Chislev, Chanukkah, & Christmas
hislev, which the Bible calls “the ninth month,” roughly corresponds to December. Chanukkah and Christmas, two contrasting holidays, both occur at this season. On the Jewish/Biblical calendar, Chanukkah begins on the twenty-fifth of Chislev; Christmas is celebrated on the twenty-fifth of December on the Roman/pagan calendar.
The Bible records seven different events which occurred during the ninth month, Chislev. Five of these events are recorded in the Tanach (Old Testament), one in the apocryphal Book of Maccabees, and one in the New Testament. As we look at these seven events that occurred during Chislev, we can see a common thread running through them all. This common thread relates to the struggle that many of God’s people go through during this season of the year.
The struggle to which I refer is not the stress of celebrating Christmas. Rather, I am referring to the stress brought about by well-meaning friends and family members who criticize those disciples who do not want to celebrate the pagan-rooted Christmas holiday. This study of Biblical events that occurred during Chislev will show us that even before the existence of the modern Christmas holiday, this has always been the season of the year when the Enemy puts a great deal of pressure on God’s faithful remnant to compromise their faith and conform to the world. Let us look at these seven events in chronological order.
I. The Burning of Jeremiah’s Scroll (Jeremiah 36; ca. 606 BC). During the reign of King Jehoiakim, God told Jeremiah to write words of warning on a scroll. “It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin,” verse 3, God said.
Jeremiah was imprisoned at the time, and sent his scribe, Baruch, to publicly read the scroll. After Baruch read the scroll in the Temple, the king was told about it. The king asked Jehudi to fetch the scroll and read it to him. “Now the king sat in the winterhouse in the ninth month [Chislev]: and there was a fire on the hearth burning before him,” the Bible says. “And it came to pass, that when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, he cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth,” verses 22-23.
Anyone familiar with the writings of Jeremiah, knows that the heart of Jeremiah’s warnings dealt with the upcoming Babylonian Captivity of God’s people. Furthermore, anyone familiar with what Babylon represents, knows that the modern Christmas celebration is the epitome of Babylonian celebrations. Those of us who express disapproval of the Christmas celebration — merely by our non-involvement, if not verbally — will probably not see people literally burn the Scriptures in defiance of God’s warnings to His people. Nonetheless, the reaction of some people to the truth about Christmas amounts to the same thing. Every December the Enemy tries to make those who shun Christmas feel like they are being foolish fuddy-duddies for not joining in the Babylonian celebration.
Jeremiah’s warnings against the dangers of Babylon fell on deaf ears that Chislev long ago, and the warnings against the dangers of Babylon still usually fall on deaf ears during the Christmas season, the time when the warnings are most needed.
II. Haggai’s Message to the Remnant (Haggai 2:10 ff; ca. 520 BC). After the Jews went into Babylonian Captivity for seventy years, a remnant returned to rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. This work of restoration was opposed by the enemies of the Jews. As the enemies’ opposition intensified, God’s people were intimidated and backed off and compromised by neglecting the work of restoration. Yahweh raised up prophets like Haggai to encourage the remnant to get back to work and complete the unfinished job.
One of Haggai’s messages came on the twenty-fourth day of Chislev. This message concerned the importance of holiness and the promise that God will prevail over the kingdoms of the heathen. Apparently God’s intimidated remnant needed this kind of encouragement. At this season of the year God’s remnant today also needs to be reminded of the importance of holiness and the certainty of God’s victory over the heathen — especially during this season when the mingling of the heathen with the holy reaches its climax in the Christmas holiday, a holiday that can be celebrated by drunkenness and lewd behavior at Christmas parties, and later by reverent adoration of the Madonna and Child at Mass.
III. Zechariah’s Message to the Remnant (Zechariah 7; ca. 518 BC). Zechariah, a contemporary of Haggai, was another prophet who spoke to the remnant in Jerusalem. Like Haggai, Zechariah received a word for God’s people during the month of Chislev. This message was in response to a question that some of the people had asked Zechariah. These people wanted to know whether or not they should continue to observe certain man-made, extra-Biblical religious traditions.
This is a good question for God’s people to ask themselves today, at this season of the year. In Zechariah’s time, the question was about certain man-made fast days. In our case, the question should be about a certain man-made feast day that falls in Chislev/ December. Zechariah replied by pointing the people to the former prophets and to the Torah. That is where we, too, can find the answers to our questions about the December holiday. Unfortunately, most Christians do not look in the Torah and Prophets to find the answers.
IV. The Decision to Separate from Pagan Wives (Ezra 9 & 10; ca. 457 BC). During the time of Ezra, many of the Jews who had left Babylon and returned to Jerusalem began to intermarry with pagans. Ezra and everyone else who trembled at the words of God assembled together and did some serious prayer and repentance. Everyone was called to come together so the leaders could address this serious problem. On the twentieth of Chislev the people assembled in Jerusalem, and they agreed that all those who had intermarried would separate themselves from their pagan wives.
It was Chislev when God’s people became aware of the seriousness of the error they had made by joining themselves to pagan wives. It is at this same time of the year when many of God’s people today become aware of the error of the Christmas celebration. As they begin to see the holiday from God’s perspective, they realize that they must separate themselves from pagan ways, just as the Jews had to separate themselves from their pagan wives. For some Christians, it is not an easy thing to separate themselves from the pagan-rooted Christmas holiday. It was not an easy thing for the Jews to separate themselves from their pagan wives, either, but it had to be done if they wanted God’s blessing.
V. The Affliction and Reproach of the Remnant (Nehemiah 1; ca. 446 BC). Nehemiah worked in the king’s palace in Persia. One day during the month of Chislev, some Jews came there from the land of Judah, and Nehemiah asked about the welfare of the Jews who were working to rebuild and restore Jerusalem.
“The remnant that are left of the captivity there are in great affliction and reproach,” they answered. “The wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.”
Chislev is still a time of the year when God’s remnant — those who have left Babylon — often suffer “great affliction and reproach.” Because of their refusal to participate in the Christmas festivities, God’s remnant people are viewed by friends and family members with reproach. They are viewed as anything from an Ebenezer Scrooge to a legalistic, self-righteous spoil-sport. No one wants to be viewed this way, so the temptation to compromise our convictions is especially strong during Chislev/December.
In Nehemiah’s time, the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and the gates were consumed with fire, making it easier for the enemies to get into Jerusalem. During Chislev/December, we must be careful to not let the Enemy break down the walls of our convictions, and destroy the gates that are there to shut him out of our lives. We must not let the affliction and reproach we bear for shunning Christmas, weaken us and cause us to cave in.
VI. The Defilement and Purification of the Temple (1 & 2 Macc.; ca. 164-167 BC).
The apocryphal books of 1 & 2 Maccabees tell the Chanukkah story. Antiochus Epiphanes had invaded the land of Judah and tried to force the Jews to compromise and assimilate. Sabbath observance and circumcision were outlawed; Torah scrolls were burned; idol worship and the eating of swine’s flesh were commanded. Jews who refused to cooperate were cruelly tortured and killed.
Antiochus erected “the appalling abomination [an idol of Zeus] on top of the altar of burnt offering.” This was done on the fifteenth of Chislev, and then on the twenty-fifth of Chislev a sacrifice was offered to officially inaugurate the altar (1 Macc. 1:54-59). The twenty-fifth of Chislev was the birthday of Antiochus Epiphanes, who is a prefigure of the antichrist. Perhaps here more than anywhere else we see the Enemy’s determination to force God’s people to participate in pagan celebrations once again, during Chislev/ December on the twenty-fifth day of the month.
The Maccabees succeeded in defeating the enemy, then cleansed and rededicated the Temple on the twenty-fifth of Chislev. This day of the purification of the Temple fell on the very day on which the Temple had been profaned by the foreigners, the 25th of the same month, Chislev (2 Macc.10:5).
Chanukkah is all about God’s people getting the victory over the pagans’ pressure to conform to the world. It is ironic that most Christians celebrate Christmas, a holiday saturated with paganism, during the very season that commemorates the victory of God’s people over the paganism that had saturated Jerusalem.
VII. Yeshua’s Celebration of Chanukkah (John 10:22; ca. AD 32) “And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication [Chanukkah], and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the Temple in Solomon’s porch.”
Yeshua was at the Temple during the Chanukkah celebration. In the verses just prior to this, He had presented Himself as the Good Shepherd who was going to lay down His life for the sheep. Yeshua’s words caused a division among the people: “There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye Him? Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?” (verses 19-21). During the month of Chislev/December, God’s people were divided over the question of Yeshua’s identity and the source of His authority and power. Today God’s people are divided during this season over the question of whether or not to celebrate Jesus’ birth on December twenty-fifth. They are also divided over the source of the Christmas holiday — not over the question of whether or not it was adopted from paganism (all informed people will admit this) — but over the question of whether or not the pagan origins of Christmas matter. Just as the Jews had to face the question of Yeshua’s authority and power, so we have to face the question of the authority and power of church leaders. Did church leaders have the authority and power to Christianize an idolatrous pagan holiday, and to modify and adapt religious rituals which were used to worship idols? On the basis of Deuteronomy 12:30-32 (and other passages), some of us say no, and we refuse to celebrate Christmas.
During Yeshua’s encounter with the Jews that Chanukkah, He was accused of blasphemy, “because that Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God” (John 10:33). In an ironic reversal of this scene, some Christians consider us irreverent if we refuse to acknowledge that God became a man on December twenty-fifth. It is not enough for these modern-day Pharisees that we acknowledge the incarnation and deity of Yeshua throughout the year. If we do not acknowledge it in a special way (i.e., a pagan way) on December twenty-fifth, we are regarded by some as one that “hath a devil, and is mad,” or as one who is guilty of “blasphemy.”
The seven events above show us that Chislev/December is a time to expect the Enemy to use peer pressure to get us to compromise. It is a time to expect people to be divided over issues of faith. If we want to maintain our faith and integrity, we must follow the example of those who took a stand against the mixture of the heathen with the holy.
— written by Daniel Botkin
Note: The purpose of this article is not to condemn people who celebrate Christmas. This article is written to encourage those disciples who have already made the decision to abandon Christmas. — D.B.
Daniel Botkin has a bimonthly publication, Gates of Eden. For a sample issue, write to PO Box 2257, East Peoria, IL 61611-0257.