Thursday, December 21, 2017

Festival of Lights and the Eternal Light

In my local Community Bible Study class we have been studying the book of Exodus. As the Israelites traversed the desert God gave them instructions for building the Tabernacle to dwell among His people. One of the items inside the Tabernacle was a lamp:

And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold . . . And six branches shall come out of the sides of it; three branches of the candlestick out of the one side, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side . . . Their knops and their branches shall be of the same: all it shall be one beaten work of pure gold. And thou shalt make the seven lamps thereof: and they shall light the lamps thereof, that they may give light over against it. (From Exodus 25:31-37)
Second night of Hannukah at Jerusalem's
Western Wall by Oren Rozen 2010 [cc]

The lamp was to be kept lit eternally—not ever allowed to go out by the priests in the Tabernacle and later, the Temple. Ultimately it foreshadows the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, who is our constant light. Interestingly enough we were studying the instructions for the Tabernacle the first day of Hannukah.

Hanukkah is most frequently spelled one of two ways: Chanukah or Hanukkah. In Hebrew this means “dedication.” This holiday is actually considered a less important feast in Judaism, but still commemorates a miraculous happening. While the story is not in the Protestant Bible or the canon of the Hebrew Bible, an account is found in the Apocrypha in the books of First and Second Maccabees.

Centuries after that first lampstand was hammered from one piece of gold, the Seleucid king of Syria, Antiochus III, reined in Judea during the second century B.C. He tolerated Jewish culture and religion, but when his son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes took over he was bent on destroying the practice of Judaism in the land and causing the Jewish people to accept Greek culture and the worship of pagan gods. He went as far as not only outlawing the practice of Judaism, but also desecrated their temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar to the Greek god, Zeus, in 168 B.C.

The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus
By Peter Paul Rubens and workshop - Muzéo (pic),

 Public Domain,

While some of the Israelites were willing to go along with the conqueror’s idea of assimilation, the sons of the Jewish priest, Mattathias, and his five sons led a rebellion against the Syrians as well as a movement to restore true Judaism. Around 166 B.C., his son, Judah Maccabee, took over as leader of the movement. Within two years they drove out the Syrians and rededicated the Second Temple to the worship of the true God.

They found that only one vial of oil had not been defiled, only enough to keep the golden seven-branched candelabrum lit for one night. Miraculously, the oil kept the lamp lit for eight nights until more sacred oil could be prepared and consecrated.

In the New Testament, it mentions that Jesus attended a Feast of Dedication (John 10:22). Hanukkah is usually celebrated around November or December, begun on the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, as an annual eight-day festival, commemorating the Maccabean victory and miracle of the oil lasting eight days during the rededication of the Temple.

Hanukkiah Hanukkah-Menorah-by-Gil-Dekel-2014.jpg
[cc] from Wikipedia
During the celebration, a nine-branched menorah, called a hanukkiah, is lit each night using the middle candle, or helper candle, called a “shamash.” A special blessing is recited each evening during this ritual. The eight candles are to be at the same level, while the shamash is usually at a higher level.

This beautiful blessing is recited, after lighting the shamash, but before the other candles have been lit:

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe

asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu
Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us

l'had'lik neir shel Chanukah. (Amein)
to light the lights of Chanukkah. (Amen)

There is also a blessing recited only on the first night of Hanukkah and one for the Hanukkah miracle.
Colorful dreidels for sale in a Jerusalem Market, 2009,
by Adiel Io, [cc] Wikimedia Commons
Children often play a game with a dreidel, a four-sided spinning top. While its origin may have been eastern European in its roots, it was adapted to symbolize the holiday. The Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hey, and shin represent “nes gadol haya sham” which means “a great miracle happened there,” oustside of Israel. In Israel, the fourth letter on the dreidel is replaced with peh for "poh," meaning "here."

In keeping with the theme of oil, some of the traditional Jewish foods are fried in oil, such as potato latkes and filled donuts called sufganiyot. In North America, with Hanukkah’s close proximity to Christmas on the calendar, gifts are often exchanged. However, originally the only gift given was money or Hanukkah gelts. This was because the Greeks not only persecuted their religion but also pillaged the Israelites' personal wealth. Children might be given real money or Hanukkah gelt in the form of chocolate coins covered with foil.

Chocolate Hanukkah Gelt made by Elite by Evan-Amos, 2011,
[cc] Wikimedia Commons
Jesus likely commemorated the rededication of the Temple during this happy feast each year with His family. It is only one of the rich traditions of Judaism, passed on from generation to generation. As Christians we can look with appreciation on this, knowing that we have knowledge of the true, miraculous eternal light that Jesus Christ provides for us and remember this as we celebrate His birth:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:1-5)

Kathleen Rouser is the award-winning author of Rumors and Promises, her first novel about the people of fictional Stone Creek, Michigan. She is a longtime member of American Christian Fiction Writers. Kathleen longs to create characters who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. She lives in Michigan with her hero and husband, and the sassy tail-less cat who found a home in their empty nest. Connect with Kathleen on her website at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter @KathleenRouser


  1. Great post celebrating the festival of lights history and our The Eternal Light we have in Jesus Christ. Have a blessed and joyous Christmas, Kathleen.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Marilyn. The Old Testament is full of so many things that point to Jesus, the Messiah.
      Though Hanukkah isn't in the OT other than mentioned as a feast of dedication, I thought it would be worth sharing about its significance this time of year. You have a blessed and joyous Christmas too! :)

  2. Thank you, Kathy, this was very educational and enjoyable to read.

    1. Thank you, Susan, for taking the time to read it and leave a comment. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.
      I hoped it would be educational. :)