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. In fact, there is no mention of this holiday in Scripture outside of the book of Esther.
But may surprise you to find that the book of Esther is not the same in every Bible. In fact, in most of our Bibles it is incomplete. Esther as found in the Septuagint contains several more passages that add events and context to the familiar story, some of which you may have already assumed in what you read or have been told.
The Greek Version of Esther
In most Bibles the book of Esther is translated from the Hebrew text of the Tanach – the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. Another version of this book is in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of an older Hebrew text that is no longer still in existence. Today we find this version of Esther in the Apocrypha.
If in your Bible the last chapter of Esther is chapter 10 and it has only 3 verses, then it does not include the passages from the Septuagint. Here are a few things you are missing in the Hebrew text in the order they appear:
A – Mordecai’s dream (Chapter 11:2-12)
A – Mordecai uncovers a plot against the king (Chapter 12)
This is followed by Esther 1:1-3:13
B – The King’s letter – (Chapter 13:1-7).
This is followed by Esther 3:14-4:14
C – Mordecai’s prayer (Chapter 13:8-18)
C – Esther’s prayer (Chapter 14)
D – Esther approaches the King – (Chapter 15)
This is followed by Esther 5:3-8:12 (verses 1 and 2 are not included in this version)
E – The King’s decree favoring the Jews (Chapter 15)
This is followed by Esther 8:13-10:3
F – Mordecai’s dream is fulfilled (Chapter 10:4-13)
F – Postscript (Chapter 11:1)
The Story Unfolds
You will remember the conflict between two of the main characters in this story. Haman was promoted by the King to second-in-command, and at the King’s decree all were to bow and give honor to him. Mordecai, a devout Jew, refused to bow. To get revenge, Haman convinced the King that the Jews were a problem, and the King issued a letter commending Haman and condemning the Jews. Here is the letter, found only section B, chapter 13 of the Greek text of Esther:
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.
Did you catch that? “A certain hostile people who have laws contrary to those of every nation and continually disregard the ordinances of the kings” and “following a strange manner of life and laws and is ill-disposed to our government.” These “hostile” people were Jews, and while some may have been practicing civil disobedience, there is nothing in the story to indicate anyone was hostile or violent. The “laws contrary” were God’s laws, and the “strange manner of life” was simply one of obedience to Yahweh.
Resting on Sabbath, observing festivals, eating kosher, or wearing tzitzit (fringes) probably wasn’t causing any problem, and I don’t know how many of them actually did all of those things anyway. But standing up to a government decree to bow – that was a problem! Now, there are godly men in Scripture who bowed in respect to authority figures – for example, consider both Abraham and David. But this bowing must have been different, probably similar to the bowing required of (and refused by) Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). That made them “hostile,” and for the sake of unity and peace in the kingdom, they had to be eliminated.
Mordecai could not consent. And from a couple of the descriptions in the letter, “hostile people” and “this nation,” it seems that most of the Jewish people would not consent as well. So the King decreed that they would be “utterly destroyed.”
Did Something Like This Happen Again?
Another account is recorded in the Apocrypha of a mother and her seven sons being compelled by the governmental authorities to transgress the laws of God. In this case, it did involve eating Kosher, but the real issue was obedience to what they knew was right.
It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and cords, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers.”
2 Maccabees 7:1-2
The story continues with each of the brothers one by one being tortured – scalped, with tongue, hands, and feet cut off, torn limb from limb, and literally fried alive in a pan because they would not submit to the authorities and violate the instructions of their God. When the youngest of the seven is finally tortured “worse than the others,” we read, “So he died in his integrity, putting his whole trust in the Lord. Last of all, the mother died, after her sons” (2 Maccabees 7:40-41).
Could It Happen Today?
Those who follow the God of Israel, who hold to the values and instructions presented in the Bible, might find themselves in a similar position. Do you “have laws contrary to those of every nation” and do you “continually disregard the ordinances of the king?” Again, I am not talking about Sabbath and Feasts and such. Do you oppose the taking of innocent life by abortion? Do you reject same-sex marriage or the attempt by someone to change their physical gender? Do you resist the mandatory injection of foreign compounds into your body? You, then, are “hostile” to the unity and peace of the people.
This is not an apocalyptic, end of the world, rise of the antichrist and mark of the beast alert. We need to stand and be prepared to take the heat, if necessary, regardless of where we are on the prophetic timeline. We must be like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. We must hold firm to our convictions, as Joseph did and as the Rechabites (Jeremiah 35) did. We must be like Mordecai.
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah went into a blazing inferno not knowing whether they would emerge alive. To them, it didn’t matter. Likewise Esther, when pleading for the lives of the Jewish people amidst the evil plot of Haman, did not know if she would be successful. 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). But she did not go in to the king unprepared.
After Esther makes that commitment, the Greek version of the story in the Apocrypha records the intense prayer of Mordecai, including these words:
“You know all things; you know, O Lord, that it was not in insolence or pride or for any love of glory that I did this and refused to bow down to this proud Haman. For I would have been willing to kiss the soles of his feet, to save Israel! But I did this that I might not set the glory of man above the glory of God, and I will not bow down to anyone but you, my Lord; and I will not do these things in pride. And now, O Lord God and King, God of Abraham, spare your people…”
Esther also committed herself to prayer.
And Esther the queen, seized with deathly anxiety, fled to the Lord; she took off her splendid apparel and put on the garments of distress and mourning, and instead of costly perfumes she covered her head with ashes and dung, and she utterly humbled her body, and every part that she loved to adorn she covered with her tangled hair. And she prayed to the Lord God of Israel, and said:
“O my Lord, you only are our King; help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, for my danger is in my hand… O God, whose might is over all, hear the voice of the despairing and save us from the hands of evildoers. And save me from my fear!”
Look what happens next:
And it happened on the third day, when she finished praying, she took off the garments of service and put on her glory. Then, majestically adorned, after invoking the aid of the all-seeing God and Savior, she took her two maids with her, leaning daintily on one, while the other followed carrying her train. She was radiant with perfect beauty, and she looked happy, as if beloved, but her heart was frozen with fear. When she had gone through all the doors, she stood before the king. He was seated on his royal throne, clothed in the full array of his majesty, all covered with gold and precious stones. And he was most terrifying.
Lifting his face, flushed with splendor, he looked at her in fierce anger. And the queen faltered, and turned pale and faint, and collapsed upon the head of the maid who went before her. Then God changed the spirit of the king to gentleness, and in alarm he sprang from his throne and took her in his arms until she came to herself. And he comforted her with soothing words, and said to her, “What is it, Esther?”
Then God changed the spirit of the king!
As you prepare for Purim, I encourage you read the book of Esther in the Apocrypha. Observe see the dedication of the faithful and God’s deliverance of his people. Then resolve, like Mordecai, to stand strong in the face of whatever happens, including the acts of an oppressive government.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Unless marked otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation
Quotations from the books of Esther and 2 Maccabees are from the ESV Apocrypha, copyright © 2009 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.