Purim: No Minor Festival
An old Yiddish saying translated into English, says, “As a high temperature does not denote serious illness, neither is Purim a festival.” Its meaning reflects the impression among some that the Feast of Purim is only a minor festival. Although it is true that Purim, a celebration based on the events in the Book of Esther, is not listed in Leviticus 23, its three important certainties for Israel and believers in the Messiah should not be overlooked.
The First Certainty: Persecution
It was because of a personal grudge against Mordecai that Haman sought to destroy all of the Jews of Shushan (Est. 3:6). Lots were cast, and the fourteenth of Adar (generally in March) was selected as the day for the annihilation (Est. 3:7). In the end, however, Haman’s diabolical plot was foiled (Est. 7:10). From that time forward, God (whose name is not mentioned in the book) was praised by a yearly remembrance and celebration called Purim (Est. 9:28). The name Purim is derived from a non-Hebrew word for lots (Est. 3:7; 9:24, 26). It is one of the most joyous of Israel’s holidays, celebrated with noisemakers, dramas, masquerades, and general merriment. A day of fasting is followed by a special feast featuring hamantaschen (a pastry named for the evil Haman), hallah bread, and kreplach (meat-filled pastry). Gifts of sweets and wine are also exchanged, and money is given to the poor.
God has chosen His people Israel (Dt. 7:7–8) to be the recipients of His revelation. Satan has sought the destruction of God’s people ever since. Hamans and Hitlers may come, but the Lord God delivers Israel from their hands.
True followers of Jesus Christ can also expect wrath and animosity from the Hamans of this present world. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). Therefore, the Scripture states, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you” (1 Jn. 3:13). Israel will eventually be delivered from all her enemies (Zech. 1:21). Afflictions suffered for the cause of godliness will, in the end bring glory to God (1 Pet. 4:12–16).
The Second Certainty: Providence
Of all the women in Shushan, Esther was chose to be queen (Est. 2:17). God, in His sovereignty, placed her in a unique position to exert some influence over the king and save the Jewish people (Est. 4:16). None of these events occurred by accident. All were in the providential workings of God “for such a time as this” (Est. 4:14).
Throughout Israel’s history, a testimonial of God’s providential dealings with His people is clearly seen. This fact is nowhere more evident than in the Book of Esther. Believers may well learn the important lesson that it is not a matter of sheer chance that they find themselves where they are. “For such a time as this” still poses a challenge to believers in Christ today—especially in times of crisis. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
The Third Certainty: Preservation
It is the “hidden God of Purim,” as the rabbis referred to Him, who best illustrates the fact of preservation. The Jewish people of Shushan were delivered from destruction because of the promise of the perpetuation of Israel’s seed (Gen. 13:15–16). This promise includes divine protection for Israel. “Behold, he who keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:4).
Anti-Semites throughout history have hated the Book of Esther. During the late 1930s the Nazis forbade its reading in the detention camps. During the Holocaust, the Jewish inmates of Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka, and Bergen-Belsen wrote the Book of Esther from memory and recited it in secret on Purim. No doubt it was also read at other times to offer encouragement. In Romans 8:35–39 the believer as well can find encouragement in spite of life’s difficult circumstances, for nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (v. 39).
Considering Purim’s timely lessons on the certainties of persecution for the godly, God’s providential involvement in the affairs of men, and the joy of God’s preservation of His own, the Feast of Purim hardly seems minor after all!