This Hanukkah and Christmas, What Might the Maccabees Say to Followers of Yeshua?

This year, spiritual dynamics involved in the original Hanukkah event seem to be prophetically re-occurring. The holiday will soon end, but what might our ancient Maccabee forbears still say to us, if they could?

The festive, eight day commemoration of Hanukkah (“Feast of Dedication”) starts this year on December 7 (Kislev 25). Normally, Jewish people worldwide look forward to the holiday with happy anticipation. We celebrate the Maccabees’ miraculous victory over our enemies of old with joy and thanksgiving. Some Messianic Jews also celebrate the conception of Yeshua that, according to Scripture, quite possibly took place during Hanukkah.

But this year, emotions are mixed. Israel’s collective soul is traumatized. We grieve for the victims of recent and brutal terror, for the hostages, for our fallen soldiers and for families who will carry scars from October 7 the rest of their lives. There is anger that our government and military failed to protect us from tragic attack. The country is in a severe, prolonged war affecting every sector of society. This year, the annual winter feast is not quite the same happy Hanukkah as in the past.

Nevertheless, we celebrate!

For many of us, Hanukkah is actually more relevant and important this year than ever before.  And so more than a few Israelis are crying out to God as never before in our history as a modern, regathered state. This year, we need the Hanukkah story to renew and inspire tangible faith, God-given strength and supernatural courage. Fact is, we need nothing less than the Hanukkah Hero Himself, the Maker of Miracles.

About that, if our Maccabee forbears could speak to us today, what might they say? What might they tell us about their own, prolonged war with Gaza?

This post shares about the Maccabees’ battle strategy for Gaza, along with eight inspirational Maccabee quotes helpful to Israel and the Church for this year’s eight days of Hanukkah and beyond.

Context is always important, so first, a quick summary of the Hanukkah story follows below.  IF YOU WOULD RATHER SKIP THE HANUKKAH STORY SUMMARY, SCROLL DOWN TO “WHAT MIGHT THE MACCABEES SAY TO US TODAY?”

Hanukkah Story Summary

The story of Hanukkah is recorded in an ancient book entitled First Maccabees. First Maccabees is part of a collection of historical writings known collectively as the Apocrypha. Catholic and some Orthodox Christian Churches include the Apocrypha in their Holy Scriptures. Protestant denominations, like traditional Jews, do not consider the Apocrypha to be the Word of God. Instead, we view it as a valuable historical resource that is good and helpful but not infallible, inerrant or inspired at the same level as the canon of Scripture.

According to First Maccabees, a Seleucid (Greco-Syrian) emperor named Antiochus IV rose to power across the Middle East in the second century BC. He sought to rule the entire, then-known world, including Israel, as one people subject to his authority. He surnamed himself “Epiphanes,” meaning God Manifest. In a spirit that was anti-God and antichrist, Antiochus IV made teaching the Hebrew Scriptures punishable by death. With widespread and murderous tortures, he determined to destroy the worship of YHVH and eradicate biblical faith. He is widely seen as a fulfillment of Daniel chapters 7-12.

Antiochus IV replaced Israel’s high priest with a Hellenized Jew who willingly cooperated with his anti-God policies. Then he erected a statue-idol of Zeus in the Holy Temple and sacrificed a pig on its altar. This was seen as an abomination of desolation according to Daniel 9:27. At that point, a family of priests from Modi’in in Judea (Israel) rose up to resist and eventually defeat him. They became known as the Maccabees.

The name “Maccabee” relates to the word for “hammer.” It is also an acronym for the Hebrew phrase, “Who is like You among the gods, Lord?”

The Maccabees were a tiny remnant of Jews, seemingly insignificant, that clung tenaciously to Torah. Fervently, they repented on behalf of Israel’s apostasy, fasted and prayed, and rallied others to their cause. Though vastly outnumbered by the armies of Antiochus IV, they taught themselves how to fight. Their faith-driven courage, even unto death, is referenced in Hebrews 11:35-38. The great miracle of Hanukkah is that a simple and untrained troop of warrior-priests proved victorious over the well-equipped, professional armies of the greatest world power of their day.

After the Maccabees regained control of the Temple, they restored, cleansed and rededicated it. Because both the First and Second Temples had been dedicated to God during the eight day Feast of Tabernacles, the Maccabees apparently decided the re-dedication should also last eight days. Hundreds of years later, however, a legend developed offering another explanation for the eight day celebration of Hanukkah.

According to legend, when the Maccabees regained control of the Temple, they found a single, small cruise of oil in it. The oil was sufficient to keep the Temple lampstand (menorah) burning for just one day. But the oil is said to have burned miraculously for eight full days. As time went on, the oil legend overshadowed Hanukkah’s central focus of the Maccabees’ victory over the anti-God forces of their day. Unfortunately, while it does make for a really good story, there is no historical evidence for, or biblical reference to, a miracle about oil. Genuine scholars of Biblical history agree the oil account would have been recorded in First Maccabees, or at least noted in other pre-exilic literature, had it actually taken place.

References: First Maccabees; Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 12.

What Might the Maccabees Say to Us Today?

A little known fact of history is that after the Maccabees’ victory associated with Hanukkah, they found themselves at war with Gaza for decades. The prolonged war resulted from repeated attacks by pagan militants in the city-state of Gaza against Judea (Israel). Eventually, Simon Maccabee overtook Gaza, settled a few Jewish families inside of it and installed governing leaders in Gaza who would cooperate with Judea. Simon built a personal home in Gaza as a tangible reminder of its submission to Judea. But this worked for only a short while.

Not until approximately 100 BC, when a descendant of the Maccabees completely crushed and captured Gaza, did the military threat end. According to the ancient historian Josephus, this battle took nothing less than a year. (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, Volume 13, Chapter 5:5;

Today, the Maccabean solution might be falsely labelled an occupation, colonization or genocide. But as a result of the iron fist approach, civilians in both Gaza and Judea finally experienced peace. Perhaps the Maccabees might suggest a similar strategy for us today who battle against a similar territorial, spiritual stronghold.

Eight Quotes for Eight Days

Apart from the Maccabees’ battle with Gaza, below are eight quotes from the book of First Maccabees, one for each of the eight days of Hanukkah. The words of our warrior-priest forbears could not be more relevant to Israel today, nor for Christians who follow and love Yeshua. Be blessed as you read!

Day 1. “Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each one from the faith of his fathers, yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers.” (1 Mac. 2:19-20)

This Hanukkah, you can purpose to stand firm to the end, by grace, according to God’s new heart covenant in Yeshua. Even as nations increasingly succumb to the rule of anti-God kings, be re-ignited daily by the Light of the World. As you light your Hanukkah menorah (hanukiya) this year, let your light shine brightly for Him! And please pray for the many Israelis whose hearts are crying out to God, turning back to Him in a time of great need.

Day 2. “It is not on the size of the army that victory in battle depends, but strength comes from Heaven. He Himself will crush them before us.” (1 Mac. 3:19, 22)

Whether your battle is natural or supernatural or both, your victory is not by human might or strength, but by the Spirit of God. If you worship YHVH, He is personally with you to the end of the age and He is always for you. He Himself will crush your enemies as you trust in, and surrender to, Him. He is a magnificent miracle worker, even when you do not know how His miracles manifest. Be encouraged that the battles you fight in this present age are not worth comparing to the glory and joy you will experience in the next.

Day 3. “Then … all the Gentiles will know there is One who redeems and saves Israel.” (1 Mac. 4:11)

The Maccabees knew the ultimate reason they were called to battle was that God would be glorified in the sight of the nations. This Hanukkah, be reminded that He is creating, through all the battles you face in your life, a unique radiance of His glory for eternity. Be blessed to know how He delights in you for how you uniquely glorify Him.

Day 4. “If we … refuse to fight with the [anti-God] Gentiles for our lives and for our ordinances, they will quickly destroy us from the earth.” (1 Mac. 2:40-42)

There is a times for war and a time for peace. Through Church history, however, some Christians have said that Yeshua taught His followers never to take up arms or fight in a war militarily. Many others have strenuously disagreed. To be sure, our battle as believers is not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities in spiritual realms. The kingdom of God advances through spiritual battle. Yet, on another level, the first purpose of any government on earth is to protect its people so they may freely worship and follow God. In a fallen world, this requires active and armed defense from invasion. Keep in mind that Yeshua, who never told the Roman soldiers who followed Him to stop being soldiers, returns to earth as a warrior and conquering King. Accordingly, Israel is well aware that if we do not subdue our enemies, they would destroy us (or most of us) from the earth. So we fight. We war under the Commander of Heaven’s Armies and by His miraculous intervention.

Day 5. “Do not fear their numbers or be afraid when they charge. Remember how our fathers were saved at the Red Sea when Pharaoh with his forces pursued them.” (1 Mac. 4:8-11) I

Our God is a miracle worker! Over and again, you discover that He gives you what you need, including courage, when you need it. When facing a battle you must fight, He will graciously give you the strength, wisdom and resources you need, along with peace that surpasses understanding, all of which flow from His presence with you. Be blessed this Hanukkah season to remember, as did the Maccabees, God’s past faithfulness to His people through history. Trust and praise Him for the courage and boldness He will give you, as you may need it, to stand firm in love and truth to the end. This, too, is His miracle-provision for you.

Day 6. “It is better for us to die in battle than to see the misfortunes of our nation and of the [Temple] sanctuary. As His [God’s] will in heaven may be, so He will do.” (1 Mac. 2:59-60)

Yeshua said the greatest expression of love in this present age is to lay down one’s life for His friends. (John 15:13) Through history, His followers have been given the high honor to follow Messiah to the Cross, laying down their lives for His and others’ sake. May God revive in our generation the spirit of our Maccabee and Church forebears who willingly laid down their lives for a cause more noble than their own survival. As you and I light our hanukiyot, may Yeshua reignite in our hearts the fiery passions of His own until we can say in loving, joyful surrender, “Not my will but Yours be done.”

Day 7“Let us cry to Heaven, to see whether He will favor us and remember His covenant with our fathers and crush this army before us today.” (1 Mac. 4:10-11)

The Maccabees did not know for sure whether or not they would prove victorious. They fasted and prayed, then fasted and prayed some more. They cried out to God on account of His covenant faithfulness. This year, might your Hanukkah (or Christmas) gift to God be a sacrament of prayer and fasting, that He would remember His covenant with Israel and crush not just our enemy Hamas, but our global enemy of murderous, anti-Jewish hate?

Day 8. After defeating the armies of Antiochus, the Maccabees said, “Let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it.” They “sang hymns and praises to Heaven, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.” (1 Mac. 4:59, 24)

This Hanukkah and beyond, be blessed with a re-ignited spirit of praise and thanksgiving. Rejoice in every victory God graciously gives you. Rejoice that He is good and His mercy endures forever. Rejoice that He loves you so much He gave you (and me) His Son, Immanuel. Rejoice to re-dedicate to Him your own, living temple. For this is the essence of a truly happy Hanukkah – and a merry Christmas.