A Hanukkah Love Story

A Hanukkah Love Story

Illustration of Hanukkiah with greeting and heartThe festival of Hanukkah (which began this year Sunday evening, November 28 and continues through Monday, December 6) commemorates the brave stand of a small faithful minority against powerful foreign oppressors supported by a large portion of the Jewish nation about a century and a half before the coming of the Messiah.

The oppressive tyrannical spirit at work in those days was pushed back but not obliterated by the Maccabees. Throughout history, people of God have faced the painful pressure of coerced compliance at the hands of ungodly authority. Sadly and too often people, who should have known better, compromised the very values they claimed to hold dear.

I am currently working through the book of 1 Kings in my personal Bible reading and discovered something I hadn’t noticed before – an insight into a core dynamic that fuels compromise. I recently had the opportunity to share this with a group of pastors I meet with weekly over Zoom. I am sharing a version of my presentation with you all now.

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There are some stories I find so tragic that whenever I encounter the “big wrong decision” that happens every time I read, hear, or watch it for the—who knows how many times—I always shout (in my head or out loud): “No, don’t do it!”—as if that would make a difference. Two big ones are: when Frodo keeps the ring near the end of the Lord of the Rings (sorry for the spoiler) and the other is when Kings Solomon’s life goes off the rails. The book of 1 Kings chronicles how God gifts him as the wisest man who ever lived and blesses him with unsurpassed wealth and influence. The result is that in a relatively short time, Israel becomes a spiritual and economic powerhouse. And yet, he throws it all away by turning to the false gods of his many foreign wives. I am reading 1 Kings 11:1–8.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had wives, who were princesses, and concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods (1 Kings 11:1–8).

Solomon’s slide began with his ignoring of God’s Torah directives.

When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold (Deuteronomy 17:14–17).

While I don’t know anyone who can relate to Solomon’s extravagance, not to mention 700 wives and 300 concubines, that’s beside the point. Failure to stay true to God’s word will always led to trouble.

Yet, there is a dynamic illustrated here that is instructive for us all, no matter how many horses or spouses we may have, and that is, like Solomon…we all have a tendency to compromise for that which we love. As written in 1 Kings 11:4 that “his wives turned away his heart after other gods.”

When we love someone or something—whether they are good or bad—our hearts are drawn towards them. The danger of this may be more obvious when we love something illicit, but it’s not the nature of the person or thing that leads us down the path of compromise. It’s the love we have for it or him or her or them. This is why Yeshua said:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

You may have heard explanations, such as, he didn’t actually mean hate. It’s that our love for him should be so great that our love for others, even family, should seem like hate by comparison. But I don’t think that captures the radical allegiance called for by Yeshua’s words here. If it did, it would beg the question: how much more than others must we love the Lord to meet this standard? Lots? Lots and lots?

I understand this typical “degree of love” explanation, since it should be abundantly clear that the Lord doesn’t mean that we are to actually hate our family members. If he told us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), how much more those closest to us. Pauls writes in Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, as the Messiah (Christ) loved the church and gave himself up for her.” So then, what other option might there be besides a matter of degree?

Note, there is no mention of love in Luke 14:26, though there are other perhaps similar statements that do mention love. For example:

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (Luke 16:13).

This may underscore the actual issue Yeshua is addressing. You may be aware that, money is not in itself evil, but the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil (see 1 Timothy 6:10).

Some of the confusion is over the word “hate.” There is a tendency to think of hate as an emotion of disgust, which it can be. I am sure we all have feelings about certain foods, for example. But while hate may include disgust, that’s not its essence of its meaning. Hate is actually a couldn’t-care-less sort of response. It needn’t have emotion attached to it. It’s expressed in neglect. Check out the context of “love your neighbor as yourself” in Leviticus 19:18. In the immediately preceding verse, neglecting to speak frankly to our neighbors about serious life issues is defined as hating them.

So then is Jesus instructing us to neglect our loved ones? Of course not. But when allegiance to him clashes with allegiance to them, what are we going to do? Are we going to be like Solomon who, out of love to his wives, turned his back on God and his word? Or will we choose to disappoint the ones we love and follow the one whom we claim to call “Lord”?

The cost of hating our loved ones in this sense can be great. Luke 14:26 continues with: Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:27).

Hanukkah is a good time to ask ourselves the question: Where does our allegiance lie? Are we putting the Lord and his Word first? Or are we caught like Solomon between conflicting loves?

Check out my Hanukkah discussion with Messianic scholar Dr. Mark Kinzer:

YouTube player

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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