(Despite it’s name, this article is part of a series exploring the themes of Yom Teruah. The connections of Yom Teruah to Messiah’s birth which will earnestly begin with the next article in this series.)
A large part of why Yom Teruah is overlooked by Christians as the true birthday of Messiah is the power of the Christmas spirit. Like a black hole, December 25th has so much gravity and power that breaking free from it’s grasp takes both amazing power and admirable bravery. The light of truth has a hard time escaping, and most believers are too afraid to even make the attempt. This date has a dark history that pre-dates Messiah’s birth, but actually does have much to do with both faithful worshipers of the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, as well as Messiah himself. The social and political parallels between believers then and now are striking and need to be explored. Let he who has eyes to see, let him see.
Regardless of your political leanings, most are painfully aware of the cultural divide in 21st Century America. Many are even aware about how we’ve managed to board this slippery slope. Rather than point at specific political platforms or social controversies, lets just agree that our current dystopia is happening by degrees. One half-truth, grey statement, or exaggeration moved the needle slowly but surely from truth to fiction. It’s the overused metaphor of boiling the frog (which, ironically, turns out also to be a lie). One generation after the next, the latest “standard” seems completely false and even shocking to the generation that watched the slide take place in slow motion. Several generations later, even the original context of the truth is so hard to explain that most stop even trying. And the slide continues.
The same slippery slope we all bemoan in our nation has already happened to Christian doctrine. Slowly, generation by generation, and for over 2000 years, we’ve chosen, or allowed others, to move that needle. The heat was turned on the frog, and the frog is the Church. Here’s the thing about the truth: the truth remains the truth even when when the vast majority have forgotten it. Ask any Prophet. That being said, let me encourage you that you and your family can take your experience with God deeper and embrace the biblical challenge to “worship Him in spirit and in TRUTH”. I personally took up this challenge 12 years ago, and it deepened my faith and increased the blessings in my life.
If we are being honest, the slipperiness began 6000 years ago, when the rules of life in paradise were explained to Adam and Eve. They were not given the choice of three trees: The Tree of Life, The Tree of Good, and The Tree of Evil. There were only two trees: the “Tree of Life” and the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”. One tree was authorized – the pure tree – The Tree of Life. Eat from this tree and continue with abundant and everlasting life. The unauthorized tree, however, was a mixture of Good and Evil. Eat from the mixture tree, and you will get ALL MIXED UP. I would imagine that the fruit of this tree sure looked tasty, since Satan’s sales pitch was pretty weak. Nevertheless, eating from the mixed fruit caused is what caused the cascading avalanche of confusion, lies, and death. Our God is not a God of confusion, nor is He a God who finds the mixing of good and evil acceptable. In fact, the term “wicked” comes from the idea of twisting things together (like a candle wick). As believers, our job is to discern good and evil–and pick good every time.
Next let’s move from the Garden, way into the future, to the “Golden Calf Incident” from Exodus 32. If you’ve read any of my Yom Teruah posts, you’ll already know that this is it’s Exodus origin-story. Here’s the scene: The Hebrew Israelites have just been delivered from their captivity in Egypt by the mighty hand of Yah, and are at the base of Mt. Sinai ready to receive instructions. Everyone at this point is a true believer in the awesome power of this newly discovered God, and is in complete fear of who He might be and what He might ask of them as a people. From the top of the fiery mountain comes His voice– asking them if they will accept his offer to be their God, and to follow his instructions. This is the altar-call of altar-calls. This is the groom asking the bride, “do you”? And the people unanimously say “we do”. Yah says “so do I”, and the betrothal is complete. The Ten Commandments are essentially wedding vows, the first 2 of which read as follows:
1) Do not have any other gods before me.
2) You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.
Seems pretty clear. What groom wouldn’t expect these vows from his bride? I am your only husband– don’t MIX your love for me or the way you express it with the way you used to love your prior gods in Egypt.
Anyway, Moses was climbs back up the mountain to pick up a written copy of the marriage licence, and is gone for 40 days, causing the rest of the new “bride” to get restless. Idols were how they had worshiped for 500 years in Egypt. This is what they knew, this was what they understood. No idols? Their new husband must have meant no idols to OTHER gods! So they crafted a golden calf, called it THE LORD (Aaron actually said “Today is a Feast day to YHWH!” and they had a huge party to celebrate their wedding. They mixed the pagan ways that were normal to them with the new and true ways of God which they barely understood.
Moses comes humming and skipping his way down the mountain, only to interrupt their little party. He smashes the marriage vows (he had anger issues, remember). God tells Moses to offer a second chance to his people proving that God’s grace was alive and well in the Old Testament. Choose to honor the commandments and side with Moses and God, or stick with their pagan traditions and die by the sword. Moses and his fellow Levites slew 3,000 of their own family members that day. They just could not leave the lies of their past ways behind, and honor God in the way he required: A pure relationship based on Truth as defined by HIM, not on our man-made traditions and delusions, not on simply what feels good to us.
Yeshua himself referenced this event in the gospel of Matthew .“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39 NASB).
Not too many Christmas cards reference that verse for some reason.
“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26).
Again, not exactly a Hallmark sentiment.
Here are more of Messiah’s words in Matthew 23:6-12 (brackets are mine for context) “They [religious leaders] love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ [great teacher]. As for you [my true disciples], do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ [my commentary: or Pastor, or Pope, or Minister]. You have but one teacher [The True Father], and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Yeshua’s point is that we each individually have to follow Him alone and His truth, leaving behind the traditions and teachings of our parents, relatives, teachers, pastors and cultures IF they contradict the His commandments. Obviously Yeshua did not advocate actually killing your family, or hating your parents, nor ban learning from someone more mature in their walk. But just like the Hebrews’ unsupervised party at the base of Mt. Sinai, we all have to make similar choices and pass that test. Can we humble ourselves enough to examine our traditions and leave them behind if they don’t line up with scriptural commandments?
Lets use Hanukkah as an easy-to-document example of how we’ve forgotten our own relevant Biblical history. Most Christians are unfamiliar with Hanukkah. The 7 commanded Moed in the Torah, are meant to be celebrated by all believers for all time, however Hanukkah is a traditional (not commanded) Jewish celebration. The irony is that Hanukkah is in full effect right in the middle of the Gospel of John, chapter 10:22-42. The very first Hanukkah, over 200 years before Messiah’s birth, was part of a far more fierce cultural battleground than modern America’s–but there are parallels and lessons to learn about how we exercise our faith during troubled times. To contemporaries to Messiah’s life, this Hanukkah history was as fresh as the Civil War is to Americans, and that’s not where the comparisons end. We need to look closely at that now 2000 year-old history to understand why our Messiah chose that holiday to preach what he preached.
It should be underscored further that the events of the first Hanukkah were also foretold in Daniel chapter 11. This revelation to Daniel was taken just as seriously by post-exile Jews as the Book of Revelation is treated by believers today. If we don’t understand Daniel, and we don’t understand Hanukkah, we are not just doomed to repeat the mistakes of our spiritual ancestors, we just might find ourselves fighting on the wrong side when the real battle begins. Messiah says in Matt 24:24 that even the very elect can be deceived and can go astray. Yeshua borrowed the phrase, “the abomination that causes desolation” from Daniel, describing a still-future event, but this phrase originates in the original Hanukkah story Daniel predicts.
Here is the Hanukkah crash-course, summarized from the historical books of Maccabees 1, and Maccabees 2. Some modern bible translations still have these books intact, and for hundreds of years after Yeshua these books were still considered part of the Old Testament by many denominations. Catholic Bibles, for example, still include these books today. The history and dates in Maccabees are not in dispute. I highly recommend reading them for yourself, since my Cliff’s notes below are clearly pathetic in comparison.
After the death of Alexander the Great (who was actually a friend to the Jews), the Greek kingdom was divided up, and Antiochus IV Epiphanies was given control over the region containing the Holy Land. In 165 BC, he began a full assault on the Scriptural way of life of the Jews in Judea– again, if you think the “culture wars” in 2020 are bad, you haven’t read Jewish history. If the Sabbath was caught being kept (Commandment #4) the observer was killed. If a baby was found to be circumcised, it was strangled and hung around the mother’s neck. Jews were forced to eat pork at sword point. The height of desecration took place when Antiochus killed a pig on The Holy Altar in the Temple, and splashed it’s blood on all of the holy furniture (The Menorah, The Altar of Incense, The Table of Shew Bread–all of it). He then took a large statue of Zeus, the chief god of Greece at the time (with Antiochus’ own face carved on it, according to some historians) and erected it in the Holy of Holies. behind the veil. Epiphanies (a title he gave himself) means GOD MANIFEST. This horrific event (prophesied in Daniel, Chapter 11) occurred on or near DECEMBER 25th, the traditional birthday of Zeus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mithra, and practically every other “God above all Gods” from all of the “Mystery Religions” of pagan cultures past.
Here’s the thing…Most Jews living in Jerusalem at the time were more than willing to bend or even reject Yah’s commandments and bow their knees to the Greek King. Most were eager to assimilate into the Greek culture, and even fight against their own brothers to defend their mixed traditions. The people who were supposed to be the light to the world–discerning between good and evil, and choosing good every time, had been deceived. They chose to not worship in spirit nor in truth. They likely found some false teacher to give them an excuse to eat the pork, embrace non-Biblical worship practices, embrace the latest re-branding of the late December holiday, and conform to the wicked ways of the world. I’m sure they convinced themselves they were just doing it to reach the lost, or because of their grandma, or doing it because it’s fun for the kids. There is nothing new under the sun.
However, as Yah always does, he rose up a passionate leader, Judah Maccabee (his name means “The Hammer”) who was able to rally the minority to defeat not only the Greek army, but had to fight members of his own tribe and family. His mission was to cleanse the temple and purge Greek’s pagan ways from the Biblical true ways. Go Judah with your bad self, and your awesome God! The war took 3 years, and after Maccabee’s victory, all of the holy furniture needed to be scrubbed and re-sanctified. The Jews chose the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev for the grand-reopening, since that was the anniversary of the original desecration as well as a victorious insult to the pagan birth date which drove Antiochus’ murderous fury). Hannukah means “Dedication”–referring to both the re-dedication of the Temple, as well as the re-dedication of the victorious faithful to Yah’s ways.
On the first Maccabean Hanukkah, the Maccabees and their allies began an 8-day celebration of the Feast of Sukkot, which normally would have occurred a few months earlier. Because the temple had not yet been cleansed, they postponed it until all was made ready. Better late than never. Sukkot celebrates the idea of God dwelling with humanity, originally in the form of the Wilderness Tabernacle, later with Solomon’s Temple, and finally (prophetically still future) in Revelation 21, with the coming of The New Jerusalem to earth.
Unlike the Greco-Roman solar calendar that most of the world still uses today, the Biblical calendar uses the sun, moon, and stars to determine days, months, and years. Therefore, the Hebrew month known as Kislev, like all Hebrew months, wanders within a 2 week window, but always occurs in what we’d call November or December. The original Hannukah was timed to the Winter Solstice, for the reasons mentioned above, but it can occur as early as Thanksgiving sometimes. When Messiah came to the temple on Hannukah, in John Chapter 10, the scene starts by specifically stating “It was Winter…”. Messiah’s particular Hannukah sermon was timed with the Winter Solstice, just as the original desecration, and it’s following restoration.
Yeshua himself risked his life (prematurely) by making the trek to Jerusalem for Hanukkah in order to make two important points. Firstly, this is the time and place where he declared in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” Messiah was claiming to be the real “Epiphanes”, while standing in the temple on that same exact spot as the false Epiphanes did 200 years earlier. Secondly, while bathed in the light of temple he declared that “HE was the light of the world”–restoring the sight to the spiritually blind. He was challenging the devout Jews of his day in exactly the same way these words challenge us today. He’s asking us to humble and examine ourselves for areas of our lives that have become twisted, mixed, or shadowy.
Messiah’s longest sermon in all of the Gospels essentially spans four chapters (John 7-10). He starts it during the Feast of Sukkot (which IS commanded) which occurs in the fall each year, and ends it at Hannukah in early winter. Now that is a LONG sermon. The theme of his teaching is The Light of God. Messiah heals a man born blind in the midst of it, to make his point. If you don’t suspect that you might be similarly blind, or at least standing in a dark room, consider the words of Yeshua, from John 9:39-41. “I have come into this world to judge it, so that those who are blind may see and so that those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees who were near him overheard this and asked him, “We aren’t blind, too, are we?” Yeshua told them, “If you were blind, you would not have any sin. But now that you insist, ‘We see,’ your sin still exists.” Earlier in that same sermon, Messiah said, “The truth shall set you free”, John 8:32.
The Body of Messiah desperately needs to be bathed in this light of God’s Truth, and to recognize the many, many errors of our ways. Like in the brief history of our secular nation, these errors are based in lies planted early in the history of our faith. Lies that were planted first by Satan in the garden, planted by a handful of misled but well-intentioned Jewish Rabbi’s, planted by passionate early “church fathers” often under pressure from the State-run churches, planted by various denominational leaders and reformers who invariably grabbed hold of one truth or another and built an entire new brand around it. As we dispel one lie after another, we as a body will be progressively more and more free. Just like turning on a light in a dark room, it may hurt our eyes momentarily, but we finally will know what room we have been standing in, and just maybe we’ll stop walking into walls. We need to not just understand that our frog has been boiled to death, we need to know that there shouldn’t have been a frog in the pot in the first place.
How about your family? Have their expectations of your life and their religious traditions superseded the Truth of Scripture? Have you ever examined the source of your denomination’s doctrines, or have you called someone else “Teacher” besides Yeshua? What about your culture’s traditions? Have you eagerly swallowed them hook, line, and sinker without even thinking if they are consistent with Scripture? The point of Hanukkah is truly about this re-dedication of yourself to the Truth, and a purging of your Holy Temple of all things “unclean”. In the battle of the Maccabees, would you have actually taken the side of the Greeks, imposing man made traditions and shunning the actual holidays that Yah Commands in scripture? Do your current actions and traditions say otherwise?
The history of the date, December 25, isn’t over–it was centuries after the Resurrection that the idea of twisting the birthday of the Roman Sun God with the birthday of Yeshua came about. Just like in the time of Hanukkah, the Roman Emperor issued a decree, and the red and green colors of Rome’s Saturnalia orgy became the colors of Christmas (but still not called “Christmas” for another 500 years still to come). Ham became a common centerpiece of the Christmas table, and eventually the fertility-god customs of bringing evergreen trees and wreaths into the house were twisted in. Even later, Santa Claus, a magical elf who drank Coke was twisted in–because…why not? The early Church, and even non-Messianic Jews continued to fight and die to keep the light and the truth alive.
The pilgrims who fled England to America knew all of this history, and Christmas celebrations were no small part of what they were escaping FROM. Christmas was banned by law in Boston until 1681!
Aren’t the original Hanukkah culture wars actually sounding more “Christian” by the second? If you plan on celebrating Christmas this year, spend some time looking at these scriptures. Challenge your family with my party-pooping fanatical rant and check it against history and the Word. Start the process of purging traditions that you find are contrary. This is what Paul meant when he said to “renew your mind” in Romans 12:2. Maybe even encourage Jews that time of year as they gather to remember their re-dedication to the one true God, whether they recognize the Messiah yet or not. In many ways, orthodox Jews are still fighting the same culture war today as The Hebrew Hammer did 2200 years ago.
13 years ago, when we began to be convicted of our inadvertent idolatry, Pamela and I decided not to “do” a Christmas tree. However, on Christmas Eve, on my way home from work, I suddenly was overwhelmed with this guilty feeling about depriving my children. I literally snuck off to a nursery and bought the Charlie Brown-est tree that was left and tied it to the roof of my car. Since we had just thrown away all of our tree decorations, I ran to Walmart, and bought balls and lights (at full price, since it was still 5 hours till Christmas). Everything was hidden in the garage until after everyone went to sleep. When the kids got up, everything was all ready. I remember my 5 year old son saying with wonder, “Dad. It really is Christmas!”. Score one for Dad. Woo Hooo. Actually… not. I had just experienced the “Christmas Spirit”, and not in the way that anyone would desire. The reality of it came later – I was like an alcoholic on a bender, sharing a swig with my little boy, while my wife glared with genuine and justified righteousness. Like I said, it’ll be a process.
I hope that by sharing this information well ahead of December 25th it will cause some to pause before entering into the orbit of the black hole. There is a biblical alternative right around the corner. Yom Teruah, the first day of the Seventh month–a true Holy day that needs to be embraced not simply to remember and honor one event in the past, but for what it means for the Holiness of our daily lives. Once you embrace the light, you’ll realize how dark the darkness really was. I hope to continue to make my case regarding the birth of Messiah on Yom Teruah in the next several articles.
Ephesians 5: 5-16 “Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Messiah and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the disobedient. So do not be associated with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore, it says: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Messiah will give you light. We must watch carefully then how we live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.”
(P.S. I call this article ‘Party Pooper’ for a reason. Regarding Hannukah, I need to note that there is exactly ZERO historical or scriptural evidence of any miracle regarding oil lasting 8 days. The tradition of the 9 branch “menorah” is simply a well-intentioned Jewish invention that we as a family choose to leave out so as not to distract from the true events at work during this important period of history. For the record, we also leave out gift-giving, oily foods, dreidels, and Hannukah bushes, too. Yes, that’s a thing. All of these traditions came about centuries after Messiah, and are as foreign to him as Christmas trees, wreaths, and stockings.)