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Purim: Queen Esther and "Such a Time as This"

The Jewish holiday of Purim begins at sundown February 22, 2013. What's it about?

The Jewish people have been in captivity many times, and needed deliverance from various other peoples and nations - not unlike what's going on in the Middle East with Israel today. They celebrate Purim as one of their biblical and historical times of rescue.

Purim has a special place in my heart, and I suspect the heart of many other Jewish people as well, perhaps especially women. This holiday came about because of how a woman can be used by God to do great things, and earn the respect of those around her.

When I think of Purim, I think of being here "for such a time as this." In the Book of Esther, we see that Esther, an exceptionally beautiful commoner, was selected and crowned queen by King Ahaseurus (also known as King Xerxes or it may have been Artaxerxes, his son). He ruled from India to the upper Nile region then known as Cush (possibly Persia). Unbeknown to the king, the beautiful Esther was also Jewish. Her Hebrew name was Hadassah, and there is an organization named after her today.

Esther's cousin Mordecai found out about a plot by the evil Commander of the king's army, Haman, to kill all the Jews in the country. He asks Esther to go and plead with the king to overturn this order.

To go before the king without being summoned could mean punishment by death, even to his own wife. She had her doubts about going! But Mordecai tells her that famous phrase:
“Who knows but that you were born for such a time as this?” and so she answers:
“…I will go to the king even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:14).
She was the only person God had placed in a position to bargain for this, and besides, if they did kill all the Jews, she would not be spared!

So before going into the throne room, Esther embarked on a three-day period of fasting and prayer, and asks Mordecai to have all the Jews in the region do the same. In the end, Esther succeeds not only in convincing the King to spare the Jews, but to hang the scheming Haman on the scaffold he himself had prepared for Mordecai, to allow 2 days for the Jews to kill those who hated them, and to elevate Mordecai to a place of respect in the King’s palace!

An edict was then issued that the Jewish people should from that day forth, every year at that time, to celebrate with great feasts and exuberance. So it is still celebrated today.

How does one celebrate Purim, which generally falls in late February or early March? By telling the story through festive, costumed reenactments - children especially enjoy this - by reading through the book of Esther (in Hebrew, “the Megillah”) and blowing noisemakers to blot out Haman's name, by fasting for three days to commemorate Esther's fast, or a combination of all. Although a joyous triumph of good over evil, it should remind us of the seriousness of anti-Semitism, which we have not been able to eradicate to this day.

There is also a special treat to eat on Purim – tri-cornered pastries called “Hamentaschen” filled with a variety of goodies like poppy seeds or jams. Recognize anything in the name? They are symbolic of Haman, who supposedly wore a three-cornered hat. To eat hamentaschen is symbolic of Haman’s destruction.

Can Christians celebrate this day? Of course! I believe because Esther is a great example of a person of faith who was willing to risk everything, to the death, to stand up for her God and her people. We can share our appreciation for Esther with a Jewish person by telling them we truly believe this story, and can relate to it because we are called as Christians to do the same.

Does Jesus not tell us:
“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?” Luke 9:23-25 (NKJV)

What would it have profited Esther to avoid going to the king? She would have been killed with all the other Jews. How many times do we all fast and pray for someone in need or in trouble, or do we just say "I'll pray for you" and then forget? When is the last time we stepped forward to take the fall?

Will we be ready when and if the time comes and persecution of Jews and Christians is activated in more than just words in America? Just as Esther took the ultimate step forward to preserve life for those long-ago Jews, Jesus took the ultimate step forward to preserve life for us.

Next Jewish holiday: Passover (Pay-sach) - March 26-April 1, 2013 - See this entry within this blog: "How Christians Can Celebrate Passover".