The past two years in our family, we have done much learning about and celebrating the seven Biblical feasts. I had no idea how much it would change us when I made the New Year’s resolution in 2016 to learn about the Biblical feasts and incorporate them somehow into the culture of our family. I won’t go into all the changes, but if you’re interested in hearing the story or have any specific questions, feel free to message me. I’d love to chat with you.
One of the changes is that when Christmas came around this year, we all found ourselves very excited to talk about and celebrate the birth of our Messiah but feeling pretty meh about all the rest of it. After celebrating other holidays so purely focused on God, we couldn’t get excited about all the cultural parts of Christmas. (Please do not read this as a judgment on anyone who celebrates Christmas and gets really excited about every part of it! I know without a doubt that many do so with a pure heart. I’m just sharing where we found ourselves this year.)
We sat down and talked about it with the older kids who were feeling much the same way, and we decided as a family to keep our Christmas very small, doing gift exchanges with our friends and family who wanted to but keeping our home celebrations to a small birthday party for Jesus and our traditional Kings’ Day activities.
As we talked, we found we were all a little interested in learning about Hanukkah and Purim. These are not included in the seven Biblical feasts appointed by God in Leviticus, but they are both mentioned in the Bible as something Jesus participated in (Hanukkah for sure and Purim most likely). Since our whole impetus in starting our journey with the feasts was that we wanted to celebrate the holidays Jesus celebrated, we all decided Hanukkah and Purim were something we wanted to learn about and possibly incorporate into our family’s calendar.
And so began our study. We quickly found that Purim included an exchange of gifts and giving to the poor (Esther 9:19) so we decided to push the exchange of gifts with each other that we used to do at Christmas to Purim, which is coming at the end of February. (I think the kids all breathed a sigh of relief that there would still be a gift-exchanging holiday in our year! But I also saw some relief that they wouldn’t feel torn anymore about how excited they were about their presents when they felt like they should be focusing on Jesus’ birthday.)
To learn about all the other feasts, we have stuck pretty closely to the Biblical accounts of them because our goal was not to become Jewish culturally, but to follow Jesus by celebrating what He celebrated. So we have looked at any commands given in Scripture for how to celebrate the feasts and done our best to follow those without looking too closely at how the holidays are celebrated in modern times (unless we’re just curious.) But Hanukkah is different in that, other than mentioning that Jesus was at the temple at the time of Hanukkah (John 10:22-23), there are no instructions or mentions in Scripture.
So we started looking at historical texts like the Books of Maccabees and the writings of Josephus, and we looked for lots of helps from others in understanding these ancient documents. Providentially, right in the middle of this search, I was asked to review an ARC of Angela Hunt’s next book, Judah’s Wife. I agreed, actually thinking it was Biblical fiction about Jacob’s son Judah, but then quickly found out that it was fiction about the life of Judah Maccabaeus, also know as Judas Maccabee, the human hero of the story of Hanukkah (because of course, God is the real hero!) I couldn’t believe God had sent me this book to read right as I was desiring to learn more about the origins of this holiday!
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About the Book, Judah’s Wife
Title: Judah’s Wife
Author: Angela Hunt
Series: The Silent Years, book 2 (but these are stand-alone books from different parts of history in the 400 years between the Biblical books of Malachi and Matthew.)
Publication Date: January 2, 2018
Publisher: Bethany House
Print Length: 384 pages
Summary from the back of the book:
To Be Silent Would Be to Deny Their God, To Defy Would Bring the Wrath of the King.
Seeking quiet and safety after a hard childhood, Leah marries Judah, a strong and gentle man, and for the first time in her life Leah believes she’ll have peace. But the very nation Judah was named for has been conquered by a cruel king, who decrees that all Jews are to conform to Syrian laws or risk death for following the laws of Moses.
Judah’s father resists the decree, igniting a war that will cost him his life. But before dying, he commands Judah to pick up his sword and continue the fight–or bear responsibility for the obliteration of Israel. Leah, who wants nothing but peace, struggles with her husband’s decision–what kind of God would destroy the peace she has sought for so long?
The miraculous story of the courageous Maccabees is told through the eyes of Judah’s wife, who learns that love requires courage . . . and sacrifice.
I so enjoyed reading this book! It met a desire I had to understand the story behind Hanukkah by making me feel as if I were right there, living it with Judah and Leah. I am so glad that Hunt chose to tell the story by alternating between their perspectives because hearing Leah’s perspective every now and again made the gruesome battles and rather boring tactical stuff that is the bulk of Judah’s story palatable and relatable. I said to my husband at one point that the book had more violence and fighting than I would have liked, but that the Maccabees themselves probably would have said the same thing about their lives so it was probably appropriate.
While others of Hunt’s books have bothered me because I felt like she took too much leeway with historical and Biblical facts, I knew so little about this period of history that I have no idea how much leeway she took other than what she discloses in the author’s note at the end, which was very informative and helpful to my learning. So that was not a problem for me with this book.
I think what I enjoyed the most about this book is how much I learned from the Maccabaeus family. I never realized how relevant their story would be to my life, but I was truly inspired by their refusal to compromise when it came to worshiping and obeying God. Whether the pressure to conform came in the form of persecution or in the form of promises of comfort and ease, they saw it for what it was and refused to stray from the path marked out for them by Scripture. This book added much to our family’s first celebration of Hanukkah, and I know I will return to it often as we celebrate in the future. From it and from other resources I’ll mention below, we were inspired to spend our eight days of Hanukkah celebrating and focusing on the following ideas:
- thanking God for sending Jesus, our Messiah, the Light of the World
- thanking God for pouring out His Spirit into each of our hearts, making our bodies His temple
- contemplating and asking God how we have compromised and sullied our temples and then asking for His cleansing
- rededicating ourselves as temples for His service and worship alone
Favorite quotes from Judah’s Wife:
I highlighted so many quotes from this book, more than 50 in fact! But here are a few of my favorites, and I’ve made a few of them into images for you to pin if you’d like:
“For God never sleeps, and though He may not communicate as we expect Him to, He can always speak to a receptive heart.”
“We have dedicated our hands but not our hearts. So when other ideas and foreign gods entered our land, our hands kept doing, but like an unfaithful wife our hearts followed strange gods.”
“I was not as learned as my father, as pious or as zealous. But I could be faithful, so until HaShem stopped me, I would do what I had been asked to do.”
“Do not fear the enemy, brothers. Remember how the Almighty has helped us in times past. He will give us the victory this time as well.”
“I considered the great military leaders of our history: Moses, Joshua, David. They were as different as chalk and cheese, yet they had one thing in common: each of them had waited on Adonai and heeded His voice. When they failed to wait and listen, they suffered defeat.”
“The naysayers who lacked faith in HaShem could spread discouragement like a disease, and I would not have it. Not this time, not ever.”
“A single person, when inspired by HaShem and committed to the task for which Adonai had formed him, could change the world.”
“The real miracle of Hanukkah has nothing to do with oil and everything to do with how a ragtag group led by Judah Maccabaeus defeated one of the finest armies in the world and reclaimed the holy Temple.”
About the Author
The author of more than 100 published books and with more than 5 million copies of her books sold worldwide, Angela Hunt is the New York Times bestselling author of The Note,The Nativity Story, and Esther: Royal Beauty. Romantic Times Book Club presented Angela with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. In 2008, Angela completed her PhD in Biblical Studies in Theology. She and her husband live in Florida with their mastiffs. She can be found online at www.angelahuntbooks.com.
Other Hanukkah Resources
Here are a few other resources we found helpful in learning about Hanukkah:
Eight Lights: A Hanukkah Devotional for Followers of Yeshua by Darren N. Huckey
Why Should Believers Observe Hanukkah? – http://messianicfellowship.50webs.com/observehanukkah.html – (while we didn’t agree with everything in this article, we found it very thought-provoking and helpful in clarifying our thoughts.)
Battle for Torah by Kay Kindall
Hanukkah is Coming! by Tracy Newman
Engineer Ari and the Hanukkah Mishap by Deborah Bodin Cohen
I hope to add to this list as we find more resources we appreciate. If you have any you’d like to recommend, please leave them in the comments below!