Purim: The Jewish Holiday Commemorating the Redemption of the Jews
The Curious Story in Which God is Never Mentioned, Yet We are Invited to Look for God’s Activity and Find the “Coincidences”.
WHAT IS PURIM?
The festival of Purim is a Jewish holiday commemorating the story of Esther and Mordecai who saved the Jewish people from the plot of the evil Prime Minister Haman. He attempted to kill all of the Jewish people in ancient kingdom of Persia during the exile. Yet, God used two of these exiled Hebrews to rescue his people from being completely wiped out. The festival of Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th of the Jewish month of Adar (Usually falling in March or April). It is a celebration of fun, storytelling and gifts.
The Purim Story
WHAT IS THE PURIM STORY?
In the land of Persia in the 4th century BCE, there was a king named Achashverosh, or Xerxes, and his wife’s name was Vashti. During a weeklong banquet, the King wanted to show off his wife in order to show off his wealth and power, but his wife flatly refused to appear. The king was furious that she had disobeyed his orders, and the King’s advisors suggested that he get rid of his wife, or else all of the women in the kingdom would rise up against their husbands. The king, in his rage, agreed, and had his wife, the Queen, put to death.
ESTHER BECOMES QUEEN
The King searched for a new queen among all of the young virgins in the kingdom and had them brought to the palace so he could choose from among them. Esther, a beautiful woman, captured the King’s heart, and he made her his new Queen. Now, Esther was a Jew. The Jewish people had been living in exile for the last 70 years. When she was chosen to be Queen, Esther’s cousin Mordecai who had raised her when her parents died, warned her to hide her faith and Jewish identity from the King. She swore to this.
HAMAN AND MORDECAI
Around this time, Mordecai, who was a palace scribe, overheard two of the King’s eunichs plotting to assassinate the King. He immediately went to Esther. Because of Mordecai’s bravery, the King’s life was saved, and the event was put in the royal records as loyalty to the King.
But Mordecai’s success was short-lived. Haman, the new Prime Minister of the empire, was an evil man. As second-in-command to the King, he commanded all to bow to him as they would to the King. Mordecai, as a devout Jew, refused to bow to him because he would only bow to his God and his King. Haman became enraged at Mordecai and vowed to get revenge against him and the Jewish people by wiping out the entire Jewish population.
HAMAN’S EVIL PLOT
Haman convinced the King to issue a decree that all of the Jewish people would be murdered on the 13th of Adar. The King, unaware of the real reasons for Haman’s plot, agreed. The decree was sent throughout the entire land, and the Jewish people across the Persian Empire were thrown into a panic.
ESTHER GOES TO THE KING
Mordecai immediately went to Esther and asked her to go to the King on behalf of her people. None of the King’s subjects were allowed to see him without invitation, and though Esther knew she might be killed, she agreed. Esther went to the King’s court, and miraculously, the King extended his royal scepter to her and spared her life. He was so please to see her that he offered her half his kingdom. She instead, just asked that he come to a banquet with Haman, and the King agreed. At the banquet, Esther requested that the King attend a second banquet before she asked for her request and he and Haman both agreed.
THE KING’S DREAM
Meanwhile, Haman went to the King to request that he be allowed to hang Mordecai early, because he was so furious at the scribe. The King had not slept the entire night and had read through the royal records of the kingdom and found that Mordecai had never been rewarded for saving the King’s life. When Haman approached the King, the King asked Haman how he would honor a man the king respected. Haman, filled with pride, mistakenly thought the king was referring to himself! He suggested the King send the man through the streets decked out in the King’s robes and with the King’s horse, with a Prince declaring he was a man whom the King delighted to honor.
The King found Haman’s suggestion to be exactly what he was looking for, and he set Haman to do this for Mordecai. Haman was shocked and angered, but he didn’t dare to disobey the King now. So, in a surprising change of roles, Haman led his enemy through the streets of Persia, declaring the King’s delight in the Jewish scribe.
ESTHER SAVES THE JEWS
Later, at the second banquet, Esther revealed her Jewish identity to the King and Haman and begged the King to save the Jewish people from Haman’s horrible scheme. The King, horrified at Haman’s true plan, immediately sent Haman to be hanged on the very gallows he had planned for Mordecai. So it was that Haman’s pride and cruelty led to his own destruction.
PURIM IS CELEBRATED
The King made Mordecai the new Prime Minister in Haman’s place, and Mordecai ordered that the Jews defend themselves from Haman’s scheme. So it was that on the 13th of Adar, the Jews fought back and were saved from annihilation. Esther and Mordecai had saved the Jewish people and there was celebration and joy throughout the empire. Mordecai instituted the holiday of Purim (named for the lots or “pur” that Haman cast to determine the date of destruction) in remembrance of the redemption of the Jewish people from Haman’s plot.
WHAT ARE THE THEMES OF PURIM?
The first thing a reader notices is that God is never mentioned. The theme of the story of Esther is that 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.
This reminder is most present when we see the many times the Jewish and Christina people have been persecuted throughout the centuries. Yet still God has proved himself faithful to his people. The Hanukkah story commemorates the Jewish people who revolted against the Greek empire 400 years before Jesus. Though many Jews died in the Holocaust, God proved his faithfulness when the miracle of the start of 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 Jews in Russia. These were not mere coincidences, but the guiding hand of the God of Israel.
In addition, we see 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.
HOW IS PURIM OBSERVED TODAY?
Today, the story of Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar. Every year, participants read or retell the story of Esther and Mordecai through story. People dress up in fun costumes and they give gifts to the poor as described in Esther 9:20-32. These traditions all point to God’s miracles.
Today, Christians can celebrate the Purim story as well. It is a great reminder that even when God doesn’t seem to be present, His Holy Spirit is still at work and He will not abandon his people, even when things seem beyond hope.
This reminder is most present when we see the many times the Jewish and Christian people have been persecuted through the centuries. The season of Purim is an important time to remember those whose lives were lost to Hitler in the Holocaust, to Joseph Stalin in Russia, and the many Christians who are martyred and massacred in the Middle East and all over the world daily. We know that God’s greater plan will defeat all those who come against God’s people.
HOW CAN YOU CELEBRATE PURIM?
Our participation in the Purim celebration brings special meaning to the Christian walk as we remember that Jesus saves all those who come to him for salvation. Celebrating Purim is fun and joyous and can offer great opportunities to join community in creative storytelling.
Here are some practical ways you can celebrate:
- Read the story of Purim in the book of Esther to help you and your family understand the meaning and significance of the celebration. Use the resources available on our website, like our Purim Story Brochure. A great book to read is the Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays.
- If your community is celebrating with a themed storytelling event, get a costume for the party and get involved in the storytelling process, especially if the story is told in skits or dramas. Get ideas from our Twenty Six Eight Pinterest Boards, find our How-To and DIY Youtube and Church Instagram pages, and more.
- Make Hamantashen, or “Haman’s Hat” cookies with your kids and share them with your friends and neighbors. This is a great way to tell others about the holiday. Find recipes here and here.
- Decide whether or not you will give gifts for Purim. If you choose to give gifts, then set aside some money to give gifts to each other and to others in need. Purim is a great time to bless those around you.
- Take some time to educate yourself on the historical times when the Jewish and Christian people were killed for their faith over the years and even today. Websites like Voice of the Martyrs or Christians United for Israel have great resources on the subject. Ask yourself how you can see Jesus in these situations? Take some time to pray as a family for those who are terrorized all over the world for their faith.
- Celebrate the holiday with joy, feasting and laughter and arrange your schedule to eliminate busyness and activities that can hinder the joy and celebration during the two days of Purim.
More resources can be found on the Twenty Six Eight website. Enjoy your holidays and have a Happy Purim!