Israel, in the second century B.C.E., endured political realities not unlike those of today. The land was surrounded by enemies who would be done with their Jewish neighbors. The superpowers, of that day also, imposed their demands on the tiny state of Israel, in the interests of peace and stability.
So it was that Antiochus Epiphanes, a Seleucid king of Syria, acting under the aegis of the Greek empire, sought to impose western culture and religion on Jerusalem. The Jewish religion was seen as a divisive factor preventing peaceful coexistence and commerce. Antiochus attempted to destroy Judaism by outlawing rites such as the keeping of the Sabbath, and circumcision. Jews were forced to sacrifice to Greek gods. The Temple was desecrated with a statue of Zeus, and with the sacrifice of swine upon the altar.
But three years later, Antiochus' reign had been broken by a popular rebellion led by the Maccabean family. The Temple was cleansed and rededicated. Essential to this ceremony was a supply of consecrated oil for the menorah in the Holy Place. Miraculously, the oil on hand, a one day supply, burned for eight days, allowing time for more oil to be prepared and consecrated.
At Hanukkah, while we remember that the Lord fueled the continual flame, do we forget that it was the Lord who made the occasion possible? The untrained, ill equipped farmers and shepherds of the Hasmonean band were out of their league against the gentile powers. Yet, they prevailed, not by military might, but by the Spirit of the Lord.
We should learn from them where to place our trust. "When you cry [due to enemy oppression], let your companies deliver you: but the wind shall carry them all away; vanity shall overtake them: But he that puts his trust in Me shall possess the land, and shall inherit My holy mountain." [Isaiah 57:13] Our security rests neither with politicians nor generals, but upon the Lord.
If we turn our hearts to Him, the darkest, most hopeless of circumstances will turn to victory. The prophet Isaiah wrote: "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shined... For You have broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian. For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and with fuel of fire." [Isaiah 9:2-5]
It is the Lord who fuels Israel's eternal light. King David observed: "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?..." [Psalm 27:1]. But how does He provide this salvation and security? By whom? Who is His greater Servant (shammash)?
Isaiah continues [Isaiah 9:6-7]:
Hanukkah, for all the attention which it receives, is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, since the events which led to its establishment occurred after the scribes had written. Interestingly, the only biblical reference occurs in the New Testament: "...it was at Jerusalem the Feast of the Dedication..." that the Jewish rulers approached Jesus saying: "How long do you make us to doubt? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." [John 10:22-42]
Could it be that he presented himself truthfully to them as "the Light of the world," and as "the Good Shepherd," and as "one with the Father"? If they had more fully understood the prophetic picture of Messiah, would they have viewed him differently?
He advised them: "Search the Scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." [John 5:39]
Before writing him off as an inadequate candidate for Messiah, remember the oil... the inadequate oil... which was sufficient.