The Feast of Purim shows Adonai working “behind the scenes.” It is also called the “Feast of Esther (Ester)” and the “Feast of Lots.”
The best way to learn about Purim is to read through the book of Esther (Ester) in one sitting. It is an exciting story, full of intrigue, plotting, last minute turn of events, and irony. The book of Esther (Ester) was originally written on a small one-handle scroll called a “megillah,” which is still used in traditional synagogues. It is one of the five short books in the Tanakh which are associated with feasts: Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) with Sukkot, Song of Solomon (Shir-HaShirim) with Pesach, the book of Ruth (Rut) with Shavuot, and Esther (Ester) with Purim. Esther (Ester) is unique in that it never overtly mentions Adonai, the Torah, or the Temple. None of the main characters, Esther (Ester), Mordechai, or Haman, is mentioned again in the Bible. However, it clearly shows Adonai’s hands orchestrating everyday events that seem unconnected, yet work together to enact His will.
The name “Purim” is Hebrew for the plural of “pur,” or lots (similar to dice) used by Haman, the enemy of the Jews, to determine the best month and day to destroy the Jewish people in fifth century Persia. This date fell on the 13th of Adar in the Jewish calendar, usually mid-March.
The events of the story take place during the reign of King Ahasuerus (Achashverosh), a.k.a. “Xerxes,” who reigned during the peak of Persia’s power. Among his lands was a sizable Jewish population dispersed earlier to Babylon. The Jews in Esther’s (Ester’s) time had chosen to live comfortably in the Diaspora, rather than return to the homeland promised by Adonai. Some had even taken Persian names, such as the hero, Mordechai, from the Persian “warlike,” derived from the pagan god Marduk. Even the namesake for the book, Esther (Ester), is taken from the Persian “Ishtar,” or star. It seems these Jews, in assimilating, had detached themselves from Adonai’s program, and perhaps this is why He does not identify Himself with His name in this book.
King Ahasuerus (Achashverosh) was looking for a replacement for his queen, Vashti, after her refusal to indulge him at a great party. This search led to a Jewish girl, Hadassah, being chosen as the new queen. Her cousin Mordechai, who convinced her to hide her Jewishness and adopt the Persian name Esther (Ester), was raising her. Mordechai, was given a post outside the palace, where he foiled a plot on the king’s life. This deed was recorded, but no reward was given. Meanwhile, the king’s prime minister, Haman, became perturbed with Mordechai, when, honoring the one true Adonai, he refused to bow down to Haman. While the Persians considered court officials to be worthy of worship, a Midrash records that Haman wore an image of his favorite idol on his clothes, so bowing to him would mean bowing to an idol. Haman’s reaction was typical of anti-Semites throughout Jewish history:
“Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews — young and old, women and little children — on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods” (Esther 3:13).
Haman had the decree sent out a full eleven months before the action was to take place. Perhaps it was his sadistic way of having this death sentence hang over the Jews. However, this providential timing allowed Adonai to orchestrate events to save His people. He gave a timid young lady holy boldness to intervene for her people. Esther’s (Ester’s) position seemed safe in the king’s court, but Mordechai, reminded her:
“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows this but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther [Ester] 4:14)
Esther (Ester) is given the choice to remain comfortable or take a step of faith to be a part of Adonai’s team. Adonai had put her in a position where she could be used to glorify His name by helping save His people.
Due to court etiquette, Esther (Ester) could not simply ask the king for a favor. She would have to have his royal scepter extended to her or face death for intruding. Her solution to this dilemma gives us good advice if we find ourselves in similar situations:
“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (Esther [Ester] 4:16).
It is understood that accompanying their fast, these Jews would be praying to Adonai of Abraham (Avraham), Isaac (Yitz’chak) and Jacob (Ya’akov), and repenting of any sins. They understood this moves the heart of Adonai:
“When my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles [Divrei-HaYamim Bet] 7:14).
Adonai showed Esther (Ester) favor in the king’s eyes:
“The king’s heart is in the hand of the Adonai; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases” (Proverbs [Mishlei] 21:1).
He was open to her suggestion for a banquet, part of a plan to avert the Jew’s destruction by revealing her identity and Haman’s evil intent.
It is interesting to note, according to rabbinical commentary, that after seeking Adonai in fasting, prayer, and repentance, a hint of God’s name appears in the story:
“‘If it pleases the king,’ replied Esther (Ester), ‘let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him” (Esther [Ester] 5:4).
The Hebrew for these words, which mark the turning point in the fate of the Jews, is “Ya,vo Hamelech ve’Haman hayom.” The first letters of each of these words spell out the sacred name of Adonai, “Yud Hay Vav Hay.”
Just when the situation looked grim for the Jewish people, Adonai used a seemingly insignificant event to change the course of history. The night before Haman and the king were to meet, the king could not sleep. This king who ruled 127 provinces could not command his eyes to close in sleep . . . an even greater King was awake with him:
“Indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalms [Tehillim] 121:4).
He decided to have his diary read to him:
“So he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him” (Esther [Ester] 6:1).
In this record, the king heard the recounting of how a Jew, Mordechai, had foiled a plot against his life and it sparked him to ask:
“‘What honor and recognition has Mordechai, received from this?’ The attendant replied, ‘Nothing has been done for him’” (Esther [Ester] 6:3).
This bothered the king and he decided to honor Mordechai immediately. He summoned whomever he could find in his court at this early hour, which “happened” to be Haman, to bestow an honor on his forgotten hero Mordechai, It could only be Adonai’s irony that Haman must now lead Mordechai through the streets on the king’s horse, wearing the king’s robe, announcing: “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor.” Doubly ironic is how Haman himself suggested these honors, thinking the king was going to bestow them on him! Adding insult to injury, a Midrash says Haman’s daughter looked out the window and saw the procession below. Assuming the one leading the horse was Mordechai, she emptied the chamber pot on him (who, of course, was her father!).
Later, at the banquet, Esther (Ester) revealed herself as a Jew, and how Haman had plotted to kill her and her people. The king was so enraged, he had Haman and his sons hanged on a huge gallows Haman had constructed to use on Mordechai. With Esther’s (Ester’s) intervention, another decree was issued, allowing the Jews to protect themselves from their enemies. The Jews were victorious, Mordechai was promoted to a place of high honor, and Esther (Ester) issued a decree:
“Make the 14th day of the month of Adar a holiday for rejoicing and feasting and sending portions of food to one another . . .” (Esther (Ester) 9:19-22)
The holiday Purim was established, and the appointment with Adonai was made. The holiday was to be observed forever . . .
“The Jews established and made a custom for themselves, and for their descendants, and for all those who allied themselves with them, so that they should not fail to celebrate these two days according to their regulation, and according to their appointed time annually. So these days were to be remembered and celebrated throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and these days of Purim were not to fail from among the Jews, or their memory fade from their descendants” (Esther [Ester] 9:27-28).
Esther (Ester) had only asked for the right of self-defense in the face of destruction, but the king also gave them the right to plunder the spoil of their enemies. However, three times the Jews refused:
“ . . . but they did not lay their hands on the plunder” (Esther [Ester] 9:10).
“The Jews is Susa came together on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar, and they put to death in Susa three hundred men, but they did not lay their hands on the plunder. Meanwhile, the remainder of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also assembled to protect themselves and get relief from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of them but did not lay their hands on the plunder.”
Why is this important enough to be mentioned three times? The answer reveals the antecedents to this story of Purim. Esther (Ester) describes Haman as a descendant of king Agag:
“So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews” (Esther [Ester] 3:10).
Agag was king of the Amalakites, Israel’s and Adonai’s enemy:
“‘He said, ‘For hands were lifted up to the throne of Adonai. Adonai will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation’” (Exodus [Sh’mot] 17:16).
This leads to the reason Haman and his ten sons were executed. In I Samuel [Sh’mu’el Alef] 15, Adonai promises to punish Amalek, and commands Saul (Sha’ul) to eradicate them. Saul (Sha’ul) disobeys, spares Amalek, and even takes some of the spoil. It took 500 years to correct this, but finally Mordechai finishes what his ancestor did not . . . for Mordechai is described as a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin (Binyamin):
“Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin (Binyamin), named Mordechai, son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish . . .” (Esther [Ester] 2:5)
This explains why the Jews were reluctant to take any of their enemy’s spoil . . . perhaps they were reminded of Saul’s (Sha’ul’s) downfall.
Some Purim traditions are:
We fast on the 13th of Adar, in remembrance of Esther’s [Ester’s] decree to fast before she saw the king.
We celebrate Purim on different days, the 14th or 15th of Adar:
“The Jews in Susa, however, had assembled on the thirteenth and fourteenth, and then on the fifteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy. That is why rural Jews —those living in villages — observe the fourteenth of the month of Adar as a day of joy and feasting, a day for giving presents to each other” (Esther [Ester] 9:18-19).
We dress in costumes, a tradition related to those who dressed up to look like Jews, in fear of retribution for Haman’s decree:
“And many people of other nationalities became Jews, because fear of the Jews had seized them” (Esther [Ester] 8:17b).
We read the Megillah, which is the entire book of Esther.
“Then Queen Esther, the daughter of Avihail, with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter about Purim. 30 And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews, to the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, with words of peace and truth, 31 to confirm these days of Purim at their appointed time, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had prescribed for them, and as they had decreed for themselves and their descendants concerning matters of their fasting and lamenting. 32 So the decree of Esther confirmed these matters of Purim, and it was written in the book”. (Esther [Ester] 9:29-32)
We use “Groggers,” or noisemakers and sound them each time the name Haman is mentioned . . . a reminder of Adonai’s instruction to “blot out Amalek:”
“When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of Adonai. When Adonai your Adonai gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” (Deuteronomy [D’varim] 25:18-19)
We celebrate with food and games, a reminder of deliverance from annihilation.
“In every province and in every city, wherever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating” (Esther [Ester] 8:17a).
We deliver “mishloah manot,” plates of food and treats to neighbors and those in need.
“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” (Esther [Ester] 9:22).
The idea of giving is further connected with Purim, since a descendant of King Ahasuerus (Achashverosh), Darius, gave provisions from the royal treasury to rebuild the Temple (as told in Ezra [‘Ezra]) . . . could he be Esther’s (Ester’s) grandson?
We eat “hamantaschen,” Yiddish for “Haman’s pockets,” triangular pastry filled with fruit; associated with the three-cornered hat Haman supposedly wore. In Israel they are called Oznai Haman, literally means, the ears of Haman.
It has been interpreted that since Shushan (“Susa”) was a walled city — all cities known to be walled since the days of Joshua (i.e., Jerusalem) — were to celebrate Purim on the 15th. In a “leap year,” with two months of Adar, it is celebrated during Adar II.
Purim shows us once again that Satan will use whoever he can to destroy the Jews. Even Hitler knew the story of Esther (Ester), and ordered synagogues barred on Purim. On Purim in 1942 in Poland, ten Jews were hanged in a sadistic parody of the fate of Haman’s sons. However, as we saw with Hanukkah and Pesach, Adonai is faithful to miraculously save His people.
In the Purim story, we see a representation of Yeshua in the king’s scepter held out to Esther, allowing her to enter his presence. Numbers (B’midbar) 24:17 describes a “scepter that will rise out of Israel,” a prophecy of the Messiah. Hebrews 1:8 (quoting Psalms [Tehillim] 45:6) speaks of Yeshua as the “righteous scepter.” Adonai extends His scepter to us, Yeshua, so when we acknowledge Him, we can enter into His presence.
About The Author
Rabbi Amnon and Rebbetzin Lynette Shor are international conference speakers on prophetic subjects, the Middle East conflict, Biblical holidays, and Jewish cultural life. Rabbi Shor has appeared on many radio and television programs which include CBS, CBN, TBN, and Jewish Voice. He has also worked with Promise Keepers as the international liaison to Israel and the Middle East, and with the Road to Jerusalem Ministry as global spokesman.
Rabbi Amnon Shor, was born in Israel to an orthodox Jewish family. His grandfather Zachariah was a Rabbi in the local synagogue. Rabbi Shor learned the Old Testament and the Jewish Law from early childhood. After his service in the Israeli Army, where he fought the Egyptian Army in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he set out to see the world working for EL-AL Israel’s Airlines , where he met his wife of 41 years Lynette. They have three children and seven grandchildren.