The Feast of Purim is a blessing for the Whole World.
The ten chapters of Esther in the Hebrew Bible provide the narrative for Purim, make fascinating reading, and can be read in about thirty minutes. Esther and Mordecai’s courage and actions aided the preservation, and prevented the extinction of the Jewish people. Though this is the only book in the Bible where God is not mentioned by name, His providence is evident.
Let us consider the historical setting. Xerxes I (Ahasuerus): 485-464BC, reigned over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia from a citadel in Susa. Archaeological evidence in support of Xerxes reign can be found both in the Persepolis Museum in Iran and the British Museum in London. Hadassah (Esther) subsequently became queen after the former queen Vashti refused to display her beauty in front of the guests of Ahasuerus’ feast.
Feasts feature prominently throughout the book. In addition to Ahasuerus’ feast, Queen Vashti held her feast in the royal palace (Esther 1:9). Esther found favour with Ahasuerus and he even held a celebration in her honour-‘the Feast of Esther’ (Esther 2:18). Noticeably, when Esther made her famous request to the king, this was preceded by a further two banquets (Esther 5:4, 8) and the book closes with the Feast of Purim.
Esther who was raised by her cousin Mordecai had not revealed her Jewish identity to Ahasuerus (Esther 2:10). This was the advice given to Esther by Mordecai. In view of the Exodus, Assyrian exile and Babylonian exile that was indeed wise. This is also noticeable today. Understandably some Jewish people are wary of revealing their identity and if one examines the history of the persecution of the Jewish people since Purim until today, one can understand why.
The Plot Against Ahasuerus and the Jewish People
Early on, Mordecai uncovered a plot involving Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs who sought to lay hands on Ahasuerus. Following an enquiry both culprits were subsequently hanged on the gallows, though Mordecai would be rewarded later on at a timely moment.
Haman the Agagite was promoted by Ahasuerus and had considerable power and influence, though he was incensed when Mordecai refused to bow or pay homage in his presence. Because of this, he plotted to kill all the Jews within the Medo-Persian kingdom. Haman convinced Ahasuerus to write a decree to destroy them.
Understanding the Motivation for the Plot
Why was Haman so intent on destroying Mordecai and his people? Something more sinister was in operation, more than pride and ethnic tension. Ultimately Satan wanted to destroy the Jewish people and prevent Messiah from being born.
Even though there was a dramatic deliverance and a reversal of outcomes, antisemitism has continued through the ages; Herod administered a repeat of Pharaoh’s orders to destroy the Hebrew boys under the age of two. This has been followed by the Crusades, the Inquisition, the pogroms, Nazi Germany, and more subtle forms of the same today.
In the moment of nearing tragedy, the timing of the events occurred swiftly and decisively. Mordecai advised Esther that she could not remain silent and asked rhetorically whether she had come into the kingdom for such a time as this? Esther risked her own life to gain an audience for a banquet with Ahasuerus, which Haman also attended.
In between banquets, Haman was pleased with his privileged position until he again met Mordecai who neither stood nor trembled before him. Haman summarised his thoughts “Yet all this avails me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate (Esther 5:13).”
Meanwhile, Ahasuerus could not sleep so the book of the records of the Chronicles were read to him. He realised Mordecai was never rewarded for uncovering the plot of those who sought to harm him. Poetic justice followed as Haman was asked how the king should reward the man who he delighted to honour. Haman suggested that they wear a royal robe and ride the king’s horse and parade on horseback though the city square and have that proclaimed before him, thinking he would be rewarded. Ahasuerus obliged, though Haman was the author of his own misfortune and he found himself parading Mordecai through the square and announcing “Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king delights to honour (Esther 6:11).
At the banquet, Esther revealed Haman’s wicked scheming and Haman was hung on his own gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. But this remarkable story doesn’t end there. If it did, the fate of the world would be gravely different. Haman’s privileges were transferred to Mordecai. Esther implored the king with tears to counter the edict to destroy the Jewish individuals across the empire. Letters were quickly dispatched on horseback enabling the Jewish people to defend themselves against their tormentors.
“On the day that the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, the opposite occurred, in that the Jews themselves overpowered those who hated them (Esther 9:1).” The Jews in Susa assembled and made it a day of feasting and gladness. Mordecai wrote to the provinces ensuring that they should celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar. They sent presents to one another and gave gifts to the poor. These days were called Purim after (Pur- meaning lot). Ironically, Haman attempted to annihilate them and cast (Pur), that is the lot to destroy them.
The Message of Purim Applied Today
Some bemoan that they can neither see God nor hear Him. To them I would recommend reading Esther. Think about it. If there was no Purim, how could Messiah come? God is not mentioned, though His mighty deeds and preservation of His people and the outworking of His promises are inscribed forever in the Bible, remembered through the feasts, and indelibly marked in history.
Discover more here: Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)