PURIM – a lesson in misplaced confidence

Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 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. So the Jews agreed to continue the celebration they had begun, doing what Mordecai had written to them. 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. 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 hanged on the gallows. (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, the Jews took it upon 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. 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 cease to be celebrated by the Jews, nor should the memory of them die out among their descendants
 (Esther 9:20-28).

Purim celebrates the deliverance of the Jews in Persia from the wicked plot of their enemy Haman but in modern times the celebration has been associated with the defeat of Hitler, who is equated with Haman: “Beneath the merrymaking lies the perennial reality of anti-Semitism, Haman being one of those rabble-rousers who anticipated Hitler. Hence this festival’s constant appeal to the Jew, symbolizing triumph of good over evil and of humanity over bigotry and racism” (Judaism A-Z Lexicon of Concepts and Terms by Yacov Newman and Gavriel Sivan p.175).

There is, however, a tragic irony in the celebration of Purim, just as the original story is full of irony. Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, which enraged Haman. Likewise when Haman was forced to bow down before Mordecai he was filled with resentment. In his misplaced confidence in his own position Haman was convinced that he would be honoured by the King and that Mordecai, whom he despised, would be declared an enemy of the king and executed for treason on the gallows which he had himself erected. But Mordecai was vindicated as a true and loyal subject of the king and Haman was hanged on his own gallows!

Jewish expectations of the messianic age have always been that a descendant of King David will be anointed by God as King of Israel and that his dominion will be everlasting and his reign will extend to the ends of the earth. Through this great King and Redeemer, God’s chosen people will eventually be vindicated and their enemies destroyed. All people will have to bow before him and serve him:

As Psalm 72:9-11 expresses it: “The desert tribes will bow before him and his enemies will lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him.”

The tragic irony in the model of Haman is that God’s people will indeed be vindicated, but many of those who expect to be honoured will find that they are in fact enemies of the King! In a prophetic parallel to the story of Purim God has anointed Jesus as Lord and King which has caused many Jews to stumble while many Gentiles have bowed before him (see Isaiah 8:14 and Romans 9:32). When God vindicates his faithful people many who are confident in their own standing and position will find that they are condemned for having refused to bow down and honour their Messiah-King.

…God exalted Jesus to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and King, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

By refusing to bow before the Anointed King they are unwittingly rebelling against the kingdom of God. Haman, blinded by his pride and prejudice, was too proud to bow to a despised Jew, but ironically many Jews are blinded by their own prejudice and are too proud to bow to Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews.

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:12)

It should never be forgotten that the church began with a distinct divide, not between Jew and Gentile, but between the Jewish people themselves. The church began as a Jewish assembly of worshippers in Israel to which many Gentiles were later added, so that the church soon expanded beyond the earthly borders of Jerusalem.

There were hundreds of thousands of Jews within the first century who believed and testified that Jesus is the Messiah whom God raised from the dead and that they are justified by their faithfulness to him. On the other hand, there are many who hated and rejected Jesus and persecuted his followers, aligning themselves with Caesar and Rome rather than with the King of the Jews. “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered (John 19:14-15).

Before the apostle Paul (formerly called Saul) became a follower of Christ, he was an extremely zealous Pharisee who perceived the spread of the gospel to be a serious threat to Judaism and the Jews who embraced it to be traitors and enemies of Israel and the Jewish people. Acting under the authority of the high priest and the Sanhedrin, he persecuted the Jewish followers of Christ, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison.

Paul received mercy because, in his own words, he was acting in ignorance and unbelief. Unfortunately many of his brethren to this day remain implacably opposed to the gospel and still regard Jewish believers in Jesus Christ as a serious threat to the preservation of the Jewish community. Many are still acting in ignorance and unbelief, believing instead the false assurances of their religious leaders that they will be vindicated merely on the basis of their status as Jews rather than by faithfulness to the Messiah. The further tragedy is that just as Haman was hanged on his own gallows those who think that they will be justified through faithfulness to the Law of Moses will find that it is the very Law that condemns them. As Paul wrote: “All who rely on observing the Law are under a curse,…”(Galatians 3:10) and Jesus said, “do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (John 5:45).

To the persecuted believers in Philadelphia who stand in the prophetic type of Mordecai Jesus gave the following assurances: These are the words of him who is holy and true,who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars–I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth (Revelation 3:7-10).