A Day Worth Celebrating.

Now the rest of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also gathered to defend their lives, and got relief from their enemies and killed 75,000 of those who hated them, but they laid no hands on the plunder. This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that a day of feasting and gladness. But the Jews who were in Susa gathered on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and rested on the fifteenth day, making that a day of feasting and gladness. Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the rural towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and as a day on which they send gifts of food to one another.

So the Jews accepted what they had started to do, and what Mordecai had written to them. For Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur (that is, cast lots), to crush and to destroy them.  But when it came before the king, he gave orders in writing that his evil plan that he had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore they called these days Purim, after the term Pur. Therefore, because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them, the Jews firmly obligated themselves and their offspring and all who joined them, that without fail they would keep these two days according to what was written and at the time appointed every year, that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every clan, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.

Then Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew gave full written authority, confirming this second letter about Purim. Letters were sent to all the Jews, to the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, in words of peace and truth, that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther obligated them, and as they had obligated themselves and their offspring, with regard to their fasts and their lamenting. The command of Esther confirmed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing. – Esther 9:16-32 ESV

It seems a bit strange that the Jews would set aside the day when they killed 75,000 of their Persian neighbors as an annual day of celebration, feasting and gladness. From that day forward, they would commemorate the thirteenth day of the month of Adar by giving one another gifts of food. It became a holiday. Again, this seems a bit odd to us, but it is important to remember that this letter is an historical document that chronicles the events surrounding the decree of Haman to wipe out the Jews. But it also explains to its Jewish audience how they came to celebrate the feast of Purim, the name by which this day would be called.

“Purim” is the plural form of the Persian word pur, meaning the “lot” (cf. 3:7). The name “Purim” became a symbolic reminder to the Jews of how God used circumstances, specifically casting the lot (cf. 3:7), to deliver them in 473 B.C. – Thomas L. Constable, Notes  on Esther, 2009 Edition

Haman had plotted to wipe out the Jews and had chosen the day to do so by the casting of lots. What would appear to have been a random act of chance turned out to be divinely decreed. Haman was casting lots in a misguided attempt to seek astrological assistance. To him, casting lots was not an act of chance, but was a common practice among the people of the ancient Near East. It was believed that there were outside, unseen forces that acted upon the lots, providing mere mortals with a form of spiritual guidance in making difficult or weighty decisions. Little did Haman realize that the unseen force behind the lots was the God of the very people he was attempting to wipe out. And the date chosen would become a day of celebration, not for Haman and the Persians, but for the people of Israel.

Mordecai and Esther made the feast of Purim an official holiday by sending out yet another edict, in the form of a letter to the Jews living throughout the land of Persia. They were commanded to observe the thirteenth and fourteenth days of Adar throughout the land in perpetuity, from generation to generation. And the people gladly obliged. They had cause for celebration, because they had escaped annihilation. Their God had intervened and the plans of the wicked had been overturned. Even living as exiles in the land of Persia, far from their homeland, they had witnessed the sovereign hand of God rescuing them from the evil intentions of their enemies. While they had forsaken God, He had not forsaken them. These were not people who were known for their faithfulness to God. They were the descendants of those who had been sent into exile by God because of their disobedience and refusal to repent. Now, generations later, they had acclimated themselves to life in Persia, even refusing the opportunity to return to the land of Judah with those who went to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God. They had chosen to stay. Life in Persia was preferable to the risky proposition of returning to their homeland and trying to rebuild a dilapidated and defenseless city.

Yet, they would discover that life in Persia was not as safe and serene as they had hoped. The enemies of God and His people are everywhere. The forces of evil are ever-present and present everywhere. Haman, a descendant of their ancient foes, the Amalakites, would make their lives a living hell. He would disrupt their peaceful existence with a plan to destroy each and every one of them, down to the last woman and child. But little did they Haman know that the God of the Jews was watching. Little did the Jews know that their God was working behind the scenes. But God knew all that was going on and He also knew what was going to happen. It was God who had arranged the adoption of Esther by her uncle Mordecai.  It was God who had been behind the refusal of Queen Vashti to appear before the king. And her removal from the throne was God’s doing. Just as her replacement as queen by Esther was God’s decision. It was He who had elevated Mordecai and given him access to the king’s palace. It was He who had allowed Mordecai to discover the plot against the king’s life and expose it. It was He who gave Esther the wisdom and insight to overturn the edict of Haman and save her people from destruction. The celebration of Purim was to be a celebration of God’s deliverance. God had protected and preserved His people. Why? Because one day He is going to restore them. His full plan for them is not yet fulfilled. He is far from done with the people of Israel. His faithfulness to them extends well beyond the centuries and far past any boundaries of geography or distance. He knows where each and every one of His children are. And His sovereignty over them is not limited by time or space.

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The Almighty Is Never AWOL.

That very day the number of those killed in Susa the citadel was reported to the king. And the king said to Queen Esther, “In Susa the citadel the Jews have killed and destroyed 500 men and also the ten sons of Haman. What then have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces! Now what is your wish? It shall be granted you. And what further is your request? It shall be fulfilled.” And Esther said, “If it please the king, let the Jews who are in Susa be allowed tomorrow also to do according to this day’s edict. And let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows.” So the king commanded this to be done. A decree was issued in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they killed 300 men in Susa, but they laid no hands on the plunder. – Esther 9:11-15 ESV

In reading this particular passage, it would be easy to conclude that Esther was a cruel and vindictive individual. After all, the second edict had been a success and the ten sons of Haman had been executed. But now, when the king asks her if there is anything else she wants, she requests that the edict be extended for a second day in the capital of Susa and for permission to hang the bodies of the tens sons of Haman on spikes for all to see. In other words, she wants to put them on public display. Were the 500 men killed that day not enough? Was the elimination of Haman’s sons as viable threats against the Jews not sufficient payback? Did she really need to publicly humiliate them? Was Esther simply bloodthirsty and out for revenge?

Obviously, there are things going on in the story to which we are not made aware. Esther knows something we don’t know. The first day of the edict it seems that the 500 individuals who died were all in the royal section of the city, known as the citadel (9:6). The majority of the threats the Jews were coming from the powerful and influential. They were the ones who felt the most threatened by Esther, Mordecai and the Jews. But Esther knew that there were still others who had either fled the citadel into other parts of the capital or there were pockets of resistance that needed to be eradicated. So she asked for a second day. The king gave his permission and the second day resulted in an additional 300 individuals losing their lives. But once again, the Jews refused to take their land and goods as plunder. They were not doing this for material reward. This was solely an attempt to prevent Haman’s original intention to eradicate the Jews from taking place. For Esther and the rest of the Jews, it was about self-preservation, not financial remuneration.

The public display of the bodies of Haman’s sons was intended to send a message. The very means by which he had planned to murder Mordecai was used to reveal to the citizens of Susa that his efforts had failed miserably. His hatred for the Jews had resulted in his own death and that of his ten sons. All the way back in chapter five of this story, Haman had returned from the first banquet thrown by Esther, and had been beside himself with joy. He arrived at home, bragging about his unprecedented good fortune.  “And Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king” (Esther 5:11 ESV). But now, Haman was dead. His ten sons were as well. His riches belonged to Esther. His former position and the king’s signet ring, symbol of his power, had been given to Mordecai. Haman, the prideful, arrogant, conniving, ruthless, power-hungry enemy of God’s people was gone. His decree had been an abject failure. And all traces of his ever having existed had been eliminated.

Esther’s actions, while somewhat mysterious to us, were not based on a whim. She knew what she was doing. She recognized that the threat to the Jews was not yet over. Susa was still harboring dangerous individuals who were on a mission to destroy Jews and take their possessions and property. The very fact that an additional 300 individuals were killed the next day reveals that this was true. For Esther, this was a matter of eliminating any threat against the Jews once and for all. She wisely used her position as queen and her influence over the king to arrange for a more-than-satisfactory end to this story. But none of this would have been possible without the sovereign, providential hand of God. This story is not about the cunning of Esther or the wisdom of Mordecai. It is not about the bravery of a young girl facing insurmountable odds and an all-powerful enemy. It is a story of the unseen, imperceptible, yet invincible power of God. It is a reminder to all who read it that God may not always be observable, but that doesn’t mean He’s AWOL. He is always there, whether we see Him or not. He is always in control, whether we believe it or not. He is always working His plan, whether we sense it or not.

Our Silent Sovereign.

In the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast Pur (that is, they cast lots) before Haman day after day; and they cast it month after month till the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king’s business, that they may put it into the king’s treasuries.” So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. And the king said to Haman, “The money is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you.” – Esther 3:7-11 ESV

Having been snubbed by Mordecai, a Jew, Haman plots his revenge. He is not one to suffer a slight easily. So he comes up with a plan by which he can eliminate not only Mordecai, but every single Jew living in the lands of Persia. Because his strategy was going to require proper planning and resources, Haman determined to utilize the casting of lots (Pur) to come up the exact day on which to schedule his mass extinction of the Jews. It was customary in his day to make significant decisions with what was essentially the “roll of the dice.” We see this as nothing more than decision-making based on random chance. But in the ancient near east, they saw it as a means by which God revealed His will. Even the Jews practiced the casting of lots. In fact, when Judas killed himself, after having betrayed Jesus, the disciples chose his replacement by casting lots (Acts 1:26). Proverbs 16:33 reveals the Hebrew mindset behind the casting of lots: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”

A better rendering of verse seven is found in the NET Bible. “In the first month (that is, the month of Nisan), in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerusreign, pur (that is, the lot) was cast before Haman in order to determine a day and a month. It turned out to be the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar).” It was customary to cast lots in the first month of the year. That is why the month of Nisan is mentioned. And as a result of the casting of lots, Haman arrived at the twelfth month of Adar. So nearly a year would pass before Haman’s heinous plan could be enacted. But having determined a date, he wasted no time in laying the ground work for his pogrom of the Jews. He knew that a plan of this magnitude was going to require the approval and power of the king. But he also knew the Achilles’ heel of any king was a threat to his kingdom. So he came to King Xerxes with a cleverly crafted story about a “people” who lived throughout the kingdom who refused to keep the king’s laws. They were rebels. They were a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode and wreak havoc on something near and dear to the king’s heart: his sovereignty. Interestingly, like Esther, Haman hides from the king the identity of the people he is trying to eliminate. This could have been because the Jews were looked upon with favor by the king. Two of his predecessors, King Darius and King Cyrus, had issued favorable edicts on behalf of the Jews, allowing many of them to return to their land and even funding the rebuilding of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. But while Haman hid the identity of the Jews, he was more than forthright in his recommendation for what to do about them: He was recommending their destruction. And he was willing to help fund the cost, offering the king an exorbitant gift of 10,000 talents of silver. It is estimated that this would have amounted to two-thirds of the entire kingdom’s annual income. How Haman was going to come up with that kind of money is not clear. Perhaps his plan included the confiscation of Jewish lands and property. He had obviously calculated the potential financial rewards of his plan and knew that he was going to benefit greatly from the elimination of the Jews.

But his request, greased with the offer of financial reward, was acceptable to the king. So unwittingly, the king “took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews” (Esther 3:10 ESV). The king gave Haman carte blanche to accomplish his plan. With the casting of lots, a little clever coercion and a great deal of unbridled hatred, Haman plotted his revenge on Mordecai and the people of God. Things were about to get ugly. And this unexpected twist in the story begs the question: Where is God in all of this? It is natural to want to know how God could allow something this devastating to happen. Why had he not stepped in and prevented any of this from taking place? And the truth is, God could have stopped it all. He could have brought a timely end to both Haman and his plot. But to assume that God was silent and inactive would be wrong. Just because God is not responding the way we think He should and according to the timing we have established, does not mean He is not at work. His ways are not our ways. His plans are beyond our capacity to know or understand. He does not have to explain Himself to us or defend His motives or methods. We will see soon enough that God was at work. Esther’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune was part of His plan. Mordecai’s fortuitous discovery of the plot on the king’s life was divinely ordained. Even Haman’s promotion was sovereignly ordained by God Himself. None of this was case of luck, fortune, fate, or a simple roll of the dice. God was in control of it all and for reasons He had not yet disclosed. Yes, the king could say to Haman, “The money is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you” (Esther 3:11 ESV), but Haman would only be able to do what God allowed him to do. We may not understand God’s methods, but we must never question His motives. We may not approve of how He accomplishes His will, but we must never doubt that His will is always holy, righteous and just.

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness. – Psalm 145:17 NLT

Listen to me, you who have understanding. Everyone knows that God doesn’t sin! The Almighty can do no wrong. – Job 34:10 NLT