For the week of December 8, 2007 / 28 Kislev 5768
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 41:1 - 44:17 &
Bemidbar / Numbers 7:30-41
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 - 4:7
A Violent Struggle
Then he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts." (Zechariah 4:6; ESV)
Hanukkah, which begins this year on the evening of Tuesday, December 4, is a time to celebrate the God-inspired victory of the Maccabees over the powers of oppression (for more information about the festival itself, see the TorahBytes Hanukkah section). This event, which occurred in the second century B.C., is in keeping with so much of Jewish history. Throughout Jewish history we have been caught in a violent struggle. From the sword to the gas chamber, we have known great violence.
It is interesting that the Bible, which provides us with our understanding of God and his ways, is full of violent struggles between his people and other nations. While the Bible is more than just war stories, there is certainly a great deal of armed conflict found in its pages.
In the New Covenant section, we see a greater emphasis on issues of personal and communal morality and spirituality. The conflict continues, but it is a conflict of ideas and lifestyle, not of territorial conquest and expansion. This shift in emphasis in no way negates the significance of the violent episodes we encounter in the older writings and in the story of Hanukkah.
The violence we encounter in the Bible is a vivid picture of the nature of the conflict godly people face in every generation. Human nature and its relationship to the forces of evil are at war with God and his loyal subjects. While they did not always live up to their calling, the purpose of the people of Israel living the Land of Israel was to establish godliness amidst a world in rebellion against its Creator. The resulting conflict was ugly, creating a bloody picture of violence.
Thus is the nature of the struggle we face today. We should not be fooled by the glitz and glamour of our age. The forces against God and those who align themselves with him are just as vile as ever. To stand against them requires the same amount of courage and strength as those who engaged enemy armies long ago.
That is why we need the same reminder given by the prophet Zechariah and read at Hanukkah time. Even though our battle is not a physical one, we need to know that victory is won not through human ingenuity and capability, but rather through dependence upon God's Spirit.
Based upon the Maccabees' reading of Scripture, they knew that it was only by their reliance on God that they would be able to stand against an army so much greater than their own. So we too, against forces so much stronger than ourselves, can expect victory, but only as we truly rely on God. As we do, let us remember that the conflict at hand is a violent one, one which may cost us our lives. Yet in the end God will be victorious and we with him, if we remain true to him in this violent struggle.
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