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A biblical / messianic perspective on purim
This year Purim and Easter fall on the same date, a rare occurrence.
Yet in both stories we see an execution one of the wicked Haman and one were the Righteous One took our wickedness to an execution. In both we see redemption, the redemption of the People of God in Persia and in the other the redemption of the People of God through all the world. There are some great parallels in the story, but next month we will focus on Passover and how the Passover Lamb brought redemption while today we focus on Purim.
Rather than read through the whole megilla (which takes about 25/30 minutes), we will study some related materials to Purim – or the festival of Esther – which is as you know the most light-hearted of all the Jewish holidays. In the Synagogue we do read the entire scroll of Esther and during the reading children (and some that are not so young) drown out Haman's name with noise, clapping, stamping of the feet and noise makers. Young Jewish girls participate in Queen Esther beauty pageants. The story is enacted in a Purim play called Purimspiel at schools. And everyone enjoys bisquits with poppy seed and prunes called hamantaschen (pockets), or Oznei Haman in Hebrew (meaning Hamans ears). Yet, behind the feasting and drinking and partying lies a somber message: the near destruction of the Jewish people. It reminds us that Jewish survival hangs by a thread of circumstance―but the weight on the matter is in God's hand. The account in the book of Esther takes place in fifth century BCE Persia or modern day Iran. And the events and characters of Purim (court intrigue, dramatic confrontations, heroes, and villains) are no joking matter. They could be elements in a modern melodrama plot: Esther, a beautiful Jewish teenager, becomes queen of Persia. Haman, an ambitious and arrogant bureaucrat, turns his envy of the Jew, Mordecai, into a vendetta against the entire Jewish population of the Persian Empire.
Mordecai, who is Esther's uncle, appeals to her for help and she cautiously agrees to approach the king. However, she has kept her religious and ethnic identity hidden.
(Esther 2:10 ASV) Esther had not made known
her people nor her kindred; for Mordecai
had charged her that she should not make it known
Why the double emphesis? Her Hebrew name Hadassah (from Hadash meaning myrthle) was hidden, No where does it state in the text that the name she took on was the name of an Persian goddess 'istar'. And it does not realy fit with the LORD bringing redemption to 'istar',, see text box below.
רתסא Hide Esther - from SatharExact match not as a name:
Gen 4:14; Job 13:20 - רתסאForms of Esther / hidden / hid
Psa 55:12 (55:13 in HOT v'ester); Eze 39:23-24 (v'ester in 23 and in 24)
Sathar hester / estir pani ינפ ריתסא ר
Hide my face
The "Eclipse of God"; the "Hidden Face" - hid His face
Deu 31:17; Deu 31:18; Deu 32:20; Eze 39:29; Psa 22:24 (22:25); * Isa 54:8; Isa 59:2
After hosting two banquets for the king and Haman, Esther reveals her Jewish identity, and in the presence of the king she tells of Haman's treachery. His plot to destroy the Jewish people is exposed and Haman and his sons are taken away and executed. Mordecai then becomes prime minister and is honoured. Esther remains queen. And the Jewish people are spared from extermination.
The holiday is called Purim because Haman had thrown lots (the Persian word Pur means lot and "purim" is the plural meaning lots), so Haman cast Purim to determine when he should commence the execution of his plot of genocide against the Jewish people. (He was not the first nor te last)
A Minor Holiday?
Purim is classified as one of the "minor" holidays. Yet that is not the assessment of all the ancient rabbis. Many believed the book of Esther was intended to illustrate that God is at work behind the scenes. That interpretation makes sense in light of a biblical text that neglects to mention the name of God, is devoid of all most all concepts in religion, even the ritual of prayer is not mentioned.
The sages of the Talmud (Rav Yoel) (Mishan Chullin 139b) asks “The Gemara asks where we find an allusion to Ester in the Torah. The Gemara responds by citing the Pasuk (Devarim 31:18) that states, “And I will hide [My face on that day].” This verse is a perfect allusion to the days of Esther, when the Lord hid His workings behind a secular veneer. ”. They answer with a reference to Deuteronomy 31:18, [Deu 31:18 And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evil which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods - םויב י נפ רית
סה י כנאו ] in which God warns Israel of exile to come: v’anochi haster asteer
panai – a more litteral translation reads “And I will hide, [yes]
hide my face in that day.” Asteer – “hide” – sounds like the name Esther. The term hester panim, to hide the face, describes the conditions of Israel’s long exile, conditions that dominate the story of Esther. Rashi wrote, “In the days of Esther there will be hester panim, hiding of the divine countenance.” Accordingly, there is no mention of God or the supernatural in the whole book of Esther.
More than one Talmudic sage compared Purim to the "major" holiday of Yom Kippur. For they saw a word play, Yom k'Purim the day like Purim and the biblical designation of the day of atonement is in the plural: Yom Kipurim. A day like Purim.
There is an other word play pani can means my face or my presence. His face and presence are what we seek in the story of Esther, the hidden One)
The preservation of the Jewish people under severe hardship and genocidal threats is a theme woven throughout our history. At Purim, Haman is a metaphor / type of evil like Pharaoh, or Antiochus Epiphanes, Martin Luther, various Tsars or Chmielnicki (who conducted the
pogroms), or Adolf Hitler or the Iranian President Ahmadinejad. In a speech in 1944, Hitler
said, that if
the Nazis were defeated, the Jewish people could celebrate "a second triumphant
Yet the rabbinical interpretation of Purim that lies at the heart of the book of Esther is the Amalekite curse.
The Curse of Amalek
In the Book of Esther, Haman is referred to as an Agagite, a descendant of Agag, King of Amalek. The first encounter with the Amalekites is recorded in Exodus 17. The Israelites were wandering in the wilderness prior to settling in the Promised Land and the Amalekite people made the grievous mistake of becoming the first of the Canaanite nations to attack them after the Exodus. For this act of arrogance, the Amalekites were punished with the ultimate ignominy in the ancient Near East: the blotting out of their name. God told Moses, Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven…I will be at war with the Amalekites from generation to generation. (v. 14, 16)
In Numbers 24:20, the disgraced prophet Balaam states, "Amalek was first among the nations, but he will come to ruin at last."
The shame of the Amalekites is memorialized when Moses makes his farewell speech to the people of Israel: Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt.…When the LORD your God 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 25: 17, 19)
The idea of blotting out the memory of the name of the Amalekite descendant Haman took many forms. In ancient Persia and Babylon an effigy of Haman was burned. From the 1800s to today in Chasidic circcles, Orthdox Jews would write the name of Haman on the soles of their shoes with chalk and when his name was spoken, they would stamp their feet, erasing the writing into the ground. Modern customs included the use of noisemakers, and the like to drown out the name of Haman.
The theme of cursing or blotting out the names of evil men is found throughout the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Hebrew verb that is most often used in this context is machah, which means "to blot out" or "to obliterate." It occurs in the Hebrew Scriptures 35 times in various forms, often describing the actions of God to "blot out" the name or the memory of particular individuals or nations. Sometimes it refers to the "blotting out" of sin. It is the word used in the Torah for God's promise to blot out the name of Amalek, but it is also used several times in reference to God's anger toward the people of Israel.
What's in a Name?
As I pointed out Esther may have had a different origin than is commonly assumed. Names were much more meaningful in ancient times. They symbolized who a person was and not just what he was called by others. A striking example of this is found in Exodus 33, when Moses asks God to reveal himself in a more personal way.
Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory." And the Lord said, I will cause all my goodness to pass in front you , and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence." (v. 18, 19)
In other words, to have an illuminated knowledge of God, Moses is told he will hear God's name proclaimed in his presence.
People are given names to illuminate or illustrate their character. A name could invoke honour, respect, fear, pity, scorn or ridicule. For example, when Jacob's name was changed to Israel, he went from being known as the supplanter (the one who took his brother's birthright) to being the one who strives with God, because he had wrestled with God and prevailed. (Genesis 32)
One of the most important aspects of life was to pass one's good name on to one's descendants. A good name would endure through many generations. It meant honour even after death, but, shame if a name was forgotten or blotted out.
When it comes to honour for God's name, Jewish tradition requires us to avoid the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton YHVH or Jehovah. We bury Torah scrolls when they are no longer usable because they contain the written name of God, which must be revered and never obliterated. Many observant Jews avoid writing even the Hebrew letters which make up God's name, since words on a chalkboard will eventually be erased and words on scraps of paper might accidentally be thrown away or burned.
Against such a background, one can see the severity of God's curse on the Amalekites, consigning their name and memory to oblivion so that the only mention of them is one of ignominy in the Bible. Yet, despite the attempts by Israel to forget about this arrogant nation, the name of Amalek came back to haunt them several hundred years after the Exodus 17 encounter.
Agag, King of Amalek
The problem with the Amalekites was aggravated when Saul was the first king of Israel. He was accepted by God when the people demanded that they have a "king to rule over them." Saul had severe character flaws which eventually destroyed the monarchy he established. One such flaw was his tendency to disregard complete obedience of God.
Saul ignored God's word to destroy the entire city of Amalek. Those who lived there were the biological and spiritual descendants of the nation God had cursed in the wilderness.
Saul and his army won the battle, "…but Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs ―everything that was good." (I Samuel 15:8) Saul's refusal to carry out the judgment of God on Agag not only cost him his throne, but also brought grief to a future generation of Israel.
Haman the Agagite
Not only was Haman an Agagite, but we are also told in the Book of Esther that Mordecai was from the tribe of Benjamin and a descendant of Kish. King Saul was also a Benjaminite, and his father's name was Kish. Can you see that the enmity between Mordecai and Haman was the dramatic climax of a battle that had lasted almost one thousand years?
Moses and Amalek, Saul and Agag, and now Mordecai and Haman. The curse of Amalek and
the obliteration of his name repeat again in the Scroll of Esther. It is at Purim that we are able, along with all of Israel, to join Mordecai in blotting out the name of Haman, and by transference, the names of Agag and Amalek. It is no coincidence that we make noise and try to drown out the reader each time Haman's name is mentioned during the reading of the Megillah.
Like those who follow the ancient tradition of writing the name of Haman on the soles of their shoes, we are obliterating the name that God has cursed and judged each time we stamp our feet, boo and hiss, and make loud noises. The name of Haman is considred shameful, and should be blotted out, if only symbolically, for it stands for evil, hatred, and rebellion against the God of Israel. In contrast, the names of Esther and Mordecai bring joyful remembrance, and are to be honoured.
In the book of Esther, Haman ended on the very gallows he had constructed for Mordecai. Hanging on gallows conjures up the image of a man's limp body suspended by a rope with a noose around his neck. However, the word Gallow is not in the Bible, the text literally reads “Let a tree be made” according to the Greek historian Herodotus, this kind of hanging was a much more painful form of execution. In ancient Persia, Haman did not hang from a noose, but instead was impaled a live on a high stake and lifted up in the air, it was an early form of crucifixion.
Haman's crime and punishment reminds us of the Deuteronomy passage, "Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse." (Deuteronomy 21:23)
Good and Evil
The rejoicing at Purim reminds us of the faithfulness of God and the quintessential triumph of righteous victim over evil oppressor.
Yet there are those today who see the meaning of Purim in terms of our good deeds overpowering the Hamans of this world. But reality tells us that despite our many good and noble efforts to work within social and political frameworks, there are always too many Hamans for the all to few Esthers and the few Mordecais to handle.
This Purim, as we follow tradition and blot out the name of Amalek, Haman and their ilk, we
might also consider the claims of the Yeshua whose very name actually means "salvation."
He offers life and peace to all, both Jews and gentiles, who trust in his name. And all who
follow Yeshua, according to the New Covenant, will have their own names written in the
book of life, where they can never be blotted out. Rev 3:5
He that overcomes shall thus be
arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I
will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
Cursed be Haman and his kind! Blessed be Mordecai and Esther, and blessed be all those who are faithful to the God of Israel!
Does it tell us something about Messiah?
Esther as I indicated sound like the Hebrew for hiding, the Messiah is hidden just from the nation of Israel but from most of the world. We who are bold can be like Mordechai stand for truth in a strong way and get ourselves in trouble. Those of us who are more timid can be like Esther praying and fasting and approaching God to reveal His Messiah who is hidden, to Israel and te nations.
( Ezekiel 39:28-29) “And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, in that I caused them to go into captivity among the nations, and have gathered them unto their own land; and I will leave none of them any more there; (29) neither will I hide my face any more from them; for I have poured out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the LORD God.”
When Israel acknowledges it sin of rejecting the Messiah he will not only reveal his face but according to (Isaiah 53:1) also his Arm “Who has believed our message? and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?”
(Isaiah 63:9 ASV) “ In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.”
May the Lord reveal his face and his arm, may we acknowledge the Angel of his Presence. May He pour out His spirit on Israel and may we repent quickly.
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