Over the past few years we have studied some of the Jewish Festivals as they come about. So far we have looked at Passover, Hanukkah & Sukkot. This year we are going to add Purim.
Keep in mind as we look at the Festivals that our purpose is NOT to become psuedo~Jews. Our first purpose is to know Jesus better. One way we can do that is by understanding both that He was a practising orthodox Jew of His time & that each & every one of the 7 main Jewish Festivals prophetically reveals Jesus.
Our second purpose comes from our understanding that …some of these branches from Abraham's tree--some of the people of Israel--have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God's special olive tree. But you must not brag about being grafted in to replace the branches that were broken off. You are just a branch, not the root. Hebrews 11:17~18
Understanding the roots of our faith nourishes us. It includes a blessing. But we are a graft. In order to remain in the graft we need to draw our nourishment from the source. When a graft fails the tree reverts to its original form. The tap root, the original source is Jesus. In John 15:5 Jesus refers to Himself as the vine & admonishes us to remain in Him. God’s purposes & plans for Israel have been suspended to allow for our grafting in. This should prevent us from becoming proud & encourage us to be grateful.
Thirdly as we study the religious culture in which Jesus lived we understand better many of His statements as they are recorded in scripture, their spiritual context & the religious implications & consequences.
Just to jog your memories I remind you of the great proclamation Jesus made in John 7:37 “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” The festival mentioned in this scripture is Sukkot when the Priests led the people to Siloam to fill the water jugs that were then poured over the altar. It was a reminder that God provided for His people in the wilderness & brought them into a land flowing with milk & honey. At the height of this sacred moment Jesus gives His great cry. Make no mistake. Jesus did claim to be God & He was understood to have made that claim.
Fourthly, the Festivals work at multiple levels. They are historically recorded facts of events that once happened. On a physical level the main feasts commemorate the Spring & Autumn harvests. On a religious level they are God’s prophetic calendar of redemption through God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ.
So what are we to make of Purim? Purim is the celebration of God’s redemption from certain disaster & complete obliteration as recorded in the book of Esther.
I am NOT going to read the whole book of Esther, as is done in the synagogues, or we would be here a lot longer than our allotted 2 hours. What I am going to do is give you some background, give you some spiritual parallels & read two excerpts, the first an imagery piece to give you some idea of Esther’s surrounds, the second a participatory piece because we have come to understand that God teaches using all our senses in order to help us remember.
First the history because we need some context.
Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem & Judah in 586 B.C & the Jews were carried off to captivity in Babylon ~ where they wept. Psalm 137:1 The downfall of Israel is recorded in the 2nd book of Kings, chpt 25.
In 539B.C the Persian King, Cyrus, conquered Babylon.. By then the Jews had been in exile for 47 years. It was Cyrus who decreed the Jews could return to Jerusalem & rebuild their temple using Persian resources & that part of the story is recorded in the books of Ezra & Nehemiah.
However, the interesting thing is that most of the Jews chose not to return. They were established in Babylon. They were comfortable & many were well off. Jerusalem had been destroyed & to return meant starting from scratch, rebuilding homes, farms, businesses as well as the Temple. Esther’s family was one that chose to remain in Babylon. The book of Esther begins some 50 years after the decree for the rebuilding of the temple had been issued & it begins with a banquet given by king Xerxes for his nobles, officials & military leaders that lasted for 180 days.
By day 7, Xerxes was *in high spirits because of the wine* ~ read drunk as a skunk ~ & he commanded his queen, Vashti, to appear before him & his guests wearing her crown. Now that sounds like a reasonable request, so why would Vashti risk her life by refusing? Because what Xerxes actually commanded was that she appear wearing only her crown! What do you think, ladies? End result, Vashti gets banished & the hunt is on for a new queen.
Read Chapter 1:1~9
These events happened in the days of King Xerxes, who reigned over 127 provinces stretching from India to Ethiopia. At that time Xerxes ruled his empire from his royal throne at the fortress of Susa. In the third year of his reign, he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. He invited all the military officers of Persia and Media as well as the princes and nobles of the provinces. The celebration lasted 180 days—a tremendous display of the opulent wealth of his empire and the pomp and splendour of his majesty.
When it was all over, the king gave a banquet for all the people, from the greatest to the least, who were in the fortress of Susa. It lasted for seven days and was held in the courtyard of the palace garden. The courtyard was beautifully decorated with white cotton curtains and blue hangings, which were fastened with white linen cords and purple ribbons to silver rings embedded in marble pillars. Gold and silver couches stood on a mosaic pavement of porphyry [a copper coloured large crystal stone used for paving], marble, mother-of-pearl, and other costly stones.
Drinks were served in gold goblets of many designs, and there was an abundance of royal wine, reflecting the king’s generosity. By edict of the king, no limits were placed on the drinking, for the king had instructed all his palace officials to serve each man as much as he wanted.
At the same time, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.
Enter Esther. Esther was 14. Xerxes was a sensualist who enjoyed all sorts of debauchery & had such a large harem most of his women only ever visited him in his chambers once, some not ever. Much as I would seriously love to go into greater detail about why the banquets & why Xerxes was being such a jerk I don’t have time. Enough to say he had issues in Egypt then lost a war with Greece & arrived home with his tail between his legs & his fragile, bankrupted male ego in serious need of a boost.
As I was rereading the story of Esther what stood out for me was not her supposed beauty, helped along by a whole 12 months of beauty treatments & good food. Nope. It was her smarts. She was wily, conniving, an incredible diplomat & quite bloodthirsty in spots. No wilting maiden, that’s for sure. No doubt it helped that Xerxes wasn’t all that bright.
The villain of this tale is a man called Haman. Haman was a man whose self~importance drove him to seek revenge on an entire people for the perceived offence of Esther’s Uncle, Mordecai. In the end he was brought down by the woman Esther & he & all his household perished.
During the Purim service the entire text of Esther is read & whenever Haman’s name is read the congregation is allowed to boo, hiss, stomp their feet, rattle noisemakers etc, that his name be blotted out. So we are going to do that now. We have provided some basic noisemakers or you can just boo & hiss as I read Esther 5:9~14.
Haman was a happy man as he left the banquet! But when he saw Mordecai sitting at the palace gate, not standing up or trembling nervously before him, Haman became furious. However, he restrained himself and went on home.
Then Haman gathered together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, and boasted to them about his great wealth and his many children. He bragged about the honours the king had given him and how he had been promoted over all the other nobles and officials.
Then Haman added, “And that’s not all! Queen Esther invited only me and the king himself to the banquet she prepared for us. And she has invited me to dine with her and the king again tomorrow!” Then he added, “But this is all worth nothing as long as I see Mordecai the Jew just sitting there at the palace gate.”
So Haman’s wife, Zeresh, and all his friends suggested, “Set up a sharpened pole that stands seventy-five feet tall, and in the morning ask the king to impale Mordecai on it. When this is done, you can go on your merry way to the banquet with the king.” This pleased Haman, and he ordered the pole set up.
Spiritually we are reminded that satan & his forces of evil have always sought to completely destroy God’s people. He is like the Amalekites, whom God instructed Saul to totally destroy because when The Israelites came out of Egypt the Amalekites attacked, not the warriors, but the stragglers ~ the weakest & most vulnerable.
Saul disobeyed, & centuries later Haman, a descendant of king Agag, sought again to destroy God’s people so do not lag behind in your Christian walk. Do not be a weak Christian for your adversary the devil, prowls like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Like Haman, satan will find himself utterly obliterated but before then we are called to fight. God does not do absolutely everything for us. Rather He calls us to trust that He has everything under control but we must root out all sin from our lives because anything we leave will eventually seek to destroy us.