A major part of the Channukah story is the miracle of the oil. In fact, when the Hasmonian dynasty fell out of favor, celebration of Channukah shifted in theme from the military victory itself, to the miracle of the oil. The miracle of the oil is not actually mentioned in the books of the Maccabees however the Talmud does recount it:
What is the reason for Channukah? For our Rabbis taught: On
the 25th of Kislev begin the days of Channukah, which are
eight, during which lamentation for the dead and fasting are
forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they
defiled all the oils in it, and when the Hasmonean dynasty
prevailed against and defeated them, they [the Maccabees]
searched and found only one cruse of oil which possessed the
seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient oil for
only one day's lighting; yet a miracle occurred there and they
lit [the lamp] for eight days. The following year these days
were appointed a Festival with the recitation of Hallel and
It was also recounted in the Megillat Antiochus (c. 200 CE):
The Hasmoneans entered the Sanctuary, rebuilt the gates,
closed the breaches, and cleansed the Temple court from the
slain and the impurities. They looked for pure olive oil to light
the Menorah, and found only one bottle with the seal of the
Kohen Gadol so that they were sure of its purity. Though its
quantity seemed sufficient only for one day’s lighting, it lasted
for eight days owing to the blessing of the Elohim of heaven
who had established His Name there. Hence, the Hasmoneans
and all the Jews alike instituted these eight days as a time of
feasting and rejoicing, like any festival prescribed in the Torah,
and of kindling lights to commemorate the victories Elohim
had given them.
There has been some controversy concerning the miracle of the oil. Some say that it was a later innovation, since it is not mentioned in either 1st of 2nd Maccabees. I am convinced that the miracle of the oil did take place for three reasons:
1. It is implied in 2nd Maccabees (we will cover this below)
2. It is recorded in other early sources, such as the Megillat Antiochus.
3. It fits the Last Days prophetic imagery to well for that relationship to be coincidental.
While none of the books of the Maccabees mention this miracle, there are hints of it found in 2Maccabees (which is written on the REMEZ level 2nd Maccabees opens with two letters. The first is a letter to the Jews in Egypt (2Macc. 1:1-9) and the second is more specifically to Aristobulus and to the Jews in Egypt (2Macc. 1:10-2:18). The purpose of these letters, is to explain to the Jews in Egypt why they should keep the eight day Channukah Festival, despite the fact that it is not one of the feasts prescribed in the Torah. The letter begins with events concerning Nehemiah and works it way backwards to the time of Moses. The letter encourages the Egyptians to “celebrate the feast of tabernacles and the feast of fire” which he says “was given when Nehemiah, who built the Temple and the alter, offered sacrifices.” (2Macc. 1:18) What is “the feast of fire”? Is it a reference to the original feast of Tabernacles or to Channukah which originated as a belated feast of Tabernacles? The text is unclear. The Letter goes on to explain the original “miracle of the oil” which took place in association with the dedication of the Second Temple built by Nehemiah:
19: For when our fathers were led into Persia, the priests that
were then devout took the fire of the altar privily, and hid it in
an hollow place of a pit without water, where they kept it sure,
so that the place was unknown to all men.
20: Now after many years, when it pleased God, Nehemiah,
being sent from the king of Persia, did send of the posterity of
those priests that had hid it to the fire: but when they told us
they found no fire, but thick water;
21: Then commanded he them to draw it up, and to bring it;
and when the sacrifices were laid on, Nehemiah commanded
the priests to sprinkle the wood and the things laid thereupon
with the water.
22: When this was done, and the time came that the sun shone,
which afore was hid in the cloud, there was a great fire kindled,
so that every man marvelled.
23: And the priests made a prayer whilst the sacrifice was
consuming, I say, both the priests, and all the rest, Jonathan
beginning, and the rest answering thereunto, as Nehemiah did.
24: And the prayer was after this manner; O Lord, Lord God,
Creator of all things, who art fearful and strong, and righteous,
and merciful, and the only and gracious King,
25: The only giver of all things, the only just, almighty, and
everlasting, thou that deliverest Israel from all trouble, and
didst choose the fathers, and sanctify them:
26: Receive the sacrifice for thy whole people Israel, and
preserve thine own portion, and sanctify it.
27: Gather those together that are scattered from us, deliver
them that serve among the heathen, look upon them that are
despised and abhorred, and let the heathen know that thou art
28: Punish them that oppress us, and with pride do us wrong.
29: Plant thy people again in thy holy place, as Moses hath
30: And the priests sung psalms of thanksgiving.
31: Now when the sacrifice was consumed, Nehemiah
commanded the water that was left to be poured on the great
32: When this was done, there was kindled a flame: but it was
consumed by the light that shined from the altar.
33: So when this matter was known, it was told the king of
Persia, that in the place, where the priests that were led away
had hid the fire, there appeared water, and that Nehemiah had
purified the sacrifices therewith.
34: Then the king, inclosing the place, made it holy, after he
had tried the matter.
35: And the king took many gifts, and bestowed thereof on
those whom he would gratify.
36: And Nehemiah called this thing Naphthar, which is as
much as to say, a cleansing: but many men call it Naphta
The account is unclear as to whether these events took place at a Suukot (Tabernacles) or on the 25th of Chislev. The author probably assumes that his audience is familiar with this account and knows which was the case. If it took place on a Sukkot, it might explain how Sukkot has become the original “festival of lights” a characteristic that transferred to Channukah. Sukkot was known as the “Festival of Light” and at this feast he entire city of Jerusalem was filled with light from giant 75 feet tall menorahs. (m.Sukkah 5:2–4; b.Sukkah 52b).
This author’s intent was to justify the observance of Channukah through this account, which certainly implies that Channukah also involved a similar “miracle of the oil”. The letter goes on to recount another apocryphal event, in which Jeremiah also took some of this “fire” (which by implication, would also have taken the form of the miraculous thick liquid (oil) “nephthar” along with certain Temple artifacts including the Ark of the Covenant, hiding them up in a cave in Mount Moab:
1: It is also found in the records, that Jeremy the prophet
commanded them that were carried away to take of the fire, as
it hath been signified:
2: And how that the prophet, having given them the law,
charged them not to forget the commandments of the Lord, and
that they should not err in their minds, when they see images of
silver and gold, with their ornaments.
3: And with other such speeches exhorted he them, that the law
should not depart from their hearts.
4: It was also contained in the same writing, that the prophet,
being warned of God, commanded the tabernacle and the ark to
go with him, as he went forth into the mountain, where Moses
climbed up, and saw the heritage of God.
5: And when Jeremiah came thither, he found an hollow cave,
wherein he laid the tabernacle, and the ark, and the altar of
incense, and so stopped the door.
6: And some of those that followed him came to mark the way,
but they could not find it.
7: Which when Jeremiah perceived, he blamed them, saying,
As for that place, it shall be unknown until the time that God
gather his people again together, and receive them unto mercy.
8: Then shall the Lord shew them these things, and the glory of
the Lord shall appear, and the cloud also, as it was shewed
The Author of 2nd Maccabees is telling us that on the Last day when Messiah returns there will be a great miracle, the pillar of cloud will return and indicate the hidden position of the Ark of the Covenant, Temple artifacts and the “Naphthar” the oil that will miraculously restore the fire of the alter for the Millennial Temple. The letter goes on to recount Solomon’s dedication of the First Temple, and how the original fire of the alter of the First Temple was also a great miracle:
8b …and as when Solomon desired that the place might be
9: It was also declared, that he being wise offered the sacrifice
of dedication, and of the finishing of the temple.
10: And as when Moses prayed unto the Lord, the fire came
down from heaven, and consumed the sacrifices: even so
prayed Solomon also, and the fire came down from heaven,
and consumed the burnt offerings.
11: And Moses said, Because the sin offering was not to be
eaten, it was consumed.
12: So Solomon kept those eight days.
This refers back to the events recorded in 2 Chronicles :
Now when Shlomo had made an end of praying, the fire came
down from heaven, and consumed the burnt-offering and the
sacrifices, and the glory of YHWH filled the house.
(2Chon. 7:1 HRV)
This was part of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, which took place at Sukkot (2Chron. 7:8-10; 1Kn. 8:2).
Thus 2nd Maccabees makes the case that each Temple dedication was tied to a “miracle of fire” and to the eight day Sukkot celebration. It was manifest by the miracle of fire that came down from heaven at the dedication of the First Temple during Sukkot. It was manifest at the dedication of the Second Temple and the miracle of the fire from the Naphthar. Finally it was manifest at the re-dedication of the Second Temple with the miracle of the oil.
The miracle of the oil points to the last days in two important ways. To begin with, the finding of the oil in the Temple as the re-dedication prefigures the finding of the Naphthar as well as the Ark of the Covenant and other Temple artifacts which will bring about another “miracle of fire” at the dedication of the Millennial Temple.
There is another important way in which the miracle of the oil prefigures the Last Days. At the end of the three and one half years of the Great Tribulation, when Messiah shall cleanse His Sanctuary, he will find a remnant. Just as the oil had the seal of the Cohen HaGadol, the remnant shall also be sealed:
2 And I saw another angel who ascended from the rising of the
sun, and he had the seal of the Living Eloah. And he cried
aloud with a loud voice to the four angels--those to whom it
was given to harm the earth and the sea.
3 And he said, Do not harm the earth nor the sea, not even the
trees, until we seal the servants of Eloah between their eyes.
4 And I heard the number of those sealed, one hundred and
forty-four thousand from all the tribes of Yisra'el.
(Rev. 7:2- 4 HRV)
This seal is the seal of the Ruach HaKodesh:
11 And we were chosen in Him, even as He marked us out
beforehand, and He desired: He who performs everything
according to the purpose of His will,
12 That we, those who first hoped in the Messiah, should be to
the esteem of His glory.
13 In Him also, you heard the Word of Truth, which is the
Good News of your life, and in Him, you believed and were
sealed with the Ruach HaKodesh which was promised,
14 Which is the token of our inheritance, unto the redemption
of those who have Life, and unto the glory of His honor.
(Eph. 1:13 HRV)
In the Tanak, the olive oil of the menorah is identified as symbolic of the Ruach HaKodesh:
1 And the angel that spoke with me returned and waked me, as
a man that is wakened out of his sleep.
2 And he said unto me: What see you? And I said, I have seen,
and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top
of it, and its seven lamps thereon; there are seven pipes: yes
seven, to the lamps, which are upon the top thereof.
3 And two olive trees by it: one upon the right side of the bowl,
and the other upon the left side thereof.
4 And I answered and spoke to the angel that spoke with me,
saying, What are these, my master?
5 Then the angel that spoke with me answered and said unto
me: Know you not what these are? And I said, No, my master.
6 Then he answered and spoke unto me, saying: This is the
word of YHWH unto Z’rubavel, saying: Not by might, nor by
power: but by My spirit! says YHWH Tzva’ot.
7 Who are you, O great mountain before Z’rubavel? You shall
become a plain. And he shall bring forth the top stone with
shoutings of Grace! Grace! unto it.
8 Moreover the word of YHWH came unto me, saying:
9 The hands of Z’rubavel have laid the foundation of this
house; his hands shall also finish it: and you shall know that
YHWH Tzva’ot has sent me unto you.
10 For who has despised the day of small things? Even they,
shall see with joy the plummet in the hand of Z’rubavel--even
these seven, which are the eyes of YHWH, that run to and fro
through the whole earth.
11 Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two
olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick, and upon the
left side thereof?
12 And I answered the second time, and said unto him, What
are these two olive branches, which are beside the two golden
spouts, that empty the golden oil out of themselves?
13 And he answered me and said: Know you not what these
are? And I said, No, my master.
14 Then said he: These are the two anointed ones, that stand by
the Adon of the whole earth.
Note the parallel here between these two “olive trees” and the two “olive tree” witnesses who witness during the forty-two months of the Great Tribulation:
1 And a reed was given to me like a rod, and the angel stood
and said, Arise and measure the Temple of Eloah, and the altar,
and those who worship in it:
2 Yet the court within the Temple, leave out, and do not
measure it, because it is given to the Goyim, and they will
trample down the Set-Apart city, forty-two months.
3 And I will give my two witnesses [authority] to prophesy,
one thousand two hundred sixty days, being clothed with
4 These are two olive trees and two lampstands, that stand
before the Adon of the whole earth.
(Rev. 11:1-4 HRV)
Yeshua illustrates the “oil” which the remnant will have upon their return:
1 Then will the Kingdom of Heaven be comparable to ten
virgins, which took their torches, and went out to meet the
2 Five of them were foolish, and five of them were prudent.
3 The five foolish, when they took the torches, took no oil with
4 But the prudent took the oil in their vessels, with the torches.
5 And while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered
6 And at midnight there was a cry, Behold! The bridegroom
has come: go out now to meet Him!
7 Then all those virgins arose, and made ready their torches.
8 And the foolish said to the prudent, Give us now of your oil,
for our torches are extinguished.
9 But the prudent answered and said to them, We may not give
you, lest there suffice not for us and you. But go now therefore
to them that sell, and buy for yourselves:
10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came. And
they that were ready, went in with Him to the marriage, and the
door was shut.
11 And after that, came the rest of the virgins, saying, My
Master, My Master: open to us!
12 But He answered, saying: Amen, I say to you, I know you
(Mt. 25:1-12 HRV)
Just as Judas Maccabee found a single jar of set-apart oil sealed with the seal of the Cohen HaGadol, when Messiah returns, he will find a remnant sealed with the seal of the Ruach HaKodesh, filled with the Ruach HaKodesh.
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