The Story – Dreidels
Mattathias fled to the wilderness of Northern Judea with his family, now wanted criminals. But what began as a flight for their lives soon turned into the journey of many Jews searching for a safe haven! Similar to the later legends of Robin Hood, a ragtag group of Jewish countrymen and soldiers formed a band of religious zealots anxious to take back their country and traditions! The Jewish people were not to be outdone by the political forces in Jerusalem. In rebellion, hundreds of Jews fled to the wilderness to join Mattathias.
Today, we play the game dreidel, the spinning top game that used to be played by the Jewish people. Each of the four sides of dreidels have Hebrew letters on them: nun, gimel, heh, shin. The letters say “A Great Miracle Happened There.” Legend has it that dreidels were played by the men who were studying Torah as a way to divert the attention of the soldiers. The very gambling game of dreidels represents the zealous rebellion of the Jewish people to compromise to the culture.
Though the Hellenization of Antiochus spread across the nation of Israel, so the rebellious Jewish army in the wilderness grew! The Jews started small skirmishes to annoy the Syrian soldiers, then disappeared into the wilderness undetected. Their brave leader Mattathias died in the wilderness, but his eldest son Judah took charge of the Jewish forces.
Judah was an incredible warrior, comparable to the famous rebellion leaders like Spartacus of Greece and William Wallace in Scotland! Judah was a genius war strategist, and he began the first recorded guerilla warfare in history! He was known to fight so hard and win so often, he was called Judah Maccabee, or Judah the Hammer!
Skirmishes increased until Judah’s army of 600 defeated a group of 2,000 Syrian soldiers in a small battle. Antiochus grew increasingly irritated with the Jewish revolt, so he sent 4,000 Syrian soldiers to a small town called Beth Heron, fifteen miles outside of Jerusalem expecting to wipe out Judah’s army easily. But with less than 1,000 soldiers, Judah outmaneuvered the cumbersome Syrian army and picked them off one by one! The lightning-fast Jewish army defeated the soldiers easily!
Though Antiochus had dismissed the revolt as a minor irritation, he grew embarrassed at how easily Judah had won the battle, and he challenged the untrained wilderness soldiers to a full-fledged war! Antiochus sent his three best generals, 6,000 soldiers and a huge cavalry against Judah’s ragtag army. But Judah sent spies into the camp, discerned their strategy, and in a miraculous victory, Judah again won the battle!
Battle after battle raged! The war increased, until Antiochus was regularly sending 55,000 soldiers with armored elephants and cavalry to the battlefront, yet each time the Maccabees miraculously won!
Though these Maccabean soldiers knew they were up against great odds, they knew they had Yahweh on their side. Judah and his army fought with victory in mind. Though the battle was difficult for untrained Jewish farmers against the well-equipped Syrian soldiers, each battle was a miracle of Yahweh on the side of his people!
Against all odds, on the 25th of Kislev, the Maccabees won back Jerusalem and the Temple that had been desecrated by Antiochus. Their survival under these terrible circumstances is a firm testimony of God’s faithfulness, especially in light of the Bible’s repeated promises to the people of Israel.
THE THEME: VICTORY
During the Holocaust, a small family of Polish Jewish farmers and soldiers set up a camp for Jews who were fleeing from the Holocaust during World War II. They camped out in the Naliboki forest in Poland. They ultimately saved the lives of over 1,200 Jews in Poland! Similar to the Maccabees, the story of these Jews in the Holocaust is an incredible miracle of God!
Tuvia Bielski, the leader of the camp said “Our revenge is to live. We have all chosen this – to live free, like human beings, for as long as we can. Each day of freedom is a victory.”
Today, we can be reminded in the Hanukkah story, and in the story of the Bielski brothers that we are victorious! Yahweh is our King over all the earth. When we remember our freedom is through the death of Jesus, we are victorious.
Just as Jesus saved the Jewish people over and over again in history, so he is our Savior and victorious King. When we call to our God and King when we are in trouble or danger, we know he will save us from death and destruction! So we do not compromise to the culture, but stand firm in our victory and conviction as we spin our dreidels.
As we continue the story of Hanukkah, ask yourself,
- What is one way you’ve seen Yahweh’s victory in your life?
- What have Yahweh’s victories taught you about His kingdom?