Purim is “a lesser Jewish festival held in the Spring to commemorate the defeat of Haman’s plot to massacre the Jews as recorded in the book of Esther” (Oxford Languages). This year it lands on March 6th and 7th, so the Jewish people are beginning their celebrations today.
You might remember this story from Sunday Schools past (or perhaps the VeggieTales rendition) and know that this was a wild tale. It begins with Queen Vashti’s refusal to come and parade her beauty in front of the king and his men at a party which resulted in her banishment. Once the king had cooled down from this matter, he again took the advice of those around him and sought out another queen.
Our heroine Hadassah- that is Esther- who is a young Jewish woman living in the care of her father’s nephew, Mordecai, is taken into the custody of the palace and wins the favor of the king. She becomes queen and keeps her Jewish heritage a secret.
Shortly after this, Mordecai finds out about a plot to kill the king and when the accused men are found guilty, they’re hung and this event was recorded in the king’s book of chronicles. This was the beginning of Modecai finding favor with the king as well.
When Mordecai later finds out about another violent plot- Haman’s plan to kill all of the Jewish people- he found a way to tell Queen Esther and request her help. Mordecai reminded her that just because she was queen, she was not going to escape this tribulation any more than the rest of the Jewish nation. She agreed to help and requested that he and all of the Jews in Susa, along with her and her women, go on a fast for the next three days before she was to go before the king- potentially to her death.
The story has many more ups and downs, and is really quite a moving narrative, but ultimately Esther and Mordecai’s bravery, along with the favor of God, saved the Jewish people from utter destruction. This story serves as a reminder of the evil of antisemitism, the faithfulness of God to His people, and the importance of bravely living according to your God-given purpose.
Today, the Jewish nation still remembers this time when their people were spared from death. This observance starts with a day of fasting, as Queen Esther and the Jewish nation fasted before she went to see the King. The festival also includes the reading of the Book of Esther out loud in public gatherings. The rest of the festival consists of dressing up in costumes, exchanging gifts, and making donations to the poor.
“Purim” is the plural form of the word “pur” which means lots. This is in reference to the lots cast by Haman. “Pur” is also related to the Hebrew word “porer” which means to dismantle, break, or destroy- so there are layered meanings to the name of this festival.
can believers celebrate Purim?
While it is certainly not a requirement for believers to celebrate Purim (and it won’t even make you a better Christian :), Purim can be a special time to reflect on the faithfulness of God to His people and our personal need for God. It is also a time to seek the Lord about your purpose as you were also born “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). This can be observed with a fast, a personal retreat, a corporate retreat, intentional worship & communion times, and/or contemplative reflection.
Our community is doing an Esther Fast right now to realign ourselves with God’s desires for our lives, our nations, and the nation of Israel. In fact, the theme of this year’s fast for us has centered around “Jerusalem, my highest joy” and seeking the Lord’s heart on Jerusalem’s redemptive purpose- to be joyful and a source of joy in the earth (Psalm 137:6, Psalm 48:1-2).
If you recognize that Jesus was a Jew and that we serve the God of Israel, this also becomes a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the lives of Jews and recognize the evil of antisemitism.
history repeating itself.
Although the Book of Esther records events that happened in the past, modern-day Persia (Iran) is still trying to exterminate the Jewish nation of Israel. Iran has a history of wanting to destroy the Jewish people and the nuclear level threats are ongoing. This piece of history that is trying to repeat itself is a prayer point for not only this Purim but an ongoing spiritual battle that, as believers, we are called to fight.
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,” David pens as our example. “and for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness and her salvation as a burning torch… On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the nights they shall never be silent. You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth” (Isaiah 62:1, 6-7). We are called to be aware of the condition of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. As a grafted-in people to their timeline and history with God, we rejoice in their victory and mourn at their destruction. Their status shapes our prayers and their well-being becomes our joy. The faithfulness of the God of Israel to them is the assurance of His faithfulness to us. The God who keeps His promises to the Jewish people will surely keep His promises to us.
Ultimately, there isn’t a right or wrong way to celebrate the faithfulness of God and the intentionality & sanctity of human life. One way to remember the legacy of Esther and Mordecai and celebrate Jewish lives is to be aware of the patterns of antisemitism and reflect on how that may (or may not) show up in your life and community. The point is to create space to celebrate, remember, and reflect on historical events, the character of God revealed in these events, and choose how to move forward.
So, how will you move forward?
if you have an extra moment:
read the Book of Esther
listen to this worship set by Jonathan Ogden that centers around our need for God
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