You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you. — Psalm 91:5–7
Today is the third day of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights. While Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Jewish Bible, it is mentioned in the Christian Bible in John 10:22. Jesus would have celebrated Hanukkah. It also is one of the most well-known Jewish holidays as it is celebrated in close proximity to Christmas. This is one of eight devotions exploring the many lessons this observance has for Christians. To learn more, download our complimentary Bible study.
The story of Hanukkah recalls the victory of a small group of Jewish fighters called the Maccabees over the mighty Greek army. The term Maccabee is from the Hebrew word “hammer.” The Maccabees were Jewish warriors who hammered the enemy. However, don’t think that these men were strong, well-trained warriors as often depicted in movies.
The truth is they were students of God’s Word, not warriors. Their strength came not from their own accord. Maccabee also has another meaning. It is a Hebrew acronym for the phrase: “Who among the gods is like you, LORD?” (Exodus 15:11). The strength of the Maccabees was from God.
It’s interesting how God does this a lot. He puts us in an impossible situation so that we can come to see Him and know from whom our strength comes. Had the Maccabees been a well-trained army like Israel has today, we may not have noticed God’s hand in their victorious defeat of the Greeks. The Jewish heroes of that day were frail, outnumbered, and outgunned. And yet, they were triumphant. They defeated the greatest army in the world at that time.
According to tradition, the Maccabees would recite Psalm 91 on their way to battle and while in battle. I imagine them looking heavenward and reciting: “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you” (v.7). These words are a beautiful reminder that though we may be surrounded by terrible danger, sure to be defeated by all natural accounts, God can still protect us. God can surround us like a shield that no one – not even the great Greek army – could penetrate.
I can imagine how the Maccabees felt the first time they saw the Greeks approach on massive, towering elephants – the ancient world’s equivalent to modern-day tanks. The Jews had never seen such a thing before. But they turned to those approaching elephant-tanks and said: “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (v.2).
At night, the Maccabees recalled: “You will not fear the terror of night . . .” During the day they remembered: “ . . . nor the arrow that flies by day . . .” (v.1). This is how the war was won. The Maccabees placed their trust in God, and He brought about a miraculous salvation.
This Hanukkah, let’s remember that the victory doesn’t always go to the mighty and powerful. God can make us triumphant no matter what our circumstances or what our weaknesses are. Let’s place our trust fully in God. If He could help a small, weak group of Jews to defeat the mighty Greeks, surely He can help us overcome our battles, too.
To learn more about the Festival of Lights that Jesus would have celebrated, download our complimentary Bible study, “What Is Hanukkah?”.
Honor Rabbi Eckstein