A Tale of Two Holidays
Two Jewish holidays seem to have strikingly similar origins: A man arises who hates the Jewish people and decides they must be dealt with. One such enemy enslaved them, while the other sought to eradicate them from the face of the earth. Such is the case with the holidays being celebrated in close proximity this spring: Purim, which begins March 21 (on Good Friday), and Passover, an eight-day celebration that begins at sundown on April 19. Their festivities are dramatically different, but their origins are indelibly linked.
Passover falls second on the calendar but originated almost 950 years before Purim. Its roots go deep into Jewish history, after the Jewish people had relocated from the Promised Land of Canaan to Egypt due to a severe famine in the land.
Joseph, the patriarch Jacob’s beloved son, had been sold into slavery by his brothers and, in God’s wonderful plan, had been appointed the second-in-command in all of Egypt. The Lord placed him there to save many lives. Later, after his death, Scripture simply states,
Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land” (Ex. 1:8–10).
Fear drove Pharaoh to enslave the Hebrews. That fear, coupled with pride and a refusal to humble himself and submit to the God of Israel, ultimately led to the death of his own son; the destruction of Egypt’s crops, trees, grass, and animals; an invasion of frogs that later died, rot-ted, and polluted the land; all the precious water of the Nile turning to blood; and the death and destruction of the majority of Pharaoh’s chariots in the Red Sea.
The 10 plagues God sent to force Pharaoh to let the Israelites return to the Promised Land must have devastated Egypt.
Pharaoh’s fear of the Israelites led to a hatred of them that ultimately placed his people, his land, and the future of his country in serious jeopardy. Israel left with great spoils and with a holiday—Passover—to commemorate God’s power and Israel’s great redemption from its house of bondage.
Later, in the 5th century B.C., the Jewish nation was again out of its Promised Land, this time due to its unbelief and rebellion against Almighty God. The Lord engi-neered the Israelites’ forcible removal from their homes via their deportation to Babylon. Eventually they found themselves under the rule of the Medo-Persian Empire, which at that time in history was governed by Ahasuerus, also identified as King Xerxes I.
The historical account is recorded in the book of Esther. Ahasuerus probably had his queen, Vashti, killed as a result of what he perceived as her defiance. This incident is recorded in Esther 1. Then Mordecai enters the scene:
There was a certain Jew whose name was Mordecai…a Benjamite. And Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman was lovely and beautiful. When her father and mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter (2:5, 7).
Esther rose in prominence, as the king loved her more than all the other women who had been brought to him as possible replacements for Vashti. Esther obtained grace and favor in the king’s sight, “so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (v. 17).
About the same time, Ahasuerus promoted an Agagite named Haman “and advanced him and set his seat above all the princes who were with him” (3:1).
Haman was a pompous, proud, arrogant man who expected and demanded that people bow before him and do homage as he performed his duties. Everyone complied but Mordecai.
Because this lone Jewish man refused to prostrate himself before him, Haman “was filled with wrath. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him of the people of Mordecai. Instead, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus—the people of Mordecai” (vv. 5–6).
Haman casts lots (Hebrew, pur [singular]; purim [plural]) to decide when every Jewish person in the world would die. All Israel by now was under the thumb of the Medo-Persian Empire. Assyria, which had conquered the northern kingdom in 722 B.C., had itself been conquered by Babylon. Babylon, which captured the southern kingdom in 586 B.C., fell to the Medo-Persians. Thus all the world’s Jewish people were under the leadership of Ahasuerus.
Haman’s hatred of Israel ultimately led to his death and that of his family. Furthermore, his entire estate, including all his worldly possessions, was turned over to Mordecai who also assumed the position Haman quickly vacated. The Jewish people survived this plot, and they celebrate a festive and joyous holiday known as Purim.
Such a pattern would continue throughout Jewish history. Other enemies would rise and fall, but Israel would remain and celebrate yet another holiday.
Israel’s history has been saturated by suffering, tears, and anguish. Yet God has and will always protect and sustain His beloved people.
These holidays are a picture of the future that Israel will enjoy when it is elevated to the leadership of the entire world under King Messiah. Just as Pharaoh and Egypt were ultimately ravished, so, too, will be the fate of the nations that reject and deny the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
And just as Haman died and all his possessions were turned over to his enemy, so will Israel “become radiant” and possess the world:
And your heart shall swell with joy; because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you. Whereas you have been forsaken and hated, so that no one went through you, I will make you an eternal excellence, a joy of many generations (Isa. 60:5, 15).
In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zech. 8:23).