“while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” — 2 Corinthians 4.18
Paul tells us through the Christians at Corinth that what we see with the eye and what is really happening are two different things. “Things are not what they would seem” is a central theme in the Book of Esther. While the events of Esther do not receive particular emphasis in the Christian calendar, they do in the Jewish calendar as the holiday of Purim. As Christians, we can learn a lot about God’s plan of redemption by becoming familiar with the observance of Purim.
What is Purim?
Purim (pronounced “pore-eem” in Hebrew and “pur’m” in American English) is the Biblical holiday that was initiated by and commemorates the events recorded in the book of Esther. The holiday comes in the final month of the Hebrew calendar. In Jewish communities, the day of Purim can look a lot like Halloween – without the whole focus on death and satan – as people dress up in costumes and attend synagogue for an “all-in” reading of Megilat Esther (the Scroll of Esther) found in the Bible. We’ll look at the significance of wearing costumes and other observances in the Jewish community. We’ll also investigate the treasure of meaning the book of Esther and the holiday of Purim offers to Christians seeking to understand God’s plan of redemption.
Contrasting Passover and Purim
The holiday of Passover occurs in the first month of the Hebrew calendar (Exodus 12:2) and involves a series of very overt miracles. God declares to Moses that he will humiliate Pharaoh and the nation of Egypt who refuse to let Israel go. God accomplishes his purpose at Passover through miracles for all to see. The locusts, the darkness, the slaying of the firstborn and the rest of God’s actions openly declare to everyone that the God of Israel is, indeed, God and that the gods of the nations are idols, impotent to do anything when God is moving.
In contrast, the events of Purim, as told in the book of Esther, are hidden. Events happen by apparent coincidence; however, God is at work behind the scenes. Here are a few of the coincidental events in the Book of Esther:
- Esther, a Jew, just happens to be chosen as queen from hundreds of candidates
- Mordechai, Esther’s uncle, just happens to find out about a conspiracy against the King and report it; and it just happens that nothing is done, at that time, to recognize his good deed
- After Haman has a gallows built on which to hang Mordechai, he approaches the King to ask for permission to execute Mordechai; it just happens that the King had been unable to sleep the night before and had the royal records read to him that tell about Mordechai’s action on behalf of the King. It just happens that at the very moment that Haman seeks to destroy Mordechai that the King is seeking to honor Mordechai.
Reading through the Book of Esther, I am sure you will find other “coincidences.” In fact, the name of the holiday, Purim, refers to the “lots” that were cast to determine on which day Haman would act to destroy the Jewish people. Lots – think of modern dice – are essentially tied to chance in our minds. The central message of the Book of Esther is that what appears to us as chance is completely guided by God. In the end, the enemy’s plan to destroy the Jews is turned on its head and God’s people triumph over those who hated them (see “V’na-ha-foch Hu” below).
Revealing What is Hidden
Even the name of God is hidden in Esther. It is the only book of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) that does not contain the four-letter name of God that is usually translated as “LORD” or transliterated at “Jehovah” or “Yahweh.”
Because the hidden nature of the miracles of Purim occur in the final month of the Hebrew calendar, the Rabbis teach us that the God of Israel’s actions during the end-times will also be obscured: not something that will be apparent to the natural man.
In 2014, I visited Israel with a group of people from Fellowship Church. We spent Purim in Kedumim, Samaria and, in addition to celebrating Purim at one of the synagogues there, we heard a few teachings on its significance. Here’s one from Rabbi Jeremy Gimpel at the City of David, Jerusalem. Near the end, Rabbi Jeremy discusses our responsibility of revealing the hidden God Who is working behind the scenes in these days of redemption.
The hidden nature of the miracles of Purim are the inspiration for the costumes worn on the holiday. Just as God is hidden in the Book of Esther, the people who anticipate God’s work of redemption in the end-times hide themselves in costumes to emphasize how He has chosen to work during these times. As Jeremy Gimpel explained in the video, the name Esther means “hidden” and megilat means “reveal.” So the Hebrew translated as “The Scroll of Esther” possesses the double meaning “reveal what is hidden” – we have the opportunity to reveal God’s hidden work of redemption to those who do not see it.
Why Should Christians Celebrate Purim?
By now, I hope that the significance of the festival of Purim to Christians is becoming apparent. By celebrating this Biblical festival – the beginning of understanding anything is to do it – we will more clearly see the hidden nature of God’s work during these last days and be in a better position to proclaim His actions to the people around us who are unaware of His hidden but glorious work of redemption. Indeed, things are not as they would seem. The darkness of our times, visible to everyone, will not succeed in destroying God’s people. Instead, God is working behind the scenes, just as He did in the story of Esther, to accomplish a great redemption and to save His people from the hand of the one seeking to destroy us.
Here’s a head start to understanding the festival of Purim. Near the end of the book (Esther 9:1), the Scriptures tell us:
“on the day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, it was turned to the contrary so that the Jews themselves gained the mastery over those who hated them.” —Esther 9:1b
Learning the Hebrew song “V’na-ha-foch” will not only help you remember the central theme of the Book of Esther and what God is doing during these last days, it will also help you fit in when you show up at your first Purim celebration. The lyrics appear below the following recording of the group in Kedumim learning the song in 2014.
V’na-ha-foch, V’na-ha-foch (It was turned to the contrary)
Aye, yai, yai
Asher yishlatu (so that gained power)
Ha-Yehudim (the Jews)
Hemah b’soneh-hem. (over those who hated them.)
Purim at Fellowship Church
Purim 2017 begins in the evening of Saturday, March 11 and ends in the evening of Sunday, March 12. In past years Fellowship Church has celebrated Purim with costumes, a reading of the Book of Esther followed by food and fellowship. Check back for announcements for this year’s activities.
ונהפוך הוא אשר ישלטו היהודים המה בשונאיהם