It is not entirely correct to say that the marking of the festival of Hanukkah is not found in the Hebrew Bible. Surprisingly it is!
As sundown fell across Israel, Israel, Europe, and the United States last evening, December 16th, millions of Jews and many others who care about the history of Israel lit candles welcoming the advent of Hanukkah, the eight Festival of Dedication. I am in Jerusalem this week and last night went down to the Western Wall to watch the festivities as the chief Rabbis and other dignitaries gathered to light the first lights to inaugurate the festival. There was music, singing, and dancing–a truly festive time.
Often non-Jews who might not know much about Hanukkah refer to it as the “Jewish Christmas,” which it certainly is not. It is often said that Hanukkah is not a “biblical” festival, which is the case, as it originated long after the close of the period of Jewish history represented in the Hebrew Bible. Rather it commemorating the victory of the Maccabees or Hasmoneans over the Syrian-Greek tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes on Kislev 25 in 164 BCE–the “cleansing of the Temple” and the establishment of 200 years of Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel–free of foreign domination. Antiochus had erected an image to Zeus, destroyed Torahs, forbidden circumcision, and sought to essentially “outlaw” Jewish faith and practice. One finds the basic story in the book of 1 Maccabees, which is now part of what is called the Apocrypha (included in the LXX or Septuagint/Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible plus additional books and subsequently in the Vulgate or Catholic “Old Testament.”) However, it is not entirely correct to say that the marking of this day is not found in the Hebrew Bible. Surprisingly it is! As it turns out the the feast of Hanukkah itself, is grounded in the importance of Kislev 24–the day before Hanukkah, based on what the Prophet Haggai says. Notice carefully this historical background:
The book of the prophet Haggai comes to us from the 2nd year of the Persian King Darius, late summer, August, 520 BCE. It is one of the most precisely dated books in the Hebrew Bible, much like its sister Zechariah, and its twin Malachi. The three go together, like peas in the pod, both coming from that crucial time of the “restoration” of Judah to the Land following the Babylonian captivity. Collectively they are our LAST WORD from Yehovah in terms of how the redemption is to unfold. It is very likely, based on Haggai 1:12, where the Prophet is called the “messenger of YHVH,” that Haggai is in fact the author of the book we call Malachi, as this book is just named “My Messenger,” and the name of the prophet who wrote it is not given. Both Haggai and Zechariah address their contemporary situation, as one would expect, and are concerned that the Temple be rebuilt and that the constitution of the new state of Judah be ordered according to the Torah. However, if read carefully, both clearly understand that this restoration of Judah is only a preliminary, even symbolic step, to a coming GREAT restoration of Judah and ALL Israel. Even though there is a Priest (Joshua), and a Governor (Zerubbabel) of the Davidic line, there is no anointing of the BRANCH figure of whom both Isaiah and Jeremiah had spoken. One way of putting this is to say that Haggai and Zechariah are working in the tall shadow of JEREMIAH (see especially chapters 30-31), and they know, from his clear and powerful prophecies, that the final days have not come with this tiny little beachhead return of a portion of Judah to the land. But they do believe that this return of Judah is a “sign” of things to come, and a guarantee that the Plan of Yehovah, to fill the earth with justice and righteousness, through Abraham’s seed, is not to fall to the ground.
And that leads us to the curious and fascinating references to the 24th day of the 9th month–Kislev 24 in modern Jewish parlance.
Notice, reading the book of Haggai is sequential, it takes you through the last months of the year. It begins with the Rosh Chodesh of the 6th month (August), takes you through the 21st day of the 7th month (2:1), which is the last day of Sukkoth (October), and then into December–with the 24th day of the 9th month. Haggai’s third and fourth messages come on this very day. It is a short book, and if you skim it through you will see the building sequence.
Kislev 24 is mentioned FOUR times in the second chapters, verses 10, 15, 18 and 20. Twice it is emphasized that “from THIS DAY FORWARD I will bless you,” and twice Haggai gets a special Word from Yehovah, on this very day. You have to read the whole chapter to get the context, but the message is basically that Yehovah will “SHAKE the heavens and the earth and ALL NATIONS,” overthrowing their power, anoint the chosen one (symbolized in that day by Zerubbabel), and essentially make Jerusalem the new world capital. For the DETAILS you need to go back, of course, to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah in particular, as they set forth the entire agenda to which Haggai only briefly alludes.
This message is addressed to the two “messiahs,” the Priest and the “King” or Governor, Joshua and Zerubbabel, respectively (2:4-5). They become “signifiers” of things to come. They are not the final anointed ones, and Zechariah picks this up in his visions, especially chapters 4 and 6. These symbolic figures, as well as the promised presence of the Holy Spirit (see 2:5 and Zech 4:6!), are the guarantee that Yehovah will bring about these promises.
Notice, Zechariah begins getting his visions and messages in the 8th month of that same year (Zech 1:1), or mid-November. He has EIGHT night visions, they are all quite difficult to follow, but prophetically important in forecasting the redemptive future. There is much more detail in Zechariah, but the two, Haggai and Zechariah, should be read in tandem, as one explains the other. Now, note carefully, Kislev 24 is not specifically mentioned in Zechariah, but it is alluded to in chapter 4:8-10. It is the famous “day of small things,” that one might be led to “despise,” because after all, this tiny little remnant of Judah, beginning to lay the foundation of a nondescript temple, under the mighty thumb of the Persian empire, was hardly even worthy of the name of a city-state, much less a world kingdom, and yet had HOPES and DREAMS and promises of world dominion!
Chapters 7-14 of Zechariah, which he gets two years later, are quite different. They are straightforward and fairly plain, laying out, likely in some sequential order, both the preliminary events, and the detailed climax, of the “time of the end.”
So, what about Kislev 24? It seems to have a three-fold meaning. First, in the time of Haggai and Zechariah, it was the day MARKED for the promise that the redemption would ultimately come about, not by power, nor by might, but by the Spirit of Yehovah–but “in its time.” Second, subsequently though history, this day seems to be one upon which key events take place, perhaps only a few of which have been recognized down through history. And finally, it might well turn out that on some Kislev 24 in the future, that date will serve as a “countdown marker” for the unfolding of the mysterious 1260/1290/1335/2300 days of Daniel’s visions, which interested Sir Isaac Newton so much.
During the period of the Maccabees, when Syrian ruler Antiochus IV unleashed his great persecution against the Jews of Judea/Palestine, it was on Kislev 24 that the enemy was defeated and the Temple freed from its desecration. That is why the festival of Chanukah is celebrated beginning at sundown, at the end of Kislev 24. In other words, it is NOT so much Chanukah that is important, as its marker date: Kislev 24. It seems to become a kind of banner date in history that marks any kind of “signal” of future redemption.
Fast forward to December 9, 1917. General Allenby, leading the British forces (remember Lawrence of Arabia), liberates Jerusalem for the first time in centuries from Turkish/Muslim rule. The date on the Jewish calendar–you guessed it: Kislev 24! That evening the Jewish soldiers in the British army celebrated Chanukah and went to the Wall in openness and freedom. The Torah reading that week was Mikketz (Gen 41), where JOSEPH is raised to power and saves Judah. And the Haphtorah reading, for the special Sabbath of Chanukah, as it is today, is the fascinating Zechariah 2:14-4:7! Note how it begins: “I have returned to Zion,” which seems to be the essential meaning of THIS DAY.
It is doubtful that Allenby was aware, during the heat of the battle, of even Chanukah, but certainly he knew nothing of Kislev 24.
If we begin checking in history over the past 2520 years (remember that number), there have been numerous times when Kislev 24 has played a large part, and even a smaller more symbolic part, in the unfolding of redemptive history. For example, no matter what one’s view of Yeshua might be, it seems in all likelihood that Yeshua was conceived on this day, nine months before his birth in September 3 BCE.
Some years ago it came to light that the encounter David Horowitz had at the “cave of the Sanhedrin,” with his teacher Moshe Guibbory, as recounted in his autobiography, Thirty-three Candles, was on Friday night, December 16/17, 1927–and again, you guessed it, this was Kislev 24th. The Torah reading was Vayeshev, which begins the Joseph cycle, and the Haphtorah was Amos 2:6-3:8, which seems quite appropriate. Horowitz had no idea of this until over 50 years later when it was pointed out to him by others.
Now, a tiny bit on the numbers. Note, these important visions came in the year 520 BCE. The year 2000/2001 marks 2520 years since that first Kislev 24 vision of Haggai. The number 2520 is interesting, it has several mystical mathematical properties, but one most obvious one is that it is 7 x 360, or seven “prophetic years.” A prophetic year in the Bible is 360 days, thus we get in the books of Daniel and Revelation the period of 1260 days for 3.5 years. There are a number of indications, both in the Torah and Prophets, especially Ezekiel, that a kind of “day for a year” principle applies in Prophecy, and accordingly, the official “Exile” of Joseph and Judah would last 2520 years. Perhaps this is the meaning of the phrase “after two days” and “on the third day” references in Hosea 6. Now Judah was essentially “restored” in type at least, in the year 520, but the full restoration, and the union of things between Judah and Joseph is yet to come, “after two days” according to Hosea (a day is a “thousand years” in these prophetic texts). The point is, based on this chronology, we are “in” the third day, as of the year 2000. And indeed, it does appear we have begun to experience a “shaking of all things.” Whether this is the ultimate upheaval to which Haggai refers remains to be seen.
It is also worth noting, in terms of Kislev 24, that if you add 2300 days (the figure in Daniel 8) to that day, you always, on the Jewish calendar, come to the last day of Unleavened Bread, oddly something like 6.3 years later. In other words, it is sort of a strange figure. And there are then various interesting ways, too complicated to go into here, that the periods of Daniel (1260/1290/1335) fit in, taking one to Shavuot of any given sequence of years. We do know for certain that the 2300 “days” was fulfilled as a “day for a year” running from Alexander’s defeat of Darius in 334 BCE (June 7), to the day, to June 7, 1967–when Jerusalem was liberated by the Israelis in the Six Day War. The point seems to be that Alexander’s march to Jerusalem began a period of 2300 days/years of the trampling of Jerusalem. So what this seems to indicate is that there is a larger (day for a year) fulfillment of these periods, as well as a shorter “day for a day” fulfillment, once the “countdown” begins.
One might conclude then, from these indications, that on some Kislev 24, at some year “on our days and in our time” (whether past or future), people will come to recognize that Haggai’s “shaking” did indeed begin. It does not seem likely that time has quite yet come, but every year at this time one’s thoughts go to this date, given such an important designation by Haggai and Zechariah. On a personal level, it seems it can always be a date of “renewal” for any of us, and a time of new beginnings, looking to both the past and to the future.