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The Story of Hanukkah

Updated: Feb 18

The Menorah

The story of Hanukkah is one filled with tragedy, bloodshed, and hope. Found in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees, it details the persecution placed on the Hebrews by the Greeks, how they were killed for following Torah, how the temple was made unclean with swine blood, and how in the end the Maccabean rebellion drove out the Greeks. Many have connected Hanukkah with being a type and shadow of the great tribulation, and I must concur, for I too see the similarities. But before we get into the prophetic imagery, we must first cover what Hanukkah is and why some choose to celebrate it. For starters, we have biblical evidence that Master Yeshua celebrated this feast.

“At that time the Ḥanukkah (dedication) came to be in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), and it was winter. And יהושע was walking in the Set-apart Place, in the porch of Shelomoh (Solomon).” (John 10:22-23)

Here we have Yeshua up at the temple during Hanukkah, which is where the celebration would have been held at that time. This is very important because Hanukkah is not a Mo’edim, an appointed time made by YHWH, it is a holiday established by the House of Judah after they rededicated the temple, following the Greek occupation. This shows that Elohim agrees with this holiday because when Yeshua was here he partook in the celebration.

The Biblical Menorah

There is, however, one difference that I know of between Judaism Hanukkah and Biblical Hanukkah. This being the style of the menorah, in Judaism they use the nine candled one but biblically speaking it should only have seven.

“And you shall make a lampstand of clean gold – the lampstand is made of beaten work…” (Exodus 25:31)

“And you shall make seven lamps for it, and they shall mount its lamps so that they give light in front of it.” (Exodus 25:37)

My understanding of how to do Hanukkah is that each of the seven lampstands or branches represents the seven Mo’edim. That is Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Weeks, Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the feast of Tabernacles. If you are unfamiliar with these, I wrote a post on them, titled “The Mo'edim”, feel free to check it out. Anyways, for eight nights or all on one day, you read the story of Hanukkah and the Mo’edim, how the appointed times were given in the Tanakh (Old Testament), and how Yeshua fulfilled them or how he will in the future. After each Mo’edim is read you light a candle, this is how I was taught to do it but it's not an appointed time, so there are no commandants on how we are to specifically celebrate Hanukkah. 119 ministries have a video over Hanukkah, and It would behoove you to check it out.

The Events that Led to Hanukkah

Now, without further ado, let us begin the story.

“After Alexander the Macedonian, Philip’s son, who came from the land of Kittim, had defeated Darius, king of the Persians and Medes, he became king in his place, having first ruled in Greece. He fought many battles, captured fortresses, and put the kings of the earth to death. He advanced to the ends of the earth, gathering plunder from many nations; the earth fell silent before him, and his heart became proud and arrogant. He collected a very strong army and won dominion over provinces, nations, and rulers, and they paid him tribute. But after all this he took to his bed, realizing that he was going to die. So he summoned his noblest officers, who had been brought up with him from his youth, and divided his kingdom among them while he was still alive. Alexander had reigned twelve years when he died. So his officers took over his kingdom, each in his own territory, and after his death they all put on crowns, and so did their sons after them for many years, multiplying evils on the earth. There sprang from these a sinful offshoot, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus, once a hostage at Rome. He became king in the one hundred and thirty-seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks.” (1 Maccabees 1:1-10)

Alexander the Great had conquered a vast amount of territory in a relatively short amount of time, when he died at the age of 33, his empire was split among his generals. These became known as the Hellenistic kingdoms. After some time, Antiochus arose and became King of the Hellenistic Syrian kingdom.

“In those days there appeared in Israel transgressors of the Torah who seduced many, saying: “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us.” The proposal was agreeable; some from among the people promptly went to the king, and he authorized them to introduce the ordinances of the Gentiles. Thereupon they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem according to the Gentile custom. They disguised their circumcision and abandoned the holy covenant; they allied themselves with the Gentiles and sold themselves to wrongdoing.” (1 Maccabees 1:11-15)

Here we see a great falling away, the followers of Elohim forsaking the Torah and aligning themselves with gentile customs.

“After Antiochus had defeated Egypt in the one hundred and forty-third year, he returned and went up against Israel and against Jerusalem with a strong force. He insolently entered the sanctuary and took away the golden altar, the menorah for the light with all its utensils, the offering table, the cups and bowls, the golden censers, and the curtain. The cornices and the golden ornament on the front of the temple—he stripped it all off. And he took away the silver and gold and the precious vessels; he also took all the hidden treasures he could find. Taking all this, he went back to his own country. He shed much blood and spoke with great arrogance. And there was great mourning throughout all Israel.” (1 Maccabees 1:20-25)

Antiochus, upon arriving in Jerusalem ransacks the Temple, taking the gold, silver, and other valuable treasures, while at the same time spilling the blood of the Hebrews.

“Two years later, the king sent the Mysian commander to the cities of Judah, and he came to Jerusalem with a strong force. He spoke to them deceitfully in peaceful terms, and they believed him. Then he attacked the city suddenly, in a great onslaught, and destroyed many of the people in Israel. He plundered the city and set fire to it, demolished its houses and its surrounding walls. And they took captive the women and children, and seized the animals. Then they built up the City of David with a high, strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. There they installed a sinful race, transgressors of the Torah, who fortified themselves inside it. They stored up weapons and provisions, depositing there the plunder they had collected from Jerusalem, and they became a great snare. The citadel became an ambush against the sanctuary, and a wicked adversary to Israel at all times. They shed innocent blood around the sanctuary; they defiled the sanctuary. Because of them the inhabitants of Jerusalem fled away, she became the abode of strangers. She became a stranger to her own offspring, and her children forsook her. Her sanctuary became desolate as a wilderness; her feasts were turned into mourning, Her sabbaths to shame, her honor to contempt. As her glory had been, so great was her dishonor: her exaltation was turned into mourning.” (1 Maccabees 1:29-40)

Two years after stealing the precious metals from the temple the Greeks return, tricking the Hebrews into believing they came in peace, only to multiply their malicious deeds with more killings, defiling the sanctuary and Elohim’s Torah. Sadly, this was just the beginning of sorrow.

“Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and abandon their particular customs. All the Gentiles conformed to the command of the king, and many Israelites delighted in his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. The king sent letters by messenger to Jerusalem and to the cities of Judah, ordering them to follow customs foreign to their land; to prohibit burnt offerings, sacrifices, and libations in the sanctuary, to profane the sabbaths and feast days, to desecrate the sanctuary and the sacred ministers, to build pagan altars and temples and shrines, to sacrifice swine and unclean animals, to leave their sons uncircumcised, and to defile themselves with every kind of impurity and abomination; so that they might forget the Torah and change all its ordinances. Whoever refused to act according to the command of the king was to be put to death. In words such as these he wrote to his whole kingdom. He appointed inspectors over all the people, and he ordered the cities of Judah to offer sacrifices, each city in turn. Many of the people, those who abandoned the Torah, joined them and committed evil in the land. They drove Israel into hiding, wherever places of refuge could be found. On the fifteenth day of the month Kislev, in the year one hundred and forty-five, the king erected the desolating abomination upon the altar of burnt offerings, and in the surrounding cities of Judah they built pagan altars. They also burned incense at the doors of houses and in the streets. Any scrolls of the Torah that they found they tore up and burned. Whoever was found with a scroll of the covenant, and whoever observed the Torah, was condemned to death by royal decree. So, they used their power against Israel, against those who were caught, each month, in the cities. On the twenty-fifth day of each month they sacrificed on the pagan altar that was over the altar of burnt offerings. In keeping with the decree, they put to death women who had their children circumcised, and they hung their babies from their necks; their families also and those who had circumcised them were killed. But many in Israel were determined and resolved in their hearts not to eat anything unclean; they preferred to die rather than to be defiled with food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. And very great wrath came upon Israel.” (1 Maccabees 1: 41-64)

Antiochus sets forth the decree that all those under his rule should act as one, following after the Greek religion. Copies of the Torah were destroyed, and those who had the Torah or obeyed it were put to death. There is a lot I’m not covering this time, but will during future Hanukkahs, such as the similarities between this time period and the great tribulation. There’s just so much to cover, and that’s one of the many great things about Hanukkah.

“The officers of the king in charge of enforcing the apostasy came to the city of Modein to make them sacrifice. Many of Israel joined them, but Mattathias and his sons drew together. Then the officers of the king addressed Mattathias: “You are a leader, an honorable and great man in this city, supported by sons and kindred. Come now, be the first to obey the king’s command, as all the Gentiles and Judeans and those who are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons shall be numbered among the King’s Friends, and you and your sons shall be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.” But Mattathias answered in a loud voice: “Although all the Gentiles in the king’s realm obey him, so that they forsake the religion of their ancestors and consent to the king’s orders, yet I and my sons and my kindred will keep to the covenant of our ancestors. Heaven forbid that we should forsake the Torah and the ordinances. We will not obey the words of the king by departing from our belief in the slightest degree.” As he finished saying these words, a certain Judean came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein according to the king’s order. When Mattathias saw him, he was filled with zeal; his heart was moved, and his just fury was aroused; he sprang forward and killed him upon the altar. At the same time, he also killed the messenger of the king who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus, he showed his zeal for the Torah of Elohim, just as Phinehas did with Zimri, son of Salu. Then Mattathias cried out in the city, “Let everyone who is zealous for the Torah and who stands by the covenant follow me!” Then he and his sons fled to the mountains, leaving behind in the city all their possessions. At that time many who sought righteousness and justice went out into the wilderness to settle there, they and their children, their wives and their animals, because misfortunes pressed so hard on them.” (1 Maccabees 2:15-30)

The first act of rebellion comes at the hand of Mattathias, practically declaring war on the king by killing his messenger. They gather those who are still Torah observant and flee to the mountains, from there they conduct guerrilla warfare, while also trying to remain hidden from the Greek army.

“It was reported to the officers and soldiers of the king who were in the City of David, in Jerusalem, that those who had flouted the king’s order had gone out to secret refuges in the wilderness. Many hurried out after them, and having caught up with them, camped opposite and prepared to attack them on the sabbath. The pursuers said to them, “Enough of this! Come out and obey the king’s command, and you will live.” But they replied, “We will not come out, nor will we obey the king’s command to profane the sabbath.” Then the enemy attacked them at once. But they did not retaliate; they neither threw stones, nor blocked up their secret refuges. They said, “Let us all die in innocence; heaven and earth are our witnesses that you destroy us unjustly.” So, the officers and soldiers attacked them on the sabbath, and they died with their wives, their children and their animals, to the number of a thousand persons. When Mattathias and his friends heard of it, they mourned deeply for them. They said to one another, “If we all do as our kindred have done, and do not fight against the Gentiles for our lives and our Torah, they will soon destroy us from the earth.” So, on that day they came to this decision: “Let us fight against anyone who attacks us on the sabbath, so that we may not all die as our kindred died in their secret refuges.” Then they were joined by a group of Hasideans, mighty warriors of Israel, all of them devoted to the Torah. And all those who were fleeing from the persecutions joined them and supported them. They gathered an army and struck down sinners in their wrath and the lawless in their anger, and the survivors fled to the Gentiles for safety. Mattathias and his friends went about and tore down the pagan altars; they also forcibly circumcised any uncircumcised boys whom they found in the territory of Israel. They put to flight the arrogant, and the work prospered in their hands. They saved the Torah from the hands of the Gentiles and of the kings and did not let the sinner triumph.” (1 Maccabees 2:31-48)

Some of those who fled to the mountains were found and given the chance to live if they obeyed the king, but they refused and chose to die without fighting back. This caused much heartache to Mattathias, and he and his companions decided that they should fight against the Greeks, even on Sabbath. This would not be breaking the Sabbath, because they fought to liberate Judah from the tyrannical Greeks, which is good. As Messiah said, it is not wrong to do good on the Sabbath. Ultimately Mattathias lead a successful campaign against the Greeks and drove them out of Jerusalem.

The Festival of Hanukkah

“Then Judas and his brothers said, “Now that our enemies have been crushed, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it. So the whole army assembled, and went up to Mount Zion. They found the sanctuary desolate, the altar desecrated, the gates burnt, weeds growing in the courts as in a thicket or on some mountain, and the priests’ chambers demolished. Then they tore their garments and made great lamentation; they sprinkled their heads with ashes and prostrated themselves. And when the signal was given with the shofar (a type of trumpet created from a ram’s horn), they cried out to Heaven. Judas appointed men to attack those in the citadel, while he purified the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests, devoted to the Torah; these purified the sanctuary and carried away the stones of the defilement to an unclean place. They considered what ought to be done with the altar for burnt offerings that had been desecrated. They decided it best to tear it down, lest it be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it; so they tore down the altar. They stored the stones in a suitable place on the temple mount, until the coming of a prophet who could determine what to do with them. Then they took uncut stones, according to the Torah, and built a new altar like the former one. They also repaired the sanctuary and the interior of the temple and consecrated the courts. They made new sacred vessels and brought the menorah, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they burned incense on the altar and lighted the lamps on the menorah, and these illuminated the temple. They also put loaves on the table and hung up the curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken. They rose early on the morning of the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, that is, the month of Kislev, in the year one hundred and forty-eight, and offered sacrifice according to the Torah on the new altar for burnt offerings that they had made. On the anniversary of the day on which the Gentiles had desecrated it, on that very day it was rededicated with songs, harps, lyres, and cymbals. All the people prostrated themselves and adored and praised the Elohim of Heaven, who had given them success. For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar and joyfully offered burnt offerings and sacrifices of deliverance and praise.” (1 Maccabees 4:36-56)

“Then Judas and his brothers and the entire assembly of Israel decreed that every year for eight days, from the twenty-fifth day of the month Kislev, the days of the dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness on the anniversary.” (1 Maccabees 4:59)

The time of Hanukkah is one of celebration but also accompanied by the realism of our ancestors who suffered for keeping Torah. From 1 Maccabees we get an overview of the story of Hanukkah, 2 Maccabees we receive a more on-the-ground perspective, and let me tell you it is quite emotional. I hope everyone has a blessed Hanukkah celebration, continues to test all things, and that the Ruach Hakodesh leads you into all truth.


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