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This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hanukkah in History and Prophecy

Ezra’s Hanukkah

After the reigns of David and Solomon the fortunes of the Jews were always intimately connected with Jerusalem and the Temple. If they habitually broke the Law of God they lost the city and the Temple, as when the Babylonians came. But when they returned to God, they were restored to the city, as at the time of  Nehemiah and Ezra. And when they returned to the city the whole community worked together to rebuild the Temple. On its completion they celebrated with a Hanukkah service, for in Ezra 6:16,17 the term  translated “dedication” is again ‘hanukkah’. The festivities and service were nothing to be compared to that of Solomon, nevertheless it was a joyful time - they had seen God’s hand of protection and provision, so now they celebrated. Celebrations have always been vital for the people of God. They are occasions of fellowship, of worship, of glorifying God. The sin offerings comprised of twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel while the fellowship offerings were one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs” (Ezra 6:17). It was permitted, nay required, that the meat of the fellowship offerings should be shared with priests, offerers and their     families, so it can be assumed that the service of    dedication ended with a great feast in which everyone participated and which was used to bind the community together. And, as was customary at such festivals, the purpose and history of the nation was explained.

Because of the loss of sovereignty when they returned to Israel after the seventy year period of exile, they could not return to the political structure that operated at the time of David and Solomon. And since the main impulse for the return to the land and the reconstruction was religious then that became the dominant force in Israel. The High Priest became the supreme head of state as well as the supreme director of worship. The authority of the king was replaced by the authority of the High Priest and since his seat of jurisdiction was the Temple then that became the   centre of the nation’s government as well as its centre of worship.

Ezra was the one who contributed most to the authority of the priesthood and the religious development of the nation after their return from Babylon. He had reasoned that the Babylonian captivity was a judgment of God, the cause of which was broken law.  Moses had warned:

So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven  image in the form of anything against which the Lord your God has commanded you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. When you become the father of children and children’s children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord your God so as to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord drives you”  (Deut. 4:23-27).


To avert any future judgments and deportations it would be
necessary for Israel to be a ‘Law-abiding’ nation. They must obey the Law of God. But this would be impossible if they neither knew nor understood the Law, so he founded the school of Scribes called the Sopherim. They were to examine and teach the Law of Moses to overcome any lack of knowledge.

However, to the foregoing laudable aim they added the seed of something that was to undermine the written Hebrew Scriptures themselves, for to Ezra and the men of the Great Synagogue was ascribed the ancient saying, "Make a hedge for the Torah" (Abot 1.1.I.C(3) (Mishnah)). There are 613 explicit laws in the five books of Moses. These were to be examined and re-enforced. The purpose was to set the bar higher, to make the law stricter, thus offering some protection from even breaking the Mosaic Law inadvertently. It was the second generation Sopherim who sought to fulfil that ambition. The principle on which they worked was, a Sopher (Scribe) could disagree with a Sopher but not with the Torah. When they reached a majority agreement these additional laws became binding on all Jews.
The work of the Sopherim was continued and supplemented by the work of the Tanaim (Repeaters). These extra regulations are referred to in the gospel records under the term "tradition", that is, "the tradition of the elders" (Matt. 15:2; Mark 7:3,5) or the "tradition of men" (Mark 7:8). Thos that supported and sought to enforce these supplementary regulations played a big part in the events at the time of the Maccabees and the time of Christ. However, Jesus never accepted that these extrapolated rules had divine approval and rejected them. Nevertheless, they exerted substantial influence on sections of the Jewish population, particularly the 'pious'.

Next Time: The Maccabean Hanukkah

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