Purim commemorates the narrow escape of the entire Jewish people from the threat of annihilation, and the courage of Queen Esther who bravely stood up for her people. The word “purim” means “lots”, due to the method that wicked Haman used to decide the date that they would wipe out the Jewish people in the provinces of Persia. Purim celebrates what looked like seriously bad luck turning right around under the sovereign rule of God.
These are,“the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” (Esther 9:22)
It’s a time of joy and celebration across the Jewish world – a time to give gifts to those in need and have lots of fun! Traditionally, people wear fancy dress – or in Hebrew, lehitchapess (להתחפש). The Hebrew word is connected with the idea of seeking – to make yourself hidden, to mask yourself, so that others have to find you. And in fact, the whole story of Esther is a bit like a game of hide and seek…
First of all, you may have noticed that God himself is hiding in the book of Esther – he is not mentioned at all.
Not even once! It is the only book in the Bible where God is hidden like this, but he is there. Those who look for him can find him, lurking between the lines, giving the strange impulse to King Xerxes to suddenly read the archives in the middle of the night, without which, the story would have ended very differently. He is there, in the faith of Mordecai, in the determination of Esther, and he is the One to whom the Israelites pray and fast for three days in earnest. Although he has not come out and said it, God is the author of the Purim story and the saviour of the people of Israel. Yet again.
Secondly, Esther follows her cousin Mordecai’s instructions to keep her Jewish identity hidden.
Esther wasn’t even her real name. That was her Persian name, meaning “star”. Her Jewish name was Hadassah: myrtle tree. Obedient as she was, Esther (or Hadassah) kept her identity a secret, only revealing it at the crucial time to her husband the king, and so was able to be a vessel for the deliverance of her entire race. If Esther had failed – if she had disobeyed Mordecai and failed to be discreet, if she had not risked her life in asking for mercy from the king, would all Israel have perished? No! As Mordecai rightly warns her:
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For 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 your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)
The seed of Abraham, the lineage of the Messiah was being carried by the people of Israel. The Scriptures we have today and the knowledge of the God of Israel had been entrusted into their hands, and at the right time would be distributed across the globe. What a precious people! What treasures for the world they have carried! Would God allow them to be annihilated before the arrival of Yeshua and the Good News could be taken to the nations? No! If Esther failed, he would have found another, but she found faith and courage and is rewarded with having been the chosen vessel of God. You and I are able to read this story in our Bibles, with the help of the Holy Spirit, because of the faithfulness of God, and the brave, obedient cooperation of Esther.
Three hidden kings
Haman, the man behind the plot to destroy the Jewish people in the book of Esther, was a direct descendant of King Agag, the Amalekite. King Agag is the first ‘hidden king’. Long ago, Haman’s ancestors, the Amalekites, had very unwisely decided to attack the newly liberated Israeli slaves as they stumbled out of Egypt – and not only that, but they chose to attack the rear of the convoy where the old, the infirm, and the weak were found. They later met again in the battle in which Moses’ hands were held aloft in prayer, and God granted Israel victory…but still, many Amalekites remained, and their seething hatred of Israel lived on.
God tells the Israelites later on their journey, “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the LORD your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)
But the Israelites did not do a very good job of remembering to blot them out. The Amalekites continued to trouble and attack Israel, and eventually, the task is given to King Saul (in 1 Samuel 15) to finish the job. Saul, son of Kish, is the second ‘hidden king’ in the background story. Defying strict instructions from God, Saul, son of Kish, spared the Amalekite king and his family. Although Samuel the prophet rebuked Saul and went on to kill Agag himself, King Agag’s line continued. Saul’s disobedience eventually resulted in the appearance of Haman the Amalekite, yet again bent on the annihilation of God’s chosen people while they were in exile. However, Haman was not prepared for his encounter with Mordecai, who was, amazingly, a descendant of Kish.
And this brings us to the last king – the King of Kings. King Saul had failed to carry out God’s instructions and kill King Agag, so God restages the event later, in Persia. The anti-Semitic spirit of Amalek rears its ugly head in Haman, and the Spirit of God fills another son of Kish to bring completion to the circle, and finish him.
The unseen battle
So it is a multi-layered story of secrets and surprises – Satan, the real hidden enemy, failed in yet another attempt to wipe out Israel, and prevent the unborn Messiah from being revealed to the world. Unseen evil trying to stop the appearance of the ultimate good… but pointlessly fighting against an invisible and unbeatable God. We can rejoice that, as Paul writes,
“Theirs [Israel’s] is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” (Romans 9:4-5).
The story of Esther is a great testimony to God’s might, protection and faithfulness to his people – and also to the whole world. But the satanic spirit of Amalek has not given up its vendetta against God’s chosen people. It can be seen arising in the inexplicable hatred of Jews throughout the ages – even from the church at times. Hitler was clearly in its grip, and in the tumultuous Middle East, we can also see this same desire of Amalek regularly vocalised. Of course, now the threat from Iran (Persia!) looms again. The people of Israel have never been blameless, but the number of attempts to eradicate them entirely is surely extraordinary to the rational observer. There is more going on than meets the eye. There is a cosmic battle hidden under the surface.
God is serious about his plans and he will carry them out. He is passionate about his people, the “apple of his eye”, and he will protect them. The fact that he guarded them so fiercely has brought immeasurable blessing to all peoples, and he will be faithful to his promise forever:
“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3)