Purim 2018: Evening Wednesday February 28 to evening Thursday March 1.
Purim is a happy, fun-filled holiday that rejoices over the irresistible grace of the God of Israel and His providential care. Purim also has a prophetic dimension that both has been fulfilled, and is yet to be fulfilled.
Purim commemorates the salvation of the Jewish community from near destruction at the hands of a power-crazed Persian high ranking official named Haman. As recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther, Haman nearly secured the King’s permission to wipe out the Jewish community, and he “cast lots” (kind of like the modern day flipping a coin) to choose which day to do it, only to be foiled at the last moment by Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai. (Interesting too that Proverbs 16:33 says “The lot is cast in the lap, but all his judgment is from the Lord.”) Well, anyway…
Wild that in this book, Esther, there is not one reference nor inference at all to God. This is the key to understanding the whole Purim saga. Lurking behind the dramatic scene is a miracle that will eventually be revealed in the end…
At the last moment of gloom and doom, the whole situation is turned completely around to have the totally opposite result. The wicked Haman who plotted to exterminate the Jews ended up being hanged himself instead! Was it just by chance that Esther became queen? Was it simply a fluke that Mordechai was in the right place at the right time to overhear the plot to kill King Achashverosh?
If you believe in God, you will see the hand of God and credit the hand of God; seeing the unseen. And if you don’t believe in God, you will say, oh, simply coincidence.
As this holiday celebration is about seeing the unseen, let us delve into that.
What did our ancestors do to merit this Divine Intervention? Did they do anything? Were they actually deserving of intervention, of salvation? Think about it carefully, reflect on what Scripture says, all of Scripture.
Based on the entirety of Scripture it is a firm NO, the people did NOTHING to deserve God’s intervention and saving grace.
Saving grace. It was an act of mercy, of love, from God bestowed upon His people. HIS GRACE.
Let’s delve deeper.
God places His people in the right place at the right time for His purposes. Esther 4:13-14 “And Mordecai ordered to reply to Esther, do not imagine to yourself that you will escape in the king’s house from among all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and rescue will arise for the Jews from elsewhere, and you and your father’s household will perish; and who knows whether at a time like this you will attain the kingdom?”
God is always in control. Sometimes He begins moving us into these places well before the time comes to perform the particular task He has in mind. Our responsibility is to be open to His leading and ready to go!
The primary observance of Purim is to hear the reading of the book of Esther. The book of Esther is commonly known as the Megillah, which means scroll. It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle gragers (noisemakers) whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the service. The purpose of this custom is to “blot out the name of Haman.” Fascinating. A great study for those interested would be to research the abundance of scriptures where God gives His people the authority to “blot out” the name of the enemy. We’re told in Scripture that we are given the power and authority to tread down the wicked, tread on serpents (which represent the enemy), to resist the devil and he will flee…
The Purim holiday is immediately preceded by a one day fast, the Fast of Esther, which commemorates Esther’s three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the king. It is one day before Purim unless that day is Friday or Saturday and then it is moved to the preceding Thursday. Why did Esther fast for 3 days? Why 3? Why not 2, or 1, or 5?
Another Purim custom is for people to dress up and disguise themselves, another allusion to the fact that the miracle of Purim was disguised in natural garments. The Tanakh (Old Testament) is rich in veiled references to the Messiah, the who, what, where, when, why, and how of His first and second comings. Hidden, disguised.
Tradition proclaims this a time to drink alcohol and some may even proclaim it a time to get drunk. In the Rava (one of the Talmudian Rabbis) this advice is given “A person has to get drunk on Purim until he cannot distinguish between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai.”. Well, what does God say about that? When you read the celebration of Purim in the Tanakh, nowhere does it say to get drunk. The Scriptural celebration of the holiday in the Tanakh talks of feasting and joy, happiness, rejoicing. One does not need to overdose on alcohol to do that and God is quite clear on that.
Esther 9:22 “as the days when the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month that was reversed for them from grief to joy and from mourning to a festive day-to make them days of feasting and joy, and sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.” God warns us that it is not wise to get drunk on alcohol (Proverbs 20:1, Hosea 4:11, Isaiah 5:12, 22, Proverbs 23:20). And God does not contradict Himself (Malachi 3:6, Numbers 23:19, Isaiah 40:8). Where does Scripture say that joy comes from? That is another great scripture digging study for anyone interested. I’ll point you in the direction of Nehemiah 8:10 to start…
A common (and oh so delicious) treat associated with Purim is hamentaschen. These triangular fruit-filled cookies represent Haman’s three-cornered hat. Some say it represents his ears as his head was lowered in shame. As the fruit is somewhat hidden within the three cornered crust, it is also an allusion to the fact that the miracle of Purim was disguised in natural garments; God using a person for “such a time as this”.
Another fascinating interpretation for this delicious pastry is that the three corners are symbolic of the three patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Hmm, then we can also say that it could be a reference to a triune nature of the one triune pastry (one God with each corner of the triangle; Father, Son, Holy Spirit).
As we celebrate with joy at Purim, we again recognize God’s amazing love. The Jewish people did nothing to merit or earn God’s miraculous rescue at Purim. God saved us because He loves His people and is faithful to His covenantal promises (even when we are faithless).
The rejoicing at Purim reminds us of the faithfulness of God and the triumph of righteous victim over evil oppressor. Yet there are those today who see the meaning of Purim in terms of our good deeds overpowering the Hamans of this world. However a realistic view of our world shows us that despite our many good and noble efforts to work within social and political frameworks, there are too many Hamans for the Esthers and the Mordecais to handle.
What if the innocent willingly took the place of the guilty. Would the weight of such a sacrifice be enough to swing the world back to an upright position, a position where people could face God and ask forgiveness? Instead of an evil Haman hanging from the gallows, what if an innocent one, made this sacrifice? Hmm.
Would that one’s name be blotted out, forever cursed? Or would such a name become the name that brings life and salvation, a name that is above all other names, a name before which someday all will (in the words of the Aleinu, a Jewish prayer found in the siddur, the classical Jewish prayer book) “bend the knee and bow down.”
This Purim, as we reflect on the celebrations and traditions, we might also want to consider the claims of Jesus whose very name means “Salvation.” He offers life and peace to all, regardless of ethnic or racial background, all, who trust in his name. He puts out the call. And all who receive will have their own names written the book of life, where they can never be blotted out. Fascinating points to ponder! Chag Purim Sameach!