The Purim Story
PURIM is also called the Feast of Lots, (Esther 3:7-9). The Biblical book of Esther is set in Shushan, in the third year of Ahasuerus (Xerxes), king of Persia (Iran). The holy temple that had stood in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC, and the Jews were subjects of the mighty Persian Empire, which extended over 127 lands. This account is believed to have taken place from 483 BC to 473 BC, and written between 470 BC and probably no later than 424 BC, during the reign of Xerxes’ son Artaxerxes.
King Ahasuerus gave a six-month (180-day) drinking feast for the army of Persia/Medea and for all his princes and nobles. Ahasuerus got thoroughly drunk, and ordered his wife Vashti to display her beauty before the nobles and populace, wearing only her royal crown. She refused and King Ahasuerus banished her for not complying with his demand. Eventually, he grew lonely, and appointed officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather together all the fair young virgins to the palace and be presented to him (a beauty pageant, so to speak) so he could choose a new queen to replace Vashti.
One of the ‘contenders’ was Hadassah, a beautiful young Jewish woman living in Persia. She was orphaned at a young age and lived with her uncle Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his daughter.
At the coaxing of Mordecai, who was the leader of the Jews in Shushan at that time, Hadassah reluctantly entered the competition, hiding her Jewish ancestry. She took the Babylonian name “Esther” when she went to the palace, because Mordecai told her not to reveal she was a Jew, and the name Hadassah would have give her away.
And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti. But the king did not know that Esther was a Jew, because Mordecai had told her not to reveal her nationality.
Soon after, Ahasuerus appoints Haman as his prime minister. Mordecai, who sits at the palace gates, refused to bow down in reverence to him. Haman was furious and full of wrath against Mordecai. Having found out that Mordecai is Jewish, Haman planned to kill not just Mordecai but the entire Jewish minority in the empire.
“After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and set his seat above all the princes who were with him” Esther 3:1.
“And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or do obeisance to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus” (Est. 3:5–6).
Obtaining Ahasuerus’ permission and funds to execute this plan, he casts lots (“purim”) to choose the date on which to do this – the thirteenth of the month of Adar.
Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain. If it pleases the king, let a decree be written that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who do the work, to bring it into the king’s treasuries.”
So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. And the king said to Haman, “The money and the people are given to you, to do with them as seems good to you.” Esther 3:8-11
Mordecai’s refusal to bow to Haman, an Amalekite, was not due to a stubborn or proud spirit in Mordecai. It was due to his faithfulness to God’s attitude toward Amalekites.
Because of his faith in God, Mordecai might have feared God’s wrath upon him if he had bowed to Haman. It was Mordecai’s great faith in God’s words that he would risk his life by refusing to bow before an Amalekite, even if the Amalekite had become a man of great political power. Mordecai trusted the power of God’s curse to be greater than Haman’s ranking given him by the Persian king.
Esther is the only book in the Bible not to mention the name of God. But that is not to say that God was absent. His presence permeates much of the story, as though He were behind the scenes coordinating “coincidences” and circumstances to make His will happen.
For Such a Time as This
Yet, nothing is truly coincidental, the book of Esther says to us. God’s sovereignty is best summarized in Mordecai’s exhortation to Esther: “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
Now Esther, who was Jewish, had withheld her heritage from the king. And Mordecai sent a message to Esther:
“Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews.
For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”
So Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded him. (Esther 4:13–17)
Esther’s Request to the King
After three days of fasting, Esther, dressed in the queen’s garb, entered Ahasuerus’s chambers. Immediately the king extended his scepter. “What is it?” Ahasuerus asked. “What is your request?”
Esther asked that the king and Haman come attend a feast that she had prepared for them that day. The king and Haman quickly went to the feast. After they finished eating, the king asked Esther what her desire was.
She replied that she wished Haman and the king would attend another feast the next day— then she would reveal her request. Haman left the party quite proud of himself. On his way home, he passed Mordecai at the gate, who still refused to bow.
Upon arriving home, Haman boasted to his wife, Zeresh, about his second invitation from the queen, but how Mordecai still refused to bow to him.
“Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, ‘Let a gallows be made, fifty cubits high, and in the morning suggest to the king that Mordecai be hanged on it; then go merrily with the king to the banquet.’ And the thing pleased Haman; so he had the gallows made” Esther 5:14.
The King Learns of Mordecai’s Loyalty
That night the king could not sleep. So one was commanded to bring the book of the records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king. And it was found written that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs who had guarded the doorway, had conspired to assassinate King Ahasuerus.
“What honor or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” And the king’s servants who attended him said, “Nothing has been done for him.” That very moment Haman entered the king’s court, intending to ask the king’s permission to hang Mordecai. Before Haman could say a word, Ahasuerus addressed him:
“What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?” Haman, who was certain that the king wished to honor him, responded: “Bring royal garments and a royal horse. And let one of the king’s nobles dress the man and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘So is done for the man whom the king wishes to honor!’ ”
Ahasuerus responded, “Now go get the garments and the horse and do so for Mordecai the Jew!” Esther 6:1-10
Afterward Mordecai went back to the king’s gate. But Haman hurried to his house, mourning and with his head covered. When Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had happened to him, his wise men and his wife Zeresh said to him, “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him but will surely fall before him.”
While they were still talking with him, the king’s eunuchs came, and hastened to bring Haman to the banquet which Esther had prepared. Esther 6:11–14
So the king and Haman went to dine with Queen Esther. And on the second day, at the banquet of wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request, up to half the kingdom? It shall be done!”
Then Queen Esther answered and said, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request. For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.
Had we been sold as male and female slaves, I would have held my tongue, although the enemy could never compensate for the king’s loss.”
So King Ahasuerus answered and said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who would dare presume in his heart to do such a thing?”
And Esther said, “The adversary and enemy is Haman.” So Haman was terrified before the king and queen. Esther 7:1–6
Haman Is Hanged
Now Harbonah, one of the eunuchs, said to the king, “Look! The gallows, fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai, who spoke good on the king’s behalf, is standing at the house of Haman.”
Then the king said, “Hang him on it!” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Esther 7:9–10
On that day, Haman’s estate was given to Esther, and Mordecai was appointed prime minister in place of Haman. Yet Esther was not satisfied. Haman was dead, but his evil decree was still in effect. According to Persian law, once a king issued a decree, it could not be rescinded.
Haman’s Sons Are Hanged
The king gave Mordecai and Esther permission to write a decree that countermanded Haman’s edict. The new decree granted the Jews permission to defend themselves against their enemies. On the thirteenth of Adar that year, the Jews throughout the Persian Empire mobilized and killed the enemies who had wanted to kill them.
In Shushan, among the dead were Haman’s ten sons. Esther asked the king’s permission for the Jews to have one more day to destroy their enemy, and the king granted her wish.
On the fourteenth of Adar, the Jews of Shushan killed more of their enemies and also hung Haman’s sons even though they were already dead. They also rested and made it a day of feasting and gladness (Est. 9:11-17).
This holiday, called “Purim”, is the most joyous holiday on the Jewish calendar.
And Now for the Rest of the Story
- Mordecai is introduced as a descendant of Saul, while Haman is introduced as a descendant of Agag the Amalekite king. This parentage is no trivial fact. In 1 Samuel, Saul loses his kingship to David because he defied the will of God and did not kill Agag.
Haman was the king’s evil second-in-command and as a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites, was an ancient enemy of God’s people (Numbers 24:7; 1 Samuel 15:8). He cast the lot, called “pur,” in order to determine the day that the Jews would be exterminated.
Mordecai, a descendant of Saul, kills Haman, a descendant of Agag, and his children.
These events may have settled the score between Saul and God.
2. The similarities and parallels of Purim to the Nuremberg trials of 1946 and the Six-Day War of 1967 are remarkable. God has preserved the Israelites as His (chosen) people group, and will continue to do so to the Millennial reign of Christ.
Throughout history, God always raises up someone to save the Jewish people from total annihilation. Even though the Edomites, Amalekites, Moabites, and Hittites as a people group have disappeared from the pages of history, their bloodlines through their descendants are still here today.
- The Jewish army, 2,500 years ago, preempted the attack of the Persian army against overwhelming odds and defeated them.
- In the 4th century BC, after the Jewish people defeated the Persians, Queen Esther asked for Haman’s ten sons to be hanged.
- In 1946, the Nuremberg trials pronounced twelve of Hitler’s generals guilty and sentenced them to hang. Martin Bormann was killed prior to the trials, and Herman Goering committed suicide hours before the hangings. That left ten generals. (In 1945, the method of military execution was firing squad. There was no explanation for the change of venue).
- On October 16, 1946, Hitler’s ten generals were executed in the same manner as Haman’s ten sons. That day fell on the seventh day of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, and is called Hoshana Rabbah.
- Sukkot is the Feast of Booths, when God will gather with His people to “tabernacle” with Him. Christians believe that this feast will one day be the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant when Jesus Christ returns to set up His thousand-year reign on earth.
- Hoshana Rabbah is the day that judgments are delivered. It was on Hoshana Rabbah that Hitler’s generals were hung.
- One of Hitler’s generals, Julius Streicher, who had to be dragged to the gallows, screamed to the witnesses, “Purim Fest 1946!” He knew full well the divinely appointed concurrence of events!
- The Israeli army in 1967 preempted the war with Egypt, Jordan, and Syria; Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula in an incredible victory that stunned the world.