Chanukah is a celebration of the miracle that was reported to have occurred following the Maccabean revolt against Syria when the temple was rededicated after it had been defiled by Antiochus. The priests had only one cruse of oil, sufficient to keep the lamps burning for one day, but, it is said, that by God’s grace the one cruse of oil miraculously kept the lamps burning for eight days, giving enough time to procure fresh supplies of sanctified olive oil which alone was suitable for the lamps in the Holy Place.
“You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn. In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel” (Ex. 27:20-21).
“Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil from beaten olives for the lamp, that a light may be kept burning regularly” (Lev. 24:2). “And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall have charge of the oil for the light…” (Num. 4:16).
Wax candles were only introduced into the celebration of Chanukah during the early nineteenth century and the practice of using oil lamps was gradually replaced by the eight branched candle holder. Unfortunately, the use of wax candles subverts the very message that was being illustrated through the burning of the menorah.
We are not required to preserve traditions for tradition’s sake, particularly if our traditions nullify or undermine the Word of God. If we do things by rote tradition without understanding the Word of God, it becomes merely dry and meaningless formalism. We draw near to God with our lips, but our hearts remain far from him.
We have been entrusted with the very words of God and are required to prove ourselves faithful and trustworthy by holding unswervingly to God’s word:
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
The oil that was to be used to keep the lamps burning in the Holy Place is figuratively likened to the Holy Spirit who illuminates the word of God, which is the lamp:
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Without the sanctified oil, we remain in the dark and candles are quite useless. We bear the light of the glory of the Messiah within jars of clay, (i.e. this mortal body). It is only the true light of God when it is fuelled by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. However, as anyone can observe, when a candle burns it consumes itself until it eventually burns itself out completely. There is a sobering lesson to be learnt if we reflect on the figurative meaning of many traditions which nullify the word of God.
It could be said that the tradition of burning candles figuratively represents that which is of human origin and which is destined to eventually burn itself out. Jesus cautioned those who depart from the Word of God, “Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness” (Luke 11:35). This is a harsh warning for all of us. The “light” that is within many people is not the light of the Holy Spirit and it does not illuminate the Word of God which is the lamp. If this be the case, then it is really darkness and void of eternal life. In rejecting Jesus the Messiah, unbelieving Israel no longer have the oil to keep their lamp burning though they continue to observe the tradition. Their lamp has been removed from its stand (Rev.2:5), and they have replaced it with self-consuming candles!
“In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:4 5).
After the victory of the Maccabean revolt against paganism, God’s grace enabled the priests to procure fresh oil in time to keep the lamp burning in the Holy Place. Many squander the precious time which God, by his grace, has given us to repent and to procure the oil, which is the Holy Spirit given to all who believe in Jesus the Messiah. Jesus said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13). This is the time of God’s grace, but soon it will be like it was in the days of Noah when the Lord said, “My Spirit will not abide with man forever…” (Genesis 6:3). Those who treat the Spirit of grace with contempt and reject Jesus the Saviour will discover that they have not procured the only acceptable oil to keep their lamp burning:
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
Once people have exhausted God’s patience and mercy they will have run out of time to turn to Jesus, the Light of the world, and to procure the sanctified oil.
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). What a tragic irony that many Gentiles who once walked in the darkness have responded to the light of Jesus the Messiah, but his own people to whom he came did not receive him:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2).
Many have been called out of darkness into that glorious light, the Light of Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer:
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’.” (Ephesians 5:8-14).
As was prophesied by Zechariah (2:11), many Gentiles, who gladly receive the free gift of eternal life, have been added to God’s holy nation.
“And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.”
Today is the day of salvation. Now you have time to procure oil before it is too late, for the Lord shall come suddenly and unexpectedly and whoever is not ready and waiting for him will be thrown out into the darkness because they refused to come into the light when they were able. Jesus told the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25) to warn his listeners against careless complacency. Though the Messiah tarry, his faithful disciples must keep their lamps trimmed with a good supply of oil to keep the lamps burning in the darkest night because he will come when they do not expect him and those who have insufficient oil in their lamps will find that it is too late and will be shut out of the Kingdom.
“And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep. And he said to me, ‘What do you see?’ I said, ‘I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.’ And I said to the angel who talked with me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ I said, ‘No, my lord.’ Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts’” (Zechariah 4:1-6).