Dec 16, 2006

The History of Hanukkah I

I wrote this play several years ago and we filled our living room with about 100 people, having all guests participate in the play. Since Jesus celebrated Hanukkah, as Christians, we should understand the history of it. Hanukkah began at sundown last night and continues for eight days. Since this is a lengthy play, I have divided it into eight days as well, so come back each day for another installment of Christian history, prophesied and fulfilled in God's Word.

Although we Christians often say there were 400 silent years between the two testaments, those 400 years were actually extremely important to us as Christians. God foretold in great detail in the book of Daniel what would happen during those 400 years before the birth of the Messiah. Let’s listen to Daniel tell us about his two visions in which the Lord gave us the story of what happened starting in 332 BC. You can find his prophecies for tonight’s story in Daniel, chapters eight and eleven.

Daniel: Suddenly a male goat came from the west, across the surface of the whole earth, without touching the ground; and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes.
Then he came to the ram that had two horns, which I had seen standing beside the river, and ran at him with furious power. And I saw him confronting the ram; he was moved with rage against him, attacked the ram, and broke his two horns. There was no power in the ram to withstand him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled him; and there was no one that could deliver the ram from his hand.

The meaning of this vision was made known to Daniel a few verses later.

Daniel: The ram which you saw, having the two horns, - they are the kings of Media and Persia. And the male goat is the kingdom of Greece. The large horn that is between its eyes is the first king.

(Enter Alexander)

History books such as those found in the Apocrypha tell us what happened during those 400 “silent” years. Having just defeated the Persian armies two years earlier, this young Greek king, Alexander the Great, marched into Jerusalem in 332 BC. That victory had given him control over all that the Persians had ruled, which included Judea, the land of the Jews, with Jerusalem as its capital city.

Much to Alexander’s surprise, his soldiers met no resistance in the Jerusalem. Quite the opposite!

(Enter Jews and High Priest)

The Jewish High Priest came with a procession to greet him. Alexander was pleased by this welcome. He proved to be a tolerant leader, who allowed the Jews to govern themselves in many ways. He allowed them to observe their religious law and he did not insist that young Jewish men join his army. For their part, the Jews declared that they would name all male babies born in the first year of his reign Alexander.

The Jews were used to being ruled by foreigners. The change in power from the Persians to the Greeks seemed to mean that taxes were ultimately paid to someone else, little more. The actual collecting of the taxes, as well as other governing tasks over Judea, was carried out by the Jewish High Priest in Jerusalem and Alexander did not interfere with this practice.

The Temple in Jerusalem was the seat of the High Priest’s governing. It was the most important building in Jerusalem and in all of Judea. More than a governing institution, it was a visible reminder of God’s presence and a source of great pride. Especially in the face of foreign rule, the Temple was a unifying bond for all Jews.

Farmers who lived in Jerusalem or in the small villages that surrounded the city’s walls came to the Temple to offer sacrifices to God. With the city’s artisans and merchants, they gathered at the Temple, maintaining the strength of their religious beliefs. The change from Persian rule to Alexander’s leadership didn’t change their day-to-day existence, or their reverence for God and their religion, at least not right away.

Daniel: Therefore the male goat grew very great.

But Alexander had a dream of how the world might be under his rule. He wanted to do more than just receive taxes from conquered peoples. He wanted to spread the Greek way of life everywhere. It was fine for people to govern themselves and, for now, to observe their own ways of life. But Alexander wanted to unite eventually all people into one culture, the Greek culture. He wanted them to learn the Greek language, and to study Greek philosophy, science, and art. Alexander planned to do this by encouraging his solders to move into various parts of his empire. They would live with the people there, marry, and start families. In time, the soldiers would help the people learn about Greek customs and Greek thought.

The Jews were not excluded from Alexander’s dream. But to the Jews, learning about Greek ways posed no major problem. It was interesting to study new ideas, to learn a new language and customs. Besides, Jews were still able to live their lives by their own religious beliefs, following the Law of the Torah.

Daniel: But when he became strong, the large horn was broken, and in place of it, four notable ones came up toward the four winds of heaven.

When Alexander died after only twelve years in office, quarrels over power erupted among his generals, Ptolemy and Seleucus.

(Enter Ptolemy and Seleucus.)

They divided the empire, with Ptolemy taking Egypt and Seleucus taking Syria and Asia Minor. But they both wanted control of Judea. Ptolemy won. He did this by entering and seizing Jerusalem. He marched into the city on the Sabbath and was astonished when the Jews made no effort to defend themselves, thinking they must be foolish people.

The kings who succeeded Ptolemy generally believed in “live and let live.” For more than a century, Jews continued to pay their taxes to the Ptolemic leaders while maintaining their own self-government under their High Priest. Jews also kept up their own cultural and religious practices, while learning more and more of the Greek ways. This learning continued to be encouraged by the Greek rulers over time. Their goal was hellenization – the total acceptance of the Greek customs, ideals, and language by all people. The Greeks didn’t force this, but they tried to introduce their own ways into daily life, mainly by encouraging Greeks to move in and settle among other people.

(To be continued tomorrow.)

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