The celebration of Purim is a festive occasion in Jewish communities throughout the world and in Israel especially. It is a joyous occasion with children (and grown-ups) dressing up, singing songs and the obligatory eating of a festive meal. Special sweet treats are consumed, called Haman’s ears… we’ll get back to that a little later. A special instrument used by the Jews during Purim is the Haman rattle. When the Biblical account of Esther and Mordechai is read aloud, the people make a great noise every time the name of Haman is mentioned, so that his name is not heard, nor remembered, but the story can be told.
Although the celebration of Purim is joyous in our time, it holds a deep meaning of Gods providence and control. The story plays out in one of the darkest days in the Jewish history, the time of the Babylonian exile in 478 BC, during the rule of king Xerxes of Persia.
Setting the stage, the king and former queen
In the first chapter of the book of Esther, we are introduced to king Ahasuerus, also known as king Xerxes. A heathen ruler of Persia, current day Iran, who reigned over a vast empire of 127 provinces, stretching from the Indian sub-continent to the fertile horn of Africa.
This king liked to strut his stuff and organised a grand celebration, to show his riches and royal glory and greatness, for a staggering 180 days. He celebrated this extravagant feast during the third year of his reign, for all his officials and servants, the army and all the nobles.
The feast was ended by a seven days event for all the people of the capital city Susan. This was the pinnacle of the celebration.
Queen Vashti, the wife of the king, a woman of great beauty, also held a feast, for the women of the palace. At the height of the festivities, King Ahasuerus commanded his wife be brought to him, so all could see her in her royal apparel and gaze at her beauty. The queen however refused to come.
Her refusal enraged the king and her refusal to listen to her king and husband was seen as a direct threat to the status quo of family hierarchy, by the kings counsellors.
After due deliberation, the king decided to de-throne the queen and find a replacement for her. Someone who would be worthy of royal status, and would obey the higher command of her king.
Hadassah, an everyday girl
The servants of the king went out, to find the most beautiful young virgins of the 127 provinces and bring them into the harem of the king.
A young, beautiful, Jewish girl, called Hadassah, who was orphaned at a young age and raised by her uncle, in the capital Susan, was also taken and brought into the kings harem and given into the custody of the keeper of the harem, a man called Hegai.
Hadassah quickly won the favour of Hegai and was promoted within the harem, to the best place. She had however kept secret that she was a Jew.
Hadassah was given all things necessary to increase her beauty, in waiting for what was to come. The name Hadassah in the Persian language is Esther.
Mordechai, a loving caretaker and loyal servant
A man from the tribe of Benjamin, called Mordechai raised his niece Hadassah, after her parents had died. He had commanded his niece not to make known her people, for he knew the Jews were never liked by outsiders.
Every day, Mordechai walked in front of the court, hoping to find out what fate had befallen his beloved niece.
After twelve months, Esther was brought before the king, this was in the seventh year of his reign. The king loved Esther, more than all the women in his harem. He loved her so much, that Esther was promoted to the position of Queen, instead of former queen Vashti.
Mordechai was near the court, sitting at the kings gate, when he overheard two of the kings servants plotting to murder king Ahasuerus. Mordechai informed queen Esther about this and Esther in turn informed the king about the plot against his life, naming Mordechai as the source of the information.
The plotters were hanged for their crime and the whole matter was written down in the chronicles of the king.
The evil of Haman seemingly in full control
Haman was favoured by the king and placed in high status, just below the position of the king. All who saw Haman were ordered to bow before him. All obeyed the command, except Mordechai, as it is forbidden for a Jew to do such a thing (as we can also read in the story of Joseph at Pharaohs court).
This enraged Haman and he sought to kill not only Mordechai, but all the Jews in all the provinces.
Haman went to the king and convinced him to set forth a decree, that the Jews would be destroyed. The king, not knowing that queen Esther was a Jew and convinced by Haman’s lies, agreed to Haman’s wishes and it was written into law that on a certain day, all the people of the provinces should kill the Jews everywhere. Letters were dispatched throughout the kingdom, so all were informed, causing great fear and confusion in all the Jews.
Accepting what may come, walking in faith
Mordechai was so distraught by the news of Haman’s plan of genocide against his people, that he sat in sackcloth and ashes and cried loudly at the king’s gate. Indeed, in all provinces, everywhere, the Jews did likewise, with mourning and fasting.
Esther was also informed about the coming holocaust. She sent her servant to her uncle to find out more about what was happening. Mordechai asked Queen Esther to plead with the king for her people.
Queen Esther hesitated, because the law of the time forbade anyone to approach the king without being called, upon pain of death.
Mordechai’s response to the queens hesitance was a warning, Esther would not be safe from the king’s decree. He said: “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13,14)
Mordechai held faith that God would deliver his people.
Esther then listened to her uncle and asked her people to pray for her, saying “If I perish, I perish !”
Gods plan in action
Esther went to the king, who accepted her to come to him, sparing her life.
Queen Esther did not plead for her people directly, but rather requested the king and Haman, to come to a banquet she had prepared. When he heard this, Haman was joyful and glad, but when he saw Mordechai, his heart grew dark with hatred.
Haman erected a gallows, 20 meters high, to hang Mordechai on.
God however had different plans. That night, the king could not sleep and he commanded that the chronicles of the king be read to him. The portion read was the account of the plot against the king and Mordechai’s role in stopping it. The king remembered and realized the Mordechai had never been rewarded for his good deed.
The king asked Haman how he should honour a man he was most pleased of. Haman thought the king wanted to honour him and recommended that the royal robe and a royal crown should be given that person and that he would ride the kings horse, with someone leading the horse proclaiming “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honour” (Esther 6:9)
The king thought this was a most excellent idea and commanded Haman to do all these things… for the Jew Mordechai… Haman obeyed and Mordechai was set in great honour.
Haman however went home and mourned all that had happened.
The day of the wicked ends, the righteous shine
During the second day of Queen Esther’s feast for the king and Haman, the king asked Queen Esther what her desire was, so he could grant it her.
Queen Esther replied that her greatest wish was that her life would be spared as well as that of her people, because she and they were about to be destroyed and killed and annihilated. The king, enraged by this replied: “Who is he, and where is he who dared ?!” Queen Esther then revealed it was Haman, who had planned all this evil.
In anger the king went into the garden, while Haman was left with Queen Esther. Haman, seeing that evil was determined against him, threw himself on the couch where queen Esther was seated, just when the king came back in. He shouted: “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?”(Esther 7:8) With that, Haman was taken away and hung on the gallows he had prepared for Mordechai.
The damage however was already done, seeing as the decree of the king had already been signed into law and could not be altered. However, Esther now revealed to the king who Mordechai was to her and the king lifted Mordechai up to the place Haman before held.
Mordechai then sent letters in name of the king, that the Jews would kill all who had planned with Haman, from India to Ethiopia, to annihilate the Jews. Thus, the people were saved and many non-Jews became Jews, out of fear.
In the entire book of Esther, God is not mentioned a single time. Yet, when reading this book, you can unmistakably feel His presence in every line and every outcome.
Esther and Mordechai did not set out to become great however, God made them great, in order that the His people might be saved. Haman did set out to be great, but he was greatly humbled and destroyed.
This reminds the reader of what Jesus taught us in the Gospel of Luke: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”(Luke 14:11)
Haman was a man seeking to destroy God’s people. Since Haman, many of such people have come up, in greater or smaller stature. Hitler, king Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Ayatollah’s are examples of such men. They all strive to snuff out the light of God in His people, so that His promises to them cannot be made manifest.
In our time we see the stage being set for the last iteration of this evil, in the form of the antichrist, who will attempt to destroy the Jews, by deception and guile. God will in those days again safe His chosen people, as we can read in Revelation 12:15.
God is always and in every circumstance in full control. It all plays out according to His plan. This is the chief lesson we learn from the story in the book of Esther.