We Came To Drive Away The Darkness (hanukkah Song)

WHERE IS THE MIRACLE?

Today we continue our Hanukkah reflections. Last time, we followed the narrative of the First book of Maccabees, which recounts the events that Hanukkah commemorates. We saw that, after a series of battles, the Maccabees miraculously recaptured the Temple. They began to cleanse and restore it and were finally able to rededicate it on the twenty-fifth of Kislev:

4:54 The altar was dedicated… on the same day on which the Gentiles had originally profaned it.

4:55 The whole people fell prostrate in adoration and then praised Heaven who had granted them success.

4:56 For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar, joyfully offering burnt offerings, communion and thanksgiving sacrifices.

As we know, in memory of this dedication, Hanukkah, an eight-day celebration, was established (the Hebrew word חֲנוּכָּה, Hanukkah, can be translated as “inauguration, dedication, consecration”). However, there are also some very interesting details of this description that we should not miss – and this will be our focus for today.

First of all, where is the miracle of oil and menorah? Every Jewish child today knows the story of Hanukkah: the Maccabees wanted to light the Temple’s Menorah; they found only a one-day supply of oil that was not defiled; by faith, they lit the menorah and miraculously, this one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days. This is the miracle of Hanukkah that we celebrate today – but it is not in the text. First Maccabees is the oldest and the only eye-witness account of the story of Hanukkah – and to our great surprise, we don’t find the miracle of oil there. The text only tells us about the military victory and the rededication of the Temple; the dedication does indeed go on for eight days, but there is no explanation why, no single word about the miracle.

The essence of the Hanukkah celebration was changed during the Rabbinic period, and we find this explanation in the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat 21b:

“For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient for one day’s lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit [the lamp] therewith for eight days. The following year these [days] were appointed a Festival with [the recital of] Hallel and thanksgiving”.

So, from the description in the First Maccabees, it is clear that the original celebration was about the military victory and the rededication of the Temple.  Even if the miracle of the oil did occur, First (and also Second) Maccabees doesn’t mention it at all. However, the focus of celebration has been switched over the centuries: instead of celebrating the military success of the Maccabees, the Festival of Hanukkah has become a celebration of the Divine Miracle and of the Divine Light. This is Hanukkah as we know it today—the Festival of Lights—Chag Urim.

THE LIGHT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS

There is an additional question that we can ask ourselves regarding the account of First Maccabees. One would expect that the recapture and rededication of the Temple would constitute the culmination, the climax of the story – its “happy ending” so to speak. However, the book has sixteen chapters – and the rededication of the Temple occurs at the end of chapter 4— so what happens in the following twelve chapters?

I will tell you what – these chapters are full of military actions—of battles, of victories and defeats., and this is very important. It is not commonly known that the Maccabees did not win their independence with the recapture of the Temple. Antiochus was still their ruler, and Syrian troops still occupied Eretz Yisrael and even most of Jerusalem. The light of the first Hanukkah truly shone in the midst of darkness! And here we see the prophetic meaning of this Festival: it is all about light overcoming darkness! Often enough, Hanukkah celebrations begin in full darkness, then the light of a candle – the first Hanukkah candle – pierces the darkness, and then – more candles and more lights! It’s very beautiful and very impressive! One of the central songs sung during Hanukkah is called BANU CHOSHECH LEGARESH – “WE CAME TO DRIVE AWAY THE DARKNESS” – and this is indeed the overwhelming feeling one gets during these celebrations: the Divine Light overcomes even the darkest of darkness.

EVEN MORE PROPHETIC

By now you would probably agree that Hanukkah is a very prophetic festival indeed—but wait till you hear what the reading from the prophets (Haftarah) is for Hanukkah! The Haftarah for Shabbat Hanukkah comes from the prophet Zechariah, where we read about Zechariah encouraging the people of Judah to rebuild the Temple that had been destroyed in 586 BCE. We can see that the Temple theme of this reading certainly links Hanukkah to this Scripture. However, it is the final section of this Haftarah that adds additional prophetic depth to Hanukkah. Zechariah is seeing a vision:  “I am looking, and there is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps.3 Two olive trees are by it, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left.”  When Zechariah asks for an explanation, the Lord answers:

‘Not by might nor by power,

but by My Spirit,’
Says the Lord of hosts[1].

As we light our Hanukkiah, we identify ourselves with the solemn message of this Festival: the Light overcomes the Darkness; God’s Spirit overcomes human might and power. I do hope you will join us in lighting the candles this year. This year Hanukkah begins Tuesday night, December 12, and continues through Wednesday, December 20. On the first night, we light just one candle; on the second night, we light two, and so on. By the eighth night of Hanukkah, all eight candles of the Hanukkiah are lit. Yes, Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration (which makes it, once again, even more prophetic, because of this amazingly profound eighth day – the day “beyond”), and therefore you still have time to join in – and become part of the Light that drives away the darkness.

CHAG URIM SAMEACH!

HAPPY HANUKKAH!

[1] Zech.4:2,4

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (12 comments)

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  1. Angelika Walter

    Dear Julia, thank you very much for this message, the theme speaks to me: Light that overcomes the darkness. It is quite surprising for me, that the recapture and rededication of the temple was not the end of the war, but if the physical temple reflects the inner temple, our heart, it has much meaning for us today. It speaks to me about the perseverance of the saints. As believers we have dedicated our lives to Yeshua in faith, but the war is not yet over, we need to persevere in faith and overcome through God´s power. Albeit late, I wish you and yours a blessed Chanukkah.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you so much Angelika! It’s wonderful to hear from you, I had missed your deep and thoughtful comments. Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year!

  2. Yosef Eliyahu

    This reminds me of a verse in Isaiah 58 where the prophet says, “thine light shall shine forth in obscurity.” It’s a chapter about fasting, but very applicable to Hanukkah as well.

    1. Julia Blum

      It’s a very interesting – and very unexpected – connection, Yosef, thank you for pointing it out.

  3. Denise oakes

    light can dispel and remove the darkness, but darkness can not overwhelm the light

    1. Julia Blum

      Amen. This is the message – and the blessing – of the Bible. Blessed are those who have learned this message.

  4. Ambarasan

    Thank you Julia and yes i will read again and again to discover more truths.
    With blessings,
    Ambarasan,
    The”United with Israel”family.

  5. Elizabeth I. Seibel-Ross

    But, the darker it gets, the brighter the light appears – or perhaps the better we are able to see it by virtue of the contrast. Our candles are burning with yours, and our hope lies in the promise it shows us as it gets brighter and brighter throughout this time.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Lisa, that your candles are burning with ours – because it’s only when we are together, our light can “drive away the darkness “!

  6. Dot Healy

    Indeed David, Matthew encourages believers not to hide their light under a bushel, but put it on a stand for all to see, that it may give light to all and glorify our Father in heaven. As surely as Christ has brought us from darkness into light, let us always remember to let His light shine through our lives.

    Beautiful teaching Julia. Thank you for your dedication and the revelations you bring us through your blogs. Chag Urim Sameach to you and all your house.

  7. David Russell

    Julia, this was a very good teaching with the emphasis on light driving away darkness. In our world today it seems like light shown is doing anything but driving away darkness. Hanukkah may well be a reminder to believers to let our light shine which shows Messiah’s image and thus informs others of his reputation. Blessed Hanukkah and holiday to you and all reading.

  8. Nick

    Happy Hanukkah to you Julia! May the Jew and the Christian continue to learn and grow, as well as all of mankind!