The Maccabees of Modernity
Hanukkah is here. Dreidels, latkes, donuts, candles, songs, and did I mention donuts? The eating, celebrating through prayers and special blessings, thankfulness for miracles, remembrance of heroes and martyrs are all mixed together into eight crazy nights of thanking God for his miraculous acts during these days.
We remember most of all the altar’s rededication in the Temple by the brave Maccabees after their long and hard-fought war against the madman, Antiochus Epiphanes. It’s a rededication worth remembering.
But an interesting question is raised in a Hanukkah sermon given by Rabbi Norman Lamm (zt”l). King Solomon BUILT a Temple! He did more than rededicate it. He made it a reality. To build the dwelling place of God in Israel was an incredible feat, a picture of Israel’s conquest, power, and blessing. The priests were busy leading beautiful worship services. The people were there, and “fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt-offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the Temple” so much so that everyone hit the pavement, facedown. Solomon completed the vision of David, the man after God’s own heart.
Rabbi Lamm’s question is this: “Why is there no holiday, no acknowledgment, not even a subtle atta-boy given to Solomon and the building of the First Temple?” I mean, in comparison to rededication, it seems as though building it should have gotten some attention on the calendar, no? A little food or a party to remember it, maybe?
Rabbi Lamm answers the question about preferential treatment for the Maccabees with an incredibly relevant point for all of us to ponder as we continue the work we are doing for the kingdom as Messianic believers. He writes:
The answer lies in the difference between building and rebuilding, between constructing and reconstructing, between dedicating and rededicating. When there is a new movement, a new campaign, a new idea, a new vision, anything that has with it the power of novelty, then it is almost assured of freshness and vigor and enthusiasm.
But the decision to rebuild, that is far more difficult. To approach a pile of rubble and try to make of it a habitable home…to patch together what time and circumstance have ravaged—for this the masses have little enthusiasm, less spirit, and no patience. 
His point is that Solomon had it pretty good. He had everyone’s excitement and participation. It was easy! The Maccabees, on the other hand, could not count on “mass movements and popular sentiments. Their project required enormous vision, tremendous courage, vast inner resources, and iron conviction.”
It takes something really special to rebuild, restore, and bring life to something that has seemingly been left to die. Between assimilation, apathy, and fear, many around the Maccabees were not interested in doing what it took to fight the fight, uphold the Torah, and remain faithful to covenant responsibility:
There was great mourning throughout all Israel, and the rulers and the elders groaned. Young women and men languished, and the beauty of the women faded. Every bridegroom took up lamentation, while the bride sitting in her chamber mourned, And the land quaked on account of its inhabitants, and all the house of Jacob was clothed with shame. (1 Maccabees 1:25-28 New American Bible [Revised Edition])
Mattathias and his sons saw it differently. “If we all do as our kindred have done, and do not fight against the Gentiles for our lives and our laws, they will soon destroy us from the earth.” So they fought. It was a grueling fight, against all odds, to protect what was important to them and their God. When that fighting was done, there was still the task of restoring what had been defiled, and they had to “patch together what time and circumstance have ravaged,” to borrow again from Rabbi Lamm. It was hard; it took sacrifice, dedication, commitment, blood, sweat, tears, and much prayer. Some of Judah’s prayers recorded in the book of Maccabees are beautiful and inspiring.
Here’s the connection. Many of you reading this are Maccabees in your own right, i.e., you are on a mission to restore something that has been lost, something forgotten, destroyed, and defiled. I’m speaking specifically of a return to an understanding of Torah and its ongoing relevance, of sharing Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel, of the continued centrality of Israel and the Jewish People, the amazing joy of the festivals of the LORD. These were once well known among Yeshua’s disciples, but time and circumstance have changed that understanding. We hear anti-Semitism and replacement theology so often that we’ve almost become immune to the satanic power of those ways of thinking. For the most part, no one is interested in fighting the battle to rededicate the people of God to the ways of God.
Solomon didn’t get a holiday because his job was easy. Judah and the boys did because their work was hard.
Our work is not easy, but chances are, you are willing to do the hard work, too. You are willing to sacrifice. While it may not literally be blood and sweat, I know that our work in the world is not without some occasional tears! The LORD spoke through Jeremiah with these appropriate words:
Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. (Jeremiah 6:16)
Ancient paths have a way of getting covered up. However, your dedication to rebuild them, to rediscover them, to share them, and to restore an excitement for the fullness of God and the gospel is needed RIGHT NOW.
So may the Hanukkah reminders— the lights, the latkes, and the love of God—remind you of the miracles of the season and inspire you as you continue in the restorative work of the kingdom.
- Lamm, Norman, et al. Festivals of Faith : Reflections on the Jewish Holidays (New York, NY: RIETS Press, 2011).
First Fruits of Zion