Tonight begins the holiday of Purim for our Jewish brothers and sisters. It’s one of their bigger holidays. People dress up in costumes, feast and give to charity. They attend services twice, once tonight and again tomorrow. Between the two, they hear the entire story of Esther, one of the coolest women found in Scripture.
The story goes thus:
The King of the Persian Empire called for his wife. She refused to come to him and so he had her executed. In search for a new Queen, he put on a beauty pageant. Esther won. He didn’t know that Esther was a Jew and she certainly wasn’t going to tell him. The Jews were under the power of the Persian Empire at the time and there were anti-Semitic movements afoot.
Meanwhile, the King’s right hand man, Haman, plotted against the Jews. Everyone was supposed to bow to Haman, but Esther’s cousin (who had raised her) refused. As a faithful Jew, he would only bow to God. This served as a catalyst for Haman to call for the extermination of all Jews in the empire.
Esther saw all of the Jews in mourning and wondered why. Her cousin explained to her what Haman was planning to do and asked her to intercede. She was afraid to do so because anyone who went to the king without being called was executed, but her cousin argued, “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” She agreed to intercede and asked her cousin to have the Jews fast for her success.
She succeeded in getting an audience with the king where she invited him and Haman to dine with her. She wined and dined them a few times and then finally let her wishes be known to the King. She revealed Haman’s plot and Haman was executed. The entirety of Haman’s estate is given to Esther’s cousin and he is elevated to Haman’s old position at the King’s side..
My brief summary does leave some things out. I highly recommend reading the story yourself. It is only 11 pages long in my Bible. It is one of the shortest books in the Old Testament.
What can we learn from her?
- Being open to God’s call and realizing that everything is part of His plan
- Courage, lots of courage
- Interceding for one another. The Jews prayed for Esther as Esther argued for them.
- The feminine genius in her gentle, almost seductive way of making her wants and needs known and her openness to the feelings and needs of others.
She is one of the greatest heroines in Scripture, more than worthy of all of the music, writings and other art inspired by her.
Chag Purim Sameach! (Hebrew for “Happy Purim!”)
Note: If you are having deja vu in reading the description of Purim, you are not going crazy. Some scholars believe that there is a close relationship between Purim and Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), that the holidays borrowed customs from one another in the Middle Ages.