Monday, December 7, 2015

How Chanukah Made the World Safe for Christmas

After Alexander the Great died, his kingdom was divided between four dynasties, one eventually leading to Antiochus IV. Wanting to continue Alexander’s dream of one-world culture, and feeling particularly cranky because he had been ordered by Rome to stop fighting Egypt, Antiochus decided to wipe out Judaism.

Antiochus enforced these laws in Israel:
·            Don’t circumcise your sons.
·            Don’t celebrate Sabbath and other Jewish holy days.
·            Don’t read or even own a Torah scroll.
·            Build altars to Zeus and sacrifice pigs.
·            Worship other Greek gods.

On the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev, 168 B.C., Antiochus IV invaded the Temple in Jerusalem, set up an image of Zeus on the bronze altar, and sacrificed a pig to Zeus.

How did the Jews react?

Some caved. They obeyed the new laws and embraced Greek culture. They took Greek names, studied Greek literature and philosophy, and participated in nude sporting events at the new Greek gymnasium in Jerusalem. Some Jewish athletes even had surgeries to hide their circumcisions.

Other Jews resisted and were tortured and murdered. Thousands died.

Mattathias, a resister, and his five sons escaped to the hills around Modin, a village northwest of Jerusalem. He gathered other rebels and for a year they attacked Syrian outposts, and destroyed pagan altars and idols.

Before his death a year later, Mattathias put his son, Judah Maccabeus, in charge of the rebel army. By the end of two more years, the Maccabees had defeated the immensely larger Syrian army and occupied Jerusalem.

The rebel soldiers cleaned up the desecrated Temple and built new furnishings:  the lampstand, showbread table, and incense altar. They also built new doors and replaced the altar of burnt offering.

Exactly three years after Antiochus IV’s desecration, the Temple was re-dedicated to the God who had promised Abraham, "...all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."  (Genesis 12:3) Thanks to the Maccabees, the practice of Judaism and worship of the one true God were restored in Israel.

So a young carpenter, Joseph, could be described as “faithful to the Law.” (Matthew 1:18)

So his betrothed, Mary, could say to an angel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38) 

So the promised Messiah could be born. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Luke 1:21)

Thanks, Maccabees!

Some information was adapted from Hanukkah, The Festival of Lights, written by Bruce Scott and published by the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.

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