Purim is commencing soon and there are several reasons to remember and to be joyful. Esther and Mordecai’s courage and faithfulness resulted in the preservation, instead of the extinction of the Jewish people and of course were an important link towards the promised Messiah through the preserved lineage of Judah. The ten chapters of Esther make fascinating reading and can be read in about thirty minutes. Though this is the only book in the Bible where God is not mentioned by name, His sovereignty and providence throughout the narrative are unmistakeably evident. The outcome of these events has affected everyone subsequently and much for the better.
Let’s consider the historical setting. Xerxes I or Ahaseurus (485-464BC) reigned over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia in 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). It is striking that when Esther made her famous request to the king this was preceded by a further two banquets (Esther 5:4, 8) and that the account closes with the feast of Purim.
Esther who was raised by her cousin Mordecai had not revealed her Jewish identity to Ahaseurus (Esther 2:10). This was the advice given to Esther by Mordecai. In view of the Exodus, Assyrian exile and Babylonian exile that was prudent. This is also noticeable today. Some Jewish people are wary of revealing their identity and if one examines the history of the persecution of the Jewish people one can understand why.
The plot Against Ahaseurus
Early on, Mordecai discovered 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. At the time and like Joseph interpreting the dreams of the butler and the baker, Mordecai received no reward or recognition. That was providential in view of God’s perfect timing, meaning when he was eventually noticed and rewarded by the king, that would trigger a further series of events resulting in the survival of the Jewish people.
The Plot to Destroy the Jewish People
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 Ahaseurus to write a decree to destroy them. Interestingly, the King and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was perplexed (in confusion).
Understanding the Motivation for the Plot
All that it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing. Why was it that Haman wasn’t satisfied with vengeance on Mordecai though he had done nothing wrong other than bow before an egomaniac? Something more sinister was in operation. This was more than pride and ethnic tension. Undoubtedly Satan wanted to destroy the Jewish people and prevent Messiah from being born and he was moving the hearts of the wicked to advance his plan to oppose the protoevangelium (the first gospel promise in Genesis 3:15). Furthermore the Messiah would come from Judah (Genesis 49:10).
Even though there was a dramatic deliverance and a reversal of outcomes, anti-Semitism has continued through the ages; Herod administered a repeat of Pharaoh’s orders to destroy the Hebrew boys under the age of two, followed by the crusades, the inquisition, the pogroms, Nazi Germany and open 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 Ahaseurus, which Haman also attended.
In between banquets, Haman was pleased with his status and position until he again met Mordecai who neither stood nor trembled before him. Astoundingly 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).” We see the same nowadays with some so blinded by hatred for the Jewish people that they will relent at nothing and make it their unceasing objective to destroy them. History testifies that for over four thousand years, that it has never ended well for those for have made that their aim.
Meanwhile, Ahaseurus couldn’t sleep so he had the book of the records of the Chronicles read to him. The result was he recognised that Mordecai was never rewarded for uncovering the plot of those that would 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. Ahaseurus 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). Even though Haman’s wife and wise men changed their tune and warned Haman that he wouldn’t prevail since Mordecai was of Jewish descent, he was blinded by his wrath.
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 are transferred to Mordecai. Esther implores 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
So we end where we begin. If these events didn’t occur what would have happened to the Jewish people? Where would all those breakthroughs in science, agriculture, medicine and a host of other Jewish discoveries and inventions that have benefitted the whole world arisen from? If this pivotal event didn’t occur, what would our Bible look like and what about the prophecies of the Messiah though the lineage of Judah and David?
I recently enjoyed celebrating Purim and the children played out the usual characters with the traditional cheers and booing resounding for Mordecai, Esther and Haman. Why not read through the book of Esther and thank the Lord for his goodness and providence both then, and in our lives. Why not wish your Jewish friends a happy Purim or give them Purim cards? This was originally celebrated amongst the Jewish people and their descendants and those and all who would join them (Esther 9:27).
Like Hanukkah the preserved traditions remind us of God’s goodness and preservation of His people and the continuation of His purposes. Interestingly in the Hasmonean period, Purim is referred to as the day of Mordecai (2 Maccabees 8:36).
Some bemoan that they can neither see God nor hear Him. To them I would recommend reading Esther. 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 marked in history.
Lastly and most importantly and much like Haman’s scheming; in the time of Herod, there was an edict for all the Hebrew boys under the age of two to be killed. The most famous person to have ever lived actually survived that edict and fulfilled prophecy concerning His birthplace and lineage, lived a perfect sinless life, performed miracles, taught disciples as no one ever taught and though innocent; died a cruel death to make atonement for sins and rose from the grave and ascended to heaven. He is the first and the last and He is coming again. Are you trusting in Him, the Author of salvation who knows the end from the beginning? Happy is He who has the God of Jacob for his help (Psalm 146:5).