The culture came first, the foreign gods followed

While our focus during Hanukkah is on the miraculous Maccabee victory over the greatest army in the world at that time and on the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jersualem, this holiday offers us some imporant insights if we ask the right questions. A good question to ask might be, “What led up to the Greek attack and takeover of the Temple in Jerusalem?   

Hanukkah in a Nutshell

For those who are not familiar with the Hanukkah story, it commemorates the victory of the Maccabees, a band of devout Jews, over the Greek armies led by Antiochus IV, Greek King of the Seleucid empire, in 168 BC. Antiochus had outlawed Jewish worship and defiled the Holy Temple with idol worship (pigs were sacrificed on the altars and a statue of Zeus was placed in the Temple).

What Led to the Greek Invasion?

In getting to our original question – “What led up to tyhe Greek attack and takeover of the Temple in Jerusalem?” – we need only to look at the generation preceding Antiochus IV which set the stage for him to do his dirty deeds in Jerusalem. The conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC had spread Greek culture all throughout the ancient Middle East, and many Jews living in Judea began adopting the ways of the pervasive Greek culture. At that time, man was the measure of all things in Greek culture, and individual intellect, physical strength and beauty were its ideals. It goes without saying that these Greek ideals are diametrically opposed to biblical ones.

The Greek culture infiltrates the priesthood

To the Jews living in Jerusalem\Judea during the 2nd century BC, the world culture was Greek. To adopt Greek culture was to gain access and influence in the Greek world system. It affected the way people dressed, spoke, the way they did business and government. Jerusalem actually prospered under Antiochus the III, and Greek influence had even reached members of the priesthood who had adopted Greek culture alongside their service of God in the Temple.

By the time Antiochus IV showed up, he was able to leverage control over the office of the High Priest, insuring they would be friendly and open to Greek culture. With help from the High Priest, Antiochus built a Greek gymnasium, a place where men practiced nude sports, just a stones throw from the Temple. For all the observant Jews, a line had been crossed, and they threw out the Hellenized High Priest. That is when Antiochus IV got heavy-handed and decided to teach the Jews a lesson for messing with his setup. The mask came off and his real agenda became clear: total takeover.

Hanukkah Lessons

Antiochus did not come out of nowhere. He came after the Jews in Judea went through a process of adopting the mindset and worldview of the Greeks. Today, we each are the temples of God, and we live in a world culture that is still very much Greek: self-centered, intellectual, and obsessed with physical beauty. We all struggle with renewing our minds with the Word of God and putting on the Mind of Messiah in the face of the culture that surrounds us. The Hanukkah story shows us that adopting the ways and mindset of the world can lead us to a point of erecting idols in our hearts, making us weak and vulnerable to succumbing to the enemy.

A sad note on the amazing Maccabee victory is that within a generation the Maccabees had themselves become power-hungry and adopted Greek culture alongside their Temple worship. It is not surprising that less than a hundred years later, the Messiah would be born who is the only answer for our constant struggle with the outside world: being born again within so we can shine His light without.

May we all know Yeshua’s grace and blessings to be able to shine His light this holiday season!

by Gil Afriat



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