This week, Jews around the world celebrate Purim, the Feast of Lots (“purim” being the Hebrew word for “lots”), as they read the biblical Book of Esther and recall another of the many genocidal attempts to exterminate God’s people and eliminate the covenant given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Many of us are familiar with the famous quote from George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Purim is a time to both learn history and learn from history.
Bible students know that the annual celebration of Purim is still observed in our days because of the declaration by Queen Esther’s relative, Mordechai the Jew (see his description in Esther 6:10), regarding the murderous strategies of Haman in the ancient Persian empire. As we read in Esther 9:24-27:
“For Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the adversary of all the Jews, had schemed against the Jews to destroy them and had cast Pur, that is the lot, to disturb them and destroy them. But when it came to the king’s attention, he commanded by letter that his wicked scheme which he had devised against the Jews, should return on his own head and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore they called these days Purim after the name of Pur. And because of the instructions in this letter, both what they had seen in this regard and what had happened to them, 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 would not fail to celebrate these two days according to their regulation and according to their appointed time annually.”
The festival observed around the world this week, including in a Christian church in Texas, is the fulfillment of Esther chapter 9:27 to “not fail to celebrate these two days according to their regulation and according to their appointed time annually.”
Creator God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:2 (and later confirmed in Genesis 15 and 17) to make his descendants into a great nation. The Lord’s eternal covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is repeated throughout the Bible and includes not just a relational aspect but also a protective aspect. The Lord repeatedly promised in Joshua 1:5 and Deuteronomy 28:7 and Isaiah 41:11 and Psalm 5:11 and elsewhere to shield and protect Israel, the apple of his eye (see Zechariah 2:8).
In the Book of Esther, Haman, an administrative official in the Persian Empire of 2,400 years ago, used his governmental power and his racist hatred to devise a scheme to murder Queen Esther and Mordechai and their fellow Jews. Haman schemed to convince Persian King Achashverosh (also known as Ahasuerus) to issue a decree requiring that all Jews in his empire “be destroyed, be killed and be annihilated” (Esther 7:4).
Notice the severity of the repeated terminology in that Bible passage, indicating the never-ending longing by so many groups to murder Jews. Today, Jews and non-Jews alike must recognize that the longing to terrorize and murder Jews, specifically the centuries-old threat from Persia, is not over.
Just last week, rockets from Gaza were fired toward Tel Aviv and residents of that dynamic city heard red alert sirens as they were warned to take cover in bomb shelters. We thank God that no fatalities occurred and applaud once again the heroic efforts of the IDF and amazing technology like the Iron Dome. Residents of this major city got a dose of the fear and danger faced by many in southern Israel as the longing to murder Jews continues.
We should note that this rocket attack targeting Tel Aviv and central Israel occurred just days before Jews and Christians around the world gather to read the Book of Esther and be reminded of the murderous desire of Persians to kill Jews two millennia ago. We should also note, as the IDF confirmed, that the two projectiles fired in the direction of Tel Aviv were Iranian (read Persian) developed rockets called Fajr-5. History indeed repeats itself.
WE ALL can understand why Jews would joyfully celebrate Purim, an important annual reminder of God’s covenant shielding of his people. But, why would Christians in Texas and in Israel and around the world celebrate Purim? The answer is given in that easy-to-miss but very important phrase in Esther 9:27. This verse says, “the Jews established and made a custom for themselves and for their descendants and for all those who allied themselves with them” (emphasis mine).
Christian supporters of Israel, did you know you were mentioned in the Purim story in the Bible? There we are, called “those who allied themselves” with the people of Israel in the Book of Esther chapter 9. This means that Purim is a Jewish holiday that can be, and should be, celebrated by non-Jews.
While the Festival of Purim is not mentioned by name in the Christian Bible (known to many as the “New Testament”), there is a very interesting event connecting the ministry of Jesus with this festive celebration. A popular Christian tourist spot in Jerusalem is the Pool of Bethesda (meaning “house of mercy”), located in the Muslim Quarter just inside the Lions’ Gate. Christians read the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John and learn that Jesus visited this very pool in the first century AD to show grace and offer healing to a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years (according to John 5:5). The timing of Jesus’s visit is described as happening during a “feast of the Jews” (John 5:1) and “on the Sabbath day” (John 5:9). In this story, the lame man is healed of his sickness and given the ability to walk for the first time in decades.
While this story gives many exact details, including the location of the pool (“in Jerusalem by the sheep gate” in John 5:2) and the length of time the paralyzed man suffered, it does not name which Jewish feast is happening at the time. The calendar of Jewish festivals in the Christian gospels is significant because the holidays help explain why Jesus, who spent most of his time in the Galilee region, was in Jerusalem at the time of specific events.
Some readers assume the feast associated with John 5 and the Pool of Bethesda to be Passover or Pentecost, but some very interesting research has been done by Lambert Dolphin. According to his calculations and those of E.W. Faulstich, the unnamed feast mentioned in the Gospel of John chapter 5 during which Jesus delivered a man from such a lengthy illness was, in fact, Purim. Their research indicates that the only festival that occurred on a Sabbath between the years 25-35 AD (generally accepted to be the timeline of Jesus’s ministry) was Purim in the year 28 AD. So, it is logical and quite probable that the Jewish man, Jesus of Nazareth, celebrated the annual observance of God’s covenantal protection known as Purim on the day he encountered a hurting man who needed mercy and healing. Therefore, Bible-believing Christians who have willingly “allied themselves” with the Jews (see Esther 9:27) and worship Jesus can do what he did and joyfully celebrate the happiness of Purim.
As we can see from passages in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible, Purim is a time for celebration and thanksgiving, but is it also a time for Jews and Christians to learn history and learn from history.
Hag Purim Sameah!The writer is a pastor and radio host in Texas who frequently leads tours of Christian pilgrims to study the Bible in Israel. Learn more at www.treygraham.com.
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