..the Jewish people.
This year, while we were celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, the Jews had a very similar holiday of their own - the Hanukkah. This is a eight-day holiday celebrated by the Jews to commemorate a miracle which took place in 165 BC, long after the last book of the Old testament, Malachi, was written. Therefore nothing of it was recorded in the Old Testament. But it is mentioned in the New Testament, in John 10:22 as "the Feast of Dedication, and it was winter."
Their Hanukkah, which means Dedication always begins on the 25th day of Kislev, on the Hebrew calender. Because their calender is based on lunar months, their dating varies from late November to late December on our Gregorian calender. This year, the 25th of Kislev coincided with the sunset of the 20th December, which meant that our Christmas day fell on their fifth day of their holiday.
So what is exactly the Hanukkah?
It was when the Temple in Jerusalem was re-dedicated to the God of Israel in 165BC. As part of this ceremony, a candle had to burn on the Altar for eight days. At the time, there was enough olive oil to fuel the candle for just one day. But the candle kept on burning for the whole eight-day duration despite the lack of the fuel supply, and this was considered a miracle from Heaven - a wonderful sign when considering that the Temple was desecrated three years earlier by the Greek Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 168BC. This was when pigs were sacrificed at the Altar, which was, in turn, dedicated to the Greek God Zeus. Judaism was banned, as with male circumcision, and foods which was not Kosher were forced to be eaten by the Jewish population. A group of Jews, which became known as the Maccabees, revolted and successfully liberated the Jewish nation, which afterwards the Temple was re-dedicated.
Hanukkah had since then been celebrated by lighting one of each of the eight candles of the menorah, the Hanukkiya which actually has nine candles, the ninth, known as the Shamash is usually in the middle of the menorah, either higher or lower than the other eight candlesticks. Shamash is generally used for lighting up the others.
On the first evening, the Shamash is lit with the first candle. They burn for half-hour into the night. The next night two candles are lit, and so it goes on until on the eighth evening when all eight are lit. The only exception is before sundown on the Friday, where the appropriate candle must be lit before sundown, and not on the Sabbath itself. Therefore often a longer candle is provided for this occasion.
Gifts are usually given to children, as well as to each other, particularly in the USA and in Israel, where the Jewish children don't feel left out where other children receive presents at Christmas. Also throughout the period, food cooked in olive oil is eaten, and a game known as Dreidel is played among family members. This consist of a four-sided spinning top, each side having a Hebrew letter printed on it. The letter which lands face up determines the action of the player who had thrown it, namely whether to add some coins in a central bowl, take all of the bowl's contents, or half of it, or not do anything at all. The player which has all the coins wins.
Unlike the Passover and other God-ordained Jewish festivals, there is no strict sabbath keeping with the Hanukkah festival. Work is permitted as during the rest of the year. But every Hanukkah festival will have a Sabbath within it, which is observed normally.
So we begin to see some striking parallels between Christmas and Hanukkah. Both are in winter, both involve lighting candles, both involve giving of presents, both involve cooking festival meals, both involve family games, both involve a period of days - Hanukkah has eight days, Christmas has twelve, and both involve allowing to work throughout the holidays. After all, it is vital for public services such as television broadcasting, the Police, hospitals etc. to be adequately staffed on Christmas day.
And furthermore, Christians are obliged to give honour to the Jews, as their own Christian faith was originally Jewish, and its launch was from none other than Jerusalem, the Jewish capital. Romans 15:27 reads:
For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.
If only Christians over the past two millennia realised this! Instead, the Roman Catholic Church, along with some Protestant churches as well, had persecuted the "Christ-killing Jews" - despite that the Lord Jesus himself said that no man can take his life from him, but he lays down his own life according to his Father's commandment. (See John 10:18.) One of church history's hall of fame greats was Martin Luther, a Catholic monk who one day read Romans 1:17 and realised that the just shall live by faith, launching the Reformation. Yet he was never freed from Rome's dislike of the Jews, referring to all their synagogues as "Synagogues of Satan" a reference taken from Revelation 2:9. Then not to mention the Nazis, and their leader, Adolf Hitler, who had six million Jews exterminated simply because he felt that the Jews were an "inferior" race to them.
Yet what really astonishes me are the two straightforward verses found in Genesis 12:2-3, which reads:
I will make you (Abraham) into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
With verses like these, one would think that the Jews would be the most popular nation on earth, with people showering blessings upon them and in turn be blessed themselves. How could it be so possible to be hated and cursed for so long, not only throughout the Christian age, but going back well into Old Testament history when the fledgling nation was troubled by the Canaanites, then later by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans and by the Arabs today?
Paul the Apostle never had any dislike for the Jews, especially being one himself. Rather, in Romans 9 he shows his feelings of distress over how his fellow countrymen can be so blinded from the truth of the Gospel, and was even willing to be severed from Christ if it meant many, if not all, of his fellow Jews believed and were saved. Paul had the right attitude, and so must we, who are saved through faith in Jesus Christ, even though the majority of us would not go as far as forfeiting our salvation for their sakes, nevertheless, our recognition for who they are and our fervent love for them and our desire to see them come to faith in their Messiah, must not cease among true Christians.
When I was backpacking Israel in 1993, I was walking through a street at Tel Aviv when I saw an Orthodox Jew trying without success to lift a laden trolley onto the sidewalk from the street. At his beckoning, I approached and together we lifted the trolley. He was so thankful as he dismissed me with a smile, that I walked along grinning from ear to ear with happiness! Later, during the vacation I felt God revealing to me much about Israel as a nation and the land he calls his own, and with everything fitting together, I could only gasp with awe at the inspiration of the Bible and the promises he made and kept, and will keep.
Paul in his letter to the Romans, had written that the Jews were blinded from the reality of their Messiah Jesus in order that Gentiles, that is non-Jewish people, can believe the Gospel and be saved. He likened us to branches from a wild olive tree grafted in to the cultivated olive tree. He then warns us (non-Jews) not to become big-headed and arrogant after being recipients of God's mercy. Unfortunately, that has happened, and the Church's history had been tainted ever since, with many Popes having lived wicked lives and suffering horrible deaths, particularly of syphilis or even murdered by an angry mob, a jealous husband or anti-pope (a rival of the current Pope occupying the Throne of St Peter at the time.) Such a sorry state of the Church, the body of Christ, during the Dark Ages, could well be the link with their hatred of the Jews as "Christ-killers". In the Old Testament, for example, looking at the fate of the Canaanite kings at the time of Joshua and afterwards, Goliath during the reign of King Saul, Haman at the time of the Persian dominance over the Jewish Diaspora, and in modern times, Adolf Hitler, none had suffered such infamy and despicable deaths than they.
Their demise serves as a warning to us. God said to Abraham that anyone who curses him and his descendants (i.e. Israel) will himself be cursed. It is a matter not to be taken lightly. In turn, anyone who shows favour to the Jews, to the nation of Israel and Jerusalem in particular, will be blessed by God and enjoy his favour.
Contrary to the opinion of some Christians, God is not finished with the Jews on a national level. As I have mentioned already in previous blogs, there is a large quantity of passages in the Bible that prophesies that Israel will inhabit their own land of Canaan in the future, with Jerusalem as their capital city. When the Lord Jesus Christ returns to earth as King of kings and Lord of lords, he will enter the city of Jerusalem and there set up the throne of his father David. If you want reference, read Jeremiah chapters 30 to 33, and the last twelve chapters of Ezekiel. Also consider Romans 11:25-32, particularly verse 26, where Paul promises salvation to all of Israel in the future.
The Jews are the Lord's physical brethren and in a sense, our spiritual brethren. True enough, they are sadly blinded from the truth of the Gospel for our sakes, but this won't last for ever. One day, when all non-Jewish Christians are brought in, their veil will be removed and will all be saved.
May God bless you as you be a blessing to our Jewish brothers.
Happy New Year.