen
- Apocrypha, The, I Maccabees & II Maccabees
- Chanukah – Its History, Observance, and Significance – A Presentation Based on Talmudic and Traditional Sources (The Artscroll Mesorah Series) by Rabbis Nosson Scherman & Meir Zlotowitz, General Editors
- Epic of the Maccabees, The byValerie Mindlin & Gaalyahu Cornfeld
- Judas Maccabaeus – The Jewish Struggle against the Seleucids by Bezalel Bar-Kochva
- Judas Maccabaeus and the Jewish War of Independence by Claude Reignier Conder
Some references can be found in my book: SANTA-TIZING: What’s wrong with Christmas and how to clean it up (available on amazon http://www.amazon.com/SANTA-TIZING-Whats-wrong-Christmas-clean/dp/1607911159/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1353692179&sr=1-1&keywords=SANTA_TIZING).