Purim, the Feast of Lots, is observed on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month of Adar (February-March). This is a celebration of the deliverance of the Persian Jews over one of the most dastardly plots in history to exterminate the Jewish people.
The book of Esther in the Old Testament tells the story of how the beautiful Jewish woman Esther (Hadassah) and her cousin Mordecai thwart the evil Haman, who plots to massacre the Jews.
The book of Esther has been referred to as “a monument in the history of anti-Semitism.” The anti-Semitism shown in the book of Esther is religiously based. The anti-Semitism shown in later Hellenistic-Roman literature through today is purely ethnic hatred. The Jewish people have faced elimination as a group many times through ancient, medieval, and modern societies. They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance (Ps 83:4).
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At this time, the Hebrew people lived in Persia. Many of the Jews socialized with the Persians and became more and more worldly. They were accepted, integrated citizens who blended in to Persian life. In fact, a Jewish woman became the Queen. Imagine their shock, in a moment their lives were drastically changed. Out of the blue, the Prime Minister convinces the King to destroy the entire Jewish nation.
The Jews had a rude awakening! In a brief instant, they went from their normal daily routines to persecution to the point of death. They were hated, on the verge of destruction because of their race. During these years, the Jews were divided into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Both kingdoms had fought with each other. The prophets had tried to get the two groups together. Now that the Hebrews faced extinction, they joined kingdoms and turned to God for mercy.
Imagine a Parallel
Think about how you would feel if a similar situation would happen to Christians in America today. What if the nation decided all Christians should be destroyed just because there are a certain people scattered around the country who keep laws other than the state laws, and they are separate from normal people because of their radical religious beliefs (Esther 3:8). What if they were persecuted because they remain a different, distinct group, with morals and values that do not line up with the world’s standards? Not just persecuted—the entire group receives the death sentence! Maybe it would wake up some worldly-leaning Christians!
Covenant and Promise
Purim is a story of when the Jews lived outside the land of Israel. The Jews are the people chosen to live in the promised land. It was God’s land, and he chose one people to live in it to the exclusion of all others. Displacement from the land was punishment for sins, a jail sentence. The Bible explains, when the Jews failed to keep God’s commands and betrayed the covenant, He sent them out of the land. I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth …And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, among them, till they be consumed from off the land that I gave unto them and to their fathers (Jer. 24:9-10). The Jews restoration to the land is a sign that God kept His promise. The covenant of the Promised Land is still valid.
The name Feast of Lots comes from the fact that the day was chosen for the Jews to die by way of lottery. It is interesting to note that the word pur is not Hebrew, but Persian. Thus the Torah, when mentioning it, translates into Hebrew: “Pur: That is, the goral (lot).” All other festivals, including Chanukah (another post-Mosaic holiday) have Hebrew names.
While God’s name never appears directly in Esther, it does appear in acrostic form in Esther 5:4. It is the first letter of each of four successive words – yod hay vav hay, YHWH. This is the only book of the Bible that does not directly contain God’s name. There is no doubt, though, that God was clearly in charge behind the scenes!
Worksheets for Children to Learn About Purim
- Esther Becomes Queen
- Mordecai and Hamon
- Esther Pleads for Her People
- Hamon’s Anger at Mordeca
- Mordecai is Honored
- Hamon’s Evil is Repaid
- Esther Saves Her People
The above is an excerpt from A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays.
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