ESTHER and PURIM

Undzer (Yiddish for "our") Week or the Jewish Purim feast is a Jewish holiday based on the book of Esther.

Esther is one of the Bible courses I taught in the Austrian Bible Institute. Anyone wanting to learn more about the book of Esther and Purim can read "The Feasts of the Lord", by Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal.

PURIM - pronounce "pu" to rhyme with "to," and "rim" to rhyme with "team" with the emphasis on the second syllable. Purim is the Hebrew word for "lots" as in “casting lots” PUR is the singular form.

Purim is a Jewish holiday based on the book of Esther. "Purim" or "lots" (dice) are what wicked Haman threw in order to determine the day on which to carry out his sinister plan of annihilating the Jewish people. The lots landed on numbers 12 and 13 and Haman understood this to indicate the 13th day of the 12th month of Adar. Today Purim is celebrated from Adar 13 until 15 at sundown. The last day is called “Shushan Purim,” according to Esther 9:18. The dates vary depending on our calendar.

A Yiddish proverb says, "Not every day is Purim!" Centuries ago the rabbis declared that when the Messiah comes and all holidays cease, Purim will still continue to be observed! Purim is the most joyous and carefree of the Jewish holidays. It is a minor holiday only in the sense that work is permitted on it, but many Jewish people choose not to work on this important day. Anyone familiar with the book of Esther can see why Purim is such an exuberant holiday.

On Adar 13, devout Jews fast in honor of Queen Esther's fasting before she went in to King Ahasuerus to plead for her people. That evening in the synagogue, as well as the next morning, the entire Megillah (Scroll) of Esther is read. Every word must be read from the scroll, not from a book. Whenever the reader mentions the names of Esther or Mordecai, everyone shouts, "Baruch Esther”, “Baruch Mordecai!" (Baruch means "Blessed"). When Haman’s name is mentioned however, all sorts of noise is made in order to drown out the name. Children rattle a “gregger” (a special, whirling noisemaker), shout loud "boohs" and stamp their feet. Cap pistols, alarm clocks, small firecrackers and other items may also be used. Purim is the only time that a child can make all the noise he or she wishes in the synagogue. The children (and even some adults) often dress in costumes that portray the main characters in the book of Esther.

On Purim one is supposed to send at least two portions of pastry and candy to friends and give a present of money to at least two poor people. This is taken from Esther 9:22. This sending of portions is known in Hebrew as "shalach-mones" (sending of gifts). They must be sent by a messenger and not handed over personally. A famous pastry that is eaten on Purim is “hamantaschen”, or Yiddish for "Haman's pockets" (Yiddish is similar to German). This is a delicious three-cornered pastry filled with poppy seeds, cherries, apples, prunes, peaches, and other fruits. Haman's pockets contained the bribe money offered to King Ahasuerus. Some say that these represent his hat, or his ears, which were supposedly cut off before he was hanged.

God did not command His people to celebrate Purim. Esther 9 tells us that Esther, Mordecai, and the Jewish people as a whole ordained that Purim be kept as a holiday. Although the name of God is not mentioned in Esther, one can truly see how God intervened in wicked Haman's plot to destroy the Jewish people and to save His people from annihilation (Isaiah 54:17, Psalm 121:4, Genesis 12:3). Psalm 22 is a striking Messianic Psalm which is read on Purim! Jewish scholars say that this was the prayer Esther offered before going before the king to plead for her people.

I personally believe that the author of Esther intentionally refrained from mention direct references to God because this is a faithful representation of God's revelation to his people. No one sees God or hears him audibly, yet his presence and working is unmistakable.

Won't you pray for the Jewish people as they celebrate Purim. How they need to see that one Greater than Esther and Mordecai has come, the Mediator between man and God (I Tim. 2:5; Hebrews 8:6; 9:11-15; 12:24). He is the Scepter that was held out so that they might live eternally (Numbers 24:17).

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AN ALLEGORY*


My keys to this allegory are as follows:

1. The kingdom with 127 provinces represent the entire realm of man's influence (his body, family, home, business, friends, society etc.).

2. King Ahasueros: "man" or a person; the actual "me" or "ego". The one who decides, wills and has responsibility and influence in the above areas.

3. Mardochai: God's Word (the truth) as revealed through the Holy Spirit.

4. Haman: the old, sinful nature of man (Romans 8:3-5)

5. Queen Vashti: man's conscience; his personal convictions of what is right or wrong. The king had a harem, but also a favorite who was made queen.

6. Esther: personal faith. She was orphaned through no fault of her own, but Mardochai (see above) reached out to her in her need. She not only became his charge, but willingly submitted to his leading. After she was grown, she continued to follow Mardochai's advice in sacrificially seeking salvation and blessing for her own people (household of faith), her immediate surroundings (husband, family, court etc.) and the entire kingdom with its 127 provinces.


The Interpretation of Esther as an Allegory

Chapter 1: Man (Ahasveros) desires to enjoy life to its fullest both in flesh and spirit. He seeks the three primary goals of natural man, a) power, b) material things and c) pleasures. All seems to be going his way until his conscience (Vaschti) suddenly tells him, "Now you have gone too far!"

The king is now faced with a crises: Should he obey his conscience, ignore it, or suppress it? He decides to do the latter in order to save face in the presence of others. He listens to his peers’ and subjects’ advice.

Man is capable of determining good and evil from creation. Vaschti represents our conscience, the best which man in his natural state can produce. High moral or ethical standards and a willingness to stand up for these is not enough. Without God, His Word and the Holy Spirit's enlightenment, we are doomed. Conscience can be followed or ignored, but continued ignoring causes it to become "seared as with a hot iron" (I Tim. 4:2). The natural man attempts to excuse, rationalize or defend his wrong actions because his ego allows no humiliation. For this reason, he is open to all kinds of otherwise illogical philosophies. He may go to great lengths to compensate for his wrong doing with "good" works, religious rites and seeking approval of others.

Chapter 2:1-18: In the quest for good, better and best, a person can "stumble upon" the truth - God's Word or the gospel of salvation. Even an unsaved and wicked boss appreciates a faithful, honest and hard worker. The thief steals good apples rather than rotten ones. But simply being able to distinguish between good and evil or giving preference to good under certain circumstances does not bring salvation. A personal act of volition and non-equivocal acceptance and commitment to God's truth is necessary.

Chapter 2:19-23: God is not desirous that anyone should perish. Here and in chapter 6, we see how God attempts to bring His salvation to all men. God through his Word (Mardochai) actively seeks the best for all men, but especially for his own.

Chapter 3:1-5: As Christians, we are to obey those who are in authority over us - in the Lord. We are to submit willingly to evil masters (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; I Peter 2:18). But there are limitations. We must obey God more than man in conflict situations (3:4). Mardochai's refusal to worship mere man (Haman) was not an act of rebellion or insubordination. It was only through the grapevine that Haman learned of his refusal to bow down and pay homage to him (v.5).

Chapter 3:6-15:Man is never satisfied with what he has. Wicked Haman seemed to have all he needed or could possibly want, yet he was not satisfied (vgl. 3,6 und 5,13). Only after Haman thinks that his goal is within reach, does he sit back to relax (3:15), oblivious of the cost to others.

God is not content with "half a Christian", but desires our whole body, soul and spirit. That is called “faith.” Esther was well cared for by Mardochai, but God desires more. He seeks the salvation of all and chooses to do this through Esther.

It is interesting to note that Haman was an Agite (I Sam. 15:8-33 & Num. 24:7), a royal line of the Amalekites. Amalek was a grandson of Esau through his concubine, Eliphas. The descendants of Amelek were called Edomites and Amalekites. These people were historical enemies of the Jews, which King Saul (a Benjamanite like Mardochai) was commanded to destroy. Joab soundly defeated them in I Kings 11:15-16 as did the tribe of Simeon under King Hesikiah (I Chron. 4:42ff; Num. 24:20; Deut. 25:17-19). Each time, there were some who escaped and Haman was apparently a descendant of one of these. As one of few survivors, it appears that Haman saw himself committed to the task of avenging his people much as Hitler and Sadaam Hussein (3:6) saw themselves called to destroy the Jews. King Herod, who slaughtered the infants at Bethlehem was an Edomite and thus a descendant of Amalek.

Chapter 4-7: Many Christians say that they would be willing to witness if God would only be more supportive (7:3-6). But if it were not for Esther's initial boldness, the outcome would have been much different. When Esther obediently appeared before the king the first time, it was with great fear and trembling, and she had trouble getting her words out (5:7-8). It was only after her act of faith that God began to show his power and might in her behalf. Obedience is the key to God's working in and through us (I Joh. 4:7-21; Psalm 126:6).

If Esther had not followed the explicit advice of Mardochai under those most difficult circumstances, conditions in the kingdom and in the life of Ahasverous would have become unbearable for all concerned, not just for Esther. God promises horrible retribution for those who seek to harm his elect.

Chapter 8-10: In 7:10 and 8:1: We see a wonderful picture of the conversion of man even as it is shown in the New Testament. Through the preaching of the Word and recognition of God's truth, we realize that we are lost and condemned to death. We learn that we must make a life or death decision and commitment in order to fulfill God's purpose in our lives. Through faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to the Holy Spirit, the old nature is defeated (Romans 6:6). This is not the end of the battle, however, for the "works of the flesh" continue to tempt us. We must follow the leading of the Holy Spirit until he reigns supreme.

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* Major W. Ian Thomas, Founder of the Torch Bearers, wrote a book titled, “The Dead Cannot Die,” from which I drew some of these ideas. Neither his nor my ideas are the inspired Word of God, however, so please consider this writing in that light. I Corinthians 10:6 and Galatians 4:24 support this use of Scripture. Paul, Peter and even Jesus used OT Scriptures in a similar fashion (I Cor. 10:4-6; II Cor. 11:3; I Peter 3:20-21; Joh. 3:14 & 6:49).

Ralph V. Harvey