Hanukkah for the Nations
This is an updated version of a TorahBytes message I wrote a few year ago.
Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD. And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. And the LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem. (Zechariah 2:14-16 / English 2:10-12)
In Jewish tradition, Hanukkah is referred to as a minor festival, since it was not established through Moses. But this is not a reflection of its importance. For without the events commemorated by this popular celebration, the world would be a very different place.
In the mid-2nd century before Yeshua’s coming, the plan and purposes of God almost came to an end. The assimilation forces under the rule of the Hellenistic Seleucid emperor Antiochus Epiphanes were being very effective among the Jews in Israel. They, along with the ongoing presence of God’s truth on Earth, may have been wiped out had not God intervened through the small band of faithful Israelites known as the Maccabees. That God may have preserved his people and his plan by some other means is most likely. Yet, it is instructional to look at just how crucial these events were and what was at stake.
God chose the people of Israel to make himself known to the nations. That was why God called Abraham in the first place. His plan was never concerned about Israel alone, but about the world. Precisely how that was going to work out was not clear in the Hebrew Bible. A common notion derived from the prophets was that as God brought restoration to Israel, the nations too would benefit as a spillover effect. What was not anticipated was that people from all nations would have the opportunity to personally and intimately come to know the God of Israel too.
While this does not get clearly spelled out until after Yeshua’s coming, there are prophetic portions that do suggest that non-Jews would one day have a personal relationship with God. One of those portions is read as a special reading on the Sabbath that occurs during the eight days of Hanukkah. Zechariah was a prophet a few centuries before the first Hanukkah, when the Jewish people were in the early stages of rebuilding the nation after returning from the exile to Babylon. It was a difficult and discouraging time. But God through Zechariah sought to encourage the people by speaking of an unknown future time of great restoration when God himself would live among his people. When this happens not only will the Jewish people be restored to God, but members of other nations would join themselves to the God of Israel and become his people too.
The inclusion of other nations to be part of the people of God is the fulfillment of God’s promise of blessing through Abraham and his descendants to the world. But note how the inclusion of Gentiles is connected to Israel’s restoration. God’s establishment of and faithfulness to the nation of Israel is a necessary component of God’s rescue plan for the world. Israel was not simply the warm up to God’s greater purposes among the nations. Israel is God’s plan through which salvation comes to all.
That is why God’s preservation of Israel commemorated at Hanukkah is a cause for celebration not just for Jewish people, but for everyone. The whole world should honor the Maccabees for resisting being absorbed into the Greek worldview of their day, so that through the Messiah Yeshua people of every tribe, nation, and language could be an instrument of God’s light today.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version
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