Purim 1: the cause of the trouble

The feast of Purim ( this year 28 February) marks the triumph of the Jewish people against the threat of obliteration, recorded in the book of Esther.

Most Jews then lived within the vast Persian empire.  A royal decree was issued for their destruction on the day of purim, but why did this deadly threat emerge at this time?  There are three threads – one more obvious than the others.

First, the dominant courtier of the day, Haman, was angered  by the refusal of the Jew, Mordechi, to bow to him and vowed revenge: a conflict between courtiers.

Second, Haman was an Amalkite, a people with a deep hatred of the Jews.    In 1 Samuel 15, Saul disobeys God’s instructions to wipe them out and kill their king, Agag.   Five centuries later, Haman (a descendent of Agag) plots against Mordechi (a descendent of Saul) and his people.

cup from Jerusalem templeGo deeper for a third thread.  The book of Esther covers a period when the religious Jews had returned to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem: in fulfilment of prophecy and with the agreement of the previous king, Cyrus (see the book of Nehemiah). Those remaining in Susa, the royal capital, had seemingly set that aside.  Indeed, Esther is the only book in the Bible not to mention God.

The opening chapter of Esther records that Ahasuerus gives a banquet for his  princes and nobles at which he displayed his riches and then another one, lasting several days, for all those in Susa.  Drinks were served in golden vessels of various kinds (Esther 1:7).  Traditional Judaic sources (e.g. Megillah 12a, Yalkut Shimoni) record that the sacred vessels from the Jerusalem temple were used.

Previously, king Belshazar, had drunk from those same cups at a feast in deliberate contempt of the God of Israel (Daniel 5).  Consequently, he received a terrifying vision and perished that same night.  Ahasuerus did not suffer the same fate, presumably because his action was not so defiant.  But the Jews of Susa participated with him and should have known better.

Whilst the pagan king Belshazar suffered the consequences immediately, God is more patient with the Jews.  But still the deadly threat emerges, for His hand of protection has been removed from them.  Yet, through Mordechi and Esther, the Lord provides a solution.  Israel nearly brings destruction on herself but is saved and her would-be destroyers (Haman and co) are themselves destroyed instead.  Hence, the feast.

Comments are closed.