The story of Hanukkah begins during the period in between the Old and New Testaments, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes became the ruler of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire. While the Hellenization of the region already threatened the survival of the Jewish religion, Antiochus seemed obsessed with ensuring the demise of Judaism and thereby, the future of the Jewish people.

He not only murdered the High Priest, Onias III, but he slaughtered 40,000 inhabitants of Jerusalem. The observance of the Sabbath and feast days were prohibited as were sacrifices and temple services. In the final assault on Judaism, Antiochus ordered an idol to Zeus be erected in the temple and a pig slaughtered on the altar, thereby desecrating it.

A family from the priestly line of Aaron, the Maccabees, led a revolt against this evil ruler and miraculously experienced victory after victory over the mighty Seleucid forces, until at last the temple could be purified and its services restored. This rededication of the temple to the God of Israel is celebrated during Hanukkah, originally known as the Festival of Dedication. Hanukkah is a Hebrew word derived from the word “to dedicate.”

The defeat of the Seleucid forces by this small band of Jewish zealots was nothing short of a miracle. God had once again demonstrated His faithfulness to His people by saving them from this existential threat. The Maccabean revolt was a turning point in history that saved the Jewish people, their religion, and their calling from extinction.

This Hanukkah story should serve as an encouragement to us all that when we stand up against the mighty powers of our day, we do so not in our own strength, but with God’s help. Standing in solidarity with the Jewish people at Hanukkah is a stance in support of the very root of our own faith.*