The next “feast” celebration is Hanukkah (Chanukah), the Feast of Dedication. But is this really found in the Bible? Should a Messianic believer, especially someone who isn’t Jewish, celebrate Hanukkah?
What Is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah, a Hebrew word meaning dedication, is a celebration among the Jewish people commemorating the dedication of the Temple in the second century BC following its desecration by the Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes. The festival lasts for eight days, possibly because at the time of the rededication they had been unable to celebrate the eight-day Feast of Tabernacles earlier in the year. There is also a legend in the Talmud in which a one-day supply of sacred oil miraculously burned in the menorah for eight days while more was being prepared. For these reasons, Hanukkah is called both the Feast of Dedication and the Festival of Lights.
Hanukkah in the Bible
Yeshua (Jesus) celebrated Hanukkah – or at least, he was present in the Temple in Jerusalem while it was being celebrated. “At that time the Feast of Dedication took place in Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon” (John 10:22-23). It was during this festival that Yeshua made one of the clearest assertions of his deity described in the Bible. There is no other mention of Hanukkah in the Old Testament or New Testament. However, the Apocrypha, a collection of Jewish writings included in some Bibles, does have the story of the Maccabean revolt leading up to the rededication of the Temple and the altar.
What does Hanukkah mean to believers in Yeshua?
The Hebrew word Hanukkah (chanukah, Strong’s #2598) means “dedication.” Just as the temple was dedicated after it had been defiled, we can take this time to repent and ask God to cleanse us of the things that defile us. This is not a one-time thing. The Gospels twice describe a time when Yeshua entered the Temple and drove out those who were defiling it.
Although not specifically mentioned, it was very likely at Hanukkah that the angel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary. The birth of Yeshua did not occur on December 25 (I will write about that later), but rather at the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall. This places his conception in the winter during Hanukkah. How appropriate that the Light of the World (John 8:12) would be conceived during the Festival of Lights, and then come to tabernacle among us (John 1:14) at the Feast of Tabernacles!
How can we celebrate Hanukkah in the Messianic Movement?
The most traditional way to celebrate Hanukkah is by lighting a special menorah called a “hanukkiah.” This menorah has nine candles, one of which is used to light the other eight during the eight nights of Hanukkah. On the first night, light just one candle. On the second night, light two candles, and continue in this manner until all eight candles are lit. This is to commemorate the single jar of oil that lasted for the eight days.
Enjoy some Hanukkah music. One of my favorite, very worshipful Hanukkah songs is by Marty Goetz, just called Chanukah and recorded on a CD called Psalm Enchanted Evening. You will enjoy the CD, but it is pretty hard to find. Sometimes you can find it on eBay. You can also see a YouTube video here.
Read the story of the Maccabees in the Apocrypha. While the entire book of Maccabees is an interesting read, the Hanukkah story is found in 1 Maccabees 4:36-59 and 2 Maccabees 10:1-9. Read the accounts of Yeshua cleansing the Temple (John 2:13-22 and Matthew 21:12-13/Mark 11:15-17/Luke 19:45-46).
Eat doughnuts! Seriously, it is traditional to eat fried foods, especially doughnuts and latkes (fried potato pancakes) as a fun way to commemorate the miracle of the oil. You can also play a game using a spinning top called a dreidel marked with the Hebrew letters nun, gimel, hey and shin, an acronym for nes gadol hayah sham (a great miracle happened there).
May you be blessed as you celebrate this Festival. If you have suggestions or an interesting way you celebrate Hanukkah, please leave a comment below.