Monday, November 26, 2012

Esther 7-10: Haman Hanged and Purim Celebrated

LINK: Esther 7-10 (read over the next two days)

BACKGROUND


At the fifth banquet mentioned in this book (1:3,5,9,5:4,8), Esther gets right to the point and pleas with the king on behalf of her people. The king would have no doubt that she was a Jew at this point (2:10, 20). Esther took such a risk in asking on behalf of her people, but the king was open and wanted to know who had done this thing. The climax of the book occurs when Esther cries:



"A foe and an enemy is this wicked Haman!"

Haman's lust for power and fame is undone as he is hung on the gallows that he had originally made for Mordecai, and Mordecai is honored and given the signet ring to authorize the reversal of the king's edict (3:1; 8:10). This was dispatched throughout the king's vast empire, being written in several languages. For more on how the Jews carry out the reversal of the edict, see the REFLECTION section. 

Blue (violet) and white were the royal colors of Persia (1:6), and Mordecai is exalted to a high position wearing these colors. 


Purim is celebrated on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar (9:21). Traditionally, Jews fast on the thirteenth day as Esther had commanded in 4:15-16. It is called Purim because Haman had cast the "pur" for their ruin. Many people of that time cast lots for guidance. An Assyrian "cube-shaped dice" has been uncovered. It dates back to about 858-824 B.C. The word puru is inscribed within a sentence on it. 

Mordecai's acts were recorded in the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia, but I could not find them. We do know that he only held this exalted position for eight years because secular history mentions another man in that place in 465 B.C. (Note for 10:3 in Ryrie Study Bible, p. 746).


REFLECTION

Now to the difficult question of "avenging"! 
Christians have often been uncomfortable with the book of Esther because it celebrates an event when the Jews were enabled “to avenge themselves on their enemies” (8:13) by killing “seventy-five thousand of them” (9:16). Vengeance is considered unchristian, for we must “not repay anyone evil for evil” but instead “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17, 20). We must love our enemies, turn the other cheek, and let the thief take our tunic along with our cloak (Luke 6:27-31). Does Esther reflect an Old Testament Jewish vindictiveness that nonviolent Christians must reject? 
First, consider the word vengeance itself. It comes from the Latin vindicare which also gives us vindicate and vindictive. To vindicate oneself is to attain justice; no one would call that undesirable. But to be vindictive is to desire justice with hatred and condemnation. Christians reject that spirit (Luke 6:37-38; Romans 12:19-20; Ephesians 4:26, 32). Also, should a Christian even forgo earthly vindication if attaining justice requires violence? 
The Hebrew word in Esther 8:13 can mean both vengeance and vindication. In the former sense, the Old Testament forbids individuals to take vengeance or harbor vengeful feelings (Genesis 4:15; Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 32:35-36; Proverbs 25:21-22), although Israelites often did take personal revenge against God’s will (Genesis 34). God insisted that He alone had the right to avenge wrongs, and He promised to avenge Himself impartially against Israel as well as its enemies (Leviticus 26:25; Isaiah 1:24-25; Jeremiah 5:9, 29). 
The author of Esther assumes we know that personal vengeance and vindictive feelings are forbidden. He stresses that the Jews killed only those who attacked them on one (two in Susa) prescribed day, and that they did not profit materially from the deaths (Esther 9:1-2, 5, 10, 16). “They did what they pleased to those who hated them” (Esther 9:5) does not suggest an orgy of cruelty, but only a free hand from the Persian authorities to defend themselves. The Jews acted to defend their nation against extinction; this was no private vendetta. The author implies that the edict allowing the Jews to fight was semi-miraculous, possible only by God’s intervention, and so was in effect His act of vengeance (Baldwin, Joyce G. Esther: an Introduction and Commentary, p.100-101). 
Where does this leave us as Christians? Both Old and New Testaments condemn private vengeance and vindictive desires, but the Old Testament seems to condone national defense.  Jesus, Paul, and the rest spoke to private persons, not nations, so Christians continue to disagree over whether nations and groups may use violence to defend themselves  
(Life Change Series: Ruth and Esther, p. 94-96)

APPLICATION - PURIM!

The Feast of Purim is usually in late February or early March. So, you have plenty of time to prepare! Since Jews were persecuted right up through to the 20th Century, this festival is very dear to them. 


After the first star appears in the sky after the day of fasting, candles are lit and Esther is read in the synagogue. When Haman's name is mentioned, the crowd boos and congregations stamp the floor saying, "Let his name be blotted out. The wicked shall rot!" (We followers of Jesus do not go that far and just boo and hiss. See below for the whole "vengeance" issue.) Every time the names of Esther and "Good Guy Mordecai" are mentioned, there are cheers!


The Feast of Purim is a GREAT celebration to do with children. Find a reader to read the story of Esther while other actors act out the story. I was Esther once, George was the king, and our friend, Bill Donaldson, was a great WICKED Haman (he is usually so mild-mannered in real life. What a contrast!). The kids bring noisemakers and can make all the noise they want in church!  It is GREAT FUN.

It is a way to recall how God has protected and saved you too! I heartily recommend gathering a group together and celebrating!

Here is a recipe for a fun dessert called "Haman's hats": Humentaschen


Go to www.chabad.org for everything you need and a fun explanation of Purim for kids called "Purim is Awesome." 

PRAYER

Lord, thank You that You are sovereign over evil, and You will triumph in the end. Help us to trust in You and be willing to take risks as You use us for Your glory. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen. 
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