But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. – Book of 1 Maccabees 1: 62-63, NRV, Apocrypha
The Syrian Greek King, Antiochus, who called himself Epiphanes (God Manifest) desired to make his kingdom all one people, one Greek people. His goal was to assimilate all the conquered people into Greek culture and, in order to do this, the Jewish faith and the Jewish way of life had to go. The people of Israel were very different. At this time in the 2nd century before Yeshua’s birth, the Jews were the only people who were monotheistic. They had no room in their worldview for Greek gods and syncretism (mixing of faiths), so in the eyes of Antiochus they must change and assimilate or they must die. Either way Judaism was about to be wiped from the face of the earth. The Light of the World and the hope of Redemption was about to be snuffed out forever.
Antiochus decreed four things… one for each of our candles today. Four things that, as the enemy of HaShem, Antiochus needed to put a stop to in order to get rid of the Children of HaShem. They were:
- Study of Torah;
- Shabbat and feast observances, including Temple sacrifices and service;
- Circumcision of their children; and
- Refusal to eat unclean meats.
The villain of the Chanukah story enforced these bans by a ruthless campaign. As we are told in the book of 1 Maccabees, many in Israel who refused to give up their covenantal responsibilities were killed. Yes, some Jews assimilated; some perhaps even happily, but HaShem preserved a remnant as He always has done.
Through the course of those three years slowly, but surely, the faithful in Israel prevailed over an army of the enemy that outnumbered them many times over. HaShem brought them to the point where they overcame the enemy and restored these four testimonies, these four lights to the Jewish people.
But have you ever noticed the parallel between these four things Antiochus declared forbidden and what, historically, the Church has told the Jewish believer who comes to faith in Messiah? There have even been times in history when the church, in the name of Messiah, has enforced these same decrees on the Jewish people. I’m sure we have all heard of the forced conversions of Jews in the Middle Ages in Europe, where on pain of death or torture they were forced to eat pork, forbidden to celebrate Shabbat or the rite of circumcision.
But even in times of tolerance and peace what does the Church at large often tell that Jew coming to faith in Messiah? That these things are done away with, that they are no longer necessary and are undesirable. In fact, according to many in the Church, freedom from the law must be embraced by Jews in Messiah in order for them to have salvation. So what is the result of this? When the Jew becomes more and more like the Greek eventually there is nothing but the Greeks. They have assimilated.
Does it pain your heart to know that, in the name of the Jewish Messiah, we have, in the Body of Messiah, ended up continuing the campaign of this villain we commemorate the defeat of at this feast? Are you struck by both the irony and the tragedy of this? Are you ready to see what your part, as Jew or Greek (Gentile), might be in keeping these four lights shining brightly in the Name of our Jewish Messiah?
As Judah Maccabee proclaimed to his people:
“Behold, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it.” – Book of 1 Maccabees 4:36, NRV, Apocrypha