The History of Purim and the God of Second Chances
In the book of Esther, the feast of Purim remembers the deliverance of Israel while in Persia. While many are familiar with the story of Queen Esther, there is an underlying message of the consequences for disobedience and how God gives second chances to follow His instructions. This history begins with King Saul and can bring greater understanding to the events found in Esther.
In 1 Samuel 15, God told Saul to conquer the Amalekites and to wipe out everything, including the livestock. Although Saul was victorious he kept alive Agag, king of the Amalekites, and kept the best of livestock then blamed it on the people when confronted by the Samuel. For this disobedience, Saul lost the kingdom and set in motion something he could have never dreamed of.
Over 500 years later, the Jews are living in exile in Persia when a personal vendetta arises. Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite (Esther 3:1) was highly promoted by the king in Persia. Haman seems to relish the high place of power he is given. Upon finding out that Mordecai the Jew will not bow to him, he is filled with rage and plans to kill all the Jews. Why such a strong response? For Haman this is not just arrogance; this is historical hatred and a personal shot at family vengeance.
Haman is an Agagite or a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites. While Scripture does not say, it appears that King Saul let others in Agag’s family live, perhaps in hopes of subjecting other nation’s royalty to his Israelite rule as a sign of his power. It is probable that Haman was raised with the knowledge of his royal family lineage and how that kingdom fell at the hands of the Jews. Now that he was in power, he could return upon the Jews exactly what Israel did to his family — wipe them out and “seize their possessions as plunder” (Esther 3:13). He just needed to manipulate the king to give him the authority to do it.
Haman’s goal was to make his scheme look like he was doing it for the kingdom in expectation of receiving greater authority and the life that he felt was rightfully his. Notice his suggestion of how to honor a king’s servant that he thought was himself:
“…let them bring a royal robe which the king has worn, and the horse on which the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown has been placed; and let the robe and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble princes and let them array the man whom the king desires to honor and lead him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him, ‘Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor.'” Esther 6:8-9
In other words, “Let me look and feel like the king that I should have been.” As it turned out, there was no greater personal offense to Haman than for him to be required to do this for Mordechai, a descendant of the Jews that had wiped out his family’s kingdom. He was so personally ashamed and devastated by this that “Haman hurried home, mourning, with his head covered.” (Esther 6:12)
From there, it went from bad to worse for Haman. At Esther’s dinner, his plot was uncovered and while begging for his life, the king thought he was assaulting his queen. Haman was quickly hung on the gallows that was made for the Jews and his house given to Esther. But since the edict has gone forth from the king, the threat was not over. The king issued a new edict throughout his kingdom allowing Jews “the right to assemble and to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill and to annihilate the entire army of any people or province which might attack them, including children and women, and to plunder their spoil.” (Esther 8:11)
Notice how similar this is to God’s original instructions to Saul 500 years before. God was giving the Jews an opportunity to fulfill His original command or do as they did before — to keep the spoil as Saul did. This time in the ensuing fight, they got it right. Haman the Agagite’s family was completely destroyed and chapter 9 makes the same point three times: “they did not lay their hands on the plunder” (Esther 9:10, 15, 16). After 500 years, they had completely obeyed the Lord’s command and the feast of Purim celebrates that victory.
Ironically, Esther is the only book in the Bible where God is not mentioned and yet He is still active and involved. It has been said that we don’t ever fail God’s tests — we just keep taking them over and over until we get it right. In our daily circumstances, whether we recognize God’s involvement or not, He is for us and giving us multiple opportunities to follow His instructions. From God’s merciful perspective, when we do make the right choices, it’s worthy of a feast.