The Feast of Esther – Purim
An Overview of the Feast of Esther
The Feast of Esther (Purim) has its foundations in the history of the work of a Covenant-Keeping God through the lives of the people He chose to declare His sovereign kingdom and glory in a fallen world. Just as it is important to understand intertestamental history in order to celebrate Chanukah, understanding God’s faithfulness in and through history brings depth to celebrating Purim. Ironically, the more serious your understanding of the unchanging sovereign faithfulness of God in this fallen world, the more unbridled your joy will be in the celebration of Purim.
The Book of Esther shows how God used a Jewish woman living in Shushan to protect His people in all the places of the world. This Jewish woman remembered that her people are joined to God forever for His plan and His purpose. The king and the people of Persia began to worship the only true and living God because of what they saw God do through her life.
The Book of Esther does not mention the name of God in the entire crisis faced by the people He chose to declare His Name and His sovereignty to all the nations of the earth. If a person has no Scriptural understanding of the irrevocable link between the Jewish people and the plans and purposes of a holy, covenant-keeping God, he most probably would wonder why the book is included in the Canon of Holy Scripture. Although His Name is not mentioned, God’s sovereignty, faithfulness and power shout from the pages of the Book of Esther. The festival of Purim is another reminder to the Jewish people and to the world that a holy, sovereign, covenant-keeping God reigns.
The festival of Purim is an ordinance for the Jewish people and their descendants to all generations. The Book of Esther in the Holy Scriptures tells us that the feast was established by a Jewish man named Mordecai around 460 BC (Esther 9.19-32).
Esther 9.24 says the feast takes its name from the Hebrew word “purim” which means “lots” or “lottery.” If one flips a coin or pitches dice he is casting lots or “purim.”
Esther 9.21 sets the celebration of Purim to be on the 14th and 15th of the Hebrew month of Adar. Adar is the twelfth month of the Hebrew calendar, occurring during the months of February/March in the modern solar calendar. Here is a link which will identify the corresponding calendar dates for each year’s Purim: Jewish-Roman Calendar. The day always begins at sundown on the Roman calendar date.
These two days were to be days of feasting, gladness, gift giving, and sharing with the poor (Esther 9.22). The Jewish people revisit the invisible Hand of God working through the events recorded in the Book of Esther, which is known as the Megillah.
The sovereignty of God in history
About 1700 years before Esther was called to take a stand for her people, God promised her ancestor Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse” (Genesis 12.3). Five hundred years after God’s promise to Abraham, his descendants were facing the threat of annihilation under an Egyptian Pharaoh. The Feast of Passover tells us that Pharaoh suffered the curse of God for having cursed Israel. Not long after God delivered the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery, He took them to be His own people. He extended a Holy Covenant to them at Mt. Sinai which they ratified unanimously, making them inseparably, irrevocably a people bound to the plans and purposes of a holy God. The Scriptural history of God’s sovereignty repeatedly documents the demise of armies and their generals who pursue a notion to annihilate the Jewish people. However, belonging to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has not always been a comfortable experience for the Jewish people. In the Holy Covenant is a clause that warns of unpleasant consequences for disobeying God’s commandments. Scriptural history of shows that God has used the barbarism of Israel’s enemies as a means of disciplining and correcting His people. Throughout all His stern reproaches, God has steadfastly maintained His vow to keep Israel from extinction. Why? Because of His own unchanging reputation for keeping covenant promises.
The first one was to Abraham’s ancestor Adam. Genesis 3.15 tells of His promise to bring forth a son from “the seed of the woman” who would deliver a fatal, crushing blow to the head of the Adversary, Satan. Since women do not carry the “seed,” the Son who would come forth would be Divinely conceived; and although wounded in His effort, He would win everlasting triumph over the power of Satan. This confrontation in that Garden immediately raised the “stakes” in Satan’s competition for the throne of God.
Genesis 12.3 further promised that in Abraham’s “seed”—his descendants—all nations of the world would be blessed, pointing to the coming Messiah who would bring salvation to the world. If the Jewish people were annihilated, there would be no Messiah; Satan would have no fear of defeat; and God would be made a liar. Now, if God is proven to be a liar, then the Scriptures would be false, and those who love to do whatever they please would be free of fear of judgement. See how deliciously appealing the idea of exterminating the Jews is to the enemies of the God of the Holy Scriptures. Purim celebrates the abortion of that evil scheme.
The events recorded in the Book of Esther occur 100 years after Israel experienced the chastening from God for her idolatry and her refusal to repent of it. As the prophets warned, God brought the invaders to destroy the land and take the people captive. In the year 722 BC, the Assyrians plundered northern Israel and took all the educated and wealthy Jews back to Nineveh. The Assyrians promptly undertook the decimation of the Jewish people and their identity by raping the Jewish women. The Babylonians conquered Nineveh around 606 BC and overtook southern Israel, engineering three systematic deportations of the Jewish people to Babylonia. Jerusalem was burned to the ground in 586 BC, leaving no Temple which was the only place of reconciliation with God for Israel and for the world. As the prophets foretold, Israel’s captivity endured for 70 years. In 536 BC, another decree was issued regarding Israel’s destiny. This one came from Cyrus, the Persian emperor who conquered the Babylonians. He gave the order that Israel’s Temple should be rebuilt in Jerusalem. He commissioned his Jewish subjects to return to Israel and begin the task. Three Jewish exoduses and almost 200 years later, many of the Jewish people had returned to Israel and the city of Jerusalem was restored.
The Jewish people, however, did not live “happily ever after.” Not all of the Jewish people returned from what was formerly the Babylonian captivity. As the prophets foretold, God provided many mercies for the Jewish people in the land of their captivity. Life rebuilding Israel from the rubble would be more primitive. With the Persians in control of more than 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia, politically, Israel itself appeared to be no more than a satrapy of the Persian emperor. Like those who remained in the dispersion, the returning Jewish emigres would be at the mercy of any decree coming from the royal palace at Shushan. The Book of Esther shows some reasonable purpose in a Jewish presence in the land of Shushan. Purim celebrates that purpose.
While daily life in the Persian culture was not oppressive, it threatened the commitment of the Jewish heart to be set apart to God. Jewish people, although living in a culture immersed in Persian religious thought, were still irrevocably linked to the plans and purposes of a holy, sovereign God. Persian religion, which was Aryan Zoroastrianism, opposes such plans and purposes, and denies the holiness and sovereignty of the God of Israel. Aryans believe that their deity is in a life-and-death struggle with an evil rival. Their deity, however, needs the good deeds of men to assist in overcoming the evil rival. In Aryan thought “Good” is judged upon a humanistic standard, not upon the absolute standard of the God whose holiness triggers terror and dread in the heart of man. Whether the best-intentioned Aryan knows it or not, Satan is his best friend. The logical conclusion of Aryan thought judges any person or people on the earth inferior in their contribution to “Good” worthy of execution. Therefore, if a devout apostle of Aryanism emerged in a place of international power, people—especially Jewish people—known for their historical disobedience, are prime targets for extermination. See how quickly life can change for a Jew, irrevocably linked to the plans and purposes of a holy God. Purim celebrates God’s preservation of the Jewish people by His sovereign grace and for His sovereign purposes.
The Book of Esther does not specifically identify the villain Haman as a devout apostle of Aryan Zoroastrianism. The religious climate of Persia, however, was the breeding ground for anything compatible with Satan’s prime agenda: the defamation of Israel’s God and the annihilation of Messiah’s earthly ancestors. A look back into Biblical history also reveals that Haman is a descendant of a man named Agag (Esther 3.1; 1 Samuel 15.8-9) who was the king of the Amalekites, a mortal enemy of the Jewish people (1 Samuel 15.2). Samuel had ordered King Saul to execute Agag immediately upon approaching him in battle. Saul, however, sinned by sparing Agag’s life, giving Agag time to reproduce after his own kind. The consequences of Saul’s sin emerged centuries later in the person of Haman, king Ahasuerus’ right-hand man. Purim celebrates the faithfulness of an unchanging, sovereign, faithful covenant-keeping God.
The drama involving the conflict between Haman and Mordecai is riveting. Equally captivating, however, is the intriguing role Mordecai’s cousin Esther played in winning the necessary favor of Haman’s supervisor, King Ahasuerus. This nice little Jewish girl remembered why she is Jewish. Her response to that commitment profoundly influenced the Persian Empire and ultimately the whole world…
Celebrating the Covenant-Keeping God
Theme: Our World Needs Yeshua/Jesus
Theme Verse: Romans 1.16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”
- To remember God’s plan of salvation revealed to the world through the Jewish people
- To remember Satan’s battle against God’s plan of salvation
- To remember God’s sovereignty, faithfulness and power to protect and preserve His people of purpose
- To remember the power of the Gospel of Yeshua to bless Israel and the nations…
That we might see the awesome power of God in the Purim scriptures; That we might surrender our hearts to the purposes of God for the Jewish people; That we might comfort and awaken the Jewish people to the power of God in Yeshua; and That we might labor in protecting Israel from harm by declaring the true identity of the Christ to the Gentiles.
My Prayer: Blessed art Thou, O LORD our God, King of the universe! You who watches over Your people Israel; You who neither slumbers nor sleeps; You who has been a shade at their right hand, has watched over their coming and going, has spared them from destruction: so that this wretched Gentile could behold Your salvation from the Word they have faithfully preserved! You have engrafted me into Your vine and adopted me as Your child and an heir to the glorious riches of Israel’s Messiah. Let me not be ashamed of Your Gospel, O God! Make me a blessing to the Jewish people, for you have bound me irrevocably to Your purposes, O God. Teach me to declare to the nations who “The Christ” is, that the Jewish people will never suffer harm at the hands of any who name His Name again. In Yeshua’s Name, I pray. Amen.
In synagogues the Megillah is read aloud. All the participants typically dress up in costumes from the story of Esther and the people act out the story in Purim plays. Whenever Haman’s name is mentioned the listeners respond with noisemakers and loud jeers.
If the festival seems unduly hilarious and nonsensical, it is only that expression of total, unrestrained relief in remembering the victory God ordained for the Jewish people over their enemies. The days that preceded the festival were intense for the Jewish people. A decree had been issued throughout the Persian Empire for their extinction. They had been denied any weapons for defense. Their very existence hung in the balance until their enemy Haman hung on the gallows he built for Mordecai (Esther 7.9-10). The relief after securing their victory over their enemies in the empire was well worth the observance ordained by Mordecai and Queen Esther.
Whoever bakes in your family can find recipes on the web for the traditional pastries called “hamantashen.” These little three-cornered pastries are filled with poppy seed and honey, apricot or prune fillings. The name “hamantashen” is Yiddish for “Haman’s hats” or “Haman’s ears.” The ingredients are commonly available in most supermarkets. If you prefer, you can usually find these already baked in a local bakery or specialty section in your local supermarket.
Another tradition at Purim is to prepare a basket of hamantashen, fruit and/or a special beverage and go and give it to someone in need.
There’s more to Purim than hamantashen and noisemakers…
A Family Feast on the Book of Esther
As a family you might read the Book of Esther aloud, remembering that a holy God has been at work in all of the events for His great purposes and promises. Let all the children who are able to read take turns reading the Scripture passages shown below with the adults.
- Scene 1: The King of Persia Takes a New Queen: Esther 1.1-5,10-22; 2.1-4
- Scene 2: Mordecai and Esther Obey the King But Keep a Secret: Esther 2.5-20
- Scene 3: Trouble in the Palace – Esther’s Call to Action: Esther 2.21-4.17
- Scene 4: The King Discovers His Loyal Subject: Esther 5.1-6.14
- Scene 5: Justice and Joy for the People of Israel: Esther 7-9
Discuss the scope of the Persian Empire and the threat of Haman’s plot on all the Jewish people (Esther 1.1; 3.6-11). At that time, Israel and the Jews living there were also under the authority of the Persian Empire. What would the success of Haman’s plot mean for God’s promises to Israel and His reputation as the only true and living God?
Talk about Mordecai’s reminder to Esther (Esther 4.14). Whose reputation is showing in this verse? Haman’s name is mentioned much; God’s Name is not mentioned at all. On Whom will you focus during your Purim celebration? Purim is not about Haman; Purim is about the God who is sovereign, and whose work is visible even though He Himself is invisible.
Esther 8.11-12; 9.1,5,15-19: Talk about the battle that was fought for the salvation of the Jewish people in Shushan and throughout the Persian Empire. Talk about the days of Adar decreed for going out to fight against Israel’s enemy. Talk about the days of Adar decreed for celebrating the victory. Talk about the weapons of warfare the king provided for the people in defense of their lives. Whose reputation is showing in the Book of Esther (also known as The Megillah)?
Rejoicing with Jerusalem and Being Glad
There is a greater cause for rejoicing all wrapped up in this celebration. What follows is a guide with notes on discussing how great the work of God is on behalf of His people, and how great His victory is—forever…
THE SPIRIT OF GOD
For Such a Time as This…
- Rejoice and celebrate this festival remembering the God who reigns over all is faithful and powerful to keep His promises! We can trust Yeshua because God is faithful to Israel! L’Chaim b’Yeshua! To Life in Jesus!
- God calls to us through the prophet Isaiah, saying:
Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad with her, all you who love her; rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her; that you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom, that you may drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory. For thus says the Lord: Behold I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; on her sides shall you be carried, and be dandled on her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
If you are Jewish, God has a purpose and a plan for you to be a blessing to all people. He has given you a wonderful heritage and the blessing of the Torah, the Psalms, and the Prophets, all which point to Messiah Yeshua. Have you accepted the sacrifice Yeshua made as your only and everlasting atonement for your sins? Have you embraced Yeshua as your Messiah?
If you believe that Yeshua is Lord, you belong to God and He has a plan for your life. Just as He faithfully worked out His plan for the Jewish people in the lives of Esther and Mordecai, He is working out His plan in your life each day. Will you trust and obey His commands to you, or are you fighting against Him through disobedience and indifference to Him?
For Such a Time as This: Think about and talk with your family about God’s plans for each one of you as you are growing up: loving God, learning the Word of God, respecting those in authority, using special talents to serve Him.
- If you believe that Yeshua is Lord, you are called to live as one who belongs to God and not the world around you. Just as Esther needed courage to bring the truth to the Persian people, we must have the courage to bring the truth to our world. Are you living as one whi belongs to a holy God in a world that teaches unholy things?
For Such a Time as This: In your prayer times include prayers for the peace of Jerusalem and the salvation of the Jewish people. Spend time with your family discovering the Gospel Plan in the Old Testament Scriptures…
- The Truth is a blessing to the Jewish people. The Truth of Israel’s Messiah is in the Gospel. Will you learn to share it with them or will you deny them the blessing? God chastens those who hurt the Jewish people. Keeping the blessing of the Gospel from them is hurting them.
- The Truth is a blessing to the Gentiles. When the Gentiles do not know the truth of who Christ Jesus is, they can become enemies of the Jewish people. When they hurt the Jewish people, God will bring punishment on them. The Truth of Christ Jesus is in the Gospel first shown through the Jewish Scriptures. Will you learn to tell them who Yeshua is or will you deny them the blessing?
- Rabbi Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation [the blessing] of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1.16). Our world needs Yeshua!
For Such a Time as This: Think about and talk to your family about giving to missions and encourage them to speak of Yeshua to friends and family. Ask God to teach you and look for opportunities to open a dialogue with an unbeliever–Jewish or non-Jewish–concerning the plan and purpose of the God who protects the Jewish people. Our World Needs Yeshua…
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem...” (Psalm 122.6)
Adapted from: DISCIPLING THE MESSIANIC BELIEVER: CELEBRATING THE FEASTS – Purim – The Feast of Esther; first edition pp. 487-512, ©1991, Revised ©1995, ©2003, ©2020 Patricia Stachew, Stillwaters Publications, Reston, VA. All rights reserved.
Meditating upon the vision Jeremiah had of God’s eye-view in Jeremiah 46-51, I recall the record he set down of the judgment in wrath God intends for the nations of the earth who hate the Jewish people. There are many ways to hate Jewish people. I am not talking about agreeing with every political decision of the current government in the re-established land of Israel. The government of the current state of Israel is not flawless in its judgments. The hatred to which I am referring has its roots in the Adversary’s thoughts and ways; the kind of thinking that denies God’s protection of the Jewish people for His Name’s sake and for His Divine purpose; the kind of thinking that is in rivalry with what God has promised Israel ultimately. It takes the form of refusal to share Messiah Yeshua with the Jewish people.
The Gentiles are not the only ones guilty of the crime of withholding the message of Messiah from the Jewish people. In this current period of history, the eternal destiny of every man—including Jews—rests upon their recognition and embrace of Yeshua/Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ of God. To allow or force a Jew to die without the knowledge of his Messiah is to seek his ultimate destruction. This is the cruelest kind of anti-Semitism. There are those among the devoutly observant Jewish community who are unwitting accessories to this form of anti-Semitism. The Adversary is crafty in using that community’s zeal for the Law and fear of Yeshua because of atrocities committed against them in His name. The Adversary is so skillful that he has enabled the Jewish people to peacefully co-exist with Christians as long as they keep their Gentile Messiah to themselves. So fearful and bitter are these Jewish people of the cruelty imposed upon them under the banner of the cross, they prevent their own people from knowing what the Hebrew Scriptures reveal concerning their Messiah. What a horror: that any among those whom God has chosen to enjoy blessing should deny the blessing to their own, bringing the double weight of the consequences of their rejection upon themselves! Purim is a call to those who understand the link between the Jewish people and the purposes of God to comfort and awaken them with the knowledge of the “Whole Megillah.” God reigns and the Jewish people live by His sovereign grace and faithfulness! There are promises yet to keep; God is not done with the Jewish people; although one fine day, He will be done with the Gentiles (Romans 11.1, 11, 25).
Gentile anti-Semites practice their hatred for other reasons. The Adversary uses their ethnic pride which goes back to the jealousy Ishmael displayed against Isaac, and the rivalry between Esau and Jacob, and the corruption of Lot’s descendants. The whole spectrum of heathen idolatry which the nations jealously fight to preserve stands in direct opposition to the Jewish people linked to the only true and living God. Inherent in anti-Jewish hatred is the element of longing to see Israel destroyed out of jealousy and covetousness of the covenant the Living God chose to establish with her—for the purpose of drawing those same idolatrous rivals into reconciliation with God. And the Adversary plants his subtle devices even among Gentiles who say they are Christians. Their kind of hatred manifests itself in the element of pride: the pride of somehow earning the benefits of the salvation promised the Jewish people, simply because many of the Jewish people have rejected it thus far. It is worn like a cruel armband to begrudge the Jewish people the grace of God’s restoration. When I think of God’s power to work in the hearts of men like Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus and Ahasuerus, I realize the only weapon against anti-Semitism is the knowledge of Messiah Yeshua cutting the heart of the Gentile. Purim is a call to declare to the Gentiles the true identity of the Christ. They need to hear the “Whole Megillah.” God reigns the Jewish people live by His sovereign grace and faithfulness!!
Christians and the Feast of Esther
Being grafted into Israel’s Scriptural heritage through the blood of the Messiah, Christians share in the same irrevocable link to the plans and purposes of God. Scripture calls believers to rejoice with Israel.
Shall I bring to the time of birth, and not cause delivery?” says the LORD. Shall I who cause delivery shut up the womb?” says your God. Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad with her, all you who love her; rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her; that you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom, that you may drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory. For thus says the Lord: “Behold I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; on her sides shall you be carried, and be dandled on her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
Purim is one of many occasions throughout the festival year to freely indulge in that joy.
The added bonus is that the Book of Esther holds challenges to the character growth of Christians: trust in God’s sovereign faithfulness and courage to respond as one who belongs to Him in a world culture diametrically opposed to His plans and purposes. Purim is the one time of the year Scripturally mandated to focus our attention on the valuable lessons exposed in the Book of Esther.
As more Christians are fed and “satisfied with the consolation of Israel’s bosom,” having drunk deeply from the heritage they enjoy in the Scriptures, they are better armed to battle against Satan’s chief strategies to dethrone God: anti-Semitism.
As those who can claim no hope in the promises of Jesus apart from God’s sovereign faithfulness to Israel, Christians have much to gain in the celebration of the Feast of Esther. God reigns and the Jewish people live by His sovereign grace and faithfulness! Glory to the Lord Jesus Christ!
Adapted from: DISCIPLING THE MESSIANIC BELIEVER: CELEBRATING THE FEASTS – Purim – The Feast of Esther; first edition pp. 487-512, ©1991, Revised ©1995, ©2003, ©2020 Patricia Stachew, Stillwaters Publications, Reston, VA. All rights reserved.