Purim In Israel | The Story of Esther
The spring holiday of Purim which is celebrated this week in Israel has all the ingredients of a modern day suspense best-seller!
From pagan immoral culture to corrupt politicians, assassination plots, conspiracies, beauty pageants, miracles, and a razor-edge last minute rescue, the story of Esther keeps every reader spell bound from beginning to the very end.
The stage is the Persian Empire, stretching from India to Africa, 2,400 years ago (4th century BC). The Jerusalem Temple destroyed, Judea subjugated under pagan rule, and the nation of Israel has already been exiled for over 50 years. Times are hard.
King Ahasuerus, celebrating his own “greatness,” throws a six-month long national festival, culminating with a private party in the royal courts which Vashti, his Queen, is coordinating for the Persian female high society. Vashti, however, loses the King’s favor and her crown refusing to come to him when summoned, and a beauty contest is declared nationwide to select a worthier replacement.
Alongside the many desirable virgins rounded up from all over the vast empire is also a young Jewish maiden, Esther, selected to join the testing and preparation process conducted in the royal harem. Esther (meaning star in the Persian language), is an orphan raised by her uncle Mordechai. Following months of oils, perfumes and lotion treatments, Esther finds favor, rises through the assessments, and is chosen as the new Queen of Persia, all the while never disclosing her Jewish identity.
Uncle Mordechai, meanwhile, faithfully watching and waiting for her at the gates, cannot help overhearing a secret conversation between two of the King’s attendants who are plotting to assassinate the King. Wisely and promptly, Mordechai exposes the plot and the conspirators are hanged. Mordechai, as humble as he is, remains unrecognized and unrewarded.
ANTI-SEMITISM AT THE TOP
The imperial equivalent of the Prime Minister, Haman, was filled with hatred towards the people of Israel. Not surprisingly, his genealogy tracks him all the way back to Amalek, the fierce persecutor of Israel who harassed the “baby” Israeli nation as soon as they came out of Egypt. Amalek, Haman’s ancestry, was a warring tribe against whom the Lord had declared a perpetual and eternal war of extinction. (Exodus 17:14-16).
When Mordechai refused to bow down before Haman (as his position required), his simmering hatred of the Jews was ignited into vile action. Securing the King’s “blessing,” Haman orchestrates his very own version of a “final solution” to annihilate all the Jewish exiles of the vast Persian Empire. This was the second genocidal plan perpetrated against the children of Israel, with the first one executed under Pharaoh. The day chosen was the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, and a royal decree was sent throughout the Empire, signed and sealed with the King’s signature, authorizing the murder of all the Jews; men, women and children.
A RESCUE PLAN
Learning of Haman’s murderous plan, Mordechai puts on sackcloth and sends a message to Esther, asking her to intervene with the King and beg for his help. The danger, however, is that anyone entering the King’s presence unsummoned risks their life, even the Queen. Calling the Jewish people into three days of prayer and fasting, young Queen Esther takes faith and approaches the King, not knowing whether she will find favor or wrath.
Queen Vashti lost her position because she did not come to the king when “summoned;” now Esther could lose hers (and her life) coming to the same king “unsummoned.” But, God hears the prayers of His people, and miraculously the king’s golden scepter is extended to Esther, signifying approval and acceptance. With the throne accessible to her pleas, Esther unfolds her “counter attack.” Planning a private reception with only her husband and Haman, she reveals to the King her true Jewish identity and exposes Haman’s evil scheme to annihilate her people. Now, it becomes a personal matter for the King who takes swift action and executes Haman.
NOT YET SAFE
With Haman now hanging on his own gallows and Mordechai honored and promoted to the Prime Ministerial position (rewarded for exposing the old assassination plot), it seems the story has reached its “happy end.” But, not so fast… the royal decree to kill all Jews in the vast Empire is still in effect since a king’s proclamation cannot be reversed.
With both the Queen and Prime Minster publically Jewish, however, and with the King’s blessing, a new law is quickly passed, and a new decree is circulated throughout the Empire. While not cancelling the older decree, the new one grants the Jews permission to defend themselves and take vengeance on their enemies.
The 13th day of Adar, instead of being a day of sorrow and defeat, has now become a day of victory and celebration as Jewish communities throughout the Empire mobilize their forces and take action against their enemies. In fact, so decisive is their campaign that the Jews of Shushan, the Capitol City, request royal permission to extend their retaliatory offensive campaign one more day in order to achieve conclusive victory.
To commemorate these wonders, Esther and Mordechai institute a celebration called Purim, to remember and rejoice. These days of the month of Adar, instead of being days of mourning and sorrow, have become days of joy and celebration for the Jewish people worldwide until today.
THE REAL HERO?
Who are the heroes of the story? Young Queen Esther surely stands out with her purity, courage and tenacious faith. Mordechai, the righteous uncle, will always be remembered for his uncompromising fear of God, devotion and faithfulness. The real WONDER of the story, however, is not even mentioned by name in the biblical account. He conceals Himself behind the desperate prayers of His people and the devotion of His servants. He is the God of Israel who never slumbers nor sleeps. He is the Rock of our Salvation.
Perhaps, in days of potential trial or unease, the celebration of Purim brings home the timely reminder that the God of Israel is ALWAYS in charge, EVER watching, and ETERNALLY FAITHFULL to His promises and purposes.
A happy and blessed Purim to our friends worldwide, and blessings from Jerusalem.