Today is the first day of the month called Tevet. It also the sixth day of Hanukkah. It was on this day that a young Benjamite girl named Hadassah – better known as Esther – was presented to the king of Persia as recorded in Scripture.
“So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tevet, in the seventh year of his reign. The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” (Esther 2:16-17)
This marriage came about through very strange circumstances; the previous queen was put away and a search was commenced to find another suitable candidate. Stranger still is the fact that a Jewish girl was married to a gentile, presumably pagan, man. Ironically the date of this marriage coincided with the day in Hebrew history that Ezra convened a meeting to discuss the problem of Jews marrying foreign women (Ezra 10:16). So on one hand the Bible chronicles a Jewish girl marrying a pagan king and on the other, a Jewish priest addressing the problem of intermarriages. What’s going on?
The Bible makes clear that, initially, Ahasuerus didn’t realize that Esther was Jewish. That part of her identity was kept concealed from everyone. We presume that he was unaware that her real name was Hadassah and that she was known to him only as Esther. This is interesting because the Hebrew spelling for Esther can also be read as the Hebrew word אסתר esater, meaning “I will conceal.” The implication being that it was the Creator who concealed her.
The fact that God concealed one of His own among heathen people has a connection with the observance of Hanukkah. During the festival, the story of Joseph is read, specifically the portion where he was summoned before Pharaoh and transformed from prisoner of Egypt into the Viceroy of Egypt. Moreover, he was given the Egyptian name Zaphnath-Paaneah which is how he was known to his brothers when they came seeking relief from the drought that had stricken Canaan. The point is this: they didn’t recognize him as their brother because, as He did with Esther, God had concealed Joseph among the nations.
It is also during Hanukkah that we read about the ultimate reason for Joseph’s sojourn into Egypt. Thinking Benjamin was going to be made a slave to the Egyptians, Judah steps forward and offers himself in Benjamin’s stead. Seeing that the brother who had once betrayed him loved his younger brother in this way is what provoked Joseph to reveal his true identity. In an instant, the one who was believed to be an Egyptian was revealed to be a son of Jacob and the seed of Abraham. As a result, you could say that, in that moment, all Israel was saved!
The story of Hanukkah teaches us many lessons. Though some focus on burning candles and legends about miraculous oil, the essence of the season speaks of breaking off the tyrannical yoke of the heathen nations in order to acknowledge the sovereignty of the God of Israel. It celebrates the notion that we are not to conform to the mixed and mingled mindset of the nations but are to be a set apart people. However, it also acknowledges that, at times, God purposely allows for these oppressive circumstances that He might reveal those He has concealed among the nations. As we see in the stories of Joseph and Esther, though outward appearances often conceal the true nature of things, in time the truth will be revealed so that God’s purposes for His people might come to pass.
As believers, we must acknowledge that there is a hidden truth in the story of Hanukkah that begs to be revealed. In other words, our focus should not be on dreidels and the lights of a menorah but on discerning what is concealed beneath the surface of these things. In reality, the story of Hanukkah hints of the One who has forever and for all time broken the yoke of the oppressor from the necks of His people. The miraculous lights of Hanukkah speak of the One who is the Light of the World. You see, Hanukkah is really about the Messiah, albeit, hidden among the elements of the season.
But if He is hidden it is so that He might be revealed to His people and secure Israel’s salvation. This is, no doubt, why the story of Joseph is read at this time. Hanukkah looks to a future time when the Messiah will be revealed to His brethren, the Jewish people. Just as Joseph appeared to be a Gentile to Judah and his brothers, so too Yeshua now appears to many Jews to be a Gentile god, not a Jewish Messiah. However, as it was with Joseph, God will orchestrate circumstances whereby Yeshua will be revealed to the Jewish people so that “all Israel might be saved.”
And so, for those who celebrate Hanukkah, it is important to understand that, along with the festivities, food and fun, it is very important that we emphasize the essence of the holiday. Yes, we must throw off the shackles of spiritual tyranny and set ourselves apart from the mindset and deeds of the nations, however, we must acknowledge that we can’t do it in our own strength. We must rely upon the strength and authority that is available to us though the Messiah, the Light of the World. Where Hanukkah is concerned, He is the reason for the season.