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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

God and the Feast of Dedication

For many Christians, the exclusion of the books of I and II Maccabees from the Canon has left them with an imperfect understanding of the period between the Old and New Testaments and the events just prior to Christ's birth. Add to this the fact that many of them have never been exposed to the writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and it is no wonder that many of them have been bewildered by the outlines of the world into which Christ was born. One of the items that has perplexed a number of Christians is a reference within the Gospel According to John that describes Jesus keeping the Feast of Dedication. (John 10:22)

Since the only exposure that many Christians have had to the Feast of Dedication has been through television wishes of "Happy Hanukkah" to Jewish viewers, I thought that it would be helpful to extract some quotes from the First Book of Maccabees to help familiarize them with the subject.

From the First Chapter, we read:
1 And it happened, after that Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came out of the land of Chettiim, had smitten Darius king of the Persians and Medes, that he reigned in his stead, the first over Greece,
2 And made many wars, and won many strong holds, and slew the kings of the earth,
3 And went through to the ends of the earth, and took spoils of many nations, insomuch that the earth was quiet before him; whereupon he was exalted and his heart was lifted up.
4 And he gathered a mighty strong host and ruled over countries, and nations, and kings, who became tributaries unto him.
5 And after these things he fell sick, and perceived that he should die.
6 Wherefore he called his servants, such as were honorable, and had been brought up with him from his youth, and parted his kingdom among them, while he was yet alive.
7 So Alexander reigned twelve years, and then died.
8 And his servants bare rule every one in his place.
9 And after his death they all put crowns upon themselves; so did their sons after them many years: and evils were multiplied in the earth.
10 And there came out of them a wicked root Antiochus surnamed Epiphanes, son of Antiochus the king, who had been an hostage at Rome, and he reigned in the hundred and thirty and seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks.

20 And after that Antiochus had smitten Egypt, he returned again in the hundred forty and third year, and went up against Israel and Jerusalem with a great multitude,
21 And entered proudly into the sanctuary, and took away the golden altar, and the candlestick of light, and all the vessels thereof,
22 And the table of the shewbread, and the pouring vessels, and the vials. and the censers of gold, and the veil, and the crown, and the golden ornaments that were before the temple, all which he pulled off.
23 He took also the silver and the gold, and the precious vessels: also he took the hidden treasures which he found.
24 And when he had taken all away, he went into his own land, having made a great massacre, and spoken very proudly.

41 Moreover king Antiochus wrote to his whole kingdom, that all should be one people,
42 And every one should leave his laws: so all the heathen agreed according to the commandment of the king.
43 Yea, many also of the Israelites consented to his religion, and sacrificed unto idols, and profaned the sabbath.
44 For the king had sent letters by messengers unto Jerusalem and the cities of Juda that they should follow the strange laws of the land,
45 And forbid burnt offerings, and sacrifice, and drink offerings, in the temple; and that they should profane the sabbaths and festival days:
46 And pollute the sanctuary and holy people:
47 Set up altars, and groves, and chapels of idols, and sacrifice swine's flesh, and unclean beasts:
48 That they should also leave their children uncircumcised, and make their souls abominable with all manner of uncleanness and profanation:
49 To the end they might forget the law, and change all the ordinances.
50 And whosoever would not do according to the commandment of the king, he said, he should die.

54 Now the fifteenth day of the month Casleu, in the hundred forty and fifth year, they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar, and builded idol altars throughout the cities of Juda on every side;

After these events, the verses that follow tell the story of how a man named Mattathias and his five sons resisted the efforts of Antiochus Epiphanes to destroy Judaism. In fact, Judas Maccabeus (one of Mattathias' sons) was later able to defeat Antiochus in battle and liberate Jerusalem. (I Maccabees 2,3 and 4)

As a consequence, in the Fourth Chapter, we read:
36 Then said Judas and his brethren, Behold, our enemies are discomfited: let us go up to cleanse and dedicate the sanctuary.
37 Upon this all the host assembled themselves together, and went up into mount Sion.
38 And when they saw the sanctuary desolate, and the altar profaned, and the gates burned up, and shrubs growing in the courts as in a forest, or in one of the mountains, yea, and the priests' chambers pulled down;
39 They rent their clothes, and made great lamentation, and cast ashes upon their heads,
40 And fell down flat to the ground upon their faces, and blew an alarm with the trumpets, and cried toward heaven.
41 Then Judas appointed certain men to fight against those that were in the fortress, until he had cleansed the sanctuary.
42 So he chose priests of blameless conversation, such as had pleasure in the law:
43 Who cleansed the sanctuary, and bare out the defiled stones into an unclean place.
44 And when as they consulted what to do with the altar of burnt offerings, which was profaned;
45 They thought it best to pull it down, lest it should be a reproach to them, because the heathen had defiled it: wherefore they pulled it down,
46 And laid up the stones in the mountain of the temple in a convenient place, until there should come a prophet to shew what should be done with them.
47 Then they took whole stones according to the law, and built a new altar according to the former;
48 And made up the sanctuary, and the things that were within the temple, and hallowed the courts.
49 They made also new holy vessels, and into the temple they brought the candlestick, and the altar of burnt offerings, and of incense, and the table.
50 And upon the altar they burned incense, and the lamps that were upon the candlestick they lighted, that they might give light in the temple.
51 Furthermore they set the loaves upon the table, and spread out the veils, and finished all the works which they had begun to make.
52 Now on the five and twentieth day of the ninth month, which is called the month Casleu, in the hundred forty and eighth year, they rose up betimes in the morning,
53 And offered sacrifice according to the law upon the new altar of burnt offerings, which they had made.
54 Look, at what time and what day the heathen had profaned it, even in that was it dedicated with songs, and citherns, and harps, and cymbals.
55 Then all the people fell upon their faces, worshipping and praising the God of heaven, who had given them good success.
56 And so they kept the dedication of the altar eight days and offered burnt offerings with gladness, and sacrificed the sacrifice of deliverance and praise.
57 They decked also the forefront of the temple with crowns of gold, and with shields; and the gates and the chambers they renewed, and hanged doors upon them.
58 Thus was there very great gladness among the people, for that the reproach of the heathen was put away.
59 Moreover Judas and his brethren with the whole congregation of Israel ordained, that the days of the dedication of the altar should be kept in their season from year to year by the space of eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month Casleu, with mirth and gladness.

**All of these excerpts found at http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org**

Notice that these writings also explain much of the material found in the book of Daniel. In a previous post, I talked about how Alexander the Great and the generals who followed him were the very people being depicted by some of the elaborate symbolism of that book. The absence of this perspective has led many prophecy buffs into wild speculations about what the "abomination of desolation" might be; but an understanding of the historical context of these things quickly brings us back down to earth.

According to Tracey Rich at Judaism 101, the designation of eight days for the festival was the result of a Divine miracle. We read there: "According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war."

Finally, as someone who was once part of a Christian tradition that observed God's festivals, I always found it a bit disconcerting that Purim (Esther) and Dedication were ignored. Although they are both mentioned in the Canon of the Bible and it was evident that Christ observed both of them, they were relegated to a secondary status and labeled as Jewish. Looking back on that experience now, it underscores for me what an unsound foundation that those teachings and practices were based upon. Is it worthwhile to recall the fact that God has saved "His" people from annihilation? Is it worthwhile to remember that the true worship of the true God was restored despite overwhelming odds to the contrary? And could either one of those events foreshadow events predicted in the New Testament? What do you think?

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