creation

Why Do We Give Gifts at Purim?

The book of Esther tells the tale of Esther and Mordecai, two Jews who saved the Jewish people from annihilation in the Persian Empire. During the holiday, many who celebrate the holiday dress up in fun costumes, hold fun traditions and give gifts to others in celebration of God’s redemption.

But why gifts?

GIVING GIFTS FOR UNITY

Chapter nine of the book of Esther speaks to the 14th of Adar, the day Purim is celebrated. The people of Israel are beckoned to partake in “gladness and feasting and sending gifts of food to one another.” In traditional Judaism, this giving is called mishloach manot. 

At the time, the Jewish people were a people not in their own land. When Babylon captured Israel, the exiles were sent to Persian cities like Susa as a way to assimilate them into the culture. Thus, Israel became a “scattered and divided nation.” For the Jews living in Persia, the events of Purim called for action, and the people united to protect their culture and tradition.

That’s where the gifts come in.

The purpose of gift-giving then was two-fold. First, the Jewish people sent gifts to encourage a sense of resolve and unity. No matter their physical whereabouts in the empire, gifts affirmed their Jewish heritage. The ability to stand together in conviction and faith in God has preserved the Jewish people through every period of history.

GIVING GIFTS TO CARE FOR THE POOR

Secondly, gifts were used to bless people who were struggling. Looking out for the poor and marginalized is so important to God, that He commands His people to practice a lifestyle of looking out for the poor in Deuteronomy 15:11. Giving gifts to each other during the holidays such as Sukkot (Tabernacles) and Purim were normal occurrences. Giving gifts, especially food, ensured that everyone had the ability to celebrate the holiday, regardless of income. Every Jewish person was provided for because of the community coming together to fulfill the mandate of God. In this way, the poor and rich alike were brought together and given a chance to experience the redemptive power of God through Purim.

GIVING GIFTS TODAY

Think giving gifts at Purim is outdated? Or just for the Jewish community? Thank again!

We have the same opportunity today to come together in unity with our Christian brothers and sisters. The New Testament also speaks of providing for those in need. Jesus asked his disciples in Matthew 19:21 to give up their possessions to those in need so that they would “store up treasures in heaven.” In Philippians 2:4, we are called to “look to the interests of others.” During Purim, we can remember the words of Jesus and generously extend our hands to those who are in need.

So as you prepare for Purim, ask yourself this question: how am I considering those in need around me? Take time with your family to recognize the needs of those around you and brainstorm some ways you can help. Do you know a single mom who needs money to pay her rent? Send her an anonymous gift of cash. Is there a family who needs a good meal on the table? A grocery gift card or a basket of food would mean a lot. Is there someone who is single and alone who just needs time in community? Invite them over for a good dinner and a Purim celebration. There are so many ways to show some love.

Giving gifts isn’t just for Hanukkah or Tabernacles, and it certainly doesn’t go out of style. May you be blessed this season as you open your arms and hearts to Jesus and those around you.

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The Themes of Purim

The festival Purim is a Jewish holiday traditionally celebrated in the Jewish month of Adar, falling in March or April. The biblical holiday is not a mandated festival, but Purim is a rousing event marked by storytelling and costumes, giving and feasting. Why is it important for us to celebrate Purim as Christians? Why is it a celebration anyway?

The book of Esther tells the riveting tale of Esther and Mordecai, two Jews who saved the Jewish people from annihilation in the Persian Empire. Read a synopsis of the story here. The Purim story is fascinating and gives a unique account of the events that transpired when the Jews were exiles from their homeland around 480 BC. It gives us a glimpse into the lives of the people who God providentially uses to rescue his people from being wiped out. Watch a video on the story of Esther here.

Esther is a young Jewish girl who unexpectedly rises to power as the Queen of the Persian Empire. The King’s Prime Minister Haman created a plot to annihilate the Jewish people. Esther and her cousin Mordecai bravely use their political stance and cunning to bring the evil Haman to justice and save an entire people group from extinction. The book is political, dramatic, artfully written, and the arc of the story shows the writer of Esther to be truly brilliant in his portrayal of details and climactic themes. So what are the themes of the book and why should we celebrate the holiday as Christians?

THE THEME OF GOD NEVER MENTIONED

The first thing a reader notices when they read the story of Esther is that God is never mentioned. No reference to the God of the Israelites is ever noticed, although there are a few implications given when Esther and Mordecai pray. The author strategically wrote the book in this way to reveal the  main theme of the story: God is never absent from his people, even when we don’t see him. The author of Esther told the story through “behind the scenes coincidences” and the work of people in “just the right place in the right time” situations. Every perfect situation and happenstance moment cannot be just mere coincidence, but points very clearly to the God who orchestrates the entire story. We can be encouraged by this as Christians, because we know that God is always working, even when we don’t see him.

This theme is most present when we observe the many times the Jewish and Christian people have been persecuted throughout the centuries. We still know that God has proved himself faithful to his people no matter what. The story of Hanukkah commemorates the Jewish people who revolted against the Greek empire 400 years before Jesus. During the Holocaust, many Jews died at the hands of Hitler, but God proved his faithfulness to his people again in the death of Hitler and the miraculous redemption of the Jews from death camps. God performed another miracle when the State of Israel began in 1945, offering a safe place for the Jewish people. Joseph Stalin died on Purim in 1953, which ended his brutal slaughter of the Russian Jews. These were not mere coincidences, but the guiding hand of the God of Israel.

THE THEME OF REVERSAL OF ROLES

The Purim story is told in sections, beginning with a party, leading into a face-off between Haman and Mordecai, a turn into the frightening plot of Haman, and then arcing in a complete reversal of the story. The story arcs in what is called a “chiasm”, which is a storytelling technique in which a story is told in a repetition of a reverse sequence of events. Essentially the events are structured in an A-B-C-B-A sequence with the climax being the turning point in the story to reverse the details. The reversal incidence in this story is the banquet scene when Esther reveals herself as a Jew. The evil Haman who plotted against Mordecai is hung on the very gallows he meant for Mordecai. The destruction of the Jews turns into a day where the Jews destroy their enemies. We see a reversal of roles as Haman, the most powerful man in the empire next to the King, reverses roles with Mordecai and the victory meant for Haman goes to Mordecai. The story, which should have ended with Haman celebrating his victory, instead ends with a banquet and party as the Jewish people celebrate their victory over Haman. The story is so artfully written that we see this chiasm unfolding before our eyes and our minds are blown by the purposes of God. What man meant for evil, God will turn into good.

THE THEME OF GOD USING ANYONE FOR HIS PURPOSES

In addition, the book of Esther powerfully shows that God can use anybody to accomplish his purposes. Most of the story of Esther is told in a world of power-plays, political hierarchy, murder and drinking. Many of the characters are morally ambiguous and even Esther and Mordecai are not following the laws of the Torah (Such as marrying non-Jews and eating unclean foods). Yet, God displays his glory and power through Esther and Mordecai even though they are not portrayed as law-following Jews themselves.

IN CONCLUSION

The Purim story is meant to give us pause and consider the sovereignty of God, even when we don’t necessarily see God working. It causes us to stop and consider where we see God working in our lives in the mundane and seemingly hopeless situations of life. As Christians, the book is meant to give us hope and faith in the God we serve. We can better trust that God will work powerfully for those who hide in the shadow of his wing.

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Four Reasons Why We Support Israel

Israel is the Biblical Holy Land. Many people know it as the land of Jesus and the land of the Bible. But why should we support Israel today as Christians? There are countless reasons, but we will give you four short reasons why we support Israel today as Christians.

ISRAEL IS THE LAND OF GOD’S CHOSEN PEOPLE

God promised Abraham a land and a nation when he made a covenant with him in Genesis 15. As believers in Jesus and the Messiah, we know that God promised his people a land and a nation forever. As believers in Jesus, we know when a promise is made in covenant between God and his people, God will never go back on that promise. Today we know that Israel is the land of God’s chosen people because of his covenant with Abraham. As Christians we can be sure that God’s promises to us today will be fulfilled in the same way. Because of this, Israel has a right to their land, a right to be a nation, a right to be a people group, and a right to defend themselves.

WHEN WE BLESS ISRAEL, WE WILL BE BLESSED

In Genesis 12, God promised Abraham that he would “bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” Throughout history, we have seen the proof that God blessed those nations who stood with Israel and cursed those who did not. Even today, this means we will be blessed as individuals, and as a nation when we stand by the people of Israel. We can stand with Israel knowing that God has a purpose and a plan for his people.

ISRAEL IS THE ONLY SAFE PLACE FOR CHRISTIANS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Today in most Middle Eastern countries, any person who is found to be following Jesus is killed, persecuted or imprisoned. Since the beginning of the nation of Israel, Christians have been welcomed and protected in the borders of Israel. In addition, it is the only country in the Middle East who values the rights of women, refugees, religions and the press. It reflects these rights in its politics and ways of conducting daily life. We can support the nation of Israel just because they protect the rights of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.

ISRAEL IS A BLESSING TO THE WORLD

Israelis live life by the mandate Tikkun Olam, or “Save the World”. This is the belief that if they make the world a better place for one person, they have done good in the world. God made his chosen people Israel to be a “light to the nations,” and we can see this in the way Israel blesses the rest of the world.

Israel is at the forefront of the medical movement and has provided life saving procedures that have changed the medical field for good. They are at the forefront of the technology field and many of our technological advances today are due to the Jewish people. They lead the world in humanitarian work with their “first in, last out” mandate to help countries recover from disasters. They have more humane military advances and practices than any other military in the world. They share their knowledge and support with America and other allied countries. They provide water advances and other biological technologies to nations around the world. This is because of the success they encountered when they made their own Israeli desert bloom. Finally, they offer a safe haven for thousands of Middle Eastern refugees.

The people of Israel have been blessed with an exorbitant amount of talent and skill, and they are doing their best to bless the world. How can we not support such a country?

ISRAEL IS A BLESSING TO THE WORLD

It is our role as Christians to support the country of Israel. Let us always remember the blessing that Israel is to us, and ever seek to bless them equally.

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What is Challah?

Challah is a Jewish braided sweetbread, usually enjoyed during Shabbat, or Sabbath, a weekly biblical celebration of rest. But why is challah such an important part of Sabbath, and what is it’s history?

BIBLICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF BREAD

In the Bible, bread symbolizes provision from the Lord. God provided manna or “bread from heaven” for the people of Israel while they were in the desert. On the sixth day of the week, Friday, God provided twice as much of the manna so the people of Israel could rest from work on Sabbath. God provided more than they needed in order to show his abundance and provision to his people.

In Numbers 15:18-21, we see the first reference in the Bible to challah or “cake”. “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land to which I bring you and when you eat of the bread of the land, you shall present a contribution to the LordOf the first of your dough you shall present a loaf as a contribution; like a contribution from the threshing floor, so shall you present it. Some of the first of your dough you shall give to the Lord as a contribution throughout your generations.” We see in this passage that some of this bread that was presented to the Lord in his tabernacle or temple was to be holy. 

Bread continued to be an important part of biblical stories. Specifically in Mark 14:22-25, Jesus broke bread and drank wine with his disciples, symbolizing his death on the cross in provision for their sins. So bread continued through the Bible as a representation of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross in communion.

THE HISTORY OF CHALLAH

The term challah may come from the phrase hafrashat challah or “separating bread” representing a tradition of the Jewish people back during the first and second Temples in Jerusalem in which they would rip a portion of the dough off of the bread before they braided it as a sacrifice to the Lord. While the word challah means many things in various languages, it consistently has referred to bread in a Jewish context. Through history, challah became the term for a yiddish bread that was made all across European countries by Jews ranging from Poland, Austria and Germany.

THE SIGNIFICANCE AND TRADITION OF CHALLAH

Challah became a tradition during Sabbath dinner in order to represent the provision God gave to his people in the wilderness and the tradition continues today.

Challah is made into two loaves representing the double-portion God gave to his people.

It is to be braided so it has twelve “humps” representing the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve loaves of holy bread in the Tabernacle.

It is braided in three strands to symbolize unity, peace and love because they look like arms intertwined. In addition, it is a reminder of the Shema or “Hear and Obey”. Christians today can also see the trinity in the three strands of bread woven together into one.

When the bread is baked, it is ripped rather than sliced to remember the priests in the temple who would rip a portion of the bread off to offer it to the Lord.

CHALLAH TODAY

Today, challah can be made with toppings such as poppy seeds, rosemary, salt, cinnamon, raisins and nuts. The bread is covered with a decorative cover and prayed over during Sabbath. As believers we eat the bread and drink wine in communion during Sabbath in remembrance of God’s provision, and Jesus’ sacrifice. Challah is a delicious bread, a wonderful addition to the Sabbath meal, and makes a fantastic French toast for breakfast the next morning. Now, as you dive into the following recipes and new baking traditions, remember the story and tradition that we are blessed to be a part of as we braid our Sabbath challah bread!

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Sabbath and the Gospel

Sabbath

Sabbath is a time of rest as we remember that our Creator called us to rest in his goodness and grace. But how does Sabbath interact with the bigger picture of the gospel? Sabbath began at the creation of the world. God declared his power and authority over time and space by resting from the work that he had done. Adam and Eve followed this same pattern of rest in the Garden of Eden. There was wholeness in Sabbath rest because it created a set-apart time. This set apart time was declaring that man is given freedom from work through God’s rest. God created this sacred space and sacred time set apart from all the rest of time in order to bring wholeness to his creation.

God next gave the people of Israel the mandate to follow Sabbath as a gift and a provision for their tangible and spiritual needs. He gave them twice as much manna in the wilderness of Sinai so they could rest on Sabbath. This was not given to the people out of a religious “saved by works” mandate, but rather meant to declare His imminence and give the people of Israel the conviction that they were set apart as a nation for something more. They were to declare the goodness of the Living God Yahweh to the rest of the nations. They were to reflect this in their daily practices and new hearts in Yahweh.

Jesus in the Sabbath

When God became flesh and dwelt among us in the form of Jesus, He kept Sabbath. In addition to keeping the Sabbath, he performed miracles on the Sabbath, and taught and preached and cast out demons on Saturday. He was designating his power over Sabbath and his authority over time, just as he had when he created the world. He was showing us what life in the age to come would look like. Today, as followers of Jesus, keeping Sabbath is a practical expression of following God’s mandate of rest as well as living as Jesus lived.

Sabbath invites us to see gospel restoration. This leads to us adjusting our schedules so that we can be restored, and then extend that life to other people so that they can be restored. We are given the hope that someday we will rest in eternity with Jesus and be forever with him. Sabbath strengthens the hope that we will be resurrected and that His promise will be true.

Sabbath in History

Jesus’ disciples, His apostles, the early church and believers for centuries have all received the gift of stepping into this seventh day sanctuary. Today, we do the same. We do not celebrate Sabbath as some religious attempt to find God through it, but rather to see His lovingkindness in it. Sabbath is a moment in time when we cease from work and rest. We lay down the cares of this world, rejoice in the beauty of sharing life with others, and consider God’s goodness in our lives. All of this is a part of the bigger gospel story that God has been telling since the beginning of time: we were created to worship Him and enjoy Him forever. Sabbath is the loving provision God gave to us to see His goodness and kindness.

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Five Ways to Celebrate Sabbath in Today’s World

Sabbath, or Shabbat is the Jewish holiday observed every week from sunset on Friday evening to sunset on Saturday evening. Sabbath is a time of rest as we remember that our Creator called us to rest in his goodness and grace. But how is this lived out in the life of a believer today?

Sabbath calls us to practical rest and worship. We do not celebrate it today as some kind of religious attempt to find God through it, but rather to see his lovingkindness in it. Sabbath is a moment in time when we cease from work. So here are five practical ways to live out Sabbath in today’s world:

FIRST, SABBATH IS AN INVITATION TO CEASE FROM WORK

It reminds us that we are no longer slaves to work. Just like the Israelites who were redeemed from Egypt celebrated Sabbath in the wilderness, so can we. We are reminded of the provision of the Lord and we are invited to trust him to provide for us, even when we don’t work. You can choose to intentionally take time away from your busy life and rest. When we stop working, mowing our lawns, and buying clothes, we get an opportunity to step away from life, we spend time in the presence of God and in the presence of those we love. When we physically rest we are blessed. We may ask, “how do we step away from work when my boss needs me, or my children’s soccer game is on Saturday afternoon?” It is a matter of choice. We can actively make the decision to choose to rest and we can step into trusting God to provide us with what we need. We trust Him enough to leave our provision in His capable hands.

SECONDLY, SABBATH IS AN INVITATION TO COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Sabbath gives us an opportunity to engage in church and community. Sabbath in the Bible was always a communal experience, whether it was the Jews gathering in the temple in David’s day, or believers who met in the synagogue during the time of the early church in Acts. Sabbath is meant to be shared. The communal experience of unity with other believers allows us to intercede for miracles to be performed on Sabbath like when Jesus was on earth. What does this practically look like? This means we attend church and spend time in community on Saturday. We may ask the question, “What if I cannot find a Sabbath-keeping church?” The emphasis of community can be celebrated in good formative God-fearing communities on Sunday as well, but this does not mean we forget Saturday as the day of rest ordained by God.

THIRDLY, SABBATH IS AN INVITATION TO DELIGHT

Sabbath is meant to be a time of delighting and rejoicing in the Lord and the good things he has done for us. Taking time to delight in the Sabbath rest is about the fragrance of Heaven working in our lives so we can enjoy him. Practically this can mean many things: spend time with your family, enjoy time in nature, reading a book or take a nap. The physical act of resting our bodies and souls brings refreshment and wholeness to our very minds and bodies. We receive the fullness of joy when we receive the rest the Sabbath offers.

FOURTH, SABBATH IS AN INVITATION INTO GOSPEL RESTORATION

Through Jesus we are able to engage in the practical application of Sabbath so we can receive grace to be restored. We can then extend that grace to others on this day. The gospel story is bigger than all of us, and we become a part of this story when we celebrate the tradition and rhythm that has been a part of our world since it began. Celebrating Sabbath as a tradition just like millions of others through thousands of years of history, shares the gospel with those who need Jesus. When we live our lives in a way that reflects the gospel story people desire to celebrate with us, especially in our Sabbath celebrations. The gospel story is told through the tradition and rhythm of Sabbath.

FINALLY, SABBATH IS AN INVITATION TO FUTURE HOPE

Sabbath is not just a marker in history of creation and the Exodus from Egypt. It is not just a time of peace and a reminder of God’s command to rest. It also points to the future of being in eternity with Jesus. Sabbath in the present strengthens the hope and the promise that we will be resurrected and in Jesus presence forever. When we celebrate Sabbath over dinner with family and friends, consecrating the time and creating an atmosphere of worship, we step into that future life now. We get a little taste of our eternal life with Jesus. When we create that atmosphere during the Sabbath dinner, we increase our hope for eternity and get to experience the wholeness of Jesus in our lives in a very real and tangible way.

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