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November 9, 2013 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

Thanksgiving Day will soon be upon us and this year is very special.  We have the opportunity to celebrate three things at the same time.  It’s almost as good as “buy one, get two free.”  The first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving Day, November 28.  Actually the first day of Hanukkah begins at sunset on the 27th, but that’s a detail.  According to the research of David Brickner, Executive Director of Jews for Jesus, this has happened only once before, 125 years ago.  Furthermore it will not happen again until the year 79, 811.  I may celebrate it then, but it will be in the New Jerusalem and upon the new earth.

The history of Hanukkah goes back to the year 165 B.C. and what the prophet Daniel calls “the Abomination of Desolation (11:31).”  Jesus refers to this text in his discourse on the Mount of Olives during the Passion Week.  It refers to Antiochus IV’s attempt to impose Greek culture upon the city of Jerusalem and specifically upon the Temple and Jewish religious practice.

Antiochus took the throne of Syria in the year 171 B.C.  He was in constant conflict with the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt and in 168 B.C. he was defeated in a battle he anticipated winning.  He came back to Jerusalem bitter and revengeful.  Israel had always preferred Ptolemaic rule since Egypt did not try to interfere with Judaic religion and culture.

In 168 he destroyed much of Jerusalem.  He was particularly brutal in his treatment of the Temple, the center of Jewish worship.  He smashed the porches and gates.  He robbed the Temple of all its treasure, which was considerable.  He erected a statue of himself in the guise of Zeus, the supreme gods of the Greeks, on the holy alter in the Temple courtyard.  Then, he offered the supreme insult by sacrificing a swine upon the alter.

Syrian troops were sent throughout the territory of Israel to enforce the new regime.  When they came to Modin, a small village 17 miles northwest of Jerusalem, they encountered the priestly family of Hasmon, a descendent of Jehoiarib of the first division of the priesthood.  Mattathias was the senior member of the family at the time, and he had five sons.   The family refused to comply with the order to sacrifice a pig.  Violence erupted. The military unit was killed and the Hasmonian revolt was begun.  The family took up the nickname of Maccabees which is Hebrew for “the hammers.”

The story of the three year revolt is contained in the books of First and Second Maccabees.  It finished in the rededication of the Temple and the reinitiating of the sacrificial system on Kislav 25, 165 B.C., exactly three years after its defilement by Antiochus.

The record of the celebration suggests that it was very much like the celebration of the Feast of Sukkot, which could not be celebrated at its proper time because the nation was at war.  It was a belated Feast of Tabernacles.

As a result this year on Thanksgiving we have the a congruence of three celebrations – American Thanksgiving, the Hebrew Celebration of the rededication of the Temple (Hanukkah), and a reflection of the Feast of Tabernacles, which is the Hebrew Thanksgiving or harvest festival celebrated back in September.

All of these occasions point to God, who is the giver of every perfect gift.  We need to keep that focus.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs