The Hanukkah Story

The Hanukkah Story

Have you ever just felt empty

Some seasons are characterized by laughter and abounding joy. Things at work seem to click, your family enjoys being around each other and you walk through your days with confidence. 

We love those days, don’t we? It’s what every Hollywood happy ending is made of. 

But what about the other days, the ones we hide in our heart’s closet and pretend they aren’t there?  

You see your kids’ needs, but you are unable to meet them. Rather than producing anything at work, you feel as though you’re just bashing stones against each other. And in a time of year that ought to be characterized by thankfulness and anticipation, you can’t fight the overwhelming desire to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over your head. 

The Hanukkah Story?

It’s in this place that the Hanukkah celebration stops becoming just a Hebrew festival involving latkes, dreidel and doughnuts and instead becomes something deeply meaningful and relevant to our lives today, especially on those days when we don’t want to go on. 

The Hanukkah Story

The story of Hanukkah, or the festival of lights, is a Jewish holiday that celebrates a great Jewish military victory in 400 B.C. It centers around the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem and the miracle of the oil. Unlike Christmas stories which are filled with hope, generosity and those warm-fuzzy feelings, the story of Hanukkah (sometimes called Chanukah) is a story of warfare and overcoming great odds. 

The story began in the 400 years between the writing of the Old and New Testaments. Even though we don’t have any formal writings, God was not silent in those years. 

Wars were being waged. Battles, won. And Greek ruler Alexander the Great had just died of typhoid fever in his tent at the young age of 32. When asked who should replace him, Alexander replied, “The greatest.” Thus, his kingdom was split between his four best generals—Cassander, Ptolemy, Seleucus and Antigonus. 

Our story picks up in the Seleucid empire. After a string of assassinations, Antiochus IV Epiphanes claimed the throne and took control of the Syrian empire. With great zeal and a hunger for power, Antiochus gathered his troops and invaded Egypt, only to face a humiliating defeat. So, during his shameful journey back home, he settled with the next best thing and invaded Israel.  

Antiochus worshiped Greek gods and demanded everyone in his kingdom do the same. The holy temple in Jerusalem where Jewish people would go to worship Yahweh became a place to sacrifice pigs to Zeus Olympios. Anyone caught worshipping Yahweh was punished and even put to death.

This became a defining moment for the Jews in the city of Jerusalem. 

They could either meet the opposition with feelings of defeat, or they could rally and fight to take back what was once theirs. 

A priest named Mattathias took the latter approach. 

The Hanukkah Story and Revolt

Mattathias felt so strongly that the Jewish people ought to stay faithful to God that when he saw a Jewish priest coming to worship a false god, Mattathias killed both the man and a nearby soldier. 

His bold move kickstarted the Maccabean revolt. 

More and more people joined Mattathias in the hills, and soon they had a small army called the Maccabees. 

The Maccabees fought the Syrian empire for four long years. When Mattathias died, his son Judah Maccabee led the army. 

Finally, on the 25th of Kislev in 164 BCE, the Maccabees tasted victory; the rededication of the temple could commence. 

Miracle of the Oil


Jewish tradition says that when the temple was being reconsecrated to God, there was only enough to light the candelabrum for a single day. While that might not sound like much of a problem, lighting candles in the temple was a big deal. Temple menorahs were to stay lit at all times, and it would take 8 days to prepare new oil.  Miraculously, the candles stayed lit the entire eight days until the new oil was ready. We celebrate this miracle with the eight-day festival known as Hanukkah.

The Theme: Story

Story: Yahweh reveals his kingdom through stories! Stories change lives; stories challenge; stories inspire. Stories are an important part of every culture. They capture the deepest parts of our hearts as we connect with the characters. We hold our breath as the protagonist Christian journeys to Heaven in Pilgrim’s Progress. We cheer when King George slays the dragon in the classic fairytale, and we cry in relief with Frodo and Sam when they finally destroy the ring and return to their home in the Shire. And in the Hanukkah story, we rejoice when the Maccabees overcome great odds.  

Narratives are the powerful medium God chooses to reveal his Word in the Bible, and it is through the stories of God’s miracles in these historical accounts that our lives are forever impacted. Hanukkah is one of those stories where we see God reveal himself through incredible miracles as he saves his people from annihilation.

As we begin Hanukkah, ask yourself,

Question to ask: Where is God calling inviting me to rededication? 

Hanukkah was a defining moment in the life and history of God’s people. A small band of Jewish rebels called the Maccabees changed the course of an entire nation because they decided Yahweh was more important than anything else.  In this season, God extends to us the same invitation of rededication. 

Question to ask: How is God calling me to obey?  

Our lives are filled with choices. While we may not be asked to sacrifice pigs to a Greek god, we are all invited to choose between serving Yahweh or serving idols of our day. Idols today may look like power, nice things, entertainment, money, or popularity. 

This isn’t a season to sit quietly in meditation by yourself with a journal, although that is a good practice to have throughout the year. As you get clear about how to rededicate your life, listen for the practical places God is inviting you into obedience and TAKE ACTION!

Question to ask: What story has your life told so far?

It’s time to get honest about the story of your life. Where have you tasted victory? Where have you tasted defeat?  What themes are present in your story? 

Question to ask: What story do you want your life to tell by the time it’s over?

Regardless of how you feel about your current life’s story, there is hope of restoration, transformation and uncanny provision. So thinking ahead, what do you want your life to tell by the time it’s over? Remember, the story of Hanukkah reminds us that God is a good protector and provider, so don’t be afraid to dream big! 

Celebrate Hanukkah with us! 

Join us for eight days of learning about important elements of this Jewish festival, such as latkes, dreidels, gelt, menorahs and sufganiyot. Each night of Hanukkah, we’ll cover one important theme with some practical ways to engage with the holiday.

Read more

How to Have A Happy Hanukkah 2023

How to Have a Happy Hanukkah 2023

Stores have cleared the back-to-school supplies to make way for Christmas decorations. The weather is changing, and soon we’ll hear Bing Crosby singing about a White Christmas on every radio station. But what about Hanukkah in 2023?

But for Jewish people everywhere, there’s more to this holiday season than just feel-good movies and baking. In fact, there’s plenty of houses that won’t be staged with a Christmas tree this year.

As a Messianic congregation with a heart for the Bible and Biblical holidays, we can relate. Although the Hanukkah celebration isn’t commanded in the Torah, or the Old Testament, the story of Hanukkah calls us to rededication in new and meaningful ways each year. 

So what’s so special about Hanukkah? And where do dreidels, latkes and menorahs fit?

We’ll cover all you need to know about this holiday, so you can celebrate Hanukkah in 2023. 

Happy Hanukkah 2021

Other Names for Hanukkah

You may see this Jewish holiday written as Hanukkah, Hanukkah, Hanukah or even Chanukah. They’re all referring to the same thing. 

Some other popular names include the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication.  


What is Hanukkah?

The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates a major military victory in the 2nd century BCE that changed an entire nation. The Syrian King Antiochus waged war on Israel. He mandated that the Jewish people were to worship Greek gods. Antiochus even desecrated the holy temple in Jerusalem, turning it into a shrine to Zeus. 

While all the Jewish people agreed that worshipping Greek gods was against their beliefs, several of them assimilated into the new culture. Still, other Jews decided to take a stand.  

Of those who refused to bow to false gods was the priest Mattathias. He felt so strongly that when he saw a Jew getting ready to offer sacrifices to the Greek gods, he killed the man and the King’s officer who stood nearby. 

This outburst led to the great Jewish uprising against King Antiochus Epiphanes. 

Mattathias and his family fled to the hills, where others joined him. This small group of farmers-turned-soldiers became known as the Maccabees. 

Judah Maccabee took over after Mattathias died, and the ragtag army went on to conquer the Syrian army and reclaim the temple in December 164 BCE, three long years after Antiochus had taken over. 

Miracle of the Oil

A menorah is a multi-branched candelabra that signifies holiness and the rhythms of God. The first and second temples had seven branch menorahs, resembling the six days of the week and the Sabbath, or Shabbat. It was customary to keep the candles burning at all times in the temple.  

After the temple was recaptured, priests were put to work cleaning, restoring and lighting the menorah. 

Unfortunately, there was only enough oil for one day, and it would take eight days to prepare more oil. 

Even still, the priests lit the menorah, reconsecrating the temple for God. 

Tradition would tell us the candles stayed lit for eight days until new oil could be prepared. The lighting of the menorah today represents God’s faithfulness to provide for His people in miraculous ways. 

When we walk out in faith, God meets and sustains us. 

The Hanukkah Elements

So how do dreidels, latkes and doughnuts fit into the Hanukkah celebrations? Let’s take a look.


Jewish tradition says that when King Antiochus outlawed the Torah, Jews found hidden ways to keep their traditions alive. They began teaching the Torah orally through a spinning top game that we refer to as dreidel. 

Each side of the dreidel has a Hebrew letter on it—nun, gimel, hey (or chai) and shin. Together, the letters form “New Gadol Hayah Sham” or “a great miracle happened there.” In Israel, the dreidels are slightly different, indicating “a great miracle happened here.” 

It’s customary to stock up on Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins) and play dreidel during the eight nights of Hanukkah. 


While there were seven menorah candles on the temple candelabrum, there are nine Hanukkah candles. The Hanukkah menorah, also called a Hanukkiah, has a branch for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah plus a shamash candle, or a helper candle. 

It’s customary for the shamash candle to light the other candles each night. 

Latkes & Doughnuts 

Latkes, otherwise known as ​potato pancakes, go hand-in-hand with Hanukkah. Why? Because they are loaded with oil. 

To celebrate the traditional miracle of the oil, we eat foods cooked in oil. Potato latkes are definitely a favorite, but other popular foods found at a Hanukkah party include fried fish, homemade corn dogs, doughnuts and sufganiyot, a round jelly-filled doughnut commonly eaten in Israel. 

Hanukkah FAQ’S

Here are some of the most common Hanukkah questions, answered. 

When is Hanukkah 2023? 

Hanukkah comes around each year on the 25th day of Kislev, a month in the Hebrew Calendar, usually coinciding with December. I know what you’re thinking, but no; this date has nothing to do with Christmas. In fact, most years, the 25th of Kislev lands somewhere between late November and early December. 

This year, the first night of Hanukkah begins sundown on Sunday, December 7th and ends on Monday, December 15th.  


The Hebrew calendar differs from the Gregorian calendar that we use today in a few areas, but the biggest is in regard to the new year. While Americans celebrate the new year on January 1, the Jewish calendar recognizes the fall as the start of the new year. 

Is Hanukkah in the Torah? 

Nope! Hanukkah is described in the Talmud, religious texts used for learning. It is described in the New Testament as being celebrated by Jesus and his disciples, and the full story is outlined in the ancient historical accounts of the Books of the Maccabees. Unlike Passover and Yom Kippur, Hanukkah is not a mandated holiday listed out in the Bible. But that doesn’t keep us from celebrating the themes and enjoying a happy Hanukkah! Even as Christians, there is so much meaning and symbolism in the holiday as we remember to be dedicated to Jesus. 


Where does Jesus fit in Hanukkah? 

Hanukkah extends beyond Judaism for a few reasons. John 10 recounts Jesus celebrating Hanukkah. But there’s also a much more meaningful connection. 

First, Jesus was Jewish. So imagine if the Maccabees hadn’t won their fight with the Syrians. There would be no Jewish people and no savior from the line of David. 

Also, Hanukkah points us to Jesus. For Messianics and Christians, the shamash candle represents Jesus, the one through whom light comes. Not only does he describe himself as the light of the world, but He also shares this invitation with His disciples. In Matthew 5, Jesus talks about being the light of the world. He describes his followers as lights in the world, instructing them to share their light with others. 

Hanukkah is an invitation to rededicate ourselves to God, receive Jesus’s light, and share that light with others.  

How do you say Happy Hanukkah?  

You can extend holiday greetings in any of the following ways: 

Happy Chanukah

Hanukkah Sameach

Chag Sameach

Happy Holidays

What Do I Do Now to Celebrate Hanukkah in 2023? 

Ready to celebrate Hanukkah? Check out our Hanukkah guides, where you’ll find liturgy and information for each of the eight nights. You’ll also find info about Hanukkah recipes, music and movies. 

Looking for a way to really interact this year? Check out our YouTube channel here to find a video for each night of the Holidays that tells you the Hanukkah story and helps you light the candles each night. 

Got kids? Look for our kids guide to help your little ones get excited about the holiday.

Read more

Hanukkah Day 7: The Menorah and Jesus as Light

The Story – The Menorah

Each night of Hanukkah, we light a Menorah, or a Hanukkiah. A Menorah with candles is lit each night to remind us that Jesus is the light of the world. As we light these candles and pray over them, we are reminded of God’s goodness to us.


Imagine standing in Jerusalem again, this time in the period of the Roman occupation, hundreds of years after the Maccabean revolt. Jesus is standing before a blind man. This man has been blind since his birth, and everyone in Jewish culture knows, if you are ailing from some terrible illness, you or your parents must have sinned! Most physical ailments were attributed to spiritual causes in the day of Jesus, and Jesus was well aware of this.


“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” his disciples asked curiously.


Jesus turned to his disciples: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”


Jesus bent down, spit in the dirt and made a paste with the mud. He put the mud on the man’s eyes and sent him away to wash it off. The man walked away completely healed.


Imagine the glimmer of first sight as the blind man opens his eyes, and a whole new world reveals itself! The small world of darkness he had lived in now gone, and a whole new world within his reach. He sees color for the first time, he sees movement for the first time, he sees people’s faces for the first time! Imagine this man seeing his parents for the first time and sharing about the incredible Rabbi Yeshua who has saved him! Imagine the wonder he feels as he cries uncontrollably at this incredible gift Jesus has given to him.


His entire world has been opened up because this man Jesus took the time to display the works of God in his life. His small life was important to the Savior of the Universe. Jesus had displayed his light to this man, and so today, Jesus displays his life to US! Even as we light the candles of the Menorah, we are reminded to look to Jesus as the light of the world.



Jesus is the Light of the World! Several times in Jesus’ ministry, he claimed to be the Light of the World, and to truly understand our part in this, we must understand the significance of this claim.


Jesus was the creator of the Universe, the very one who created our world, us, and the LIGHT! Light is the beginning of all things: plants grow from light. We are warmed by light. The Sun, moon and stars shed light on us during the day and at night, for navigation, for sight… light permeates every crack and crevice of darkness everywhere it goes. It cannot be contained.


For Jesus to claim that he was the light of the world, he claimed to be the illumination of all that we are as humans. We are dependent on Jesus for life. We are dependent on Jesus for knowledge. We are dependent on Jesus for direction. Jesus claimed “I AM.” Light is a characteristic part of his very nature. In this story, Jesus claimed to be a LIGHT to the world while he healed a man who was blind from birth! This miracle gave substance to his claim and proved it as a part of his very nature!


In Hanukkah, we see the element of light as a strong theme in the story, and we can compare the light of the candelabra in the Temple to Jesus, the light of the world. Jesus shines bright on behalf of his people, lighting their way, providing all they need, and sustaining them.


Today, we can remember that Hanukkah clearly points to Jesus, and as we light the candles on our Menorahs, we see Jesus in that very light. We believe in Jesus that much more as the light glistens in our eyes.


As we continue the Hanukkah story, ask yourself these questions:


  • In what ways has Jesus’ light brought blessing to you?
  • How is Jesus calling YOU to be a light to the world?
Read more

Hanukkah Day 6: Dedication and Hanukkah Prayers

The Story – Hanukkah Prayer

Each night of Hanukkah we say a Hanukkah prayer as we light candles. Our prayer at Hanukkah reminds us of our dedication to God. Imagine standing in Jerusalem, at the beginning of a newly independent nation after Antiochus has been expelled. Once again, you walk the busy streets through the marketplace, hearing the lowing of bulls in your ears, and the sound of sheep baaing. You smell smoke as the priests once again pray and burn sacrifices in the Temple. The capital is bustling and growing. This city center is again the heart of the religious world for the Jewish people, and it is your home. You love this city, and the people in it.


Because the Jewish people had fought for so long, they had missed many celebrations and holidays, so they commemorated the season of Sukkot late in the year. They spent eight days celebrating Tabernacles in the month of December, commemorating God’s goodness and rededicating the Temple, just as King Solomon had done when he dedicated the Temple hundreds of years before.


The conviction and bravery of the Jewish people once again proved their dedication to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God in return had upheld his covenant to protect and provide for them. As the city returned to normal life, and again practiced their tradition and holy rites, they were reminded of the reason for their dedication and tradition. God’s miracles, and their faith reinforced their values of freedom, faith, integrity, and selflessness. So, as we light the Menorah each night, we too pray a Hanukkah Prayer, so we can remind ourselves that we are to be dedicated to God always.


We are called to be dedicated to God! During the time of Jesus, Hanukkah became known as the celebration commemorating our deliverance and rededication to God (John 10:22).


As the Temple was dedicated, so the people dedicated themselves to God and His ways. The lives of Mattathias and Judah Maccabee are testimonies of men who realized obeying God was more important than obeying man. The fight against the kingdom of darkness and the surrounding culture is not just to be free, but also to embrace God and the holiness He has called us to. Today we’re called to dedication to God’s ways, regardless of the sacrifice. Many of those who stood against assimilation were killed. Some gave up their livelihood, position and popularity. Our dedication to God’s ways may cost us the same things, but God will stand with us for His glory. God is willing to give His supernatural power to us if we will seek to be dedicated to Him by His Spirit.


Hanukkah is considered the time to rededicate our lives to His ways no matter the cost. When the Messiah came, this spiritual lesson became a living reality. Through the life and ministry of Jesus, the people of His generation saw the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah. Now we dedicate our entire lives to walking in His ways no matter what the cost might be.

  • How is God calling you to be dedicated in this season?
Read more

Hanukkah Day 5: Miracles, Donuts and Latkes

The Story – Miracles, Donuts and Latkes

Each year, we fry donuts and latkes in oil. While this is mainly a tradition based on a legend, the reminder of miracles is quite relevant. After the Maccabean revolt, the battle had been won! Antiochus had underestimated the strength of the Maccabean movement! The Jewish people would maintain their independent country for over a century after this incredible revolt, and Judah Maccabee went down as the greatest military commander in Israel’s history!


The miraculous victory was all the more impressive because Antiochus had been a world power. His thousands of soldiers, horsemen and armored elephants had fallen to the Jewish soldiers! Antiochus never again attempted to take the nation of Israel back, and the humiliated King later died attempting to conquer the Arabian coast. The man who had boasted of being god incarnate on the earth had been bested by a ragtag group of soldiers under the authority of the one true God, Yahweh!


The Jews took back the Temple from the Syrian Empire in an enormous victory, and tore down every Greek statue, altar and gymnasium! They cleaned up the Temple in Jerusalem and began to piece together their Temple.


As legend would have it, as they picked through the remains of the Temple, they found one jar with sacred oil for their candelabra. The menorah was supposed to stay lit constantly according to Levitical law, and to their dismay, they only had enough oil to last for one day! It would take eight more days to make new oil! How could they ever finish it in time?


Not to be deterred, they decided to light the oil they had and make new oil for the lamp. Legend would have it that the oil in the lamp burned for eight days straight as they prepared new oil for the Menorah! Though this is subject to legend, it brings more power to the incredible miracles Yahweh performed on behalf of the Jewish people! Today, as we eat donuts and fry potato pancake latkes, we remember the miracles God did for the Maccabees.


God did wonders on behalf of his people Israel during Hanukkah. Through Hanukkah, we can again believe in miracles! The point of a miracle is that it doesn’t make sense. Moses parting the Red Sea, miraculous battles won on behalf of Israel, babies being raised from the dead: Sometimes, God chooses to act in a way that we can’t fully comprehend as humans. We describe these moments as unexplainable, because we cannot attribute them to science or natural law.


Our God is one of incredible miracles! Miracles was one of the ways Jesus proved his deity. Miracles show us that our God is exalted above all else, and not one person can resist his authority over all earth and heaven, the natural and the spiritual realm!


Today, we have the power to perform miracles, because Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to us! When we believe in the power of God who is our salvation and strength, we too can perform miracles even greater than the miracles Jesus did on earth!


As we continue the story of Hanukkah, ask yourself,


  • What miracle have seen Yahweh do in the last year, in your life, or the lives of others?
  • What miracle are you contending for in the next year?



Read more

Hanukkah Day 4: Victory and Dreidels

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.




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?



Read more

Hanukkah Day 3: Courage and Judah Maccabee

The Story: Judah Maccabee

Imagine: your world has fallen apart, and it would seem that Antiochus has won. Jewish culture has succumbed to political and religious assimilation, and Jerusalem is looking increasingly more Greek every day. But suddenly, something changes. Judah Maccabee and Mattathias appear.


Not all of the Jewish people would succumb so easily. Though many Jews submitted, others understood that assimilation and elimination of Jewish worship, sacrifices, and traditions would be the destruction of Judaism itself! Though the flame of conviction was small, it was steadfast. These brave Jews would not back down.


Antiochus’ heavily armed soldiers were sent out of Jerusalem to force the Jewish people across the nation of Israel to worship the king and make sacrifices of pigs to the Greek gods. A large army of soldiers came to Modin, a small town on the outskirts of Jerusalem. They went straight to the home of an influential Jewish family led by a priest named Mattathias and his five sons.


The generals and a Hellenistic Jew tried to sweet-talk and coerce Mattathias and his family into offer sacrifices, knowing his influence would bring many Jews to the Hellenistic side, but Mattathias would not hear of it. The generals grew more and more angry, and they marched him to a Greek altar erected in the town. Forcing him to the altar in the sight of all of the Jewish people in the town, they ordered him to give in, on pain of death.


But Mattathias and his son Judah Maccabee would not forsake his faith. In a miraculous burst of energy quite unexpected for a man of his age, he grabbed the sword from the general’s hand and ran the general and his men completely through! He tore down the Greek altar with a strength comparable to the righteous anger of the prophet Samuel when he lopped off the head of the captured King Agag in the Old Testament!


Mattathias and his sons drove off the soldiers with a loud battle cry led by Judah Maccabee —” Whoever is for the Lord, follow us!” And just like that, in a matter of moments, the rebellion of the Jewish people had begun!



When you think of courage, what do you think of? Do you think of a person? Of a storybook character? A time when you were faced with your own fear and you conquered because you chose to be courageous?


No matter how we associate it, courage is the ability to do something that frightens you! Now, just because we feel courage doesn’t mean there is no fear present. On the contrary, for courage to be present, there must be fear that instills the courage! Courage means we feel the fear and we choose to act on our convictions anyways. Courage comes from our worldview and what we truly believe in our heart. It means we choose to be brave over and over and over again! It means we persevere through the power of the Holy Spirit, even when we are faced with our greatest adversity!


Courage requires us to stand up against wrong and stand up for what is right. It means we must be willing to get out of our comfort zone and embrace our faith in the One who will always conquer! We see this courage in the Maccabees and their incredible faith in God and belief in their cause!


Today, we are constantly battered by things that require us to stand up and be courageous. We cannot stand by the sidelines and allow the injustice! We must always remember that in order to be truly courageous, we stand upon and fight for the truth of the Bible: that is true courage. In order to see the gospel prevail, we must speak out against injustices, those things that do not glorify God. We must be deeply convicted like Judah Maccabee and Mattathias and stand strong in the face of adversity.


As we continue the story of Hanukkah, ask yourself,


  • In what ways has God been your strength and courage in the last year?
  • In what ways has God been asking you to grow in new strength and courage in the next year?
Read more

Hanukkah Day 2: Conviction & Antiochus Epiphanes

The Story – Antiochus Epiphanes

Imagine: Jerusalem is captured by a foreign nation, and suddenly, everything in your life changes. King Antiochus, the ruler of the Syrian Empire has taken your home! Quiet, dedicated religious life in Israel turns to chaos as the new conqueror flips Jewish life upside down.


Antiochus is an evil ruler and a very narcissistic one at that. He is so full of himself, he declares he is a god on the earth. He calls himself Antiochus Epiphanes: god incarnate! Antiochus has conquered much of the Mediterranean coastline from Egypt to Greece. He is fascinated with Greek culture and wants his entire kingdom to assimilate into the Hellenistic culture. This political push made its way through the city and into the unsuspecting Jewish countryside. Antiochus threatens death to any Jew who would not comply to his assimilation culture.


Over time the setting of Jerusalem changes. Greek gymnasiums and temples begin to dot the landscape of Israel, Greek learning is instituted to replace Jewish teachings, and Jewish culture is oppressed. Through trickery, deceit, social and political pressures, Antiochus has seduced important leaders in the Jewish community to join him, including the High Priest of Israel, Jason! Jews are forced to bend to his religious compromise. All Jewish religious rites and traditions are to be forfeited on pain of death. He strategically focuses on rooting out any practices consistent with God’s Word, such as Temple worship, and the Sabbath. The oppression grows so great, mothers and children are killed if the parents attempt to circumcise or bar mitzvah their children in the Jewish tradition.


Antiochus desecrates the temple in Jerusalem and erects an altar to Zeus where he slaughters pigs by the hundreds in direct assault and defiance of the Jewish cleanliness rituals. He erects statues all over Jerusalem and a statue of himself in the temple and orders the people of Israel to bow before the statues.  Many Jews compromise and bow down to the Greek Statues of Athena, Zeus and Antiochus out of fear for their very lives and the lives of their children.


Conviction is a strongly held belief or opinion. Time and time again in history, God’s people have had to choose whether or not they would stand convicted. Over thousands of years, the Jewish people were sold as slaves, Israel was conquered, and people were murdered for their faith. After Jesus resurrection’, many early Christians were martyred. During the 16th century, many across Europe were killed for reading William Tyndale’s Bible in English. During the Holocaust, millions of Jews were killed by Adolph Hitler. Even today, many are still persecuted for their belief in Jesus. In each and every generation, there were people who stood strong, knew what they believed, and fought back!


In the events of Hanukkah, the Jewish people were one such example of conviction! Antiochus’ horrible actions would foreshadow Hitler’s future annihilation of the Jewish people in the 1940’s. Many others over the centuries would come against God’s people.


Today, the world tells us our God is not enough. We face new challenges and struggles every day as our world falls apart. But in the midst of compromise, this is our hope: Jesus is our Savior and our King! We can stand on our convictions in the face of danger, sorrow, pain and even death. Why? Because we know we serve a good God who has conquered death for us! We can engage our culture with a deep conviction in the truth of Jesus. So, when you stand facing your greatest fear, you can stand on the love and mercy and incredible sacrifice of our Messiah Jesus!


So, as we continue the story of Hanukkah, ask yourself:


  • In what ways have you chosen to be convicted in the last year?


  • How is God calling you to be convicted in the next year?
Read more

Hanukkah Day 1: The Hanukkah Story

The Hanukkah Story

Today begins the first day of Hanukkah in 2021, when we begin to light candles and tell the story of Hanukkah and the Maccabees. Hanukkah, or the Feast of Dedication is a captivating story of bravery, courage, miracles and victory! But what is the Hanukkah Story? Why is Hanukkah explained from this story in history? Hanukkah was a defining moment in the life and history of God’s people. A small band of Jewish rebels changed the course of an entire nation! These brass soldiers decided Yahweh was more important than anything else.


The story of Hanukkah began in the 400 years between the writing of the Old and New Testaments. God was not silent in those years. He was still at work fulfilling His promises and preserving His people, as the story will show.


Now, as we step into the story, imagine yourself as a Jew living in Jerusalem in the 2nd century B.C.. You walk the busy streets through the marketplace, cows lowing in your ears, and sheep baaing. You smell smoke as the priests burn sacrifices in the Temple to Yahweh. The bustling city is the heart of the religious world for the Jewish people, and it is your home. You love this city, and the people in it.


But over time, this beautiful city becomes transformed as the Hellenistic Greek culture seeps in. The changes are slow at first and you hardly notice them. But as time passes by, you see an Acropolis pop up next to the Jewish temple. You see pigs in the streets instead of sheep and cows. Greek culture, statues, clothes and sports begin to dominate the Jewish city. Soldiers enter the Holy City of Jerusalem, and the entire capital is thrown into chaos! You hear people screaming, animals in a panic, and the yell of soldiers rushing through the streets trashing the marketplace! Your entire life has changed as fires burn high in the sky: your beloved city transformed into ruin right before your eyes.

But how did we get here? How did this happen? The story begins just a few decades earlier in Babylon, as Alexander the Great, the ruler of the known world dies of typhoid fever in his tent at the young age of 32. This death set off a series of actions that would affect the nation of Israel, just a few hundred miles away. When Alexander died, his kingdom was divided into four sections and given to his four best generals. One of these generals was the founder of the Syrian Empire, and he passed on his empire to his grandson, Antiochus IV.


Like many rulers before him, Antiochus vowed to conquer nations! He began this through the assimilation of Hellenistic culture through the powerful leaders like the High Priest Jason, and when the nation of Israel rebelled against the assimilation, they were forced into it instead. And so it was Antiochus who entered Jerusalem on that fateful day, capturing the nation of Israel.


Story: Yahweh reveals his kingdom through stories! Stories change lives; stories challenge; stories inspire. Story is a part of every culture and it always captures the deepest parts of our hearts, because we see ourselves in the characters. We hold our breath as the protagonist Christian journeys to Heaven in Pilgrim’s Progress. We cheer when King George slays the dragon in the classic fairytale, and we cry in relief with Frodo and Sam when they finally destroy the ring and return to their home in the Shire.


Narrative story is the powerful medium God chooses to reveal his Word in the Bible, and it is through the stories of God’s miracles in these historical accounts that our lives are forever impacted. The Hanukkah story show us how God revealed himself through incredible miracles as he saves his people from annihilation.

As we begin Hanukkah, ask yourself these questions:

  • What story has your life told so far?


  • What story do you want your life to tell by the time it’s over?


Read more