Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, I'm sure the thoughts of many have moved on to Christmas, and everything associated with it. Did you celebrate the day after Thanksgiving by shopping, or by putting up your Christmas lights? There is, of course, nothing wrong with that at all, but what I want to do today is talk about a holiday that many in the western world know little if anything about. It's a Jewish holiday called Hanukkah, or The Festival of Light, and it lasts for eight days generally occurring before Christmas in the early part of December.
In Israel's history, after they had been released from captivity by the Babylonians, they returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple which had been destroyed when they were taken into captivity. A few hundred years later, around 175BC, Israel was under the rule of the Selucid Empire (Syria) and their king. This king, Antiochus IV, looted the temple, stopped the worship, and effectively outlawed the practice of Judaism. A revolt began and the end result was that in 165BC the king was overthrown and the Jews were able to resume worship in their temple. The trouble was, they discovered that when they went to relight the Menorrah, or lampstand in the temple, there was only enough oil to burn for one day. Since this oil was specially consecrated by the priests for use, it would take days to prepare more. However, a miracle occurred in that the one day supply of oil burned for eight days allowing time for the priests to prepare more. Although not one of the seven feasts of Israel ordained by God in the Old Testament, it is a very important celebration in Israel and is even referred to in the New Testament. During Hanukkah, the people celebrate by lighting one light each night for eight nights using what is known as a Hanukkah Menorah with eight branches on a single main stem as opposed to the Menorah used in the Temple which has six branches off of the main stem.
So why do I bring this up? I suppose because I find so many interesting things associated with this celebration that we as believers can and should be aware of. So I want to take a little time examining some of them, and share my thoughts with you as to why I think they are important. I will apologize beforehand if I seem to ramble in sharing these with you, but I have yet to take the time to organize my thoughts into an outline form so what you get might seem a little random. So first of all, lets talk about the Menorah. Of all the things to be found in the Temple, I think the Menorah was probably the most impressive. A description of it is found in Exodus 25 where God instructs Moses on how to construct it.
"You shall also make a lampstand of pure gold; the lampstand shall be of hammered work. Its shaft, its branches, its bowls, its [ornamental] knobs, and flowers shall be [of one piece]. And six branches shall come out of its sides: three branches of the lampstand out of one side, and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side. Three bowls [shall be] made like almond [blossoms] on one branch, [with] an [ornamental] knob and a flower, and three bowls made like almond [blossoms] on the other branch, [with] an [ornamental] knob and a flower--and so for the six branches that come out of the lampstand. On the lampstand itself four bowls [shall be] made like almond [blossoms, each with] its [ornamental] knob and flower. And [there shall be] a knob under the [first] two branches of the same, a knob under the [second] two branches of the same, and a knob under the [third] two branches of the same, according to the six branches that extend from the lampstand. Their knobs and their branches [shall be of one piece]; all of it [shall be] one hammered piece of pure gold. You shall make seven lamps for it, and they shall arrange its lamps so that they give light in front of it. And its wick-trimmers and their trays [shall be] of pure gold. It shall be made of a talent of pure gold, with all these utensils. Exodus 25:31-39 NKJV
Notice how ornate this object was, and how much care had to be taken to make it. Notice too how specific God was with His instructions on how it was to be made. Here is what I get from reading this description. First of all, God is very specific when He says that there are six branches, three on each side, emanating from a main shaft. Why is that important? Type in "menorah" in your search engine and read some of the results. I bet every one of them describes a menorah as a "seven" branched candlestick. Am I being picky here? I don't think so. I believe the picture God paints for us here is very important, and often missed. I think most of you are probably familiar with the following verse;
"I am the vine, you [are] the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. John 15:5 NKJV
"Without me you can do nothing". I would think we should consider that a rather important statement by our Lord. You see, something has to support the branches. I guess that is why they call them branches, they "branch" off from something else. When I look at a picture of the menorah I see one main shaft from which branches grow. Is this the picture God intended for us to see? I really think it is, and I think I can give you something more to help consider that possibility. The branches get what they need not from themselves, but from the vine itself which has roots. So in essence, the main vine is the most important part of the picture. The vine supports the branches, not the other way around. Have you ever seen a vineyard when it is pruned? I live in wine country, and am surrounded by vineyards and wineries. After a vine is pruned I can tell you they look like stumps. Yet they aren't dead, and have plenty of life inside which manifests itself in the spring when the branches begin to grow. So the first thing I see when I look at a menorah is Jesus as the main shaft supporting the branches which symbolize all those who choose to believe.
Let's now consider the purpose of the lamp itself which is to give light. The purpose of having a lamp is to give light when it is dark in order to show us the way to walk without stumbling over something we would not ordinarily see. If God is showing us a picture of His Son as a lamp, with those who believe as the branches whose purpose is to give light, can we find another part of scripture to support that thought?
Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. John 8:12 NKJV
So if Jesus is the light of the world and the main shaft or vine, as His branches we have that light as well with the ability to give light. Jesus told us that in the book of Matthew where He says this;
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:16 NKJV
So what I see here is this, a lampstand such as the menorah gives light two ways. One, it shines light outward to fight the darkness that surrounds it. But two, the branches also send light inward, lighting up the shaft itself. When the world looks at the lamp, not only do they see the effect of the light it produces, but they see the lamp itself. So the second thing I think of when I see a menorah is Jesus as the light of the world, not only giving light but being glorified (lit up) by those who believe.
Then of course we come to the reason behind the celebration of Hanukkah, and that is the miracle of the oil. Obviously a lamp without oil cannot give light, so the oil is probably the most important part of the picture we are looking at here. Throughout the Bible it is plainly seen and accepted that oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament kings and priests were annointed with oil as a sign they were being "consecrated" and filled with the spirit. In Zechariah we see that the prophet was shown a vision of a lampstand with oil dripping into it and when he asks what it signifies is he is told;
So he answered and said to me: "This [is] the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' Says the LORD of hosts. Zechariah 4:6 NKJV
We also know Jesus told His disciples that they were going to receive the Holy Spirit as a gift and just what the results of that gift would be.
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Acts 1:8 NKJV
When we become believers and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit we receive the "oil" we need to light our lamps. We have the power we need to live the life God expects from us and "light" the world with the deeds that will bring glory and honor to God. It also gives us the strength we need to let our light shine in the midst of the darkness we seem to be finding ourselves surrounded by more and more as we get closer to the end of this age. So I guess this is the third thing I see and think about when I look at a menorah, and that is the oil of the Holy Spirit which lights up the world through those who believe.
Hanukkah might be considered a "Jewish" holiday, but I hope from my ramblings you can see that it can be a beautiful picture of our life with God through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. When I think of Hanukkah and see a menorah I remember Jesus as the vine, we as the branches, and the Holy Spirit as the oil which helps us shine the light of Christ in a world increasingly filled with darkness.
Oops. I told you I was rambling. I forgot to mention why I think God specified that the bowls would be like "almond" blossoms, but I think I will let you study on that for your "homework" this week. (Clue: Almond trees are the first to bloom. Think firstfruits, rapture, etc. :) ) Have a good week.