The Book of Esther (Part 11: Three Important Days)

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The Book of Esther (Part 11: Three Important Days)

The Feast of Purim

 

The last episode in the book of Esther revolves around the most frequently used word (some fifteen times): “day.” The following list illustrates its usage in reference to three days that remained important for the Jewish nation since the events recorded in Esther: the thirteenth day of Adar, the fourteenth day of Adar, and the fifteenth day of Adar, Adar being the last month of the Jewish Biblical year, which corresponds to February-March:[1]

  • The Jews in the provinces defended themselves “on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar,”[2] and rested and celebrated “the fourteenth day of the month of Adar.”[3]
  • The Jews in Shushan fought “on the thirteenth day,” as well as on the on the fourteenth,” celebrating “on the fifteenth of the month.”[4]
  • Mordecai wrote the Jews in the Empire to celebrate “on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar.”[5]

The fourteenth and the fifteenth, therefore, became “days of feasting and gladness,”[6]days …[of] rest from enemies.”[7]These days[8] were called Purim, from the word “pur”, which means “lot.” The Jews established that they would perpetually celebrate “these two days every year,”[9]that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city, that these days of Purim should not fail to be observed among the Jews.”[10] Furthermore, Queen Esther and Mordecai wrote a second letter, “to confirm these days of Purim at their appointed time.”[11]

 

The Feast of Purim, while a minor Jewish feast, has been celebrated down through the centuries, and is still being observed today. The Jews meet at the synagogue to recite three blessings before listening to the book of Esther and Exodus 17-8-16 (which describes the obliteration of the Amalekites):

 

Blessed art Thou, LORD our God, Master of the universe, who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us regarded the reading of the Megillah. Amen

 

Blessed are Thou, LORD our God, Master of the universe, who performed miracles for our fathers in those days at this time. Amen

 

Blessed are Thou, LORD our God, Master of the universe, who has kept us alive and has sustained us, and brought us to this season. Amen.[12]

 

While they listen to the book of Esther, they “boo” Haman’s name and cheer Mordecai’s name, using rattles, feet stamping, and other noise-making devices. Children often give dramatic presentations of the story. The feast, of course, includes a celebratory meal where excess is allowed, a customary gift-sending, which often consists in some three-sided pastries called ‘Hamantaschen’ (meaning ‘Haman’s Ears’), and giving alms to the poor. Over the course of time, the feast has also come to celebrate the Jews’ deliverance from persecution in local contexts.[13]

 

Haman—The Agagite

 

The destruction of the Amalekites recounted in Exodus 17:8-16 is an important historical event due to Haman’s ties to this people. Characterized as the enemy and hater of the Jews in the book of Esther, Haman is also described in reference to his ancestry as “Haman, son of Hammedatha the Agagite.”[14]

 

To understand the significance of this reference we need to look up his ancestry in the Bible, more specifically, in 1 Samuel 15. In this chapter, the prophet Samuel entrusted Saul with a message from God:

go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. (1 Samuel 15:3).

The cup of iniquities of the Amalekites was full, and God used Israel to obliterate an idolatrous people that had ensnared Israel on its way from Egypt to Canaan, a people that were going to be a permanent influence for evil on earth.

 

Saul gathered the army and destroyed the Amalekites, but, contrary to the divine command,

[kept alive] Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them (1 Samuel 15:9).

 

Immediately after, we learn that God rejected Saul as king because he disobeyed his commandments, including setting up a monument for himself at Carmel where he sacrificed to the Lord sheep and oxen brought “from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God.”[15]

 

Samuel admonished him for doing this, reminding him of the specific command God had given him, yet Saul insisted for a while that he did a good thing by sparing the best of the sacrifice animals and keeping Agag alive. Saul’s rebellion and self-assurance not only led to his rejection and fall as king of Israel; it had consequences over an entire nation long after his time had set. Samuel killed Agag, but apparently not before completely eradicating his seed.

 

The Jewish Encyclopedia identifies Haman, the Medo-Persian prime-minister, as “a descendant of Agag, the king of the Amalekites.”[16] In the Rabbinical literature, Haman was “a direct descendant of Agag in the sixteenth generation and consequently an Amalekite, [also] identified by the Talmudists with Memucan, the last of the seven princes ‘which saw the king’s face.’”[17]

 

The Persian name Haman could be transliterated in Aramaic as Memucan (or Mehuman).[18] Haman the Amalekite is believed to have “had an idolatrous image embroidered on his garments, so that those who bowed to him at the command of the king bowed also to the image.”[19]

 

According to the Jewish literature, “Haman was also an astrologer, and when he was about to fix the time for the massacre of the Jews he first cast lots to ascertain which was the most auspicious day of the week for that purpose. Each day, however, proved to be under some influence favorable to the Jews” until the lot fell on the month of Adar, which he deemed unfavorable to the Jews.[20]

 

Haman—Archetype of Satan

 

Haman, the hater of the Jews, is the archetype of Satan, the enemy of God’s people. From the Garden of Eden until the end of earth history as we know it, Satan has hated humanity. White states:

 

No longer free to stir up rebellion in heaven, Satan’s enmity against God found a new field in plotting the ruin of the human race. In the happiness and peace of the holy pair in Eden he beheld a vision of the bliss that to him was forever lost. Moved by envy, he determined to incite them to disobedience, and bring upon them the guilt and penalty of sin. He would change their love to distrust and their songs of praise to reproaches against their Maker. Thus he would not only plunge these innocent beings into the same misery which he was himself enduring, but would cast dishonor upon God, and cause grief in heaven.”[21]

 

Satan has actively worked in many ways to destroy God’s elect people, both from the outside and from the inside. He also sought to kill Jesus Himself and has been a constant enemy of Christianity since its inception. His work of destruction will not cease until God, in his time and wisdom, will return to Earth to put an end to sin and misery on our planet.

 

Haman’s death and the foiling of his plan are a prefiguration of events yet to come, events that may affect me and you, and it is comforting to know that, just as God provided a means of salvation for the Jews in Medo-Persia, so will he protect his people from the utter destruction desired by Satan.

 

God, the Creator, is greater, stronger, and wiser than the fallen creature called Satan. Good will stand up to evil, and evil will be forever destroyed, remaining but an ugly memory. Haman cast the die with evil intentions, but the end was determined by God.

 

It is therefore desirable to be on God’s side not only then, but now; to entrust to Him our care not only in future times of trouble but to seek His presence and wisdom now, in whatever may trouble us. We can have our own “days” of victory, of liberation and of celebration in our current journey and relationship with God, building testimonies we can cherish in our hearts and use to uplift our Creator before the world surrounding us.

Click here to read the rest of Adelina’s series on the Book of Esther

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Notes.

[1] http://www.internationalstanardbible.com/P/purim-pur.html, accessed July 24, 2018.

[2] Esther 9:17.

[3] Esther 9:17, 19.

[4] Esther 9:18.

[5] Esther 9:21.

[6] Esther 9:17, 18.

[7] Esther 9:22.

[8] Esther 9:26

[9] Esther 9:27.

[10] Esther 9:28.

[11] Esther 9:31; all emphases supplied.

[12] https://hebrew4christians.com/Holidays/Winter_Holidays/Purim/purim.html, accessed July 24, 2018.

[13] https://hebrew4christians.com/Holidays/Winter_Holidays/Purim/purim.html and http://www.internationalstanardbible.com/P/purim-pur.html, accessed July 25, 2018.

[14] Esther 3:1, 3:10, 8:3, 8:5, 9:24.

[15] 1 Samuel 15:15.

[16] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7124-haman-the-agagite, accessed July 25, 2018.

[17] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7124-haman-the-agagite, accessed July 25, 2018.

[18] http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Haman.html#.W03nEdgzaRs, accessed July 25, 2018.

[19] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7124-haman-the-agagite, accessed July 25, 2018.

[20] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7124-haman-the-agagite, accessed July 25, 2018.

[21] Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1890), p. 52.

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Adelina Alexe is a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. She loves God and enjoys nature, arts, and meaningful conversation. Her special research interests are narrative theology and hermeneutics.