Articles on Purim
HE STORY GOES BACK to king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (630-562 BC), who, on account of the chronic apostasy of the Jews, became "the rod of God's wrath" by conquering the land of Judah, besieging Jerusalem, burning the Temple of Solomon, and eventually carrying the Jews off to captivity. This became known as the "Babylonian Exile" (2 Kings 25:1-17), and among the Jews who were deported from Judah to Babylon was a young man named Daniel (the prophet), who later served in the court of Nebuchadnezzar.
Nebuchadnezzar allowed the exiled Jews to settle along the banks of the Euphrates River and to establish their own centers of learning and worship. In fact, some of the greatest Jewish learning ever produced - including the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli) - would come from those who were exiled in ancient Babylon.
In time King Nebuchadnezzar died and his son ruled. Later his grandson Belshazzar assumed the throne. This is that king Belshazzar mentioned in Daniel 5 who threw a feast and drank from the holy vessels looted by his grandfather from Solomon's Temple. While he was reveling and praising the "gods of gold and silver" he and his guests saw a mysterious hand writing a message.
In his consternation upon seeing the disembodied hand write these words, Belshazzar vainly sought for an interpretation from his soothsayers. Finally the Hebrew prophet Daniel was dispatched who interpreted the writing to mean both the end of King Belshazzar's reign and of the Jewish people's exile in Babylon. ....
Purim is the Jewish holiday which is most carnival-like. Children drown out Haman's name with greggers. Young Jewish girls participate in Queen Esther beauty pageants. Plays are enacted called Purimspiels. And everyone noshes on poppyseed and prune hamantaschen. Yet, behind the feasting and drinking and partying lies a somber message: the near destruction of the Jewish people. It reminds us that Jewish survival hangs by a thread of circumstance—but the weight on the matter is in God's hand. The account in the book of Esther takes place in fifth century Persia. And the events and characters of Purim (court intrigue, dramatic confrontations, heroes, and villains) are no joking matter. They could be elements in a melodrama plot: Esther, a beautiful Jewish teenager, becomes queen of Persia. Haman, an ambitious and arrogant bureaucrat, turns his envy of the Jew, Mordecai, into a vendetta against the entire Jewish population of Persia.
Mordecai, who is Esther's cousin, appeals to her for help and she cautiously agrees to approach the king. However, she has kept her religious and ethnic identity a secret. After hosting two banquets for the king and Haman, Esther reveals her Jewish identity, and in the presence of the king she tells of Haman's treachery. His plot to destroy the Jewish people is exposed and Haman and his sons are taken away and executed. Mordecai then becomes prime minister and is honored. Esther remains queen. And the Jewish people are spared from extermination.
The holiday is called Purim because Haman had thrown lots ("purim") to determine when he should commence the execution of his plot of genocide against the Jewish people.
A Minor Holiday?
Purim is classified as one of the "minor" holidays. Yet that is not the assessment of the ancient rabbis. Many believed the book of Esther was intended to illustrate that God is at work behind the scenes. ...
The Feast of Purim is a Jewish holiday found in the Book of Esther that celebrates God's delivering his people from destruction. Purim is recognized each year in Jewish communities around the world (this year on March 7) with various services, get-togethers and activities. Esther and her cousin Mordecai are the heroes, but earlier in their lives we find that they, like us, had some rather weak moments.
In the story, Esther becomes the Queen of Persia, and wife of Ahasuerus, but she repeatedly hides her Jewish identity: "Esther did not make known her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had instructed her that she should not make them known" (Esther 2:10). "Esther had not yet made known her kindred or her people, even as Mordecai had commanded her..." (v. 20).
Presumably, Esther lied about her Jewish background by not disclosing the truth in the Babylonian palace. In God's eyes not telling the truth is just plain sin:, "Now if a person sins after he hears a public adjuration to testify when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise known, if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt" (Leviticus 5:1).
Why Not Identify with The Jews?
Esther concealed her identity at the prompting of her cousin Mordecai. Why did Mordecai tell Esther not to reveal her Jewish identity? We must understand that years earlier, through the prophets, God had called His people to return from exile in Babylon to their homeland of Israel. Those that heeded God's call left Babylon. But for others, life was pretty good in Babylon, so they chose to stay there: disregarding, or at least not identifying with God's Chosen People. Since the Jewish residents of Babylon weren't identifying with the call of God, they therefore didn't identify themselves as the people of God. It is the same principle for us today. If you won't identify with God's call, you won't identify with God's people. After all, in Babylon, as soon as it would be mentioned they were Jews, the obvious response would be, 'but I thought God called you back to Israel? Why are you still here?' Hence their lack of faith and resulting shame would be revealed to everyone....
Hag Purim, Hag Purim, Hag gadol shel yeladim." "The Feast of Purim, the Feast of Purim, a great holiday for the children," proclaims this little song. It resounds throughout the streets of Israel during the Purim celebration which is also called the Feast of Esther. At this holiday time, which falls in late February or early March (in the Hebrew month Adar), children run around costumed as beautiful Queen Esther, righteous Mordecai or regal King Ahasuerus. A festive mood prevails, creating infectious smiles on everyone's face.
Most other Jewish holidays carry a sense of solemnity and deep reverence, and any expressed joy is usually in the form of psalms and hymns. Purim, however, is different. In fact Purim is a time when the rabbis permit—even encourage—people to demonstrate their joy with such fervor that young and old alike may at times seem almost beside themselves with emotion.
Purim time is party time. Along with the costumes and gaiety, the more fortunate traditionally give charity and donations of food to the needy. As always at holiday times, special foods abound. Most popular are the little pastries called ozneh Haman, Haman's ears, or Hamantaschen which are supposed to represent Haman's three-cornered hat. The latter are triangular-shaped pastries that usually contain prune or poppy seed and honey fillings. These sweets are designed to remind us of the story of Purim as we recall how God turned the evil designs of wicked Haman into something good for the Jewish people.....
The story starts with a beauty contest in which Esther is chosen to be the new queen.
And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen (Esther 2:17).
During that time, the Jews lived peacefully in the Persian (modern-day Iran) land. Mordecai was a descendant of King Saul, and advisor to the King and Esther’s cousin. Esther was raised by Mordecai. He advised Esther not to tell the king she was of Hebrew descent.
The villain of the story is Haman, an arrogant, treacherous, egotistical advisor to the king. Haman demanded all the king’s servants bow down to him. But Mordecai would not. Haman was full of jealousy and bitterness.
A descendant of the Jew-hating tribe of Amalek, Haman devised his scheme to solve the Jewish “problem” once and for all by annihilating every Jew. Haman told the king, ”
…There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them” (Esther 3:8)
Haman convinced powerful Ahasuerus (Xerxes) that the Jews did not keep his laws and they should all be wiped out.
By lottery, the day was chosen for the Jews to die. Haman suggested that anyone who killed a Jew would be rewarded by keeping the victim’s property.
People responded well to this anti-Semitism. It was decreed that all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, were to be annihilated on the thirteenth day of the twelfth Hebrew month, Adar.
The Feast is called the Feast of Purim. The proper pronunciation is either poo-REEM or POO-rim but never "pure-im". It comes from the Hebrew meaning - "lots" or the casting of lots. The holiday recalls a time in Jewish history when the "lot" was cast to decide the intended day of destruction of the Jewish people. But tells how God saw to it that this plan was not carried out.
Biblical institution of the Feast:
The institution of the Feast of Purim is found the book of Esther. It is the only non-Levitical feast that is commanded to be observed or celebrated - the book itself tells us - "these days should be remembered and celebrated throughout every generation... these days of Purim should not fail (or pass away) .. or their memory fail from their descendants (Esther 9:28)
We read in (Esther 9:27) that this celebration is not just for the Jewish people, but for "all those who allied themselves with them...".
In other words God's word tells us to remember what He did during the times of Esther - and apply it to our own lives. The original instructions for the celebration of this holiday are limited. It was simply to be a time of "feasting and joy and giving of presents (Esther 9:22).
We also read that it is to be a two day celebration at the appointed time (Esther 9:27). Rather than retelling the events that led to this celebration - it can be easily understood by reading the book of Esther - the key events were:
The Events took place while the Jewish people were living in captivity in Persia about 450 BCE
One the king's officials - Haman - took offense at one Jewish man named Mordecai - because he would not bow down to him - and hatched a plan to have all Jewish people killed.
Mordecai heard of this plan and sent word to his cousin - Esther who was married to the king.