I have often looked at the Jewish traditions and thought it would have been fun in some ways to have grown up in that tradition of feasts and remembrances — with things like living in a tent for a few days each year to remember the exodus from Egypt, etc. These are very colorful teaching moments for families.
In my sports writing and editing life, I have had a teenage boy from a very traditional Jewish family on my staff. He is way ahead of his years in terms of writing and taking on responsibility, as he wants to be a sports writer. And he is a really fun and outgoing kid. He has talked very openly with me about what his Jewish school and family life is like, as he really embraces the various holy days, celebrations and feasts with deep reverence and meaning. And there is something really good about that; and we as Christians likely fail to have enough of these moments in our traditions to cause us to sufficiently reflect on what God has done in history that impacts our faith and lives.
Today we look at the story that initiated the Jewish holiday of Purim. Here it is …
9:20 — Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.
23 So the Jews agreed to continue the celebration they had begun, doing what Mordecai had written to them. 24 For Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction. 25 But when the plot came to the king’s attention, he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back onto his own head, and that he and his sons should be impaled on poles. 26 (Therefore these days were called Purim, from the word pur.) Because of everything written in this letter and because of what they had seen and what had happened to them,27 the Jews took it on themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed. 28 These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews—nor should the memory of these days die out among their descendants.
29 So Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter concerning Purim. 30 And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of Xerxes’ kingdom—words of goodwill and assurance— 31 to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation. 32 Esther’s decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records.
You should recall from chapter three that the word “pur” was related to the divination involved in picking numbers for a day for something to happen, believing that the best of luck would come from this sort of casting the lot or “rolling the dice.” And the “-im” ending is the way Hebrew words are pluralized.
The celebration was one to remind the Jewish people of the providential hand of God in their preservation, God using a variety of circumstances, including the casting of the lot to all work together so that the nation would be delivered in 473 B.C.
In Chuck Swindoll’s book on Esther, he writes …
“In order to have perspective, we must have monuments and memorials, places to return to and learn from and talk about and pass on. If we don’t, we are destined to live rootless, fast-lane lives without much significance and all-too-seldom celebrations.”
In Karen Jobes’ commentary on Esther, she writes …
“Purim continues to be celebrated by the Jewish people around the world today. For them the significance of the holiday and the book on which it is based have continued in unbroken tradition from generation to generation. However, the Holocaust of this century has for many Jews all but extinguished its joy. The book of Esther was treasured by Jews imprisoned in the Nazi death camps precisely because it promised the survival of their race despite Hitler’s attempts to annihilate them. The hope of those who died in the death camps was realized. The Jewish people did survive, yet ironically many Jews of the subsequent generations have found it difficult to believe that God’s presence and power are manifested in history as they grapple with the theological implications of Auschwitz….The divine Messiah of the Jews took up the moral agony of Auschwitz and every other atrocity ever perpetrated against the human race. He agreed that God had to do something about such unimaginable evil and was willing to take it on himself so it could be destroyed on Calvary. Where is the evidence of his achievement? In Jesus’ resurrection, which empties physical death of its power over everyone who takes refuge in him as the Messiah.”
So we do celebrate and commemorate our deliverance. We do it when we have communion. It remembers his death and resurrection … his victory over sin, and hence our own deliverance. This is a big deal! It is not a silly little tradition we tack onto the end of a worship service as a ritual to get out of the way. No, communion could even be argued as the focal point of purpose for the early church gathering, and while there for the remembrance, they also sang some songs and had some teaching.
Celebrations are a good thing. We should do more of them and make more of them.
Interesting thoughts, Randy. If you are fortunate enough to have a “Messianic” Jewish congregation near you, you may enjoy how they celebrate the holidays, like Purim. You’ll probably gain, as I did, a much deeper appreciation for the New Testament’s Jewish roots, too. In fact, in reading Luke 14 this morning, I couldn’t help but notice its many parallels to Purim. You’ll probably also gain an understanding (if you don’t have it already, which it sounds like you do) on why proselytizing Jewish people is as easy as trying to convince college students that a first-grade English book, with added crayon scribbles, is something they need for their courses (if they can be persuaded to forget that most of the top Nazis were raised as Christians…).