You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. -Deuteronomy 8:18
This year the calendars have converged give us Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah this Thursday. These two holy days have much in common and deserve a closer look.
Holy days are days to remember what has been done for us. This is true from Christmas to Passover to the 4th of July here in America. The problem is that we have forgotten why we set these days apart from the others. Even worse, we do not tell the stories that make these days special in the first place.
The Pilgrims were initially organized as a Collectivist society. Their contract with their European sponsoring businessmen stipulated that they would function as a Socialist group with each person contributing to the common good and in turn each receiving an equal share of the produce. The Plymouth Colony, its buildings, and its lands would all be owned in common.
This was a misunderstanding of the scriptures and the book of Acts in particular. William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Colony, composed the 1620 Mayflower Compact during the voyage. Its purpose was to codify an agreement among the 102 settlers, including his 40 Pilgrims, to live together and to function as a group.
The Mayflower landed the settlers of Plymouth Colony on December 21, 1620. The winter was cold and food was in short supply. Half of the Pilgrims died during that first winter, including William Bradford’s wife. During the next year, the local Indians befriended them and taught them to plant corn and to fish for eel and cod.
It became evident during this first crop year that few worked hard to produce crops and other goods for the benefit of the Colony. As a result, there was not that much food and prosperity after that first growing season. That first harvest festival in 1621 (Thanksgiving) was shared with their Wampanoag Indian neighbors. The Pilgrims gave thanks to God for what they had.
I believe this was common for the day to have a day or series of days to thank God for a harvest. When reading Governor Bradford’s journal, I find that he and the others wanted to honor God in a way that was similar to the fall festivals, particularly the Feast of Booths.
This was a serious observance that was joyful and generous. That is what developed in the colony and it caused a reevaluation of how the colony was organized.
Governor William Bradford realized Socialism was not going to work. He wisely abolished the Socialist principles on which the Plymouth Colony had been founded. Each family was then given a plot of land to farm and harvest for themselves. The settlers kept what they produced for themselves.
The Colony quickly became prosperous with more than sufficient food for everyone. They produced enough food and other goods to open a trading post where they traded with the local Indians.
William Bradford wrote in his Journal,
“The experience that we had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years…that by taking away property, and bringing community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing – as if they were wiser than God.”
“For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without [being paid] that was thought injustice.”
“This [free enterprise] had very good success, for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.”
Work is a biblical concept that cannot be overlooked. Without the prospect of gain, we work against human nature. We need the reward that work provides. Without that reward, there is no reason to work harder or to innovate. Someone else will do it.
Thanksgiving is the recognition that God gave us the strength to work and that what we have is a result of God’s blessings and the freedom we have to work.
Long before Karl Marx and Barack Obama, America’s early settlers quickly learned that the principles of Socialism resulted in economic disaster and extensive personal suffering. These people at Plymouth Colony did not try to perfect Socialism. They quickly and permanently eliminated Socialism.
William Bradford and his fellow settlers were out of reach of their European masters and their business sponsors. They were the start of our great experiment in Liberty. They were free to work for their own benefit without fear that their government would take liberally from what they produced. They sowed the seeds of Liberty, religious freedom, and free enterprise that eventually led to the American Revolution, American Exceptionalism, and the achievement of the American Dream.
Thanksgiving in America is a time to honor the Lord and the liberty He grants us to worship and work.
Hanukkah or Chanukah fits very well with Thanksgiving. It is not the “Jewish Christmas” as some believe. Rather, it is the festival of lights or more accurately the re dedication. Jesus observed this time in John 10.
Antiochus IV began to reign over Syria (in 3586 – 174 B.C.E.). He was a tyrant of a rash and impetuous nature, contemptuous of religion and of the feelings of others. He was called “Epiphanes,” meaning “the gods’ beloved.” Several of the Syrian rulers received similar titles. But a historian of his time, Polebius, gave him the epithet Epimanes (“madman”), a title more suitable to the character of this harsh and cruel king.
Desiring to unify his kingdom through the medium of a common religion and culture, Antiochus tried to root out the individualism of the Jews by suppressing all the Jewish Laws. He removed the righteous High Priest, Yochanan, from the Temple in Jerusalem, and in his place installed Yochanan’s brother Joshua, who loved to call himself by the Greek name of Jason.
Antiochus was at that time engaged in a successful war against Egypt. But messengers from Rome arrived and commanded him to stop the war, and he had to yield. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, a rumor spread that a serious accident had befallen Antiochus. Thinking that he was dead, the people rebelled against Menelaus. The treacherous High Priest fled together with his friends.
Antiochus returned from Egypt enraged by Roman interference with his ambitions. When he heard what had taken place in Jerusalem, he ordered his army to fall upon the Jews. Thousands of Jews were killed. Antiochus then enacted a series of harsh decrees against the Jews. Jewish worship was forbidden; the scrolls of the Law were confiscated and burned. Sabbath rest, circumcision and the dietary laws were prohibited under penalty of death.
One day the henchmen of Antiochus arrived in the village of Modin where Mattityahu, the old priest, lived. The Syrian officer built an altar in the marketplace of the village and demanded that Mattityahu offer sacrifices to the Greek gods. Mattityahu replied, “I, my sons and my brothers are determined to remain loyal to the covenant which our God made with our ancestors!”
Thereupon, a Hellenistic Jew approached the altar to offer a sacrifice. Mattityahu grabbed his sword and killed him, and his sons and friends fell upon the Syrian officers and men. They killed many of them and chased the rest away. They then destroyed the altar. Mattityahu, therefore, left the village of Modin and fled together with his sons and friends to the hills of Judea.
All loyal and courageous Jews joined them. They formed legions and from time to time they left their hiding places to fall upon enemy detachments and outposts, and to destroy the pagan altars that were built by order of Antiochus.
Before his death, Mattityahu called his sons together and urged them to continue to fight in defense of God’s Torah. He asked them to follow the counsel of their brother Shimon the Wise. In waging warfare, he said, their leader should be Judah the Strong. Judah was called “Maccabee,” a word composed of the initial letters of the four Hebrew words Mi Kamocha Ba’eilim Hashem, “Who is like You, O God.”
Antiochus sent his General Apolonius to wipe out Yehuda and his followers, the Maccabees. Though greater in number and equipment than their adversaries, the Syrians were defeated by the Maccabees. Antiochus sent out another expedition which also was defeated. He realized that only by sending a powerful army could he hope to defeat Judah and his brave fighting men.
An army consisting of more than 40,000 men swept the land under the leadership of two commanders, Nicanor and Gorgiash. When Judah and his brothers heard of that, they exclaimed: “Let us fight unto death in defense of our souls and our Temple!”
Now the Maccabees returned to Jerusalem to liberate it. They entered the Temple and cleared it of the idols placed there by the Syrian vandals. Judah and his followers built a new altar, which he dedicated on the twenty-fifth of the month of Kislev, in the year 3622.
Since the golden Menorah had been stolen by the Syrians, the Maccabees now made one of cheaper metal. When they wanted to light it, they found only a small cruse of pure olive oil bearing the seal of the High Priest Yochanan. It was sufficient to light only for one day. By a miracle of God, it continued to burn for eight days, till new oil was made available.
The re-dedication of the Temple and the lighting of the Menorah were worth the fight to retake them. We learn from this that while grace is given freely. We must fight to live for God. It is a choice that we must make; allow the world to oppress us and tell us who to worship or fight for the right to chose God and His ways.
It interesting that when the Menorah was lit in the Temple, you could see it for miles. Jesus taught:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:14-16
So you see, Thanksgiving and Chanukah are very closely related. The struggle for freedom and liberty must be fought in each generation. Even the right to be a believer must won in every generation.
When you gather with your friends and family on Thanksgiving, remember what the Lord has done for you and remember what you must do for the Lord. Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Chanukah.