by Mark Robinson
The glow of the light from the Temple Menorah, piercing through the windows of the Temple, illuminated the court-yard of the Temple area. The crowds mingling in the courtyard this winter day were reminded by the menorah light of the ever present reality of the God of Israel. The light was a physical brilliance that all could see, but, perhaps more importantly, a reminder of the spiritual truth that God is present.
Tensions were high in Jerusalem and the surrounding environs. The Seleucid Empire was now controlled by Antiochus Epiphanies and he was intent on bringing Jerusalem and Israel, as well as its Jewish citizens, into Greek culture and its world.
Many of the Jewish citizens of Israel had already capitulated to the Hellenization process. They enjoyed the “enlightened” Greek ways and the abandonment of the restrictive practices of Judaism. Others, the religiously committed, were aghast at what was taking place in their Holy City of Jerusalem.
Suddenly, Antiochus’ soldiers, upon his orders, entered the Temple. The light of the Menorah was extinguished, a pig was offered on the holy altar to the Greek god Zeus. Pandemonium resulted. People scattered everywhere. This act of defiance against, ultimately, the God of Israel was swift, profound, and challenging. Worship the Greek gods, or perish!
Uniqueness of the Temple Menorah
The extinguishing of the Menorah light cast the people of Israel into more than just a physical darkness in the Temple area. All that was holy, all that was sacred, all that was Jehovah’s was now engulfed in the spiritual darkness of pagan idolatry. It was as if the god of this world was declaring his triumph and the God of Israel’s demise.
The ultra-orthodox today understand the special place of the Temple and the Menorah light.
The menorah can be seen as occupying the most central role of all the sacred vessels, for it is the symbol of light – and the sages refer to Jerusalem as “the light of the world” (B’reishith Rabbah 59). One reason for this is the light of the Menorah, bursting forth from within the sanctuary. For the menorah’s light was a spiritual, as well as physical, illumination. Thus the sages teach that the windows in the walls of the sanctuary were constructed differently than any other windows in the world. These were just the opposite of ordinary windows, for what is the normally considered the function of windows? To let the light in. But these windows were in order to let the light out – to disseminate the spiritual light emanating from the Temple menorah out into the world. The Sanctuary’s windows allowed the special ethereal light coming forth from the menorah to burst out to the world from within the hallowed hall.
Many saw the Temple as an old relic. It was seen as quaint and historic, but out of touch with the age of enlightenment that had come to Israel through the Greeks. Times have not changed much through the years. People today consider themselves enlightened, progressive, and certainly not in need of ancient religious rituals and practices that are too archaic for our 21st century world. How wrong they are. The holiday of Chanukah reminds us how our world is still in need of the light of redemption.
Lighting of the Menorah
The celebration of Chanukah revolves around the lighting of the menorah, properly called chanukia. For eight nights, mom, dad, and children gather around the chanukia for the lighting of the candle(s). The shamash, servant, candle is lit and then, on the first night, starting from the right, one candle is lit. On the second night, two candles are lit. This is continued until the final night, when eight candles are lit. The story of Chanukah is shared, reminding the listeners of the faithfulness of the God of Israel in providing deliverance for His people.
The story of Chanukah shares how the brave Hasmonean family, Mattathias and his five sons, stood against great odds to resist the evil of the day and defend the honor of their God. When Antiochus’ men extinguished the flame of the Temple Menorah and desecrated the altar and Temple, most of the people had little change in their daily activities. Not so for the Maccabees, as Mattathias’ family became known, as they were convinced that someone needed to stand up for God.
When the battle for Jerusalem was won, and the victorious Jewish followers of Jehovah returned to the Temple, the desecration was heart-rending. Immediately, they started cleaning the Temple to get it ready for use. One problem confronted the lighting of the Menorah. It took seven days to consecrate oil for use in the burning of the Menorah. All that could be found was one cruse of oil which would last one day.
The Levitical priests immediately prepared oil for the burning of the Menorah. They took the one consecrated cruse of oil and lit the Menorah. Miraculously, this one day supply of oil lasted for eight days. God extended the burning of the one day supply until further oil was consecrated. Chanukah celebrates the miracle of God bringing light back to the Temple.
A recurring theme through the Scriptures is the contrast of light and darkness. In the very beginning of creation God separates light and darkness (Genesis 1:1-4). We are pointedly told that light is good. What is unsaid, but certainly inferred, is that darkness is bad.
We are told that “…God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Additionally, we are told in Psalm 27:1, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
When the eternal kingdom (heaven) is established we are told, “And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there (Revelation 21:23-25).
Many other scripture passages could be addressed that teach the same basic truth. Light is good. Darkness is bad. God is the ultimate light that all in this world need.
The picture of mankind is that we are in spiritual darkness. Our sins have brought this condition upon ourselves, and we have no remedy for our condition. Of all the prophets, Isaiah paints the most vivid pictures of man’s spiritual darkness. In chapter 59:2 we are told, “our iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”
This is man’s basic problem. We have sinned and are separated from God. Later in this chapter we are presented a striking portrait of actually how blind we are because of our sin. “Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness. We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men” (Isaiah 59:9-10).
Light of Redemption
In revealing man’s darkness and need for light, the Scriptures don’t leave us hopeless. The promise of redemptive light to Jew and Gentile alike shines forth in both Old and New Testament.
Again, Isaiah, now giving us hope, says, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (Isaiah 60:1-3). Darkness may surround us, but the Lord, and His light, is available.
Jesus came into a world engulfed in spiritual darkness. Blinded by religion, self-righteousness, pride, and a host of other besetting sins, people don’t see their need, nor God’s provision. Jesus made it clear that there is no way out of the darkness except through Him. “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Jesus is the only way out of the darkness, and into the light. “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46).
Light or Darkness?
The light of the Temple Menorah, the lighting of the Chanukiah candles, and the darkness of this world call us to choose. God has always graciously held out his arms of love to us. He has asked us to choose. When Elijah confronted the darkness of the prophets of Baal with the light of the God of Israel, a choice was offered. “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” is God’s plea in Isaiah 45:22. And in Romans 10:13 the offer is, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The servant of God has brought light into this world. The people have “seen a great light” and “upon them the light hath shined” is not only the prophet Isaiah’s refrain (Isaiah 9:1-2), but the teaching of Matthew in the fourth chapter of his book. The coming of Jesus is the basic provision for us, so we might be delivered from darkness and brought into God’s light.
The choice is simple. Light, or darkness? Jesus, or not? What is your choice?