The Menorah continued to burn until finally on the eighth day, after more oil had been consecrated, the miracle gave way to the practice of the priests.
It was the winter of 165 BCE and the known world was ruled by an anti-messiah name Antiochus Epiphanes. The darkness of his empire reached its greatest depths in the land of Israel where he had banned all practices associated with the worship of the G-d of Israel. The darkness was not confined to the physical world. Many in Israel, having suffered under relentless persecution, had turned away from worshipping G-d, Israel’s temple had been defiled, and the light of her holy Menorah had been snuffed out.
A small army of Jewish warrior priests lead by Judah Maccabee, approached the court of Israel inside the Temple complex in Jerusalem. Despite the size of their army they had defeated the Tyrant Antiochus and his hordes and were now seeking to restore and rededicate the Temple of Israel’s G-d.
As they walked past the altar of sacrifice toward the doorway of the Temple they saw the remnants of burnt pig skin and smelt the foul stench of pigs’ blood. Several of the men buckled at the knees and vomited in disgust at this sacrilege, others hardened their resolve and moved forward toward the entrance of the Holy place.
The Temple was dark, devoid of light, and as they entered the men tripped on debris and slid on pig fat and faeces. One of the soldiers lit a torch, the flame struggled against the cold wind that blew in from behind them. Suddenly, as if by divine edict the wind stopped and the flame grew strong, illuminating the Holy place and revealing the full extent of the desecrations that had been perpetrated there. An Idol of the Greek god Zeus stood in the Holy of Holies and the remnants of pig and fowl carcases littered the floor. The seven branched Menorah, the windowless Temple’s only source of light, lay toppled on the stone floor and the incense altar was overflowing with urine.
Judah and his men fell to their knees, they sobbed like helpless children and in the torch light they cried out to the G-d of Israel, “Hoshiyahna!” Save us now! In the midst of their wailing and hopelessness they heard the voice of a young boy who had followed them into the Temple courts. He yelled out at the top of his lungs, “I’ve found a jug of undefiled oil, the priestly seal is still on it. I discovered it hidden beneath the floor in one of the side rooms”.
The silence that ensued was palpable, something shifted in the atmosphere and the walls of the Temple seemed to radiate heat. As the boy lifted up the jug of oil, it glistened in the torch light. Judah called to his men and had them begin to cleanse the Temple, he collected the oil and used it to light the Menorah, knowing that there was only enough oil to last for one day. As the oil of the sevenfold lamp took fire, the Temple came to life and the hope of G-d filled the hearts of the heroic priestly soldiers of Israel.
Day after day they returned to the Temple, and day after day the Menorah continued to burn until finally on the eighth day, after more oil had been consecrated, the miracle gave way to the practice of the priests. The Temple, once defiled and thrown into darkness was now restored to life with the light of G-d and the symbol of His Spirit and present glory.
On the eighth day as Judah returned to his residence he walked through the section of the Temple complex known as Solomon’s colonnade. Some of the Judeans asked him, “What shall we do with the defiled altar stones? They can’t be used again because we’re unable to purge them of the pigs blood that they’ve absorbed. But at the same time we can’t throw them out because they’ve been part of the Holy Temple service.” Judah responded, “Put them aside in a secure location and when the Messiah comes we will ask Him what we should do about the defiled altar.” And so they did as Judah had instructed, and Israel waited.
Some 200 years later circa 30 CE it was the time of the Festival of Chanukah in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Yeshua was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. Some of the Judeans who were there gathered around Him, and asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us publically.” (Yochanan/John 10:22-24)
Jesus answered them, “I have already told you, and you don’t trust me. The works I do in my Father’s name testify on my behalf, but the reason you don’t trust is that you are not included among my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice, I recognize them, they follow me, and I give them eternal life. They will absolutely never be destroyed, and no one will snatch them from my hands. My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than all; and no one can snatch them from the Father’s hands. I and the Father are one.” (Yochanan/John 10:25-30)
Through His sacrificial death on behalf of Israel and the nations and by His resurrection, Yeshua answered the question of what to do with the defiled altar stones:
“Throw them away, you don’t need them anymore!”
Yeshua had come to set alight a nation of priests (1 Peter 2:9), who would not only light up the physical temple but would become the temple of the living G-d, both individually and corporately.
In Messiah we have become warrior priests like the Maccabees. We have also become the temple of the living God of Israel.
The historical stories we’ve just heard serve as a challenge to us today both as individual believers and as an Ecclesia (Set apart community).
Like the Jews of both 165 BCE and 30 CE, we too are living in a world that is being oppressed by dark empires vying for supremacy. But the similarity doesn’t end there. The Bible says that we have become the Temple of G-d, both individually and corporately (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19).
Therefore we must ask ourselves afresh at this time of re-dedication (Chanukah), “Is there darkness in us?” If so, only the light of Yeshua fuelled by the oil of the Holy Spirit can illuminate that darkness.
This is a time when we choose to allow G-d to speak to us concerning that which we have allowed to defile us and respond in repentance asking Him to illuminate our lives afresh both individually and corporately.
The Menorah is a wonderful symbol of G-d’s present glory. It is also a symbol given to the Ecclesia to show us that we are all connected in Messiah, set alight by His Gospel and fuelled by His Holy Spirit.
In response to G-d we light the Chanukah Menorah candles from the central flame, the Shamash, which represents the servant Messiah and as we do, we contemplate the unity of light that we share in Him.
© 2015 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.