The Books of I and II Maccabees record the story of Jewish spiritual and military courage from 167-164 BC as they resisted the forced Hellenization and oppression of Emperor Antiochus Epiphanes IV. This evil leader desecrated the Second Temple by building an altar to Zeus and sacrificing a pig in what was the Holy of Holies to the Jews. In addition to this demonic symbolism, Antiochus prohibited Jewish observances and promoted the vilest pagan practices. Under Judas Maccabeus, the Jewish revolt brought liberation to Judea and the reconsecration of the Temple in 164 BC.
During the reconsecration, the Menorah remained alight in spite of the shortage of oil. The victory over oppression and the miracle is the basis of the Feast of Hannukah that is celebrated every December by Jews around the world. It is a time of gift-giving, feasting, and remembrance. Christians recognized this important moment, honoring God’s intervention and seeing the light of Hannukah as emblematic of the Light of Messiah Jesus (see the Gospel of John, chapters 8 to 10).
Why does Hannukah matter today? The courage of the oppressed Jews is inspiring. But the Hanukkah story is more than a memory or a holiday moment. In the 21st century, we are living in a moment of great anti-Semitism, with vile slanders and actual violence against Jews increasing exponentially. The number of anti-Jewish incidents far exceeds any “Islamophobia” pushed by the elites in the media. The movements in the West to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) the State of Israel for her purported oppressions of the Palestinians is simple anti-Semitism disguised as political correctness. Advocates of BDS seek the complete delegitimizing of Israel and hypocritically declare they are only anti-Zionist, not anti-Jewish. But examination of the leadership and money behind these groups reveals an agenda that wants the Middle East “Jew Free” and the elimination of the only democracy in the region! When one hears, “From the River to Sea, Palestine will be free” it is a call for elimination, exile, and extermination disguised as advocacy for the oppressed.
From the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC to the founding of Israel in 1948, The Jewish people had no land to call their own. Out of the ashes of the Shoah came a new state that is a gift to the world, a beacon of toleration and innovation, freedom and opportunity. Hanukkah celebrates this new reality as well as the victory over Antiochus over two millennia ago. The nation of Israel is a world leader in compassion around the world, medical advances, technology innovation, and entrepreneurial start-ups. She also demonstrates that contentious domestic politics and national cohesion can coexist.
Lovers of liberty of all faiths (or none) should applaud Israel’s existence and condemn anti-Jewish expressions wherever they occur with the same passion as those that defend Islam, Christianity, or any other expression of religion and conscience. When we see the light of a Menorah, may we rededicate ourselves to liberty for all.