Esther and the Feast of Purim
This article will be a bit eclectic because the most intriguing elements of this story are so. It is historical, presently relevant, and there are glimpses into future events. This feast and the book of Esther is prophetic and practical with both visible and hidden themes. It is multi-layered and multi-faceted.
The Book of Esther takes place in the Persian empire (Modern day Iran). The children of Israel had been taken captive by the Babylonians, who were eventually defeated by the Medo Persians, for seventy years because of their sin and idolatry.
Review of the Story
After seventy years of Babylonian captivity, the Lord allowed the Jewish people to return to their homeland (See the books of Ezra and Nehemiah for these details), but some stayed in Persia. It is not clear why some of the Jewish people did not return.
Whatever the reason, they found themselves in quite a predicament when Haman the Agagite, a descendant of an ancient historical enemy of the Jewish people, as well as chief minister of the king, plots to annihilate the Jewish people by convincing the king to issue a decree to get rid of a "certain" people (The Jews). Haman claims enforcement of this law because Mordecai, Esther's Jewish cousin, would not bow to him.
Esther, a Jew herself, had been chosen to be queen in place of Vashti, the king's previous wife because Vashti disobeyed the king.
Esther exposed Haman's evil plot through her uncle Mordecai's help, risking her own life in doing so. Haman was hung on the gallows intended for Mordecai. Haman's ten sons are killed and later hung (more on this later). The story does not end here, in that the king's decree to kill the Jews is still out there and cannot be changed. The king, therefore, permits for a new decree to be issued, stating that the Jewish people may defend themselves against any attack or plot made against them. When all was said and done, and the Jewish people were spared, a feast was ordered in the land to celebrate the victory.
The Ancient Enemy
A little closer look at Haman the Agagite; King Saul was commanded to defeat this enemy in I Samuel.
Samuel also said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.
— I Samuel 15:1-3
Saul disobeys and appeases his ego supported by popular opinion rather than his instructor, who spoke on behalf of God Himself.
But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.
— I Samuel 15:9
Samuel confronted Saul and ended up killing Agag Himself, but because of Saul's disobedience, Agag's descendants continued. The line of Agag is the line from which Haman descends. What is truly interesting about this is revealed in Mordecai's family tree.
Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite.
— Esther 2:5
Now, let's compare that with Saul's genealogy.
Now there was a man of Benjamin, whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah, a Benjamite, a mighty man of power.
— I Samuel 9:1
Mordecai is related to Saul and from the same tribe. Here in the book of Esther, we have a direct face-off with one of Saul's descendants and an enemy he was supposed to destroy. Saul pictures for us a first Adam and Mordecai images the second.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive . . . The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
— I Corinthians 15:22,45
There is a prophetic element to this story concerning another "Haman" in the not so distant past who plotted to annihilate God's covenant ones, namely Hitler.
According to Wikipedia, Hitler banned the feast of Purim in a speech made in November of 1938. He also stated that if the Nazis were defeated, the Jews could celebrate a second Purim. He openly associated himself as a Haman type figure against the Jewish people.
Back to historical Hitler—In the book of Esther, when the new decree was issued. The Jews rose up on the day set for their annihilation and successfully defended themselves and their right to exist.
. . . the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews—they killed.
— Esther 9:10
The King then asks Esther if there is anything else she would like done. Esther then makes a strange request after the ten sons of Haman are killed.
. . . what is your petition? It shall be granted to you. Or what is your further request? "do again tomorrow . . . let Haman’s ten sons be hanged on the gallows.”
— Esther 9:12-14
Why does Esther want them hanged when they are already dead? The key phrase in this portion of scripture is "do again tomorrow" It is believed that possibly this was a prophetic act signaling a future event when a future Haman would rise up, foretelling the consequence of those who cursed the children of Abraham with death and destruction.
I will bless those who bless you,And I will curse him who curses you;And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
— Genesis 12:3
The Nuremberg Trials
On October 1, 1946, ten German men who had been declared guilty of their Nazi war crimes were hanged for their involvement and participation in the atrocities committed against the Jewish people. This event was known as the Nuremberg Trials. And even more fascinating than this is that this exact date is embedded in the Hebrew Scriptures' numeric codes in the book of Esther at the very place where the ten sons of Haman are listed. There are many more intricacies and details to these findings, and I strongly encourage anyone interested to do some further research of their own on the subject.
In the News
A noteworthy similarity in the modern-day events concerning Iran (the same place the story of Esther takes place) and the Biblical story of Esther, is how at the end of this story, the Jews gain permission to defend themselves. March 5, 2012, Benjamin Netanyahu (Prime Minister of Israel) and Barak Obama met two days before the feast of Purim to discuss these very same matters. Netanyahu pretty much declared that Israel would defend itself against a nation (Iran) whose goal it is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth (Just like Haman), when and if they feel it is necessary, whether The U.S. backs them or not. I think of what Mordecai said to Esther when she considered whether to involve herself or not and how it could apply to the U.S.
"if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"
— Esther 4:14
Netanyahu made it distinctly clear that not to back them was certainly our choice but that we should also not consider ourselves safe from Iran's potential dangers either. It is also interesting that Netanyahu sent a copy of the book of Esther to President Obama as a gift before this meeting.
An added current events note to this "In the News" section, March of 2016. Netanyahu was scheduled once again to meet with President Obama on March 18, a week before Purim but has decided to address the conference via satellite on March 20, citing fears of becoming entangled with the political campaign.
These AIPAC (American Israel public affairs committee) meetings interestingly most always are near the feast of Purim.
The significant event surrounding the very near Purim 2020 meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump concerned Trump's recognition of Israel's sovereignty over Golan Heights. This move was considered a Purim miracle. The following is a quote from The Times of Israel relative to the Iran connection.
“But now he did something of equal historic importance—he recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and he did so at a time when Iran is trying to use Syria as a platform to attack and destroy Israel. And the message that President Trump has given the world is that America stands by Israel.”1
The Secular Setting of Esther
In the book of Esther, God is never mentioned, nor is prayer. His involvement is evident yet seemingly very much behind the scenes. He is said by some to be "hidden."
Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.
— Isaiah 45:15
There is some debate on the meaning of Esther's name. Some have said it means "star." Others have said she was named after the goddess Ishtar an ancient pagan deity. Still, the one that makes the most sense to me and follows this story's theme is "concealment" there are so many hidden elements, meanings, symbols, and lessons in this story.
I wonder if part of the reason for the hidden elements is that the story takes place in a very secular setting. Maybe somewhat like modern-day mainstream America. Western Christianity is presently quite secular as well. The secular mindsets and behaviors are so embedded that it is difficult to distinguish between secular and Christian. God is indeed hidden in cultural Christianity. In the Old Testament, God warns His covenant ones.
And the Lord said to Moses: “Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ And I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they have done, in that they have turned to other gods.
— Deuteronomy 31:16-18
“And when the Lord saw it, He spurned them,
Because of the provocation of His sons and His daughters.
And He said: ‘I will hide My face from them,
I will see what their end will be,
For they are a perverse generation,
Children in whom is no faith
— Deuteronomy 32:19-20
I liken God's call to His people in Persia to return to their homeland, similar to God's call to His church to repent and come out from among them (2 Corinthians 6:17). But like Esther and Mordecai, we remain comfortable with the culture we have become so familiar with and maybe even have embraced. I liken it to the Lukewarm church of Laodacia Revelation chapter three.
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’
— Revelation 3;1 I have always heard "I stand at the door and knock" as a Scripture used to convert unbelievers. But if you read this verse in its context, Jesus is talking about "the church" It's as if God is hidden because we don't let Him in. We are too comfortable with the status quo and too busy shaking our fingers at the culture around us.
For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?But those who are outside God judges.
— I Corinthians 5: 12-13
We were not called to judge and condemn this world. We were summoned to preach the good news of Salvation through Jesus Christ and live for Him and not this world.
The Story of Esther communicates the dangers of being content with lukewarm Christianity and thinking that we are above and beyond the ramifications of living this way.
I am comforted that despite this, as in Esther's story, God is always working behind the scenes. Sadly it was persecution that was the requirement, but it was effective. Is that what we have to face before we are willing to be serious and passionate for the God we claim to serve?
A Picture of the Work of the Cross
As was discussed earlier, The gallows that Haman prepared were intended for Mordecai. Some theologians think that the gallows were a crucifixion type apparatus, and the Hebrew rendering is more agreeable to this interpretation. Gesenius Lexicon defines "talah" the Hebrew word translated "gallows" (Esther 5:14)
"to hang anyone on a stake, to crucify"
The word picture for "talah" is intriguing and confirms this idea. Its first letter, "tav," is imaged by a cross and is known as the sign of the covenant. Its second letter lamed is a shepherd staff symbolizing authority, and hey is a window illustrating revelation.
As is used in the Old Testament, the cases and uses of this word reveal the authority of the cross. Its applications occur 28 (4x7) times. Four categorizes things in the created material realm, and seven symbolizes fulfillment and satisfaction. The phrase "I brought you out" and "Passover," also with the same amount of mentions, reveals to us that God entered the created realm and brought us out through the crucifixion of Passover lamb of God who was the only sufficient satisfactory payment for our sins.
This revelation brings us to the metaphoric aspect of this story. In this sense, Mordecai is viewed as a type of Messiah/Christ slated to die on a cross. He is as good as dead considering the evil decree that Haman, a picture of our flesh, had issued against him. Mordecai risks his own life by refusing to bow to anyone but God.
At the end of the story, Mordecai is resurrected from this death and was raised to a new life and position of power, taking the place of Haman, and this evil Haman ends up dying on the cross he prepared for Mordecai.
It was an undercover operation from a spiritual standpoint that the sinful flesh would be nailed to the cross, but Christ would rise to new life and that He could now rule and reign in the hearts of men through His death and resurrection.
. . . we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
— I Corinthians 2:8
This same pattern repeats in the story of Joseph with the butler and baker. The baker, a picture of the flesh, is crucified, but the butler, wine server symbol of life, is resurrected from prison from an appointed death.
Christ fulfills both ends of this imagery, the death, and the resurrection.
. . . concerning His Son, who was born according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.
— Romans 1:3-4
From a spiritual application perspective, Haman and his sons can be a picture of our flesh dictated and fueled by evil. We are to point it out and annihilate these ungodly aspects of our life.
The modern celebration of Purim involves hiding in masks depicting the characters of this dramatic story. The story gets reenacted as it is retold. Whenever Mordecai is mentioned, everyone cheers. Whenever Haman's name is mentioned, everyone boos and stomps their feet. In some celebrations, Haman's name is placed on the bottom of the shoe, symbolizing an enemy under their feet.
You placed my foot on their necks.
I have destroyed all who hated me.
— II Samuel 22:41
May we place our feet on the neck of all our flesh and self-related enthronements.
An interesting endnote is that Jesus is believed to have celebrated the Feast of Purim in John chapter five. It is considered the unnamed feast once again following the theme of secrets—another intriguing look at how this New Testament chapter relates to this Old Testament story.
Endless mines of precious jewels are buried within this book. Check them out if you get a chance. I also recommend an insightful book viewing the symbols of this story and its present relevance. by Fuschia Pickett called For Such a Time as This
Credits and Sources
© 2012 Tamarajo