How Shall We Keep Hanukkah?
Rise and Fall of the Hasmonian Kingdom
Approximately 250 years before the first celebration of Hanukkah, the prophet Malachi was given the following prophecy: “Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it.”(Malachi 2:3- 4) It is important to know who the intended recipients were regarding this message. Malachi 2:1 specifically states that the prophecy was a warning to the Levitical Priesthood. It foretold that a day would come when the Priests would become so lax in their adherence to the Mosaic code that the institution of the priesthood be as horrifying to view as animal refuse smeared upon a man’s face. The most striking part of this prophecy is that it’s fulfillment would be relative to celebrations YHWH pronounced as "your solemn feasts" rather than "My appointed Feasts". YHWH foretold that The Levitical Priests would exercise their authority to lead the Jewish people away from the root elements which constitute true worship.
YHWH lamented as He prophesied; reflecting upon the original purpose of the Priesthood saying, “The lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction—because he is the messenger of YHWH Elohiym.” (Malachi 2:7) The Priest’s role is to direct the minds of the people to hold fast to the instructions of the covenant, not adding to and not taking away from it. But the Maccabee brothers took on the spirit of idolatry by instituting a festival that did not belong to YHWH, but rather used this festival to secure power to their family line. And if the objects and ceremonies they manufactured truly constitute idolatry, the effect of their actions (seemingly harmless at first) would not be entirely evident within their lifetime. Note that the second commandments states, "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, YHWH your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me”. (Exodus 20:4-5)
So let’s briefly overview the life of Judah Maccabee after his victory at Jerusalem; did he preserve the knowledge of righteousness as YHWH commanded? If one reads the book of Maccabees, it will show that he kept many of the commandments specified by Moses, but there were also several points where he clearly deviated. The ancient Kings of Israel were punished when they sought assistance from other nations to fight their battles. (See 2 Chronicles 16) Similarly Judah Maccabee reached out to Rome to assist him in the wars against his enemies. “Now Judas heard of the fame of the Romans, that they were very strong and were well-disposed toward all who made an alliance with them, that they pledged friendship to those who came to them, and that they were very strong… So Judas chose Eupolemus son of John son of Accos, and Jason son of Eleazar, and sent them to Rome to establish friendship and alliance, and to free themselves from the yoke.” (1 Maccabees 8:1-18) This was the first contact that the Jews had with Rome, something the nation would come to regret many years later.
Like Judah Maccabee King Saul also maintained aspects of the Law of Moses. For instance, the Witch of Endor remarked that the King punished witches with death if caught practicing their magic arts in Israel. Yet it was King Saul who disguised himself and dabbled with the dead. Here too we see that Judah Maccabee polluted the sacrificial system with something even more abhorrent. Upon learning that some of his men who died in battle were carrying forbidden idols, “He also took up a collection, man by man…and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering…Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.” (2 Maccabees 12:43-45) Soon after this sacrifice YHWH withdrew his protection from Judah Maccabee and was routed by his enemies and was slain just as he did with King Saul. "If if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you…I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you.” (Lev 26:14-17)
Seventy years after the death of Judah Maccabee the Jewish People were beginning to feel the ill effects of the Hasmonians oppressive rule as thousands of Jews sought refuge in other nations. Some questioned the legitimacy of their role as High Priesthood as a bitter civil war ensued against the High priest (Alexander). The picture (see below) depicts an event described byJosephus after he captured his enemies. “He brought them to Jerusalem and did to them one of the cruelest things. For as he was feasting in public with his concubines, he had about eight hundred of them crucified, and while they were still alive, had the throats of their children and wives cut before their eyes.” (Antiquities Chapter 13:380) “Behold, I will corrupt your (The priesthood’s) seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts”. (Malachi 2:7)
But the Hasmonians went so far in their sin that they assumed the role of Kings. Since when did YHWH authorize this? This was a position reserved exclusively for the House of David, not Levi! And because power and control infected the lives of the Hasmonian dynasty, infighting erupted between the brothers who appealed to Rome to settle their differences. How strange it was that the High Priest who was commanded to receive council directly from the King of the Universe sought council from the Roman Senate instead. And Rome, seeing how dysfunctional the Hasmonian family really was, eventually transferred the rule over Judea to the Family of Herod (a non-Jew). Surely this was YHWH’s visitation of Judgment for the idolatry that began with the Hasmonian Forefathers.
Next I will discuss Yeshua (Jesus) and his interaction with the Jewish people during the feast of Hanukkah.