On Purim, in synagogues around the world, the entire scroll of Esther, which is called the Megillah, is read twice—once on the night of Purim and once on the following day of Purim. (All Jewish holidays start in the evening at sunset.)
During the reading, the listeners participate by cheering whenever the hero Mordechai, guardian of Esther, is mentioned and by booing whenever Haman–the influential anti-Semite who had called for the annihilation of all the Jews of Persia–is mentioned.
Although Purim is a Biblical festival that is overlooked by the Church, it’s an eye-opening read for all people devoted to the God of Israel and His people.
The Book of Esther is chock full of irony, mysteries, secrets, and intrigue that provide powerful life lessons.
Unlike the other Holy Days of the Lord, the command to celebrate this festival isn’t found in chapter 23 of Leviticus. What’s more, the command to celebrate this special holiday doesn’t come from God, but from Mordechai, the hero of Esther.
He commanded the celebration of the salvation of the Jewish People in ancient Persia from Haman’s plot to annihilate all the Jews in a single day.
“Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration.” (Esther 9:20-22)
It’s traditional for Jewish people to send gift baskets called Mishloach Manot (sending of portions) to one another and to the poor.
These special baskets contain ready to eat foods that are fit for use at the festive Purim meal. Among other foods, this might include special triangular cookies filled with poppy seeds or other fillings, called Hamentaschen (Yiddish) or Oznei Haman (Haman’s ears) in Hebrew.
This common practice is based on Mordechai’s command:
“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.” (Esther 9:22)
While many individuals do send food gifts to friends, neighbors, business associates and family, etc., the giving of gifts to the poor is often accomplished by donating money or food to charities which distribute food on Purim day.
The poor are not exempt from participating in this practice.
A Game of Chance
“For Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction. … Therefore these days were called Purim, from the word pur.” (Esther 9:24-26)
The word Purim, as Scripture tells us, means lots, as in the method of choosing or making a decision seemingly by ‘chance’.
In Persia, the pur (a lot) was used to seek guidance from pagan gods. The name of the holiday, therefore, is derived from Haman drawing lots to determine the date when to schedule the extermination of the Jews!
The lot fell to the 13th day of the month Adar.
Although the day that Haman cast the pur seems to be a matter of chance, even a glance at the Hebrew calendar reveals God at work.
On the 13th day of the month Nissan, which is the first month of the Hebrew calendar, the edict was issued that the Jews should be annihilated on 13th day of the 12th month (Esther 3:7, 12-13).
Why is this significant? Because that was the day before Passover!
Imagine that every Jewish household in Persia was searching their houses for chametz (leaven) in preparation for the beginning of Passover the next day, when the would have a Passover seder (traditional meal and recounting of the story) to commemorate their deliverance from Egypt.
As they were preparing to retell the story of the Passover to themselves and to their children the greatness of God’s power in bringing them out of Egypt, they likely received the shocking news.
In exactly eleven months’ time, their enemies would attempt to murder each one of them in cold blood for one reason and one reason alone – they were Jews.
God had made sure that uppermost in His people’s minds and hearts was the remembrance of His supernatural, mighty, and delivering power.
Haman had sent out a message promising destruction, but God’s message to the Jewish people seems clear: “He who delivered you from Egypt’s pharaoh long ago is well able to deliver you from Haman today!”
Events may occur in our lives that seem random, but the book of Esther reveals
that God is in control, no matter how powerful our enemy or how bleak the situation.
Whatever our situation or circumstance, we can rest in the assurance that our times are truly in God’s hands (Psalm 31: 15).
The whole story of Esther seems to be one of happenstance, such as the following:
- Queen Vashti ‘just happens’ to pick this time to refuse to come to the king’s royal feast. In response, the king decides to find a new queen.
- Mordechai ‘just happens’ to be in the right place at the right moment to hear of a plot against the king’s life, and he takes action to thwart that plan (Esther 2:21).
- The king ‘just happens’ to have a sleepless night and calls his courtiers read his book of chronicles, which reminds him that Mordechai saved his life (Esther 6:1).
Mysteries in the Book of Esther
“He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.” (Daniel 2:22)
Purim is a festival to dress up, wear a mask and have fun.
Little boys dress as Mordechai, the King, and even the bad guy, Haman. (Boo!)
Nowadays, however, the costumes have expanded to include every conceivable disguise, since the theme of concealed, hidden and mistaken identities runs throughout the Book of Esther and the festival of Purim.
Even God is hidden in the Purim story.
In a search of the entire scroll of Esther from beginning to end, the name of God isn’t mentioned once.
For that reason, the book of Esther almost didn’t make it into the canon of the Bible.
The closest reference to God is when Mordechai tells Esther that redemption for the Jews will come from “another place” (makom aher) if she doesn’t act.
This term seems connected to HaMakom (literally The Place), which in Judaism refers to God “The Omnipresent.”
Even when God seems hidden, He is still there, and He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.
Even when we can’t see or understand what is going on in our lives, with tribulations before us, behind us, and surrounding us, God is still there.
He is faithfully working behind the scenes to work out all the details, divine appointments, and circumstances to secure our victory. He may even ask for our participation in the drama!
In the Book of Esther, the heroine of the story, Esther, had a secret identity.
In obedience to the instruction given to her by Mordechai, her cousin and guardian, Esther concealed her Jewish heritage from King Ahasuerus, who not only ruled over most of the known world, but was her husband (Esther 2:10).
She did not reveal her true identity as a Jewess until the exact right moment when it was necessary to defeat the plot of Haman.
The very name Esther (אסתר) comes from the root S-T-R which means hidden or concealed.
In an ironic twist of mistaken identity, when King Ahasuerus asked Haman what should be done for someone who the king wishes to honor, Haman, in his own sense of pride and self-importance, assumed that the king wanted to honor him.
“Now Haman thought to himself, ‘Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?’” (Esther 6:6)
He, therefore, advised an elaborate public demonstration of favor. The man the king sought to reward, however, was Mordechai, Haman’s arch enemy, and Haman was elected to carry out the reward.
“‘Go at once,’ the king commanded Haman. ‘Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended.’” (Esther 6:10)
In God’s Kingdom, things are backwards or upside down, from the ways of the world. After all, it’s a Kingdom where the first are last and the last are first, where tax collectors and prostitutes enter before Kings and Pharisees, where the weak are strong and the poor are rich.
At the beginning of Esther, we see a poor orphaned Jewish girl named Hadassah, living in exile in the Land of Persia. But God saw potential in her. He saw Esther, a courageous and Godly Persian queen.
God also sees our true identity and our potential. He knows who we truly are and has a destiny for our lives.
The question is whether or not we will have the courage, perseverance and determination to take hold of it. Do we have faith to believe what the Word of God says about who we are in Messiah Yeshua (Jesus)?
Royal Positions and Hidden Identities
“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 4:14)
The Word of God says that our very life is “hidden with the Messiah in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
In Messiah, our true identities are sons and daughters of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – members of a royal priesthood.
Just like Esther was willing to lay aside her own plans and dreams to fulfill her destiny, to fulfill our destinies, we must lay our hopes and ambitions on the altar and say, “not My will but Yours be done.”
Like Esther had a secret identity, the Church may also have a hidden identity–not separate from the Jewish people–but fellow citizens and an integral part of the commonwealth of Israel.
“Remember that at that time you were separate from Messiah, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12)
Just like Mordechai called upon Esther to approach the king to petition him for the lives of her people, so too the Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit) is crying out to the Church to pray and intercede for the salvation of Israel and the Jewish People from the people and countries who threaten her survival.
Today, just like during the time of Haman, the current leaders of Iran (Persia) are pointing their missiles and developing nuclear weapons to destroy the Jewish people in Israel.
This is not a time to remain silent. You can be like Queen Esther.
Have you not come to this royal position for such a time as this?