Congregation Beth Adonai
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Purim

The Feast of Purim shows God working “behind the scenes”. It is also called the “Feast of Esther” and the “Feast of Lots”, names that will make sense as this appointed time is studied.

The best way to learn about Purim is to read through the book of Esther in one sitting. It is an exciting story, full of intrigue, plotting, last minute turns of events, and irony. The book of Esther was originally written on a small one handle scroll called a “megillah”, which is still read from in traditional synagogues. It is one of the five short books in the Tanakh which are associated with feasts: Ecclesiastes with Sukkot, Song of Solomon with Pesach, the book of Ruth with Shavuot, and of course Esther with Purim. Esther is unique in that it never overtly mentions God, the Torah, nor the Temple. None of the main characters, Esther, Mordecai, nor Haman are mentioned again in the Bible. However, it points out clearly God’s hands orchestrating everyday events that seem to be unconnected, but yet work together to bring about His will.

The name “Purim” is Hebrew for the plural of “pur”, or lots (similar to dice) used by the enemy of the Jews, Haman, to discern the day and month best to destroy the Jewish people in fifth century Persia. This date fell on the 13th of Adar in the Jewish calendar, usually mid-March.

The events of the story take place during the reign of King Ahasuerus, a.k.a. “Xerxes”, who reigned during the peak of Persia’ s power. Among his lands was a sizable Jewish population dispersed earlier to Babylon. The Jews in Esther town had chosen to live comfortably in the Diaspora rather than return to the homeland promised by God. Some had even taken Persian names such as the hero, Mordechai, from the Persian “warlike”, derived from the pagan god Marduk. Even the namesake for this book, Esther, is from the Persian “Ishtar”, or star. It seems these Jews, in assimilating, had detached themselves from God’s program and perhaps this is why He does not identify Himself with His name in this book.

Briefly, King Ahasuerus was looking for a replacement for his queen, Vashti, after her refusal to indulge him at a great party. This search led to a Jewish girl, Hadassah, being chosen as the new queen.  She was being raised by her cousin Mordecai who convinced her to hide her Jewishness and take the Persian name Esther.  Mordecai was given a post outside the palace where he foiled a plot on the king’s life.  This deed was recorded, but no reward was given. Meanwhile, the king’s prime minister, Haman, became perturbed with Mordecai when, honoring the one true God, he refused to bow down to Haman. While the Persians considered court officials to be worthy of worship, a Midrash holds that Haman wore an image of his favorite idol on his clothes, so bowing to him would mean that Mordecai bowed to an idol. Haman’s reaction was typical of anti-Semites throughout Jewish history:

Esther 3:13
Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews–young and old, women and little children–on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.

Haman had the decree sent out a full eleven months before the action was to take place. Perhaps it was his sadistic way to have this death sentence hanging over the Jews.  However, this providential timing allowed God to orchestrate events to save His people. He gave a timid young lady holy boldness to intervene for her people. Esther’s position seemed safe in the king’s court, but Mordecai reminded her:

Esther 4:14
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

Esther is given the choice to remain comfy or take a step of faith to be a part of God’s team. God had put her in a position where she could be used to glorify His name by doing something to save His people. Due to court etiquette, Esther could not just go before the king to ask a favor. She would have to have his royal scepter extended to her or face death for intruding.  Her solution to this dilemma gives us good advice if we find ourselves in similar situations.

Esther 4:16
“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

It is understood that accompanying their fast, these Jews would be praying to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and repenting of any sins. They understood that this is what moves the heart of God:

2 Chronicles 7:14
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

God showed Esther favor in the eyes of the king…

Proverbs 21:1
The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.

He was open to her suggestion for a banquet, part of a plan to avert the Jew’s destruction by revealing her identity and Haman’s evil intent. It is interesting to note, according to a rabbinical commentary, that after seeking the Lord in fasting, prayer and repentance, a hint of God’s name appears in the story:

Esther 5:4
“If it pleases the king,” replied Esther,”let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.”

The Hebrew for these words, which mark the turning point in the fate of the Jews, is “ye’bow hamelech ve’Haman hayom”. The first letters of each of these words spell out the sacred name of God “Yod Hay Vav Hay”.

Just when the situation looked very grim for the Jewish people, God used a seemingly insignificant event to change the course of history. The night before Haman and the king were to meet, the king could not sleep. This king who ruled over 127 provinces could not command his eyes to close in sleep…an even greater  King was staying up with him:

Psalm 121:4
…indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

He decided to have his diary read to him:

Esther 6:1
“So he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him.”

In this record the king heard the recounting of how the Jew, Mordecai, had foiled a plot against the king’s life and it sparked him to ask:

Esther 6:3
“What honor and recognition has Mordecai received for this? The attendant replied: “Nothing has been done for him.”

This bothered the king and he decided to do something for Mordecai right away. He summoned whoever he could find in his court at this early hour, who “happened” to be Haman, to bestow an honor upon his forgotten hero Mordecai. It could only be God’s irony that Haman must now lead Mordecai through the streets on the kings horse, wearing the king’s robe, announcing: “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor.” Doubly ironic is that Haman himself suggested these honors thinking the king was going to bestow them on him! Adding insult to injury, a Midrash says that Haman’s daughter looked out of the window and saw the procession below.  Assuming the one leading the horse was Mordecai, she emptied the chamber pot on him (who, of course, was her father!).

Later at the banquet Esther revealed that she was a Jew, and that Haman had plotted to kill her and her people. The king became so enraged that he had Haman and his sons hanged on a huge gallows Haman had constructed to use on
Mordecai. With Esther’s intervention, another decree was sent out allowing the Jews to protect themselves from their
enemies. The Jews were victorious, Mordecai was promoted to a place of high honor, and Esther sent out a decree:

Esther 9:19-22
“…make the 14th day of the month of Adar a holiday for rejoicing and feasting and sending portions of food to one another…”
The holiday of Purim was established and the appointment with God was made.  The holiday was to be observed forever….

Esther 9:27-28

“The Jews established and made a custom for themselves, and for their descendants, and for all those who allied
themselves with them, so that  they should not fail to celebrate these two days according to their regulation, and according to their appointed time annually. So these days were to be remembered and celebrated throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and these days of Purim were not to fail from among the Jews, or their memory fade from their descendants.”

Esther had asked only for the right of self-defense in the face of destruction, but the king gave them the right to plunder the spoil of their enemies.  However three times the Jews refused:

Esther 9:10
…but they did not lay their hands on the plunder.

Esther 9:15-16
The Jews in Susa came together on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar, and they put to death in Susa three hundred men, but they did not lay their hands on the plunder.
[16] Meanwhile, the remainder of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also assembled to protect themselves and get relief from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of them but did not lay their hands on the plunder.

Why is this so important to be mentioned three times? The answer reveals the antecedents to this story of Purim…
Esther describes Haman as a descendant of king Agag:

Esther 3:10
So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews.

Agag was king of the Amalakites, Israel’s and God’s enemy:

Exodus 17:16
He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from
generation to generation.”

This leads to why Haman and his ten sons were done away with. In 1Samuel 15 the Lord promises to punish Amalek, and commands Saul to wipe them out. Saul disobeys, spares Amalek and even takes some of the spoil. It took 500 years to correct this, but finally Mordecai finishes what his ancestor did not do…for Mordecai is described as from the tribe of Benjamin:

Esther 2:5
Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish,

This explains why the Jews were reluctant to take any of their enemy’s spoil…perhaps they were reminded of Saul’s
downfall.

Some Purim traditions are:

1. “grogers”, or noisemakers, sounded each time Haman is mentioned…a reminder of God’s instruction to “blot out
Amalek”:

Deut. 25:18-19
When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. [19] When the LORD your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

2. celebrating with food and games…a reminder of deliverance from annihilation…

Esther 8:17a

In every province and in every city, wherever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating.

3.  dressing up in costumes…a tradition related to those who dressed up to look like Jews in fear of retribution for Haman’s decree:

Esther 8:17b

…And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them

4. delivering “mishloah manot”, plates of food, to neighbors and those in need…

Esther 9:22
He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

The idea of giving is further connected with Purim since a descendant of King Ahasaurus, Darius, gave provisions from the royal treasury to rebuild the Temple (as told in Ezra)…could he be the grandson of Esther?

5. eating “hamantaschen”, German for “Haman’s pockets”, triangular pastry filled with fruit; associated with the three
cornered hat supposedly worn by Haman

6. mocking Jewish liturgy and Torah tradition; the Talmud says that we fully accept Torah only on Purim, for only when we can mock tradition can we fully accept it…otherwise we may be in danger of elevating our traditions to a level of idolatry

7. celebrating Purim on different days, the 14th or 15th of Adar:

Esther 9:18-19
The Jews in Susa, however, had assembled on the thirteenth and fourteenth, and then on the fifteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.
[19] That is why rural Jews–those living in villages–observe the fourteenth of the month of Adar as a day of joy and feasting, a day for giving presents to each other.

It has been interpreted that since Shushan (“Susa”) was a walled city, all cities known to be walled since the days of
Joshua (for example, Jerusalem) were to celebrate Purim on the 15th. In the Diaspora it is celebrated on the 14th. In a “leap year” with two months of Adar, it is celebrated during Adar II.

8. fasting on the 13th of Adar…in remembrance of Esther’s decree to fast before she went to see the king.

Purim shows us once again that Satan will use whoever he can to destroy the Jews. Even Hitler knew the story of Esther and ordered synagogues barred on Purim.  On Purim in 1942 Poland, ten Jews were hanged in a sadistic parody of the fate of Haman’s sons.  However, as we saw with Hanukkah and Pesach, God is faithful to miraculously save His people.

In the Purim story we see a picture of Yeshua in the King’s scepter held out to Esther, allowing her to enter his presence. Numbers 24:17 describes “a scepter that will rise out of Israel”, a prophecy of the Messiah.  Hebrews 1:8 (quoting Psalm 45:6) speaks of Yeshua as the “righteous scepter”…God has extended His Scepter to us, Yeshua, so that when we acknowledge Him, we can come into His presence.