Joel of Jerusalem Dec/Jan 1990/1991
We are quickly approaching the Feast of Hanukkah, or, as we call it, the Festival of Lights. The celebration is always the same, year in and year out. People recite the same words, “Nes haya po” (A miracle happened here). Yes, legend has it that God did perform a miracle in the days of the Maccabees by making the oil last in the Temple until new oil could be consecrated. But, sad to say, that is all most people know about the Festival of Lights. They do not know that during the festival our Lord said, “I am the light of the world” (Jn. 8:12). They do not realize that His light lasts forever, whereas the lights of the Hanukkah candles shine for a few days each year, and then people are plunged back into darkness.
The activities of Hanukkah center on the children, because people want their little ones to be happy, if only for a short time. And so it was that I saw a grandfather going to the school his grandchildren attend to see a Hanukkah presentation. When he saw me on the street outside the school, he invited me to join him and remarked, “Now it is their time to celebrate the Feast of Hanukkah. For those of us who are older, the time to celebrate has passed.” As we went into the school I said to him, “You are living in a bad dream. For people who believe in the living God, the God of Israel, the light is everlasting. It does not last for only a few days each year. And when we go to the grave, we will experience an even greater light because we will be with God. As it is written, ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all’ (1 Jn. 1:5).”
This man, who had come to Israel from Argentina, then asked, “Who wrote that poem? It is very nice.” I replied, “It was written by a prophet of old under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. The ancient prophets also wrote, ‘The Lᴏʀᴅ is my light and my salvation’ (Ps. 27:1) and ‘I will also give thee [Israel] for a light to the nations, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth’ (Isa. 49:6). You can see from these passages of Scripture that we should not worship before the candles of the Hanukkah menorah, but before the Lord Himself, the one who performed the miracle of the lights and then became the light.”
This grandfather again asked, “From where did you get these nice words? They sound good, but I just don’t know what to think about them.” His question presented the opportunity to show him from the Bible, in black and white, that these words were written by our own Jewish prophets. He was surprised and said, “I have read the Bible for many years, but I never considered those words in the way in which you presented them.” I told him, “You can go on reading the Bible every day for the rest of your life, but unless you come to true faith in God, it will be meaningless to you. It will be a dead book instead of a living book. Without true faith in the Lord, you will go on reading the Bible as if it were just another book; therefore, you will never discover the truth of God in it. There are many so-called Bible teachers, not only in Israel but throughout the world, but if you were to ask them how to come to true faith in God, they would not be able to answer you. They are helpless and hopeless. They are only interested in who wrote the books of the Bible, when they were written—historical facts—just like you when you asked, ‘Who wrote that poem?’”
The man then remarked, “It is hard to have a conversation with you because you think you are a child. You do not realize that we are old now. We can no longer play in the light of the Hanukkah candles, as the little ones do. And soon all light will go out for us, and we will be in darkness forever.” He obviously had not comprehended anything I had told him, and I could tell that he was very bitter and in deep despair. When I asked why, he replied, “If I were to tell you, you would not understand, because you are so happy. Why should I tell you my troubles?” I responded, “My dear friend, even with all the problems and troubles you have had in your life, you would have to live another two hundred years to equal the suffering I have experienced.” “How can that be possible?” he asked. “You see my face, full of distress and bitterness; and I see your face, calm and untroubled, as if nothing bad has ever happened to you. Please explain what you mean about all your sufferings.”
I was glad he asked this question, because it turned our conversation in the right direction and gave me the opportunity I had been praying for. “My dear friend,” I said, “I would be happy to tell you about my life and the things I have suffered.” I then told him about my parents, my three brothers, and my sister who were lost in the Warsaw Ghetto. I told him how I had escaped death many times during the Holocaust and how I came to Israel after World War II. I told him how, just days after my arrival in Israel, I was inducted into the Israeli Army and served in four wars. Finally, I told him that my three sons and my son-in-law are now on active military duty due to the situation in the Persian Gulf.
“But, my friend,” I continued, “as it is written, ‘we … rejoice in hope of the glory of God’ (Rom. 5:2). And there is a nice song that we like to sing taken from Psalm 9:2, ‘I will sing praise to thy name, O thou Most High.’ Also, Job said, ‘sorrow is turned into joy before him’ (Job 41:22). My friend, by trusting in God we can be happy in spite of the trials and troubles of life.”
This grandfather is about 70 years old, and he asked, “Can you turn back the clock about 50 years? That is the only way I could ever be happy.” I reminded him that even the very young die, and many of them die without having put their faith and trust in God. “Unfortunately,” I told him, “even such young people are lost forever, because they have not come to God in the way He has ordained in His Holy Word. People can be happy at any age, or they can be lost at any age. The difference between being happy and being lost is forsaking the fantasies taught by false teachers and coming to God in true faith, believing in His promises to us. If you do that, you will never die but will live with the Lord, our Savior, forever in His glory.”
By now this man had become very interested in what I was saying and while his grandchildren were participating in the Hanukkah festivities at their school, he and I found a quiet place where we could be alone. I then had the privilege of telling him about the Lord Jesus and the joy we can have in Him, despite the problems we confront every day. I told him that we do not have to worry about our bodies getting old or about dying. I pointed out some of the sayings of King David, such as, “For thou [God] wilt not leave my soul in sheol, neither wilt thou permit thine Holy One to see corruption” (Ps. 16:10); “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10); and that very important statement in Psalm 23:6, “I will dwell in the house of the Lᴏʀᴅ forever.”
I told him, “These are not poems but the words of God, spoken by King David through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, as I said earlier. Most people fear death, but those who believe in the Lord, our Savior, know that they are not lost. As it is written in Psalm 56:4, ‘In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.’ We sing very similar words in our Israeli national anthem, ‘Hatikva’: ‘So long our hopes are not yet lost.’ But this is true only if we put our trust in the Lord rather than in the works of man.”
At the end of our conversation he said, “I am glad we met today. You have encouraged me.” I pray that as he considers the things I told him and examines the Word of God, he will see that the only real light is in the Lord, and not in the ceremonies of men. Pray with me that one day soon he will discover the true meaning of the Festival of Lights, the reality that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5).
I extend warm wishes to you and your loved ones for a blessed Christmas, as we recall His miraculous birth, and a joyous New Year, as we live for and serve Him day by day.