"For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye." – Zechariah 2:8
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave US President Barack Obama a timely gift - filled with symbolism – when he presented the President with a scroll of the Book of Esther during his White House visit this week. At a time in history when the world frowns on Israel, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is calling on Muslims and Christians to wrest Jerusalem from the Jews, Purim becomes an especially important holiday to celebrate with joy.
This year, Purim will be celebrated March 7-8. The famed foiling of the wicked plot of Haman to blot out the Jews is, of course, one of the more dramatic narratives in the Bible. The feast of Purim was instituted by Mordecai at the end of the Esther to celebrate the deliverance of the Jews from Haman's plot to kill them. Purim (from Akkadian, puru, "lots") is so called after the lots cast by Haman in order to determine the month in which the slaughter was to take place (Est 9:26; 3:7).
The celebration of Purim involves many hidden things. Dressing up in costumes (concealing one's true identity) is a fun part of the holiday, but one of the most enjoyable parts of Purim involves feasting on "hidden foods." In the Bible, Esther's true identity as a Jewess was kept secret until the time she was able to speak up on behalf of her people, saving their lives. In the same way, Purim celebrants munch on foods that look like one thing on the outside but have a surprise filling. Persian Jews might enjoy gondi - a meatball filled with raisins and nuts in a sweet and sour sauce. Jews from Eastern Europe might gorge on kreplach, meat-filled dumplings or challahs stuffed with onions and poppy seeds.
It's a time for Jews to celebrate God's providential protection in ancient Persia, as well as many many other times throughout the centuries. Sometimes God works overtly – as when He parted the Red Sea – and at other times He works quietly behind the scenes. Always, whether openly visible or not, His power and protection and love always make themselves known.
The more we look in Esther, the more we realize that there is still much more to discover; the entire drama has deeper roots. Haman was a royal Amalekite, a descendant of the very king Agag whom King Saul was supposed to have slain (1 Sam 15:1-28; Est 3:1). Samuel killed Agag instead, and for Saul's failure, his kingdom was taken away. Mordecai, too, a key benefactor in the tale, was a result of David's having refused to take vengeance upon Shimei so many years earlier (2 Sam 16:5-13; 19:16-23; cf. 1 Kings 2:36-46; Est 2:5). It was Esther's marriage to the King of Persia that ultimately led to the rebuilding of Jerusalem.
Along with its celebrations, Purim is a time for the giving of charitable gifts and remembering the provision of God in protecting the Jews from their enemies throughout history. When Haman determined to destroy the Jews in the Book of Esther, God provided deliverance. Hitler may have done great damage, but today we see the Jewish people thriving, and doing so in the land of Israel ! (The Nazis, on the other hand, didn't fare so well. )
More than 200,000 Holocaust survivors still live in Israel, elderly with little financial means. In the spirit of Purim, Israel Today readers sent in donations to help provide care packages to these dear people. The Purim care packages included warm blankets among other things, and the staff of Israel Today was pleased with the support of its readership, writing on behalf of the Holocaust survivors, saying, "It lets them know that today, unlike during the decade of horror they endured in the 1940s, there are people around the world that not only care for them, but are willing to go the extra mile and provide for them. That these people of goodwill are Israel-loving Christians was a real shocker, especially for those who were so brutally treated at the hands of those who represented Christian nations…"
Those words should slice at our hearts. We hope we can be known and trusted as friends of the Jewish people. During WWII, brave Christians souls like Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom hid Jews in their homes, even when their own lives were at risk. Tragically, though, there were many people who called themselves followers of Christ who did nothing to save their Jewish brothers. The Third Commandment tells us not to take the LORD's name in vain. If we claim to serve God, if we call ourselves by His name, we must live as Christ and lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters – especially when their worst enemies come banging at the door.
Nasrallah is mistaken to call on Christians to chase the Jews out of Jerusalem; we should be the first to say, "Sit down, Nasrallah! How can we throw stones on the apple of God's eye!" As Gentiles, we need to remember that we are grafted into the true olive tree by the skin of our teeth (Rom 11:17-24). We must not forget that we were joined into what was a Jewish Church - with Jewish leaders, a Jewish Bible, and are worshipping a Jewish Messiah.
Baruch HaShem Adonai. Bless The Name of the Lord!