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What is the Story of Purim: When Evil is Turned for Good

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March 10th, 2020
  

The Ironic Reversal in the Story of Purim

The Book of Esther tells the story of Purim. In Israel, the holiday is all about fun. In Jewish communities around the world, people dress up and 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. It is the only book in the Bible where God’s name is never mentioned.

Centuries ago, in the vast Persian empire, lived a powerful king named Ahasuerus and his beautiful queen named Esther… But this story is far from a fairytale. 

A Bit of History with the Story of Purim

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 where the story of Esther takes place and how the story of Purim begins. 

woman worshipping in caesarea

Approaching Boldly 

Queen Esther found favor in the eyes of the king. 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 instructed to kill them.

But thanks to Esther’s intervention, that date became one of victory for the Jewish people.

But there is yet another element of irony to the story of Purim. 

Haman, a descendent of the Amalekites, opposed Mordecai, a descendent of the tribe of Benjamin. Historically, the Amalekites were enemies of Israel, because they attacked the Israelites from the rear on their way out of Egypt.

God told King Saul, a descendent of the tribe of Benjamin, to wipe out the Amalekites. However, Saul spared King Agag the Amalekite and failed to obey God (1 Samuel 15:9). 

Despite all that, God still had the final word in this story.

Centuries later He turned the tables on this situation using Mordecai, who was a descendant of the same tribe as King Saul. God used him to defeat 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 celebrates both her bravery and the deliverance of the Jewish people from destruction. 

Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar. The name of the festival comes from the term pur meaning lot (Esther 9:26).

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, however, Purim is observed on the 15th of Adar in observance of the additional day of 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. The is jeer in response to Haman’s name and cheering to Mordecai’s name. 

The holiday is a big celebration. It is also 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. 

purim pastries filled with jelly

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. 

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. And, in His sovereignty, He alone has the power to redeem the 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. 

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.

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Esther Kuhn
Esther Kuhn grew up around the world, tagging along with her parents in ministry. She has lived and studied in Israel, and finds any occasion she can to take people to the Land of the Bible. Esther earned a Master of Divinity from The King’s University in Southlake, Texas and takes great joy in inspiring people to know God’s heart for Israel. As she says, “If God hasn’t changed His mind about Israel, He hasn’t changed His mind about you.”
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