JOY AND GLADNESS AMONG THE JEWS
Esther 8:1-10:3 (K. V.: 8:17a)
“In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating.”
Happy Purim! Thank God for granting us a wonderful Thanksgiving festival in which we shared our thanksgiving topics including how we overcame trials and gave glory to Him. We so much enjoyed it that we wished this Thanksgiving festivity might last forever. However, all good things must come to an end and likewise our Esther Bible study is ending today. From today’s passage, we learn the origin of the feast of Purim. It is the concluding note of the book of Esther where we see the final victory of the people of God through the valiant act of faith of Esther and Mordecai. Purim is the only feast that Moses did not institute among others. This tells us that Purim foreshadows the new feast we can celebrate by faith, which would be not initiated by the Law but by the brave act of faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. May God provide us with joy and gladness as we meditate on our spiritual Purim and make us ready for the joyful Christmas!
The Final Triumph of the Jews (8:1-17)
Verse 1 starts with the aftermath of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. According to the ancient tradition, if a traitor was executed, then all of his belongings would be confiscated and given to the king. So, all of Haman’s wealth including his estate was taken away from him, was given to the king and he gave it to Queen Esther. Then Mordecai came to the presence of the king. At that moment, she revealed to the king her relationship with Mordecai, which had been forbidden by him thus far (2:10). With his patriotic act and his background being revealed, the king probably really liked Mordecai. Hence, he took off Haman’s signet ring, which he had reclaimed from Haman and presented it to him. The signet ring was not just a ring but symbolized the owner’s identity and position. In the parable of the prodigal son, when his lost came back, the father put a ring on his finger to restore his identity and position as his son. Now Mordecai’s first job would be a trustee of the former-second-in-rank’s estate as Esther designated him to be so.
Look at verse 3. Here we see Esther actively begging the king even with kneeling and weeping so as to save her fellow people. Her specific request was to put an end to the evil plan of Haman the Agagite. Unless otherwise measured, this plan would still stand and be executed, annihilating and destroying the Jews, despite Haman’s death. Even the king could not do anything about that edict, just like the way Daniel was thrown to the lions’ den and yet King Darius could not do anything to save him. That was the Persian legal system. Esther apparently knew this practice of the Persian law, so she asked the king to grant her that another edict be issued so as to overrule the former one. Note how Esther addressed regarding the Jews. She called them her own people, her own family, not being ashamed with identified with an ethnic minority. Surely, her kind and shepherdess-like heart outshined.
At this, the king Xerxes directed Esther and Mordecai to do what seemed best to them and to their people so as to countermeasure the Haman’s plan. The king was kind of wise. He did not initiate the plan and did not know how to deal with it. Yet he trusted Esther and Mordecai could do it. Verse 8 again confirms the irrevocability of the Persian law, which says that no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked. What then was the countermeasure? Verse 11 reads. “The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate the armed men of any nationality or province who might attack them and their women and children, and to plunder the property of their enemies.” This is the very smart countermeasure. As you can see, basically, the second edict was the same as the first edict except that the enforcer and the enforced were swapped just like the way Haman’s pole plan was overturned on himself instead of Mordecai (3:12-15). In verse 12, we can see even the appointed date was the same, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar. Adar is also the last month of the Jewish calendar and the modern equivalence of the month of Adar is between February and March. So, the thirteenth day of the month of Adar in 2020 was March 8th.
In verse 13, the edict was made as law in every province and was made known to the people of every nationality so that the Jews (and possibly the second gen. Jews who did not learn the Hebrews yet) would be ready on that day to avenge themselves on their enemies. The couriers also helped as they diligently delivered the edict to every corner of 127 provinces.
What was the reaction of the Jews when the edict came to them? Verse 17a reads. “In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating.” The Jews were previously waiting for death and destruction like death row inmates. There was no hope, no way out. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes and many more were in fasting, weeping and wailing. However, when the news of the second edict came, their despair and mourning turned into joy and gladness. They could feast and celebrate because of the genocide they could avoid and the life they could regain. This would be a miraculous victory, only possible through two people of faith, Esther and Mordecai. Truly, the more peril brings the sweeter victory. Is there any modern-day equivalent victory such as this with that much impact? Perhaps, it would be at the time of World War II. When President Harry Truman announced Japan’s surrender on Aug. 14, 1945, jubilant Americans erupted in joy. They called the next day, Aug. 15, as “V-J Day (Victor-over-Japan-Day)” and began to celebrate the joyous news across the United States. Overwhelming sense of relief and exhilaration was deeply felt not only in America but also in the whole world, especially in Korea where its people made that day (V-J Day) as their own “Independence Day.”
Note other changes happening in this paragraph such as Mordecai wearing royal garments not just temporarily but permanently and other nationals trying to become Jews because of fear of the Jews. These are all convincing proofs that God gave them a victory.
As we are going through one of the most difficult times in history, we feel trapped in hopelessness and helplessness. We are dying to hear a good news and experience victory. But we believe that in God’s time, there would be a good news in our midst so as to have our own version of V-J day soon.
The Establishment of Purim (9:1-10:3)
Verse 9:1 begins with the new edict being carried out on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar. The enemies of the Jews hoped to use this day to deal with them but the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them. So, the Jews in their respective cities assembled and attacked their enemies collectively and systematically. No one could stand against them and all the government officials helped the Jews for fear of Mordecai. In a matter of months, Mordecai became one of the most prominent and powerful people in the world.
In the citadel of Susa alone, the Jews killed and destroyed about 500 men. Moreover, they also killed the ten sons of Haman. Interestingly, they did not lay their hands on the plunder. We can see that they were not economically motivated or greed-based. They were purely justice-seeking. In verses 11-15, we see Esther asking the king to help complete the remaining tasks toward the enemies of the Jews. Esther requested to the king to grant one more day to completely destroy the enemies of the Jews at least in the citadel of Susa. She reminds us of Joshua who asked God to stop the sun over Gibeon to avenge the Amorites, their enemies, for a full day (Jos 10:12-13). Sometimes, we feel we need more time to accomplish God’s work such as the invitation day to the Bible study early in the Fall semester. Esther also asked that Haman’s ten sons to be impaled on poles to show the consequences of the evil plan of those who would be opposed to the Jews. This would be a deterrent toward the future enemies of the Jews.
The king graciously granted Esther’s request and on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar, about three hundred more men were put to death in Susa. So altogether about 8300 enemies of the Jews were killed, the first day, 8000 (7500 outside Susa and 500 inside Susa), and the second day, 300.
Look at verses 17 and 18. After the avenge, the Jews rested on the fourteenth and made it a day of feasting and joy. The Susan Jews, however, since they assembled and attacked their enemies on both the thirteenth and fourteenth, they rested on the fifteenth and did the same as non-Susan Jews. Verse 19 explained about a little difference on observing the two different day and about the new tradition of exchanging gifts to each other like the Christmas time.
So, verses 20-32 are about how the feast of Purim was officially established. Mordecai recorded all those events and initiated an annual observance of two-day celebration to commemorate how the Jews got relief from their enemies and how their sorrow turned into joy and celebration. Later Esther joined the force by confirming the second letter to make it as official days of feast for the Jews. Note the response of the Jews in regard to the establishment of the new feast. They all agreed to observe it with joyfulness and gladness. The name Purim came from the term “pur” (that is, the lot) when Haman cast the lots to determine on which day he would carry out the evil plot. Verse 28 reads. “These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews—nor should the memory of these days die out among their descendants.” Purim is being celebrated by having a parade, fancy costumes, exchanging the gifts and lots of drinking and eating. Other peopled call Purim as the “Jewish Mardi Gras.”
Purim is the only non-Mosaic origin of the feast. It has a special meaning not only for the Jews but also for us. This is particularly true as we are finishing up the Thanksgiving week and gearing toward the Christmas season. As Purim is the feast to remember how the evil plan of the enemy Haman came back onto his own head and thus gave the miraculous victory to the Jews, we as believers are to remember how Satan’s evil plan backfired when our Lord Jesus’ act of faith and obedience gave God’s people the ultimate victory. That would be our spiritual observance of Purim relating to Thanksgiving outside the Thanksgiving Day. We should not let the memory of our salvation and God’s provision die among us and our descendants. Moreover, observing spiritual Purim is a good segue to Christmas time where we cherish the birth of our Lord, even exchanging gifts with each other.
Chapter 10 is an epilogue in which we see how high King Xerxes exalted Mordecai. He was second in rank to the king and the benefactor for his fellow Jews. A full account of the greatness of Mordecai was written in the book of the annals of the kings of Media and Persia. It was like building a presidential library on behalf of Mordecai. It all started with his adopting Esther his own daughter when she was orphaned. Then he reported an assassination plot to Queen Esther. Finally, at the time of crisis, he urged her to stand up as a woman of faith despite the risk of losing her own life.
As we conclude the book of Esther, we feel that Esther and Mordecai are far away from us, being extraordinary figures of faith. Yet, their faith can be ours as we commit ourselves to God and live for His people. And at the time of crisis, we simply choose to live to die for the right cause and for God. Then, we can have our spiritual Purim where we can celebrate God’s great victory on us. May God bless our spiritual Purim to have the wonderful Christmas time.