This past weekend the Jews celebrated a great victory that took place during the reign of the Persian King Ahasuerus (his Persian name was Xerxes). Some 100 years before, the Jews had been exiled from their land by Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon. God had prophesied that they would be captives in Babylon for 70 years (Jer. 25:11). At that time (539 B.C.) Cyrus of Persian overthrew Babylon and in 538 B.C. issued a decree allowing and encouraging exiled Jews to return to the Promised land, About 50,000 responded and returned with Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple and another 600 returned later with Ezra and others returned even later with Nehemiah to help rebuild the walls. But many Jews had become comfortable living in the Persian Empire and chose not to return. Among them were Mordecai and Esther, his younger cousin whom he adopted and raised as his daughter since she had been orphaned (Est. 2:5-7,15).
They lived in the Persian capital city of Susa (Sushan) where King Xerxes had his palace. While the king was throwing a six-month party he called for queen Vashti to come and show off her beauty to his drunken guests. When she refused, he “fired” her and held a beauty contest among the most beautiful virgins throughout the empire to chose a replacement. Esther was one chosen for the contest and was selected by Xerxes to be the next queen of Persia. Mordecai, who also had some official capacity in the capital city of Susa (Est. 2:21), discovered a plot to assassinate the king so told Esther who informed the king. He had the perpetrators put to death and it was recorded in his journal that Mordecai was the one to discover the plot.
The king’s right-hand man, Haman, an Agagite, descendant of the kings of the Amalekites (offspring of Esau…Gen. 36:12) became furious with Mordecai because he would not bow and pay homage to Haman. Mordecai had revealed that he was a Jew so Haman convinced the king to write an edict to destroy all the Jews and cast lots (like rolling the dice) to determine the best time to carry it out. The edict went out throughout the land. Esther, who had not revealed her nationality, found out about the edict, knew she too would be killed and that she alone could possibly convince the king to stop the genocide of her people.
But the king hadn’t invited her to be with him for a month and to go without invitation could mean death. Mordecai encouraged her to go anyway, saying, “Who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this” (4:14). Esther, after having the Jews of Susa fast with her for three days, went to the king, saying “If I perish, I perish” (4:16). The king was actually glad to see her and asked her what was troubling her, offering her anything she wished (5;2,3). After inviting the king and Haman to a couple meals she prepared the next two days, she revealed her identity and the plight of her people. The king couldn’t change his edict, but wrote a new one allowing the Jews to defend themselves, which they did and overwhelmed those who came to kill them. The Jews were spared and Esther remained as queen. And, oh yes, Haman, because of his wicked plot, was put to death on the gallows he had prepared on which to hang Mordecai, and Mordecai became second only to the king!
The Jews across the empire celebrated their great victory avoiding annihilation at the hands of the Persians. They continue to celebrate that event to this day (March 12th this year). It is called the Feast of Purim. (The term for casting lots as Haman did to pick the date is the word pur and purim is the plural).
Though never mentioned in the Book of Esther, the main character is Jehovah God, orchestrating the events to protect His chosen people and to keep the promises He has made to them, going all the way back to the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:1-3) in which God promised to bless Abraham, to make of him a mighty nation and to bless all the nations of the earth through that nation. God also said He would bless those who bless His chosen people and curse those who come against them. The Book of Esther illustrates Israel’s unique place in God’s plan. God’s choice of Israel as His treasured possession guaranteed that Haman’s intent to exterminate the Jewish people would fail. Deut. 14:2 tells us: “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the people who are on the face of the earth.” God says, “He who touches you, touches the apple of His eye” (Zech 2: 8). The “apple of His eye” doesn’t refer to fruit but to the pupil of the eye, something very valuable and treasured.
The Jews are a people for whom God has a particular purpose and who have been given special promises. This status is irrevocable and continues to this day (Ro. 11:29). Through the Jews came the Scriptures and the Messiah Jesus Christ who first came to earth to become our Savior through His death, burial and resurrection, and will come a second time to set up the kingdom promised to David and Israel and the earth will experience peace and prosperity and “all the nations of the earth will be blessed” when the Jews are back in a right relationship with God (Ro. 11:11-29).
From the very beginning of the Jews being a chosen people, the enemy, Satan, has done all in his power to destroy them to thwart God’s plans for the earth and its future. From Hitler to white supremacists to Islamic extremists (including most Islamic nations like Iran and Syria), many have attempted to or planned to follow Haman’s steps and eliminate the Jews from the face of the earth. But they are destined to fail in their ultimate objective just as Haman failed. God will continue to preserve and protect the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. Israel has been unfaithful and incurred much discipline at the hands of God but He has not forsaken them or rejected them. They have returned and are returning to their land, became a nation again in 1948, and as a little nation the size of the state of New Jersey, have been and are the focus of the world. Israel is God’s “time clock” for biblical prophecy (Dan. 9:24-27) and all indications would point to the final events of prophecy coming soon! Are you ready?
When asked if he could prove the existence of God, one theologian paused for a moment and said: “Yes, in one word: Israel!” What a miracle nation! And, the God who keeps and will keep His promises to His chosen people, Israel, will keep His promises to all who put their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation: “And being fully assured that what He had promised, He was (and is) able also to perform” (Ro. 4:21).