Blessed art Thou, LORD our God, Master of the Universe,
Who has kept us alive and has sustained us, and brought us to this season.
The Jewish holiday of Purim will begin at sundown on March 16th this year. The festival of Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from an antisemitic plot during their exile in the Persian Empire. The Persian King Ahasuerus was the ruling monarch at this time and his second in command was an evil antisemite named Haman who hatched a plan to try and eradicate the Jews in the empire. The heroes of the story are the Jewess Esther (Hadassah) and her cousin Mordecai. Esther, through an amazing turn of providential events, ends up as the queen and is able to foil Haman’s evil plot and save her people. The full narrative can be found in biblical book of Esther, a story filled with suspense, intrigue, and enough twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Purim celebrations are a happy time with parties and synagogue services that usually feature a dramatic play retelling the story of Esther. During this service the reading of the book takes place and the congregation shouts and boos whenever the name Haman is mentioned, and they cheer when Mordecai is mentioned. It is customary to eat a special Purim meal after the service which involves people dressing with elaborate masks and costumes because the concept of “hiding” is a theme that runs through the narrative of the book. Esther was told to keep her Jewish identity hidden right up until the opportune moment. It is also customary as part of this joyful holiday to exchange gifts and give to the poor:
“Because on those days the Jews rid themselves of their enemies, and it was a month which was turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and rejoicing and sending portions of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” Esther 9:22
However, although Purim may be known for its wonderful celebrations, the holiday holds some deeply significant theological truths for all believers in the Messiah. The book of Esther is popularly known for being the only book of the bible that does not contain the name of God. Yet, with a touch of divine irony, this book provides us with a wonderful opportunity to study one of the deepest characteristics of the God of Israel – His covenantal loyalty! In Hebrew this concept is beautifully summed up with the word Hesed, often translated in the bible with the English “lovingkindness”, yet this translation fails to fully portray the depth of meaning in this word. New Testament scholar Darrell Bock defines Hesed as:
“wrapping up in itself all the positive attributes of God: love, covenant faithfulness, mercy, grace, kindness, loyalty–in short, acts of devotion and loving-kindness that go beyond the requirements of duty,”
This is exactly what we see being revealed through the narrative in the book of Esther. God’s wonderful covenantal faithfulness and his providential dealings in history. The highlights of the story reveal his active hand in the affairs of men. Queen Vashti’s refusal to come at the command of the King and her ensuing dismissal. Esther’s favour with the King that leads to her becoming the queen. Mordecai ‘happened’ to be sitting at the kings’ gate when he overheard the plot to kill the king and reported it to Esther. Haman’s plot to kill Mordecai and all the Jews is thwarted by Mordecai and Esther when she goes to the king without being summoned. Mordecai’s’ famous advice is:
“Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” Esther 4:13-14
The Jews gather to pray and fast, and she goes into the King and finds favour. She then invites the King and Haman to a banquet. On that same day Haman’s anger against Mordecai is provoked when Mordecai fails to give him the honour he craved. Filled with rage he prepares gallows to kill Mordecai on. Yet, that very same night the King, struck with insomnia, just happens to read the record books, and realises that Mordecai saved his life. He decides to honour Mordecai. A wonderful part of the story is where the king asks Haman how he should honour someone. Haman’s pride, assuming he is to be honoured, describes a wonderfully indulgent process. To which the King then commands him to do to Mordecai! Later at the banquet queen Esther reveals her Jewish identity to the king and that Haman was trying to kill her people. Haman is then hanged on the very gallows he prepared for Mordecai.
This exciting and wonderful story reminds us of the principle in the Abrahamic covenant that “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse” (Geneses 12:3). This covenant is an everlasting covenant, thus, schemes by wicked antisemites like Haman will never succeed – God’s covenant is eternal, and he will remain faithful to those promises as the prophets declare:
Thus says the Lord,
“If the heavens above can be measured
And the foundations of the earth searched out below,
Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel
For all that they have done,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 31:37
Hag Purim Sameach
To learn more about the festival of Purim register for our free bible conference at: https://chosenpeople.org.uk/webinar