Purim and the Book of Esther
This month Jewish people throughout the world will be celebrating what is called Purim, or “The Feast of Lots” starting on the evening of the 15 March (or 14 Adar 2). This is not a Feast or celebration commanded by the Lord but a Feast that came about through God's divine intervention in saving the Jewish people. One can read about this in the Book of Esther. Due to space and time we cannot look at the whole book, but I would like to pick up on a few points that happen in the story and suggest that you take time to really read and unpack the story.
The book of Esther was written down sometime between 400 & 300 BCE so that the Jewish people would remember what the Lord God Almighty has done for them and how the Lord's will, no matter what anybody else tries to do, will happen. God's timing is always perfect and on time and that He has a deep desire to look after His people. It also shows us God's sovereignty to bring about His will even when not everything is God's will and people try to do things against God.
God's name is not mentioned once in the book but you can feel His presence throughout the book. Esther starts off by telling us that there was a King called King Achashverosh and he ruled over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia, in other words people of many different races and ideas and beliefs.
We read that he liked to hold banquets and show off his wealth. He was in fact a pagan worshiper. It goes on to say that on the seventh day when he was under the influence of alcohol, showing that he did not keep the Sabbath he ordered Queen Vashti to come to him. Now we have to realise that in those days women did not go walking about and in fact nobody went before the King unless they were summoned.
Because he was drunk, he commanded that the Queen come into the banquet wearing only her crown. This was an insult to her and so she refused. The King consulted his sages and they decided to do away with her and that a new queen was to be found.
If you read the story we see that Esther a Jewish woman was chosen. Her parents were dead and she had an Uncle called Mordechai who walked closely with the Lord and knew that the Lord would one day take them back to the land of Judah and Israel. He had told Esther not to let anybody know that she was a Hebrew.
Esther would listen to what her Uncle told her to do and so she was different to the other women. Mordechai would sit at the city gates and through this he saved the life of King Achashverosh.
At this time we read about a man called Haman. Now we need to understand a little about Haman. We are told that Haman is the son of Hammedatha, who was an Agagite. Do you remember who the Agagites were? We read about them way back in Exodus 17:8 -16 and then again in Deuteronomy 25:17 – 19? We read that Amalak was Esau's grandson. In 1Samuel 15 Saul is told to go and do battle with the Amalakites and King Agag and to kill all of them, and not to take any of their possessions. Saul disobeys and this was one of the reasons that he lost the Kingship of Israel. Haman is a direct descendant of King Agag. Keep this in mind.
Mordechai's good deed goes unrewarded but Haman for no apparent reason is promoted by the King. Haman hates Mordechai and so puts into action a plan to get rid of all the Jewish people through King Achashverosh's kingdom.
We need to look at Mordechai who was faithful to His God. Are we faithful to God even when we hear about terrible things that are about to happen or when we are blamed for things that have happened. He remembers God's promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and God's covenant. He would have heard what Jeremiah had to say about a New Covenant that would be different and would deep in his heart know that God would have to do something if he is a Covenant keeping God.
Mordechai puts on sack cloth and ashes and tore his clothes. The tearing of ones clothes is still done today as a sign of mourning when one loses a family member. When Esther hears about this she sends clothes and a message to Mordechai who sends a message back to Esther telling her what was going to happen to the Jewish people. Due to her faithfulness to Mordechai and God she asks that everybody fast and pray for 3 days and that she would then go to the King and hope that he would call her but if he does not extend the golden sceptre to her and she has to die then God must have another plan.
Esther goes into the courtyard and the King sees her and extends the golden sceptre. She asks that both he and Haman come to a banquet. There the king offers her many things but she just asks that he and Haman come again the next day and she will then do His majesty’s bidding.
Haman is so happy but when he sees Mordechai at the gate he gets angry and asks advise on how to get rid of him. He builds a massive gallows on which he Haman is going to hang Mordechai for all to see.
It is interesting that on the night that Haman builds his gallows the King cannot sleep and asks to have the books of Chronicles or records brought to him. I think he was thinking that if read to him he would fall asleep. The part about Mordechai saving the kings life is read to him and he hears that he Mordechai had not been rewarded.
Haman happens to be in the courtyard wanting to talk to the king, I would think about hanging Mordechai but when asked what would he give to a person the king wanted to honour, Haman thinks it is him and pride steps in. I can imagine his face when he hears how he is to honour Mordechai the Jew. But he does not have time to do anything about this as he needs to attend Esther's banquet after Mordechai has been honoured.
At the banquet Esther tells the king what Haman had planned to do to her and the Jewish people. The king angered goes outside and Haman throws himself at the Queen begging for his life. The King sees this and decides to put Haman to death on the stake that Haman had built with the original intent to hang Mordechai. Esther asks the King to change the decree about killing the Jews but as it had the Kings seal on he could not but he gave the Jews the right to defend themselves.
It is interesting that after the Nuremberg trials 11 men where condemned to be hung but only 10 were hung as 1 man committed suicide before his execution could take place.
This is what one of the men Streicher said as he was about to be executed.
Streicher cried out, 'Now it goes to G-d.' He was pushed the last two steps to the mortal spot beneath the hangman's rope. The rope was being held back against a wooden rail by the hangman. Streicher was swung suddenly to face the witnesses and glared at them. Suddenly he screamed, 'Purim Fest 1946.'
Streicher had been a Nazi since early in the movement’s history. He was the editor and publisher of the anti-Semitic newspaper "Das Strummer." In May of 1924 Streicher wrote and published an article on Purim titled "Das Purimfest" (The Festival of Purim). In order to publish his article Streicher must have had a good deal of knowledge about Jewish thought and practice. However we can only speculate to what extent he was aware of the remarkable parallels between Haman and his own execution. However, they are indeed striking:
“And the king said to Esther the queen, ‘The Jews have slain and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the capital, and the ten sons of Haman...Now whatever your petition, it shall be granted; whatever your request further, it shall be done.’
Then said Esther, ‘If it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews that are in Shushan to do tomorrow also as this day, and let Haman's ten sons be hanged upon the gallows.’ ” (Esther 9:12-14)
If Haman’s ten sons had already been killed, how could they be hanged again but the Jewish Sages comment on the word “tomorrow" in Esther's request: "There is a tomorrow that is now, and a tomorrow which is later." (Tanchuma, Bo 13 and Rashi, Shemot 13:14).
In the Megilla the scroll of the book of Esther, the names of Haman’s ten sons are written very large and in two columns. This is in distinct contrast to the style of the rest of the Megilla. The left-hand column contains the word v'et (and) ten times. According to our Sages the word v'et is used to denote replication. The inference is that another ten people were hanged in addition to Haman's ten sons.
If we examine the list of Haman's sons three letters are written smaller: the taf of Parshandata, the shin of Parmashta and the zayin of Vizata. Those three letters together form taf-shin-zayin, the last three numbers of the Jewish year 5707, which corresponds to the secular year 1946, the year that those ten Nazi criminals were executed.
The Nuremberg trials were a military tribunal and thus the method of execution was usually by firing squad. The court, however, prescribed hanging. Esther’s request "Let Haman's ten sons be hanged" echoes down the ages,
Equally uncanny is that the date of the execution (October 16, 1946) fell on "Hoshana Rabba" (21 Tishrei), the day on which Jews who are not believers in Yeshua(Jesus) believe that G-d seals the verdicts of Rosh Hashanah for the coming year.
As the Megilla recounts, a decree that the king has sealed cannot be rescinded, and thus Achashverosh had to promulgate a second decree to allow the Jewish People to defend themselves. In other words, that first decree was never nullified.
Our Sages teach us that eventually the Jewish People will return to G-d either voluntarily, or if not, G-d will raise up another despot whose decrees will be “as severe as Haman” (Sanhedrin 97b).
When we look toward the place of our original encounter with Haman and see the rise of a fanatic whose rhetoric rivals our most vicious enemies, we should remember that history most often repeats itself for those who fail to learn its lessons.
What can we learn? I think that we can see that God is Sovereign and that he does not break his covenant. Why are the Jewish people still here today? Once again God does not break Covenant. He will rescue His people and will judge those who fight against Him. The book of Esther is a warning to the world, “Don't mess with my people or I will intervene!”
This is also for Believers who stand with Israel and are going to have to make choices as persecution comes and a warning to those who believe God has finished with Israel.
Below is a recipe to make Hamantashen a triangle biscuit that is eaten at Purim. I like this type which is a bread biscuit.
1 package instant yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm milk,
125g softened butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
You can use cream cheese, or chocolate spread, poppy seeds, apricot jam or puréed apple
In a large bowl, combine the lukewarm milk, yeast and 2 eggs; blend well. Beat the sugar and butter together and then slowly add the sifted flour and salt with the milk, yeast and egg mixture blending thoroughly to make a soft dough. Place on floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes until dough is not sticky, adding more flour if necessary.
Put dough in an oiled bowl, turning over once to oil all around. Cover with plastic wrap or towel and set in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Punch dough down. On a floured board, roll out 1/2 of the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into 3-inch circles. Spoon 1 teaspoon filling in center of each circle and bring edges up to form a triangle as per picture on right. Pinch edges to hold triangle shape.
Place on a greased cookie sheet. Brush with remaining beaten egg and bake in a preheated 180C-degree oven for 25 minutes or until golden. This recipe can be doubled. You should get 24 hamantaschen.