The story of Hanukkah recalls the victory of a small group of Jewish fighters called the Maccabees over the mighty Greek army. The term "Maccabee" is from the Hebrew word for hammer. The Maccabees were Jewish warriors who hammered the enemy. However, don't go thinking that these men were like the strong, well-trained warriors you see in the movies.
The truth is that these men were a bunch of weaklings, more accustomed to sitting and studying God's Word all day. Their strength came not from their own accord. "Maccabee" has another meaning, as well. It is also a Hebrew acronym for the phrase: "Who among the gods is like you, LORD?" (Exodus 15:11). The strength of the Maccabees was from the Lord.
It's interesting how God does this over and over. He sets us up in impossible situations — so that we can see that our strength comes from Him. Had the Maccabees been a well-trained army like Israel has today, we may not have noticed God's hand as much. The Jewish heroes of that day were frail, outnumbered, and outgunned. And yet, they were triumphant. They defeated the greatest army in the world at that time.
According to tradition, the Maccabees would recite Psalm 91 on their way to battle and in battle. Can't you imagine them looking heavenward and saying, "A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you." I can! These words remind us that while we may be surrounded by terrible danger, sure to be defeated by all natural accounts, God can still protect us. God can surround us like a shield that no one — not even the great Greek army — can penetrate.
I can imagine how the Maccabees felt the first time they saw the Greeks approach the battlefield on massive, towering elephants — the ancient world's equivalent to modern-day tanks. These Jews had never seen such a thing before. But they turned to those elephant-tanks and proclaimed: "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust" (v. 2).
During the night, the Maccabees recalled: "You will not fear the terror of night..." During the day, they remembered that they would not fear "... the arrow that flies by day..." This was how the war was won. The Maccabees placed their trust in God, and He brought about a miraculous salvation.
Throughout this season of light for Christians and Jews, let us remember that the victory doesn't always go to the mighty and powerful. God can make us triumphant no matter what our circumstances as we place our trust fully in God. If He could bring a small, weak group of Jews to defeat the mighty Greeks, surely He can bring victory to us, too.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is the founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which now raises more than $140 million per year, mostly from Christians, to assist Israel and the Jewish people. Since its founding, The Fellowship has raised more than $1.4 billion for this work. The organization has offices in Jerusalem, Chicago, Toronto and Seoul.