In the book of Esther, Haman conspires to slaughter all Jews who worship God instead of Persian authorities; Purim is a festival that celebrates the life and survival of the Jewish people following this attempt. It is celebrated by dressing up, giving gifts, making hamentash cookies, and being merry and joyful. This festival is named after the lots, “purim” (פּוּרִים) in Hebrew, that Haman casts to determine the date of massacre (Esther 3:7). Purim is celebrated, according to the Jewish calendar, on the 14th day of the month of Adar; this is usually in February or March on the Gregorian calendar. In 2019, Purim falls on March 20th.
Context of the Book of Esther
In 586 BC, after conquering the Kingdom of Judah, the Babylonian Empire deports many people to Babylon. This conquest is foretold by the prophet Jeremiah (chapter 25), and is a result of the people’s disobedience to God. At this time, the historical events in the book of Daniel take place.
In 539 BC, 47 years later, the Babylonian Empire is conquered by the Persian Empire, whose ruler is Cyrus the Great. Cyrus permits the Jews who were previously deported to return to their homeland, Israel, and rebuild the Temple. This is when the events of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah take place.
In 486 BC, Ahasuerus (Xerxes) becomes king of the Persian Empire. At this time, some Jews have already returned to Israel, and others have stayed in Persia; Esther and Mordecai are among the Jews that stayed. The events in the Book of Esther take place in the first half of Ahasuerus’ reign, between 483 BC and 473 BC.
Establishing the Festival of Purim
In the Book of Esther, when Haman’s sly plan is revealed for what it truly is—a plan to murder Esther, King Ahasuerus’ chosen queen, and all the Jews— King Ahasuerus reverses the order. All Jews in the Persian Empire are allowed to defend themselves and kill those who try to harm them. Following this momentous event, Esther 9:20-22 says, “And Mordecai recorded these things and sent letters to all the Jews […] obliging them to keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar […] year by year, as the [day] on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” This is the establishment of the Festival of Purim. It has been celebrated by Jews ever since.
Connecting Purim and Jesus
God promises David an heir who will rule on his throne forever (2 Sam. 7:12-17, 1 Chron. 17:11-14). God’s unconditional promise is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the King from the bloodline of David who will rule forever. God is not mentioned in the Book of Esther, but He is clearly at work “behind the scenes.” God saves His chosen people from extinction so that He can bring about the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ, through the line of David as He promised.