וְאָהַבְתָּ ‘And you shall love’
Hadassah from Jerusalem
Hanukkah is coming- A festival of lights and rejoicing and, as always, special foods to celebrate. Lasting for 8 nights with candle lighting, there are often gifts, especially for the children. Such a lovely holiday of joy.
Hanukkah is a time we remember when the Greeks had taken over our Temple in Jerusalem and had defiled it with pagan sacrifices and practices. A righteous family (Maccabee) arose and, after great battles, removed the enemy and cleansed the Temple. In the rededication, tradition has it, that there was only enough oil to burn for one day of the dedication BUT it burned for eight days- thus showing God’s favor. I won’t go into this part of the story here as it is well known. There is another part of the saga I’d like to focus on.
According to the Book of Maccabees, there was a large group of Jews who had aligned themselves with the pagan Greeks, even before the defiling of the Temple:
1 Maccabees 1:11 “It was then that there emerged from Israel a set of renegades who led many people astray. ‘Come,’ they said, ‘let us ally ourselves with the gentiles surrounding us, for since we separated ourselves from them many misfortunes have overtaken us.’ 12 This proposal proved acceptable,13 and a number of the people eagerly approached the king, who authorized them to practice the gentiles’ observances.14 So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, such as the gentiles have,15 disguised their circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant, submitting to gentile rule as willing slaves of impiety.
It is hard to imagine Jewish people willingly seeking the king’s favor to practice the pagan customs, but this group ‘eagerly’ sought after this permission. In their hearts they were already convinced that it was good for them to ‘ally themselves with the Gentiles’ using the excuse that their lives had many misfortunes because they were different. Such deception!
Imagine if you will the lengths they went to be like their neighbors. They wanted to practice the gentile observances- thus throwing off Torah boundaries. They built a gymnasium in Jerusalem! This is not a ‘Gold’s Gym’ where one exercises and does Pilates-but a place of debauchery and blatant sexual sin and idolatry- explaining the ‘disguise’ (removal) of their circumcision- because all practice there was done naked.
“They submitted willingly”. This paragraph always makes me want to cry. Our people willingly, eagerly sought to through off the Torah and the relationship with God thru its covenant and eagerly sought to sin- to go in the opposite direction from Him.
From this point, the spiral down for Israel was horrific.
1. In the year 143, Antiochus advanced on Israel and Jerusalem in massive strength and pillaged the Temple- carrying away all the Holy vessels.
2. There was deep mourning for Israel throughout the country:
3. Rulers and elders groaned; girls and young men wasted away; the women’s beauty suffered a change; every bridegroom took up a dirge, the bride sat grief-stricken on her marriage-bed.
4. The earth quaked because of its inhabitants and the whole House of Jacob was clothed with shame.
5. Later the king sent an emissary who gained the confidence with false words of peace. He pillaged the city and set it on fire, tore down its houses and encircling wall, took the women and children captive and commandeered the cattle.
6. They then rebuilt the City of David where they installed a brood of sinners, of renegades, who fortified themselves inside it. It became an ambush for the sanctuary, an evil adversary for Israel at all times.
8. The citizens of Jerusalem fled because of them, she became a dwelling-place of strangers; Her sanctuary became as forsaken as a desert, her feasts were turned into mourning, her Sabbaths into a mockery, her honor into reproach.
9. Her dishonor now fully matched her former glory, her greatness was turned into grief.
10. The king then issued a proclamation to his whole kingdom that all were to become a single people, each nation renouncing its particular customs.All the Gentiles conformed to the king’s decree, and many Israelites chose to accept his religion, sacrificing to idols and profaning the Sabbath.
1 Maccabees 1:44 The king also …,45 banning burnt offerings, sacrifices and libations from the sanctuary, profaning Sabbaths and feasts,46 defiling the sanctuary and everything holy,47 building altars, shrines and temples for idols, sacrificing pigs and unclean beasts,48 leaving their sons uncircumcised, and prostituting themselves to all kinds of impurity and abomination,49 so thatthey should forget the Law and revoke all observance of it.50 Anyone not obeying the king’s command was to be put to death.”
On the fifteenth day of Chislev in the year 145 the king built the appalling abomination on top of the altar of burnt offering; and altars were built in the surrounding towns of Judah55 and incense offered at the doors of houses and in the streets.56 Any books of the Law that came to light were torn up and burned.57 Whenever anyone was discovered possessing a copy of the covenant or practicing the Law, the king’s decree sentenced him to death. 58 Month after month they took harsh action against any offenders they discovered in the towns of Israel.59 On the twenty-fifth day of each month, sacrifice was offered on the altar erected on top of the altar of burnt offering.60 Women who had had their children circumcised were put to death according to the edict61 with their babies hung round their necks, and the members of their household and those who had performed the circumcision were executed with them.62 Yet there were many in Israel who stood firm and found the courage to refuse unclean food.63 They chose death rather than contamination by such fare or profanation of the holy covenant, and they were executed.
64 It was a truly dreadful retribution that visited Israel.
Please forgive so much quoting of the Book of Maccabees, but I want to share the depth of darkness that covered the Land and the people. Some of it brought on by the evil King Antiochus but much brought on by the desire of God’s people wanting to be like the Greeks. They had forsaken their God and His Torah, stepping out of His protection.
And this brings me to my observations of Hanukkah. Not so much focus on the traditional miracle of the oil but on the absorption or resistance to the culture around us. . Maybe in some measure they had already abandoned Biblical obedience. But then the people willingly sought to be like the ‘world’- to engage in the worship of idols and all that entailed. What started off as possibly ‘innocuous’ ended up as blatant. In light of what we see in this historical account, I must examine my life.
Have I, without realizing it, absorbed practices into my life that are more cultural and less Biblical? Without giving it much thought, do I just ‘go with the flow’ in my daily life. Have I assigned to certain scriptures the label of ‘irrelevant’ or ‘legalistic’? Do I practice selective obedience? How do I separate myself enough to examine my priorities and practices and be fearless in my conclusions? And on the scale of weighing everything out, what is the counter-balance?
James 1:22 tells us that if we do not DO what the Word says we will be deceived. During this season leading up to Hanukkah is a good time for me to weigh my life using the Word as my counter-balance. To not ‘presume’ anything, but allow the Lord to show me where I may have fooled myself, made excuses, and am becoming a ‘cultural-infected’ Believer.
December 3rd this year is the 15th of Chislev– the date that the abomination (idolatry) was set up in the Temple. I will be taking the next ten days leading up to Hanukkah to examine my ‘temple’- asking the Lord to shine His Light and show me where I have allowed the world to influence me. Seeking His Word to wash and cleanse, and then on the 25th of Chislev – to enter into a true time of dedication and celebration for the 8 nights of Hanukkah. Won’t you join me? May it be said of us that we ‘stood firm’ in the days ahead.
Suggested verses for meditation: Day 1:James1:22, Day 2: Psalm 139; Day 3: Matt 7:13; Day 4: Psalm 19:12; Day 5: Matt 7:24; Day 6: Jer 10:1; Day 7: Lk 6:45;Day 8: Jer 15:19; Day 9: Psalm 51:10; Day 10: Psalm 85:10,11
Nissim & Hadassah
Hadassah and Nissim, her accountant husband, live in a settlement just outside Jerusalem with their dog Molly. After making Aliyah (immigrating) from the U.S. with their five children in 1989, they are now semi-retired and open their home to guests and those wishing to make Aliyah. When not busy with their 16 ‘GrandWonders’, they enjoy a quiet life of study, prayer and learning to serve the LORD.
Originally published from Hadassah on 11.25.17 (#14)
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