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The Great Purim Mystery

By February 27, 2021No Comments

Can you imagine someone writing a history of the birth of the United States, including the Revolutionary War, the constitutional convention, and the first federal government, and omitting George Washington,“the indispensable man.” That would be inconceivable. How much more when we look at the book of Esther, and the one who is central to the entire story is not even mentioned. That’s right—God is not mentioned directly even one time in Esther. The book tells of a Jewish girl, Esther, that becomes the queen of Persia, her cousin Mordecai who advises her, and Haman’s ultimately thwarted plot to destroy all the Jewish people. Jewish people still celebrate Purim because of this great deliverance. The name of the festival is from the Hebrew word for “lots” because Haman cast lots to determine what day he would carry out his genocide of the Jewish people. We remember the overturning of Haman’s plan yet exclude God’s name. This certainly could not be an accident or an oversight—the author must have had some purpose. Since Purim, the Jewish Holiday that celebrates the victory of the Jewish people in the book of Esther, was celebrated yesterday, I thought it would be good to answer the great Purim mystery, Where is God in the book of Esther? Four possible answers have been given:

Some say the book is too profane for God to be in it. According to this view, the king in the book, Xerxes, is a sensual despot, Esther is a manipulator who uses her beauty to advance herself, Mordecai is insolent in refusing to bow to Haman, and the whole book is merely about vengeance. One author says, “Morally Esther falls far below the general level of the Old Testament, and even the Apocrypha.”

A second view is that the scroll of Esther is merely nationalistic propaganda and has no spiritual message. Since this view says Esther is merely a tale of national defense and struggle against Hellenism, one commentator said, “God forbid, that God should appear in such a story!”

A third approach is to view the book of Esther as a picture, or rather an allegory in which God is hidden in the book through the various characters. Mordechai represents the Holy Spirit, the king represents the believer’s flesh, Esther represents the redeemed believer, Haman represents Satan. This allegorical approach is too subjective and far-fetched to be taken seriously.

A fourth and more likely explanation is that the book of Esther is about providence. The book deliberately conceals the name of God to reveal His actions. Providence means that God is lovingly guiding all of history with His good purposes and intentions. It refers to God’s invisible hand. Someone once defined providence as “God performing a miracle and deciding to remain anonymous.” The scroll of Esther reveals that the Jewish people had adopted the Persian culture and forgotten their God.  The message of this book is that even when Israel forgets God, God always remembers His people.  So the name of God is deliberately left out, just as the Jewish people of Persia had left Him out of their lives.  It declares that God is actively working even when we do not acknowledge Him.

Providence is evident throughout the book of Esther. Here are just a few examples: Esther just happens to find favor with the royal official in charge of the beauty contest, Mordechai just happens to overhear the plot against the King, the King just happens to welcome and point his scepter at Esther, the King just happens to have insomnia and hear the story of Mordechai saving him, and Haman, the genocidal maniac and hater of Jews, just happens to perish on the very day that he planned the genocide of the Jewish people and on the very gallows that he prepared for Mordechai.

So what does this have to do with today? First of all, God was active in preserving the Jewish people so the Messiah Jesus could come. If God had not intervened in the days of Esther, the Messiah would not have been born. God secured the safety of the Jewish people so the Jewish Messiah could come and redeem the whole world.

Second, God is active inthe lives of all followers of Jesus today, caring for us, accomplishing His purposes, protecting us, even if we neglect Him. All those coincidences that happen for our good are not coincidences at all; they are the invisible hand of God working all things together for our good.

Third, God remains active in preserving and protecting the Jewish people, today and always. In light of the return of anti-Semitism and its rapid increase in the United States and the world, it should give us comfort to know that God will always preserve the Jewish people.

To this day, Jewish people continue to celebrate their deliverance by God from the genocidal plans of Haman. The celebrations include reading the scroll of Esther in the synagogue complete with noisemakers to drown out the name of Haman every time his name is read. It is also customary to deliver baskets of foods and sweets to neighbors (cf. 9:22), to eat tri-cornered pastries reminiscent of Haman’s hats (or some say his ears), and perform plays reenacting the defeat of Haman. In light of Hitler’s Holocaust, these celebrations have broadened their meaning to remember God’s care to preserve His people at all other times. Just as the Jewish Passover liturgy states, “For not only one enemy has risen up against us. In every generation, they rise up to destroy us. But the Holy One, blessed be He, always delivers us from their hands.”

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