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Perhaps no other story so perfectly epitomizes the fight for freedom of worship than the story of Hanukkah. Though celebrated by the Jewish people for centuries, this story cannot be found in our Bibles. In fact, it occurred in the years between the testaments, but its significance to both Jews and to Christians cannot be underestimated.
The heroic efforts of the Jewish family known to us as the Maccabees literally saved the Temple in Jerusalem and the right of the Jewish people to worship their God. If not for the willingness of these warriors to stand against an evil tyrant, the circumstances would not have existed for a baby to be born in a stable to a devout Jewish family, circumcised on the eighth day as required by Torah law, and raised in a Torah-observant manner that qualified him to be the perfect sinless sacrifice for very sinful people.
The enemies of God, both spiritual and physical, know that God must be canceled and that the best way to accomplish this is to cancel His word, which is ultimate truth, and to cancel a people group dedicated to representing Him on this earth. The story of Hanukkah was not the first time that the enemies of God tried to cancel Him, and it is certainly not the last. We are living in a time when cancel culture has been intensifying exponentially. Make no mistake about it, cancel culture in the United States is not about canceling misogyny, racism, colonialism, homophobia, or even hate. It is about canceling God.
The United States is the only nation in the history of the world that was founded on Judeo-Christian foundations — these foundations include the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They include freedom of speech, freedom to worship in the manner you see fit, freedom to defend yourself, limited government— basically most of what is set forth in our founding documents. Our founders turned to God’s word, both the older and the newer testaments when establishing our nation. We have been a nation that, up until very recently, has defined itself as a Judeo-Christian nation that worshipped the God of Israel. Any attempt to cancel the foundations that our nation was built on is an attempt to cancel God. If we don’t recognize the ancient spiritual nature of our battle, we cannot fight it. I believe that in order to stand against these destructive spiritual forces, we can learn much from the powerful historical account of the story of Hanukkah.
Much of what we know about Hanukkah is recorded in the writings of Flavius Josephus, a first-century Roman-Jewish historian. As a thoughtful exercise in comparisons, I am going to use quotes from Josephus’ writings to identify themes of cancel culture that existed well over 2,000 years ago and still persist to this day. I have identified the quotes of Josephus by underlining them. By no means will I cover all of the points of similarity. I welcome readers’ feedback in identifying other relevant comparisons.
The story of Hanukkah is set in 167 BCE after the death of Alexander the Great who conquered the lands of the kings of Media-Persia. He ruled the world for 12 years and upon his deathbed, he divided his kingdom among four of his generals. These generals and their descendants each ruled a part of the great Greek empire.
A descendant of one of these generals was named Antiochus Epiphanies, the King of Syria. The realm of this particular king included Judea– Israel. Interestingly, Antiochus Epiphanes is not an actual name. It is a title that means “God Manifested.” Keeping this title in mind is critical for understanding the goals and objectives of tyrants like Antiochus.
The goal of King Antiochus was not just military; his goal was also to conquer cultures–to impose the Greek culture upon all nations in his realm. He wanted unity in his kingdom and required that everyone give up their traditions and adopt a Greek way of life. Many conquered nations fell in line with the Greek culture. Even in Judea, there were many Jews who wanted to adopt the Greek culture.
Josephus: Thus, they desired his (The King’s ) permission to build them a Gymnasium at Jerusalem. (A Gymnasium was a place where people exercised naked.) And when he had given them leave, they also hid the circumcision of their genitals, that even when they were naked they might appear to be Greek. “Accordingly, they left off all the customs that belonged to their country and imitated the practices of the other nations. “
Many Jews were more than willing to assimilate into the Greek culture–even to the point of engaging in medical procedures to “hide” their circumcision. That was intense assimilation. There is no more effective way to cancel an entire culture, an entire people group, than through assimilation. It is generally much easier and less messy than physical force, although often when assimilation doesn’t work, physical force is used. The history of the Jewish people is one of either persecution for remaining a separate and set apart people or “relative” peace by assimilating– getting swallowed up by their “host” nation.
But remember, God called Israel to be a separate and holy nation unto Himself. In Hebrew, “holy” means “to be set apart.” Their set-apartness was part of God’s plan to redeem the entire world. They were not to assimilate. If they become just one of the other nations, it would be impossible for them to be a light to these nations.
Similarly, we as God’s people are not to assimilate into the world. We are not to forsake our God-given “culture” in order to fit in with the rest of the world or even for the purpose of avoiding persecution.
Today, we are facing these same pressures to assimilate. Adopting the behaviors of a dominant or coercive culture is not enough to satisfy its leaders. They must insist that everyone think and believe in the same way that they do too. King Antiochus could not afford to allow people to think in ways that threatened his authority and power– that threatened his position as God manifested. Our modern-day gods must also control the thoughts and minds of the people– censoring opposing opinions, or as we now call it — “fact-checking” those thoughts and ideas.
Thought crimes have always been the target of tyrants. Today, it is not enough for us to accept the behavior of those who go against God’s natural design for men and women, we must now champion it. We are deemed racists if we believe that skin color alone does not determine if one is the oppressor or the oppressed. We are not even allowed to believe in natural immunity acquired by those who have had a virus and recovered. And most disturbing, we are called science deniers if we think that boys cannot magically become girls based on their personal desires.
There’s another interesting part of the story as told by Josephus:
When the King and his army first came to Jerusalem, “he took the city without fighting, those of his own party opening the gate to him.” And when he had gotten possession of Jerusalem, he killed many of the opposite party and plundered the city.
Cancel culture cannot exist without its adherents installed in places of power and influence “within the city.” Those of us labeled as conspiracy theorists call this phenomenon in the US the “deep state.” To the dismay of so many of us in America, we have discovered just how many leftist ideological soldiers have “opened the gate” to this cancel culture nonsense in our government, our schools, our medical profession, even in our houses of faith. We have discovered that these deeply entrenched soldiers of the totalitarian faith are the Trojan horse in our midst.
Josephus: Then the King’s army left and came back two years later. This time when the king came up to Jerusalem, he pretended peace and by doing so got possession of the city by treachery.
As Ronald Reagan once so brilliantly surmised: The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help. The entire Covid response has been one of treachery and deceit with the government and its proxies in the established media claiming the mantle of peace, health, wisdom, and ultimate truth. For those committed to the totalitarian faith, deception serves a higher purpose; therefore, they “will not let a good crisis go to waste.” If it advances their cause to overlook the fact that the Covid “vaccines” do not actually keep people from getting or spreading the disease, this deception is valid and useful and not likely to ever go away.
Josephus: At which time (after entering the city) he spared not so much as those that had admitted him into it.
Eventually, those who engage in treachery will turn on their own. I am amazed at how many white male CEOs have run to a podium to denounce other white males as racists just by their very existence of being white and male. These attempts to appease the woke mob will be supremely self-destructive in the end.
Josephus continues: On account of the riches that lay in the temple, led by his covetous inclinations (for he saw there was in it a great deal of gold and many ornaments that had been dedicated to it of very great value.) In order to plunder its wealth, he broke the league he made (with those of his party).
Ahhhh……. Greed. The root of all evil. Who is making money or gaining power based on the creation or exploitation of a crisis– be it a racial crisis or a health crisis? As our general population suffers, many well-positioned elites remain unscathed by their own policies.
Josephus: So he left the temple bare and took away the golden candlesticks and the golden altar of incense and the table of showbread and the altar of burnt offering and did not abstain from even the veils which were made of fine linen and scarlet. He also emptied it of its secret treasures and left nothing at all remaining …He also burned down the finest buildings…
The goal of cancel culture is always “to leave nothing at all remaining.” No buildings, no businesses, no statues, no traditional institutions.
Josephus: He compelled them to forsake the worship which they paid their own God and to adore those whom he took to be gods
Can anyone think of a self-declared god of science that we are all supposed to adore and obey?
Josephus: He appointed overseers who should compel them to do what he commanded.
Often the government either finds or compels others to do its dirty work. CEOs of major corporations come to mind, particularly media entities.
Josephus: He forbade them to offer their daily sacrifices which they used to offer to according to the law….He made them build temples and idol altars in every city and village and offer swine upon them every day
The daily sacrifices of the Jews were part of their worship practices. Tyrants will quickly close down and prosecute religious worship, as we saw with the forced closing of churches and synagogues. Conveniently, pagan worship is encouraged as we learned that we could still purchase alcohol and marijuana, and we could all engage in the sacrament of abortion throughout the pandemic shutdowns. In the same way, false worship at the altar of CRT has been forced on thousands of employees during training classes at woke corporations.
Josephus: He compelled them not to circumcise their sons and threatened to punish any that should be found to have transgressed his injunction.
In the case of Antiochus, he compelled the Jews not to engage in a physical procedure on their bodies. In the case of governments around the world in 2021, tyranny in the form of an invasive medical procedure is the modern practice of the day.
Josephus: And indeed many Jews there were who complied with the king’s commands, either voluntarily, or out of fear of the penalty that was pronounced
Fear is the source of tyrannical control and the tool of cancel culture both in 167 BCE and in 2021. Fear is cultivated by tyrants and used to control the people. The good news is that tyranny and fear did not win in the Hanukkah story. The courage of just a few faithful and righteous followers of the God of Israel was enough to turn the tide then and it is enough to turn the tide now.
If you want to know the rest of the story and learn how these faithful few successfully defeated one of the greatest efforts in history to cancel God, I encourage you to read the account of Hanukkah in the writings of Josephus, which can be found online. Or you can search “Torah Talk Podcast” on all major podcast apps and listen to Cancelling God: What Hanukkah can teach us about cancel culture.
And I look forward to hearing from you about other ideas that may have been sparked by the words of Josephus.Published in