Coincidence or Providence?
A Strange Convergence
This Thursday, November 28, 2013, Americans will celebrate our traditional Thanksgiving holiday. In a strange historical alignment, this day also begins the eight-day Jewish festival known as Hanukkah. Generally, Hanukkah falls closer to our Christmas observance, as it did in 2012. This year, however, we will witness a strange convergence, which will not occur again for at least 77,000 years! We might well consider if this intersection of American and Jewish thanksgiving observances comes by chance or by divine design?
The Origins of Thanksgiving
In 1621, the Pilgrims and Puritans at Plymouth—having escaped persecution for their faith throughout England and Europe—gathered together with members of the Wampanoag tribe to give thanks for safe arrival on these new shores, and for a bountiful harvest that year.
Later, in 1789, President George Washington called for the nation to set aside November 26 “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God” on the new nation. This was consistent with a proclamation made ten years earlier before Congress, in which he said, “And above all … he hath diffused the glorious light of the gospel, whereby, through the merits of our gracious Redeemer, we may become heirs of his eternal glory” (November 27, 1779).
Finally, in 1863—in the midst of the Civil War—President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday, drawing attention “to these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, [and to which] others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God … they are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
It is worth restating that the first celebrants of Thanksgiving were men and women who had risked everything, including their lives, to come to a new land where they might exercise freedom of conscience in regard to their faith.
The Story of Hanukkah
The Jewish observance of Hanukkah originated after the victory of the Maccabean forces over Antiochus IV, who dubbed himself “Epiphanes” (the appearance of god). The Maccabean war began when Antiochus—frustrated in his desire to conquer Egypt by the intervention of Rome—turned his eyes on the Promised Land.
In 170 B.C., he sought to subjugate the Jewish people to Greek culture and religion. He did this by declaring that the study of the Torah, Sabbath observance and worship, and the circumcision of male children, were outlawed. Those who violated this edict were to be crucified. Within three years, it is estimated that 80,000 faithful Jews met their deaths in horrible ways. He then profaned the altar of the temple in Jerusalem by offerings of swine, and set up therein an image of Zeus.
Finally, in 167 B.C.—in a small village called Modin just to the North of Jerusalem—a Greek official sought to force the priest, Mattathias, to offer a pig, or suffer the consequences. Mattathias responded by drawing his sword and slew the officer. He then declared, “Whoever is for God follow me,” and with his five sons fled into the Judean wilderness. As they were joined by ever greater numbers of warriors, his son Judas was chosen as leader of the Maccabees (meaning “Hammer” for the blows they struck at their enemies).
By 164 B.C., the Maccabees had recaptured the Temple Mount. When the Temple had been ceremonially purified, it came time to light the Menorah—the lampstand of seven branches. However, only one vial of consecrated oil had survived the conflict, still bearing the signet seal of the High Priest. It would take another seven days to prepare more consecrated oil. However, the lamp was lit and—miraculously—the single vial of oil lasted for eight days, during which more oil was prepared. Thus “the Feast of Dedication” was born out of the courage and sacrifice of those Maccabean warriors who fought and sacrificed to reclaim both spiritual and physical freedom out of tyranny.
It is worth noting that the total time of suffering under Antiochus was seven years (170–164 B.C.), and that it took just over three years for the Maccabees to win their fight. Here we have an historical preview of the coming Tribulation Period and of the “Abomination of Desolation” of which Jesus spoke (Mat 24:15, cf., Dan 11:31).
It is also worth noting that Jesus used “the Feast of Dedication” (Joh 10:22–30) to identify Himself as “the Christ,” that is, God Incarnate, declaring “I and My Father are one” (Joh 10:30). It is based on His identity that He is able to say, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (Joh 10:27–28).
Coincidence or Providence?
As we approach this “strange convergence” of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, it is worth asking: Is this just coincidence, or providence? Looking to the Middle East, we see the nation of Israel sitting under the threat of a nuclear Iran (a condition greatly exacerbated by the recent appeasement of Iran in our sell-out “deal”). Here at home in America, we see the ever-increasing governmental controls and intrusions into our private lives, which not only violate every facet of our Constitution, but ultimately can end only in some form of tyranny over every citizen of this land.
I believe there is a providential message in this alignment of these two “thanksgiving” observances. In both instances—whether of Maccabees or Puritans—there was something that had to come before reaping the blessings of freedom. It was something that necessarily had to precede the peace and prosperity for which they gave thanks. It was the courage to take a stand for truth and liberty. It was the willingness to risk losing everything, rather than meekly surrender the freedom of their faith on which all other freedoms depend.
We are not so far removed from the time of the Maccabees, where we are told that the Ten Commandments can no longer be displayed on our courthouses and in our public squares. We are commanded by a bloated, arrogant and increasingly thuggish government to keep our Bibles out of sight, our prayers in our churches, and our faith to ourselves. We are not far removed from our Pilgrim forefathers when we see edicts come down from on high declaring that the tenets of our “faith … once for all delivered for the saints” (Jud 1:3) must be subordinated to the transient whims of the masses “for the greater good.”
All of history converges on the cross of Christ to teach us that freedom is never free—that someone has to pay the price. Before the Gospel proclamation of the matchless grace of God could be given, the wrath of God had to be poured out on His only Son, Jesus Christ. Before we could ever preach “whosoever will may come” there had to be the “not My will, but Thy will be done,” Before the gift of eternal life could be offered in the child-like simplicity of “faith alone in Christ alone,” the Son of God had to endure the agonies of Gethsemane and Calvary, and bear the guilt and punishment of all our sins.
And to a far-lesser degree, before Hanukkah came the sacrifice of the Maccabees; and before Thanksgiving came the courage of men and women who left all known comforts and loved ones to come to a wilderness to be free. We live in times of great historical (and eternal) significance. Ours is a generation in which superficial fantasy is about to meet unshakeable reality. It is worth asking ourselves—as Thanksgiving draws near—whether we are willing to pay the price, to make the sacrifices that will enable future generations to give thanks for our courage. As we give thanks on this day, my prayer is that the Spirit of God will ignite a fire in our hearts to take a bold stand in our time—worthy of the Maccabees and the Pilgrims. Had we lived in their times, what would we have done? In these times in which we live, what will we do?
“Stop being overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Rom 12:21