The story of Hanukkah begins with difficult times and ends triumphantly.
It all began about 175 years before the birth of Yeshua. The Jewish people in Israel were ruled over by Antiochus IV. He stamped coins with his image on the face of the coin and called himself Epiphanes, which means “The Great One.”
Antiochus Epiphanes decided he wanted to eradicate the Jewish religion. The Greeks were not happy to just receive tax money from the Jews (as the Romans later were). They wanted to get rid of all other religions and cultures. Widespread decrees were made which forbade worship on the Sabbath or festivals. Circumcision was outlawed as well as reading from the Torah. These prohibitions touched at the very heart of the spiritual life of Judaism.
Antiochus also commanded his subjects to worship pagan gods, bow down to idols, and eat pig. Those who refused were sentenced to death, often carried out in a very brutal manner.
In 168 BCE, Antiochus sent mercenaries to the Temple, where they destroyed the sacred vessels, and scattered pigs’ blood on the Holy of Holies. He then erected a statue of the Greek god Zeus and dedicated the Temple to this pagan god. He then decreed that all must sacrifice to it.
One family from Modi’in, led by Mattathias, stood resolutely against the command. He and his sons, Judah, Johanan, Simon, Eleazar and Jonathan did not step forward to sacrifice to the pagan god. When one Jew stepped forward to sacrifice, Mattathias leaped onto the platform and slew him. This was the beginning of the rebellion. They fought hard and when Mattathias died, the leadership shifted to Judah, who was known as The Maccabee.
Finally, in 165 BCE, Judah’s army arrived in Jerusalem and liberated the Temple, but a desolate wasteland greeted them. The Temple was desecrated and in a state of despair. Even the stones of the altar had been ruined. Slowly, the Temple was rebuilt and the moment of rededication arrived, on the 25th day of Kislev.
The final act of rededication involved lighting the Ner Tamid (Eternal Light), the symbol of Israel’s everlasting faith. The light would be fueled with oil, but, when the Maccabees searched in the storehouse, they found only a singe cruse of pure oil, sealed with the stamp of the High Priest. It was enough for only one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, until a new supply could be located. This is why Hanukkah is celebrated for 8 days.
Yes, this holiday celebrates the miracle of the oil. But, more importantly, it celebrates the power of G-d to use even the smallest to defeat the powerful who are doing evil.