Esther: Lesson 9: Origin of Purim and Conclusion

PurimIn our earlier lessons, we learned of Mordecai’s character, which showed him to be a self-serving person.  Last week, we learned about Mordecai’s Edict in the King’s name, which allowed the Jews to rid the Persian Empire of their “enemies.”  In total, about 75,000 people were killed.

 

 

Lesson 9, Esther as a Chiasm

 

The Jews Celebrate, not Their Defeat, but Their Victory: Purim

Read Esther 9:17-19

These verses transition the story of Esther to explain the origins or Purim.

  • What did the Jews do on the 14th or 15th day of Adar, depending on location?

 

Read Esther 9:20-23

  • Who instituted this new “holiday” for the Jews?

 

  • How does that differ from almost all the other “holidays” for the Jews in the Old Testament?

 

  • Did the Jews celebrate another human-instituted “holiday”? (Think of Jesus in John 10:22-30)

 

  • Contrast with Esther 8:15-17. What is different about the celebration of this holiday from when Mordecai when out among the people?

 

  • The giving of food to the poor is to help convey what about the reversal of fortune?

 

Read Esther 9:24-28

  • What does “pur” mean?

 

  • So, when the Jews celebrated Purim, what are they celebrating (as it related to the term, “pur”)?

 

Haman counseled the King not let the matter of the Jews rest (he should not tolerate them but should exterminate them).  Now, the Jews have “rest” from that outcome.

Read Esther 9:29-32

  • Besides Mordecai, who else authorized Purim?

 

  • Discuss: Knowing what we now know about Mordecai, why would he bring Esther into this? (In other words, did Mordecai have to have Esther’s authorization?)

 

Excursus: Purim

The Feast of Purim receives its name from the lots Haman cast to decide the right time to murder the Jews in the Persian Empire.  Other than Esther, we find the earliest reference to Purim in 2 Maccabees 15:36 (called “Mordecai’s Day”), which places the festival on the 14th of Adar.

Many ancient peoples cast lots to decide something or to give some “god” an opportunity to provide a solution to a problem.  God’s people also recognize that God can even work through what looks like a random turn of chance.  For example, the early Church cast lots to decide who should replace Judas (Acts 1:15-26).

Jews have celebrated Purim for 2,500 years, which takes place in February or March.  Its celebration combines aspects of both Halloween and New Year’s Eve.  On the first day of Purim, however, Jews fast, remembering Esther and the Jews fasting before she went in to petition Ahasuerus.

Following the fast, the feast turns into a celebration, with much merry-making, focusing on Mordecai.  Children dress in costumes and paint their faces.  People exchange gifts—but concentrate on giving them to the poor.  They send food to their friends and even host extravagant banquets.

The Hebrew version of Esther (also called the Megillah) is read aloud, with the hearers also taking part.  For example, when Haman’s name sounds forth, the people jeer.  Mordecai’s name brings on a chorus of cheers.  Everyone then joins in to read Esther 2:5: “In Susa, the capital, was a Jewish man from the tribe of Benjamin.”

Soon Esther 6:1 arrives when everyone joins in again: “That night sleep escaped the king, so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him.”  The people also join in reading Esther 8:15-16.  “Mordecai left the king’s presence in royal robes of blue and white, wearing a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen.  The city of Susa shouted and rejoiced, for the Jews, there was light and joy, gladness and honor.”

When the reader gets to the part telling about the death of Haman’s ten sons (9:6-10), all the names are read in one breath, highlighting how they died, together and in one breath.  At the last, everyone joins in one more time to read the final verse of the Hebrew version of Esther.  “Mordecai the Jew was second only to King Ahasuerus, powerful among the Jews, and admired by his many kinsmen.  He sought the good of his countrymen and spoke out for the welfare of all his people.”

———–

Mordecai being Honored

Read Esther 10:1-3

  • This section starts out mentioning the “might and power” of Ahasuerus. Why would that matter in this section?

 

  • A powerful King honoring Mordecai and placing him “second in rank” says what about Mordecai’s might and power?

 

  • How did Mordecai use his power?

 

  • Understanding Mordecai’s character as the book of Esther has shown us, do you think that is all Mordecai did with his power?

 

Septuagint Addition: Mordecai Ponders His Earlier Dream

And Mordecai said, “These things were from my God.  For I recall the dream which I had concerning these things, and not one detail of them has failed.

  • What does Mordecai realize about the events that happened and his earlier dream?

 

There was a small spring that became a river; there was light and the sun and much water.  The river is Esther, whom the king married and made queen.  The two serpents are Haman and I.  The nations are the Gentiles gathering together to destroy the name of the Jews.  And my nation, which cried out to God and was delivered, is Israel.  For the Lord has saved His people, and the Lord has rescued us from all these evils.  And God performed signs and great wonders, which have not happened among the Gentiles.

“light and sun”: Since the text does not explain the significance of light and sun, we should understand them as Esther earlier used “light”—as a symbol of well-being (Esther 8:16).

  • How was God at work through Esther and Mordecai, despite their sin?

 

  • How does this affirm the “doctrine of vocation,” which we discussed in an earlier lesson?

 

On account of this, He made two lots, one for the people of God and one for the Gentiles.  And these two lots came in the hour, and in the time, and in the day of judgment before God and among all the Gentiles.  And God remembered His people and vindicated His inheritance.  And they shall observe these days in the month of Adar, the fourteenth and fifteenth day of that month. They shall gather together with joy and gladness before God throughout all generations forever among His people Israel.”

  • The casting of lots, which Haman used to decide the best time to exterminate the Jews is clear. What are the “lots” for the people of God?

 

  • Because Mordecai sees God hand at work through him, how does that affirm his understanding of Purim as a mandated Jewish day of celebration “before God throughout all generations forever among His people Israel”?

 

Septuagint Addition: The Colophon

A colophon is a brief statement giving the lineage of a text.  This colophon gives the date and who translated Esther into Greek. 

In the fourth year of the reign of Ptolemy and Cleopatra, Dositheus, who said he was a priest and a Levite, and Ptolemy his son brought in the letter of Purim, which they declared existed, and that Lysimachus, the son of Ptolemy, who was in Jerusalem, had translated it.

We have three possible dates when both a Ptolemy and Cleopatra ruled in Egypt: 114 BC, 77 BC, or 48 BC.  The most probable is 114 BC.  For if it were one of the two later dates, some other way to clarify the date would have been used.

 

Putting It All Together

When we understand Esther as a story arranged as a chiasm, the main point of Esther is Mordecai receiving the King’s honor.  Here’s the rub: Mordecai is not worthy of such honor!  He’s a self-serving dirtbag more concerned about himself than anyone else.

  • Mordecai let Esther go to the palace after King Ahasuerus deposed Queen Vashti, instead of shielding her (2:8). He understood Esther would be sent into a harem and become a “sex slave” (although well treated) to the King.
  • Mordecai worked for the King (2:19), which meant that he bowed down to other representatives of the King, showing them honor and respect. Not so to Haman: Mordecai refused to honor him by bowing before him (3:2), which sparked Haman’s fire to exterminate the Jews (3:5-6).
  • Later, communicating with Esther, Mordecai sent a veiled threat to her, telling her even she would not survive the purge of the Jews (4:13), pushing her to speak to the King to save their people. Esther did so, risking her life (4:16).
  • Esther’s introduction of Mordecai to the King causes him to become the King’s new advisor (8:1-2). Still, even two months after Haman’s death, the Edict to kill the Jews was still in place.  Esther had to go to the King again—without approval, risking her life—to petition for her people.  Mordecai, safe as the King’s number-two man, not only did nothing about the Edict, he didn’t even approve for Esther to petition the King (8:3-4).

Still, the King praises him.  Now, if anyone is worthy of honor, Esther is.  She risked her life twice to petition for her people.  She was put in a harem of the King and served as best as possible under difficult, no-win circumstances.   Still, Mordecai receives the praise and honor.

Other than a mention or two, Esther now recedes into the background while Mordecai becomes the main storyline.  How ironic: Esther brought about Mordecai writing a new Edict to save the Jews (8:9).  She asked for such an Edict, not Mordecai—and the King approved both of them to be the writers (8:7-8)!  Later, Mordecai is dressed in royal clothing and celebrated as a hero (8:15); yet without Esther, his next time in public would be dead, on a pike (5:14).

So, what’s the point?  Grace—God’s grace.  Mordecai didn’t deserve what God did for him or through him, which is the point!  God saved Mordecai (and the Jewish people) even though he didn’t deserve it.  We only understand this when we recognize the rhetorical format of Esther (a chiasm) and don’t “sugar coat” Mordecai’s self-serving ways, who is more concerned about himself than anyone else.

You and I are Mordecai.  We don’t deserve God’s grace, which is the point.  Still, God showers us with mercy and grace even though, like Mordecai, we are unworthy.  Even more, like Mordecai, we can never become good enough to deserve it.  The book of Esther not only testifies to our character, sinful and self-serving but, even more, to the nature of God, who is merciful and gracious.

 

If you want to go back to Lesson 1 of this series, click here.