The Jewish holiday of Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th day of the month of Adar on the Hebrew calendar and it is a celebration of victory for the Jews over their enemies. On our Western calendar, this year it falls on March 15th (starting at sundown) and ends on March 16th (at nightfall). Here is a brief description of Purim from Wikipedia.com:
Purim (Hebrew: פּוּרִים) is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire where a plot had been formed to destroy them. The story is recorded in the Book of Esther (Megillat Ester מגילת אסתר in Hebrew).
According to the Book of Esther, Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus (presumed to be Xerxes I of Persia) planned to kill all the Jews in the empire, but his plans were foiled by Mordecai and his adopted daughter Esther who had risen to become Queen of Persia. The day of deliverance became a day of feasting and rejoicing (quote source here).
Ahasuerus, ruler of a massive Persian empire, holds a lavish party, initially for his court and dignitaries and afterwards for all inhabitants of the capital city Shushan. Ahasuerus orders the queen Vashti to display her beauty before the guests. She refuses. Worried all women will learn from this, Ahasuerus removes her as queen and has a royal decree sent across the empire that men should be the ruler of their households and should speak their own native tongue. Ahasuerus then orders all beautiful young girls to be presented to him, so he can choose a new queen to replace Vashti. One of these is the orphan Esther, whose Jewish name is Hadassah. After the death of her parents, she is being fostered by her cousin Mordecai. She finds favor in the king’s eyes, and is made his new queen. Esther does not reveal that she is Jewish. Shortly afterwards, Mordecai discovers a plot by courtiers Bigthan and Teresh to assassinate Ahasuerus. The conspirators are apprehended and hanged, and Mordecai’s service to the king is recorded.
Ahasuerus appoints Haman as his prime minister. Mordecai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman’s disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordecai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordecai but all the Jews in the empire. He obtains Ahasuerus’ permission to execute this plan, against payment of ten thousand talents of silver (which the King declines to accept and rather allows him to execute his plan on principle), and he casts lots to choose the date on which to do this—the thirteenth of the month of Adar. On that day, everyone in the empire is free to massacre the Jews and despoil their property. When Mordecai finds out about the plans he and all Jews mourn and fast. Mordecai informs Esther what has happened and tells her to intercede with the King. She is afraid to break the law and go to the King unsummoned. This action would incur the death penalty. Mordecai tells her that she must. She orders Mordecai to have all Jews fast for three days together with her, and on the third day she goes to Ahasuerus, who stretches out his sceptre to her which shows that she is not to be punished. She invites him to a feast in the company of Haman. During the feast, she asks them to attend a further feast the next evening. Meanwhile, Haman is again offended by Mordecai and consults with his friends. At his wife’s suggestion, he builds a gallows for Mordecai.
That night, Ahasuerus suffers from insomnia, and when the court records are read to him to help him sleep, he learns of the services rendered by Mordecai in the previous plot against his life. Ahasuerus is told that Mordecai has not received any recognition for saving the king’s life. Just then, Haman appears, to ask the King to hang Mordecai, but before he can make this request, King Ahasuerus asks Haman what should be done for the man that the king wishes to honor. Thinking that the man that the king is referring to is himself, Haman says that the man should be dressed in the king’s royal robes and led around on the king’s royal horse, while a herald calls: “See how the king honours a man he wishes to reward!” To his horror and surprise, the king instructs Haman to do so to Mordecai. After leading Mordecai’s parade, he returns in mourning to his wife and friends, who suggest his downfall has begun.
Immediately after, Ahasuerus and Haman attend Esther’s second banquet, at which she reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to exterminate her people, including her. Overcome by rage, Ahasuerus leaves the room; meanwhile Haman stays behind and begs Esther for his life, falling upon her in desperation. The king comes back in at this moment and thinks Haman is assaulting the queen; this makes him angrier than before and he orders Haman hanged on the gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordecai. The previous decree against the Jews cannot be annulled, but the king allows the Jews to defend themselves during attacks. As a result, on 13 Adar, 500 attackers and Haman’s ten sons are killed in Shushan, followed by a Jewish slaughter of 75,000 Persians, although they took no plunder. Esther sends a letter instituting an annual commemoration of the Jewish people’s redemption, in a holiday called Purim (lots). Ahasuerus remains very powerful and continues reigning, with Mordecai assuming a prominent position in his court (quote source here).
The story of Esther is truly one of the most inspiring stories in the Old Testament, and while the name of God is not mentioned in the Book of Esther, God is all over every page and circumstance that happens in this book. It is about a courageous young Jewish woman and her relative, Mordecai, whose faith and courage remained unwavering in the midst of a plot to destroy all of the Jewish people in Persia. And the plot was not only foiled, but the man behind the plot fell victim to the very plans that he laid out for the destruction of Mordecai.
Faith has nothing to do with how we look on Sunday morning or who we know at church or in the community-at-large. It is a total dependence on God in the midst of circumstances we cannot control. It is not looking out to the larger world to find answers, but relying on God to supply them as they are needed. It is a laying down of any personal agendas; indeed, of one’s own pride and self-sufficiency, and humbly submitting our lives to the will of God. Without this, faith is meaningless. It becomes nothing more than depending on our own resources or people we know to get us out of our trials and circumstances.
True faith leaves the circumstances and the results up to God. True faith doesn’t try to manipulate; it doesn’t fabricate; it doesn’t deceive others to get our own way. In fact, true faith isn’t about us and what we want; it’s about God and how He is working in this world of ours. And it’s about giving Him total control of the situation and following His lead and not one of our own making.
Far too often we view faith as something we want to manipulate in our own small world, yet God is at work in the entire world weaving a large and dynamic story of the history of humankind, and each of us has a role in it. It’s not about selfishly seeking for our own gain, but living daily under God’s control so that His will is accomplished through us. Second Peter 3:8-9 summarized God’s mission on this earth:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
If we take seriously the stories in the Old and New Testaments, God is not into giving us everything we want in this life so that we can have “the good life.” That is an American ideal that has no basis in Scripture. Whether as Kings or paupers, Biblical characters from Abraham, Moses, Esther, Job, David, Solomon, the Prophets, John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph, Jesus Christ (the Son of God), Nicodemus, the Disciples, Paul (and the list goes on and on), the one thing they all had in common was total submission to God and His will, not their own will. They weren’t always perfect at it but God looks at the heart attitude. And a selfish and self-centered heart attitude doesn’t know God, nor does it care about His will.
God’s will is done in each and every one of our lives on this planet of ours, make no mistake about that. Whether we acknowledge Him or not, He is still in ultimate control. Whether we submit to that control determines which way our lives will go–either self-serving or serving God. In the story of Esther, there came a point when she was Queen where she had to make a choice, and it was clear that even if she didn’t make the right choice, God would still find someone else to bring about the redemption needed to save the Jews at that time. When the plot by Haman became known throughout Persia to kill all the Jews, Mordecai sent this message to Esther (Esther 4:13-14):
Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?
We make choices daily that indicate who we really serve–God or ourselves. It shows in the way we treat others, including those we don’t like or view as our enemies. It shows in how we spend our time and our money, and what is truly important to us (e.g., status, careers, money, possessions, etc.) Every decision we make is either self-center or God-centered. We live in a society that is constantly telling us to put the focus on ourselves and what we want, and that attitude has invaded the Church-at-large. And if we are focusing on what we want all the time, we will eventually drown out the voice of God in our lives as to what He wants us to do, and He will look elsewhere to accomplish His will, just as Mordecai stated to Esther.
Esther chose right because she had a heart for God and for her people, the Jews. She wasn’t focused on being Queen, but on being God’s servant in the role He had given to her. How much do we miss today because we focus on ourselves and what we want more than we focus on truly getting to know God and what He wants? Mostly likely far too often.
The celebration of Purim stands as a monument to us down through the ages as to what one person can accomplish who is truly sold out to God and His will. Through her obedience to God, Esther’s actions saved her people, the Jews living in Persia, from total destruction.
Our challenge today is to take our eyes off of everything our society offers to us and what we want, and to spend time understanding what God would have us to do in this world of ours. We never know what circumstances might be coming our way–for example, I never dreamed I’d spend five years late in life unemployed through no fault of my own. Yet if that had not happened, my life would have still been focused on me trying to find “my best life now” and asking God to bless it instead of getting to know God through Jesus Christ and what He would have me do with my life in serving Him.
While most of us may not ever have to make a decision on the scale of Esther’s, we have no idea what the impact on others might be even in the smallest decisions we make if they are God-focused and not self-focused. God’s focus is on the redemption of humankind. And that should be our focus, too.
I challenge all of us to take some time in the next few days to consider the story of Esther and how it applies to our own life, even in the small decisions we make. Are our lives God-focused or self-focused?
Now is the time . . .
Before it’s too late . . .
Don’t wait . . . .
YouTube Video: “High and Lifted Up” sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir: