What is Purim like in Israel?
Purim is a holiday that we can read all about in the Book of Esther. In Israel and Jewish communities around the world, the holiday is all about fun. People dress up, host parades and costume parties.
If you think this sounds like the Jewish equivalent to Halloween, think again. The idea to dress in disguise is all about symbolizing the allusion of God’s hand in the story of Purim. After all, the Book of Esther is the only book in the Bible where God’s name is never mentioned.
The Story of Purim
A long time ago, in the vast Persian empire, lived a powerful king named Ahasverus and his beautiful queen named Esther…
But this story is far from a fairytale.
In the 4th century BC, the Jewish people were subject to the Persian empire. Persia was a considerable kingdom stretching from India to Ethiopia (Esther 1:1).
At this time in history Assyria already conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. Meanwhile the Babylonians ruled the southern kingdom of Judah. By the 4th century BC, the Persians took center stage in their quest for prominence.
This is the context of the story of Esther. And these facts are important to how the story of Purim begins.
A Story of a Great Reversal
Esther found favor in the eyes of the king, which is how she became queen. And suddenly a great story of reversal started unfolding.
On the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, all the Jews in the Persian provinces were in danger. Haman, an official in the court of the king, was jealous and offended by their religious devotion, so he instructed to kill them.
But thanks to Esther’s intervention, that date was not one of tragedy. Ironically, it became the day of victory for the Jewish people.
But there is yet another element of irony to the story of Purim.
A Story of Irony
Centuries prior, Israel was at war with a great enemy, the Amalekites. They attacked the Israelites from the rear on their way out of Egypt and the Hebrews struggled against them.
Finally, after God gave Israel victory over the Amalekites, He told King Saul, a descendant of Benjamin, to wipe out the Amalekites. However, Saul failed to obey God and spared King Agag the Amalekite (1 Samuel 15:9).
Despite all that, God still had the final word in this story. You see, Haman was a descendent of the Amalekites. He opposed Mordecai, who belonged to the tribe of Benjamin.
In the Book of Esther we read how God turned the tables not just for the remnant in Persia. It was for all Israel, God’s people. God used Mordecai, who was a descendant of the same tribe as King Saul. He defeated Haman, a descendant of King Agag of the Amalekites.
Mandate to Rejoice
Esther stands among the great women of the Bible who played a role in protecting the Jewish people. The history and the story of Purim honors both her bravery and the deliverance of the Jewish people from destruction.
These are all great reasons to celebrate! Thus, Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar.
And in case you were wondering, the name of the festival is the plural form the word pur, which means lot (Esther 9:26). Lots were tossed to choose a date for the annihilation – which turned to be a date of rescue and thanksgiving.
A Holiday Like No Other
To this day Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar, which usually falls around late February or early March. In Jerusalem, Purim is observed also on the 15th of Adar. This additional day commemorates a battle that took place in the Persian capital of Susa (Esther 9:18).
Traditionally, the Book of Esther is read in the synagogues, where you’ll likely hear people interacting with the reading of the text. There is jeer in response to Haman’s name and cheering to Mordecai’s name.
But Purim is more than a party. It is typical to give donations to the poor or gift baskets to friends. Bakeries in Israel are famous for a special treat called oznei haman (Hebrew for Haman’s ears) or hamantaschen (Yiddish for Haman’s pockets). Their filling usually includes poppy seeds, chocolate and other flavors.
God the Defender in the Story of Purim
Purim is one of my favorite Jewish festivals, not only because it involves so much celebration, with lots of food and lots of fun. It is because it reminds us that God is not far from His people, even in distant lands. And He’s near even if His name is not mentioned.
Perhaps the greatest lesson from the Book of Esther and the story of Purim is that God is interested in His people. He does not forget His promises. Though it may appear the enemy has the upper hand, God has the last word.
The Last Word
In His sovereignty, God alone has the power to redeem a situation for His glory.
The story of Purim is one of God’s provision and how He allowed a situation intended for evil to be turned around for good.
Like Esther who approached the king’s throne without fear, Hebrews 4:16 encourages us to approach God’s throne with that same confidence. We should have the boldness that we might obtain mercy and find His favor in time of need.
Purim reminds us of who has the last word in every conflict. The enemy may be scheming against us, but the Lord is the ultimate Victor.
So, ask God for the big things in your life. Be bold. Be valiant. Walk in confidence without fear. Just as is said of her in Esther 4:14, perhaps you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.
A Simple Guide Through the Biblical Holidays: Free PDF Download
You may know them as the “Jewish holidays,” but did you know the Bible calls them “Feasts of the LORD”?
We’ve put this guide together for you so that you have all you need to know about these holidays that God calls His own.
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