The story of Purim starts with a beauty contest in which Esther is chosen to be the new queen.
And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen (Esther 2:17).
During that time, the Jews lived peacefully in the Persian (modern-day Iran) land. Mordecai was a descendant of King Saul, and advisor to the King and Esther’s cousin. Esther was raised by Mordecai. He advised Esther not to tell the king she was of Hebrew descent.
The villain of the story is Haman, an arrogant, treacherous, egotistical advisor to the king. Haman demanded all the king’s servants bow down to him. But Mordecai would not. Haman was full of jealousy and bitterness.
A descendant of the Jew-hating tribe of Amalek, Haman devised his scheme to solve the Jewish “problem” once and for all by annihilating every Jew. Haman told the king, ”
…There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them” (Esther 3:8)
Haman convinced powerful Ahasuerus (Xerxes) that the Jews did not keep his laws and they should all be wiped out.
By lottery, the day was chosen for the Jews to die. Haman suggested that anyone who killed a Jew would be rewarded by keeping the victim’s property.
People responded well to this anti-Semitism. It was decreed that all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, were to be annihilated on the thirteenth day of the twelfth Hebrew month, Adar.
Mordecai “clothed himself in sackcloth and ashes and went out into the midst of the City.” He turned to repentance, and urged the rest of the Jews to do likewise.
Then he sent Esther to come to the King to beseech him and plead with him for her people. The first thing she did was to tell Mordecai to “Go and gather all the Jews . . . and they should fast for me, and neither eat nor drink for three days and nights.” In addition, Esther included herself: “I also . . . will fast likewise.”
On the Third Day
On the third day, Esther went uninvited to the king’s royal throne (taking her life in her hands). Queen Esther “found grace and favor in his sight.” The king asked Esther, “What wilt thou, queen Esther? and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom.” Esther answered, “If it seem good unto the king, let the king and Haman come this day unto the banquet that I have prepared for him.” The king agreed.
That day, Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate. Again, Mordecai did not bow down to Haman. Haman was enraged! He and his wife devised a plot to have the king order Mordecai hanged. He gave the instructions for special gallows to be constructed for Mordecai’s death.
The King Could Not Sleep
That evening the king could not sleep. He sent for his court records and through them found out that Mordecai had never been repaid for saving his life. The king decided to honor Mordecai. At the evening of the banquet the king again asked Esther, “What is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? even to the half of the kingdom it shall be performed.”
Esther answered, “My petition and my request is; If I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it please the king to grant my petition, and to perform my request, let the king and Haman come to the banquet that I shall prepare for them, and I will do to-morrow as the king hath said.”
Esther was Willing to Die
The king was aware that Esther was willing to die in order to bring a request to him and he was willing to grant her request. He would know that it was a most serious request. This also accounts for him repeating his question at the two banquets. He knew that she would not have risked death just to invite him to dinner.
The king and Haman came to the second banquet with Esther the queen. And the king said again “What is thy petition, queen Esther? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom.” Esther then exposed Haman as the king’s adversary and enemy and besought the king to spare the Jewish people. The King was full of rage. He commanded Haman to be hanged on the gallows made for Mordecai.
Neither Esther nor the Jewish people sat around waiting for God to send His angels, but, rather, trusting in God to answer the prayer, they acted boldly. In both cases we do see an expression of the humility of men not being willing to trust their own strength, but imploring God for help. The community was also involved in the prayer.
The law decreeing the Jews to be killed could not be canceled, so the king gave a new decree that the Jews were now allowed to defend themselves when attacked. Therefore, the day that was to be destruction became a day of deliverance. Because of Mordecai’s and Esther’s loyalty and devotion, the entire Jewish nation was saved.
The Jews also showed their devotion, for, throughout the duration of the year, not one single Jew chose to convert, even to save his life! The Jewish people had shown their character. They had earned the right to leave Exile, to return to the Holy Land, and to rebuild the Temple.
The king gave his ring, which he had taken from Haman, to Mordecai. Mordecai became the king’s chief minister. Mordecai declared this rescue would be called Purim, to be celebrated each year (Esther 9:20-32).
Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.
So the Jews agreed to continue the celebration they had begun, doing what Mordecai had written to them. For Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction. 25 But when the plot came to the king’s attention,a he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back onto his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. (Therefore these days were called Purim, from the word pur.) Because of everything written in this letter and because of what they had seen and what had happened to them, the Jews took it upon themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed. These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never cease to be celebrated by the Jews, nor should the memory of them die out among their descendants.
So Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter concerning Purim. And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Xerxes—words of goodwill and assurance— to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation. Esther’s decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records.
Free Purim Cast Booklet
The above is an excerpt from A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays.