Chanukkah – My $0.02 (Can Go a Long Way in the Right Hands)

Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).

Jerry has described our need to cultivate courage and persistence through the example of Mattathias and the Maccabees. I would like to continue the idea of our need to develop certain godly attributes; especially humility. By ‘humility’ I mean things like learning to rely on God more than on our own strategies, learning to admit our weaknesses, learning to embrace our smallness and learning to grow in our faith; because the God of Israel sometimes pulls surprises for His people. But sometimes the greatest victories come through great adversity.

Take Samuel Morse for example.

Samuel F. B. Morse was born into a preacher’s home in New England just two years after George Washington was elected the first president of the United States. After finishing his education at Yale, he went to England to hone his painting skill. Upon his return to America he was recognized as a gifted artist and was soon in much demand. Morse’s first wife died while he was away from home painting in Washington, D.C. He did not receive the news until it was too late. In his heartbreak he turned away from painting and began trying to develop a means of rapid communication over great distances. This eventually led to his invention of the telegraph.

Despite his fame and the many honors that came his way, Morse wasn’t proud or boastful. In a letter to his second wife he wrote, “The more I contemplate this great undertaking, the more I feel my own littleness, and the more I perceive the hand of God in it, and how He has assigned to various persons their duties, He being the Great Controller, all others His honored instruments….

Theme of this d’rasha:

Chanukkah is a holiday which reinforces a central and recurring biblical theme: namely, that God delights to give victory to the humble, the weak, the few, and the unlikeliest of people.

Victory through humility

(relying on Adonai)

There’s wisdom in the saying, “Fortune favors the prepared.” All things being equal, success is far more likely to come to people who work in a diligent and disciplined way than to people who are lazy and procrastinate.

But there are times when, through no fault of their own, adverse circumstances outside their control has the deck stacked against a person, or in the case of a nation, overwhelming forces are arrayed against them. And that was the state of affairs in Israel under Syrian-Greek domination. What then? Well there is a documented history of God coming through, both for individuals and for nations, when they called upon Him in otherwise impossible circumstances.

Many such occasions are recorded in Scripture; God granting amazing victories to Israel against insurmountable odds, as proved to be the case in the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus. Historians estimate the Seleucid army at that time to have numbered between 45,000-50,000. The Maccabean forces? No more than a few thousand. Our people were vastly outnumbered, outmatched, and outgunned; like a young David facing off a 9’6” Goliath. And the very fact that today, nearly 2,200 years later we celebrate a Jewish holiday, and most people have never heard of a Seleucid, tells us that putting our trust in the God of Israel is a really good idea.

But what does humility look like on a day-to-day basis? How do you relate to the Living God? Or do you? It’s one thing to acknowledge His existence (and not everyone does), but apart from that, do you thank Him for the good that is in your life? Or are you taking full credit for it? Do you have friends? Do you have a stable job? Is there a roof over your head and food on the table? Are there people who love you? Are there activities you enjoy? Are you in relatively good health? Not everyone can say “Yes” to all those things. If you can say, “Yes” to even most of them, then consider that a victory, and the right and humble thing to do – daily – is to let Adonai know you appreciate it. As Rabbi Paul wrote to Titus, godliness with contentment is great gain!

Victory through weakness

(admitting our insufficiency)

One of the most incredible moments in all of Israel’s history was when Judah and Jerusalem were about to be invaded by the combined forces of Moab, Ammon, and other hired mercenaries. King Jehoshaphat, a righteous man, gathered the people from all across Judah together at the Temple, and they humbly sought God’s help.

King Jehoshaphat concluded his prayer with these words, “O our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”

Do you know how that turned out? Our people went out the next day, according to God’s instructions, sang from the Psalms, and when they arrived, there was no battle to be fought, because God caused those enemy armies to turn on one another and they killed each other. Literally, the entire battle was without a single Israeli arrow shot or sword lifted. And all because our people admitted our weakness and dependence on Adonai.

Are you willing to admit to God your own weaknesses, or like so many in our culture, do you try to project strength and self-sufficiency? Any recovering addict will tell you that the road to recovery doesn’t even begin until you honestly admit your problem. And the Scriptures tell us that the road to wisdom doesn’t even begin until you have Yirat Adonai – reverence for the Lord. The good news is, when you honestly confess to Him your weakness, He delights to give you His strength, and that is where you begin to experience victory.

Victory through smallness

(accepting our outcast, remnant status)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Much of what we value in this world is actually in opposition to the values of the Kingdom of God. Human beings tend to define ‘success’ by larger numbers, better ratings, and a bigger following. We pursue popularity, and God would have us pursue faithfulness.

But when your values diverge from the values of the world around you, expect to be in a minority, and don’t expect accolades. In fact, there is an inevitable amount of misunderstanding, ridicule and opposition that is part of the deal when you give God first priority in your life. Many people will not understand that, and some people will even feel threatened by it. And when you openly affirm your faith that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah, particularly if you are Jewish, it is a given that you will be treated as an outcast. Two thousand years of tradition isn’t easily overcome.

But I want to go a step further and say that it’s a mistake to pursue credibility with those who don’t share our faith. In fact, the pursuit of people’s approval is the opposite of Yirat Adonai; it’s called Yirat Adam – the fear of man, and it’s the fast track to moral failure and self-imposed slavery. Because if you are determined to win the approval of others, you will inevitably make moral compromises, and you will never be free to speak and act from your heart. You will find yourself second-guessing every decision and every word. That’s not freedom.

But there is a wonderful freedom that comes with embracing your smallness, and accepting your outcast status. First of all, you’re not alone! We may be a minority but we are in this together. That makes us a very special, very intentional family. And when we accept that we are a remnant, we will be free to speak and to act in good conscience, and that is a very freeing thing.

We need a heavenly perspective – to balance our daily decisions with the knowledge that both Heaven and Hell are real places. It will be much better to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” from the God of Israel, than to have worldly prestige and be flattered and acclaimed by people (who usually have an agenda, anyway), only to step into eternity and hear Yeshua say, “I never knew you – depart from Me.” Let’s be willing to embrace our anonymity here on earth, knowing that our names are record in Heaven.

Victory through surprise

(recognition of God’s ways of doing things)

Finally, I want us to remember that the Word of God is replete with plot twists; God acting on behalf of those who are weak, who are outnumbered, who are despised, and giving them incredible victories over the strong, the numerous and the popular. Earthly kings have sought, in vain, to extinguish the promise of redemption. Pharaoh and all his armies failed to destroy Moses; Haman and all his conscripted soldiers failed to destroy Mordecai; Herod and all his armies failed to destroy Yeshua.

We experience victory when we remember God’s gracious dealings with Israel, and especially with the faithful little remnant of believers in her midst. He is a God of surprise outcomes – a God who gives victory to the most unlikely of people.

A great example of godly humility was D. L. Moody

Dwight L. Moody was the most famous evangelist in the world in the late 1800s. People came from around the world to attend his Bible Conferences in Northfield, Massachusetts. One year a large group of pastors from Europe were among the attendees. They were given rooms in the dormitory of the Bible school. As was the custom in Europe, the men put their shoes outside the door of their room, expecting them to be cleaned and polished by servants during the night.

Of course, there were no servants in the American dorm, but as Moody was walking through the halls and praying for his guests, he saw the shoes and realized what had happened. He mentioned the problem to a few of his students, but none of them offered to help. Without another word, the great evangelist gathered up the shoes and took them back to his own room where he began to clean and polish each pair. Moody told no one what he had done, but a friend who interrupted him in the middle of shining the shoes and helped him finish the task later told the story of what had happened. Despite the fame he received because of God’s blessing on his life and ministry, Moody remained a humble man.

Let’s conclude by remembering that God has given victory through otherwise unlikely people, and unlikely circumstances:

Through an old, childless man named Avraham, God created a chosen nation

Through a timid young man named Gideon, leading just 300 men, God gave Israel victory over the entire Midianite army

Through just two men, Jonathan and his armor-bearer, God gave victory over a large Philistine battalion

Through one man – Elijah, and he outnumbered by 850 false prophets, God gave victory on Mt. Carmel

From a young boy’s lunch Yeshua fed over 5,000 people

And from the smallest of all seeds (mustard), a great tree grows

So let me restate our theme, and end with this:

Chanukkah is a holiday which reinforces a central and recurring biblical theme: namely, that God delights to give victory to the humble, the weak, the few, and the unlikeliest of people.

Enjoy being a small potato… and as a bonus, enjoy the potato latkes.