The Golden Menorah that was in Solomon’s Temple (originally in the Tabernacle) is first mentioned in Exodus 25 where God gave the instructions for making the Tabernacle and all of its ‘furniture’. Called the מְנֹרַ֖ת זָהָ֣ב – (menorah zhav), meaning ‘golden menorah’, it is the first item mentioned in verses 31-40. The Hebrew word מְּנוֹרָה – ‘menorah‘ is translated as ‘candlestick’ in the KJV, but it is important to remember that the golden menorah was not a candlestick and it did not burn candles! The Golden Menorah (it was solid gold!) had six branches, three off of each side of the main stem. [See photo above.] Each branch along with the main stem held a ‘lamp’ for a total of seven lamps that burned “pure olive oil” (ie, kosher). Leviticus 24:1-2: “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamps to burn continually.”
The Eternal Light
The phrase in verse 2, “to cause the lamps to burn continually” is translated from the Hebrew phrase, לְהַעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד (l’ha-ah-lot nir tamid) which literally means ‘to go up an eternal light’. The Hebrew phrase ‘nir tamid‘ (eternal light) is often a synonym for the Menorah. The golden Menorah was the only light inside of the Holy Place and was never to go out. It was the priest’s duty to daily replenish the olive oil and to trim the lamps so they would always burn brightly. The Menorah was a constant physical reminder of the spiritual truth that Israel was God’s light of truth to the world concerning the one true God.
Dark Days – Religious Freedom Lost
The year was 164 B.C. – a very dark time in the history of Israel. The Greek king, Antiochus Epiphanes, held Judea in an iron grip and forbid all freedom of religion. He tried to force the Jews to accept Greek culture – including the false Greek gods. To prevent the Jews from worshipping the true God, Antiochus offered non-kosher offerings (swine) on the altar in the Temple to the Greek god Zeus. The prophet Daniel wrote about Antiochus (about 400 years BEFORE Antiochus lived) in Daniel 11:31, “and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.” With the desecration of the Temple, the Golden Menorah went out. The light of Israel did not shine.
Just One Person Makes a Difference – The Maccabees
However, just one person can truly make a difference and God delights to use, “the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” as the Apostle Paul would later write in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians. God proved His faithfulness to Israel and raised up an aged priest from the rural area of Modiin named Mattathias the Hasmonean, who sparked the revolt against the mighty Seleucid Empire of Antiochus by refusing to worship the Greek gods. Just ONE PERSON, but his courage spread to his family and in 166 BC, his son Judas Maccabee led an army of Jewish soldiers to victory over the Seleucid dynasty by using guerrilla warfare tactics. After the victory, the Maccabees entered Jerusalem in triumph and ritually cleansed the Temple, reestablished traditional Jewish worship and installed Jonathan Maccabee as high priest. The prophet Daniel also prophesied about the brave Maccabees in Daniel 11:32, “but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.”
David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.” I LOVE this quote because it is timeless and as true today as it was at the time of the Maccabees! Antiochus had desecrated the holy Temple so the priests had to first cleanse it and then re-dedicate it to the worship of the one true God. You can imagine that the very first ‘order of business’ in restoring the Temple was to rekindle the nir tamid in the golden Menorah! As already pointed out, the olive oil for the Temple Menorah had to be specially made by the priests. Jewish tradition tells us that only one single container of the kosher oil, (a one day supply), with the seal of the High Priest, was found. The Golden Menorah was re-kindled with this oil, but miraculously burned for eight days (while the priests prepared more), on a one day supply. I liken this miracle to the miracle of the oil performed by Elisha for the widow in 2 Kings 4.
This miracle is memorialized with four Hebrew letters on the side of the
dreidel. Dreidel ( דרײדל) is a Yiddish word. The Hebrew word is sevivon ( סביבון), from the root meaning, ‘to spin’. Each side of the dreidel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet: נ (Nun), ג (Gimel), ה (Hei), ש (Shin), which together form the acronym for “נס גדול היה שם” (Nes Gadol Hayah Sham) – “a big miracle happened there” with ‘there’ referring to the land of Israel. Dreidels made in Israel have a different fourth letter. They are inscribed with the letter פ (Pei), rendering the acronym, נס גדול היה פה, (Nes Gadol Hayah Poh) -“A great miracle happened here” referring to the miracle occurring in the land of Israel.
The eight day miracle is also remembered with a special menorah, called a Hanukiah, that has nine branches (instead of the normal seven of the Temple menorah) that is used during Hanukkah. One of the nine candles is called the shamesh – שמש – from the root of the Hebrew word meaning “to use”. It is set off from the other eight by either being taller or shorter or to the side. For each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, the shamesh candle is lit, and then used to light one candle the first night, two candles the 2nd night and so on until on the 8th night of Hanukkah, all the candles on the Hanukiah are lit.
Hanukkah is called the ‘feast of dedication’ as the Temple was re-dedicated to the worship of the true God. The word Hanukkah ( חנוכה) means ‘dedicate’. The Golden Menorah was also re-dedicated and re-lit to symbolize that once again, Israel was fulfilling her role of being a light to the world. Hanukkah points to God’s faithfulness to preserve His ancient people Israel by raising up a hero, in this case the Maccabees, to save them. In the spirit of the Maccabees, let us re-dedicate our lives to serve God – esp. in dark days. Remember that the Lord Jesus said in John, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5) But in the Sermon on the Mount, He said of His disciples, ”
“Ye are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14) Just ONE PERSON can make a big difference! Just ask Judas Maccabee! So when the days are dark, light a candle! If we walk in the path that Christ sets before us, our life will be a light to someone’s life!