The Feast of Hanukkah symbolizes the faithfulness of the Jewish nation to the Elohim of Israel. (After the Northern Kingdom of Israel was in exile, only the tribe of Judah was left in the Land.) Alexander the great had a treaty with the Jews, but when he was dying, he divided his kingdom up into 4 sections ruled by his generals. One was called the Seleucids. Several generations later. in 165 BCE, Antiochus IV decided the whole world should be united and have the same laws. He decided to force Greek ways, including their pagan religion, on every nation in their empire. He wanted to destroy the Hebrew faith and make the Jews a part of the Hellenistic culture. Antiochus forbade them to keep the Sabbath, and required them to leave all their children uncircumcised under penalty of death. But many Jews went into hiding, even living in caves, so they could keep following Torah.
A pagan idol was even placed in the Holy of Holies. Greek soldiers came to every town and required the people to sacrifice a pig to show their loyalty to Antiochus. They came to Modiin, 25 miles from Jerusalem, and put their idol in the midst of the village, requiring the Jews to bow to it. When a local priest decided to comply, an older priest, Matithyahu, killed the compromising priest, destroyed the idol, and said to the people in the village, "Those who are with YHWH will come with me." He and his five sons attacked the Seleucid soldiers, defeated them, and liberated the village. They knew that it was the Elohim of Israel Who had given them this big victory.
They called on the people of Israel to join the revolt and to start the march of liberation to the focus of the land, the Temple Mount and Jerusalem. Their main goal was to destroy the abominable idol that was in the Holy of Holies and purify the Temple. From this moment they started to defeat all the forces that were sent against them. More and more Israelis joined them and in guerilla battles the started the march to Jerusalem.. It was a victory of a small minority against a strong and large majority. They could feel the presence of YHWH in all their battles and activities and they knew that only with the Elohim of Israel had they became the victors.
When Matithyahu died. his eldest son, Judah, became the leader of the revolt. He appeared as a mighty hero whom they called Maccabee—“the Hammer” and his followers also became known as Maccabees. They liberated Jerusalem and again declared it the capital of a free Israel. For a long time they fought against the Greeks and won battles against tremendous odds.
They took back Yerushalayim and cleaned up the Temple, which had been allowed to fall into ruins. They pulled down the old altar because it could no longer be used for holy purposes, and rebuilt the altar. Exactly 3 years to the day from the day the altar was defiled, they dedicated it again. Since they had been unable to celebrate the feast of Sukkoth on schedule, they did it as soon as the altar was dedicated. (2 Maccabees 1:18; 10:6-8) However, according to tradition (not in the Book of Maccabees) only enough consecrated olive oil for one day was found for the Menorah of the Temple. But the oil lasted for all eight days of Sukkoth, by which time they were able to make more.
The Maccabees and the Israelis immediately renewed the sacrifices. Antiochus’ successor Philip brought a huge attack force that included 32 elephants. One of Yehudah’s brothers, El’azar, sneaked up and killed Philip’s elephant from underneath, though he died when it fell on him. One time the Jews were greatly outnumbered and Yehudah’s men were running away in fear, but Yehudah was not willing to do so, and was killed in the battle. His brothers Shimon and Yonathan kept up the fight, but it was almost 30 years before the yoke of the pagans was finally thrown off completely. Shimon’s descendants, known as Hasmoneans, became not only priests in Yehudah, but its kings.
The Jews instituted a holiday commemorate the holy event, using a special 8-candled menorah to commemorate the 8 days the oil lasted. If it hadn’t been for the Maccabees, by the time Yeshua was born there might not have been a Torah-based culture for him to be born into. Because the altar had been defiled, they dismantled it and laid the stones away under the Temple complex until a prophet would come to tell them what to do with them. (This is the background for John chapter 10, where we see Yeshua in the Temple during Hanukkah and being pressed to tell if he is that prophet.)
This holiday is not commanded in the Torah, but it is a time of thanksgiving and appreciation to the Elohim of Israel. But hanukkah means "dedication" or "rededication", as well as "training"; its whole title is Hanukkath haMizbeakh--"dedication of the altar", a phrase which is found in the Torah (Numbers 7:84, 88). As the name implies, it is time both to renew our dedication to what they died for and educate and train each generation to carry on the flame the Maccabees preserved.