Purim is a holiday commemorating the deliverance of the Jewish people from the hand of the wicked Haman during the time of the Persian Empire. The story is recorded in the book of Esther. Purim is one of two major Jewish holidays (along with Hanukkah) that are not appointed by God in the Torah (Leviticus chapter 23). In fact, there is no mention of this holiday in Scripture outside of the book of Esther.
According to Esther, the holiday is celebrated on the 14th and 15th days of the Adar, identified in Esther 9:1 as the 12th Biblical month. “And Mordecai recorded these things and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus [sometimes called Artaxerxes], both near and far, obliging them to keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same, year by year, as the days 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” (Esther 9:20-22). Purim celebration traditions vary, but in general it is a big party.
The new moon tonight, February 9, 2016, signals the beginning of the 12th Biblical month, so it is appropriate that we look at this holiday now. However, there is a twist. Because this is a leap year which has 13 months, Purim is traditionally celebrated in the 13th month known as Adar II. There is a “lesser” holiday known as Purim Katan, or “little Purim,” celebrated during the 12th month of the leap year. I think maybe they just like to party and here is an opportunity to do it twice. But since this is just tradition and not a commanded feast, it really doesn’t matter all that much.
Purim is purely a Jewish holiday, not a part of the prophetic pattern of God’s appointed times and never mentioned in New Testament writings. Still, there are some things we can learn from it and from the events that it commemorates.
The Story of Esther
The book of Esther is written in Hebrew and is a part of the Writings of the Tanach – the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. In addition to the Hebrew text, there are two Greek texts, one of which is found in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. Today we find this version of Esther in the Apocrypha.
There are some significant additions to Esther in the Apocrypha that are not found in the Hebrew Bible. Among those are the description of a prophetic dream Mordecai had, the account of the plot against King Artaxerxes mentioned later in the book, prayers of both Mordecai and Esther, and a decree issued by the king after the execution of Haman. There is also one important addition that is very relevant to the time we live in today. This is the letter from King Ahasuerus referred to in Esther chapter 3, inserted between verses 13 and 14.
This is a copy of the letter:
The great king, Artaxerxes, to the rulers of the 127 lands from India to Ethiopia and to the governors under them, writes thus:
Having become ruler of many nations and master of the whole world, not elated with presumption of authority but always acting reasonably and with kindness, I have determined to settle the lives of my subjects in lasting tranquility and, in order to make my kingdom peaceable and open to travel throughout all its extent, to reestablish the peace that all people desire.
When I asked my counselors how this might be accomplished, Haman, who excels among us in sound judgment and is distinguished for his unchanging good will and steadfast fidelity and has attained the second place in the kingdom, pointed out to us that among all the tribes in the world there is scattered a certain hostile people who have laws contrary to those of every nation and continually disregard the ordinances of the kings, so that the unifying of the kingdom that we honorably intend cannot be brought about. We understand that this nation, and it alone, stands constantly in opposition to all, perversely following a strange manner of life and laws and is ill-disposed to our government, doing all the harm they can so that our kingdom may not attain stability.
Therefore we have decreed that those indicated to you in the letters of Haman, who is in charge of affairs and is our second father, shall all, with their wives and children, be utterly destroyed by the sword of their enemies, without pity or mercy, on the fourteenth day of the twelfth month, Adar, of this present year, so that those who have long been and are now hostile may in one day go down in violence to Hades, and leave our government completely secure and untroubled hereafter.
Of course, we know the rest of the story. The agenda of Haman to eliminate the Jewish people is exposed, Haman is hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai the Jew, and the Jewish people are delivered from the intended harm. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew text never mentions God, though the Greek account speaks of Him many times.
Could It Happen Today?
Imagine now that you did not know the story of Esther. Re-read the letter above, substituting instead the name of a world leader such as the Secretary General of the United Nations in place of King Artaxerxes and the name of the leader of your country in place of Haman. If you live in the United States, try substituting the name of the President or a potential future president in place of the king and the leaders of congress in place of Haman. It is very sobering.
Let me ask you – do you follow a “strange manner of life and laws” as described in this letter? Do you do things like keep the Sabbath and God’s appointed times, reject other popular holidays, or eat a diet consistent with Biblical commands? Perhaps you wear tzitziot or a head covering. Do you call abortion murder, or believe marriage is between a man and a woman? Do you take a stand for your convictions based on what God has said? (If there is nothing that could distinguish you as a believer, I guess you have nothing to worry about.) Do you oppose the directives of the king? You, then, are a hostile troublemaker threatening the security of the land and, according to this letter, need to be eliminated.
Do not think that this is a far-fetched scenario. “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1). Yeshua said, “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake” (Luke 21:12). A time of tribulation is coming – and if you think you will be raptured out of here before it happens, well, good luck with that.
Purim is the story of deliverance, and as such is rightly a time of celebration and partying. But before there was celebration and partying, there was a time of preparation in fasting and prayer as Esther went before the king to oppose the threat to her people. “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). The Greek additions in the Apocrypha give us the words of the prayer of Mordecai, inserted into the text after the end of Chapter 4.
As you prepare for Purim, read the book of Esther in the Apocrypha and see the dedication and the deliverance of God’s chosen people.