The Feast of Purim
By Sam Nadler
The Feast of Purim is a Jewish holiday found in the book of Esther (See Esther 9:26-28) that celebrates God’s deliverance of His people from destruction. Purim is recognized each year in Jewish communities around the world (this year starting on the evening of March 23th) with various services, get-togethers and activities. Esther and her cousin Mordecai are the heroes, but earlier in their lives we find that they, like us, had some rather weak moments.
Why Identify with the Jews?
In the biblical account, Esther becomes the Queen of Persia, but she repeatedly hides her Jewish identity: “Esther did not make known her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had instructed her that she should not make them known” (Esther 2:10, 20). Presumably, Esther lied about her Jewish background by not disclosing the truth in the Babylonian palace. In God’s eyes not telling the truth is just plain sin (Leviticus 5:1).
Why would Mordecai tell Esther not to reveal her Jewish identity? Scriptures tell us God had called His people to return from exile in Babylon to their homeland of Israel. Those who heeded God’s call left Babylon. However, those that remained in Babylon were not identifying with the call of God and, therefore, did not identify themselves as the people of God. It is the same principle for us today. If you will not identify with God’s call, you will not identify with God’s people. During Esther’s time, if a Babylonian found out that his neighbor was Jewish, he could say, “But I thought you Jews were called back to Israel by God? Why are you still here?” Their unbelief and resulting shame would be revealed.
Heeding His Call
Identifying with the call of God has always been evidenced by identifying with the people of God. Notice this in the life of Moses: “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Messiah greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26).
Though not Jewish herself, Ruth identified with the Jewish people when she identified with their God: “But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Though Paul was called to the Gentiles, he lived as a Jew and identified himself with his people throughout his ministry because he was identifying with God’s faithful promises and unchanging purpose for Israel (See Acts 21:39; 22:3; and Romans 11:1-2).
This was not only Paul’s personal commitment; he also influenced other Jewish believers to do the same: “Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:1-3).
Whether it be Daniel, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Paul, Timothy, or you, the challenge of faith is always: do we believe God will be faithful to His promises? Will we identify with Him and His people?
Esther’s failure to identify with God’s purpose and people was indicative of the problem of all the people that stayed behind in Babylon. Since God cared for His people, He confronted this problem head-on by allowing an anti-Semitic man named Haman to arise. This forced the issue of identification with God’s people (Esther 3 & 4). In Scripture we see that Gentile believers are called to identify with the Jewish people by standing against anti-Semitism (Psalm 83), pro-actively sharing the Good News with Jewish friends and acquaintances (Romans 11:11), praying for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6), and identifying with the Jewish believers in Yeshua (Ruth 1:16).
Likewise, Jewish believers need to identify themselves and their children as Jews. This is one reason Messianic congregations are available: to help Jewish believers to grow spiritually and testify powerfully, “Am Yisrael Chai B’Yeshua HaMashiach” “the People of Israel Live in Yeshua the Messiah!”
Ben Elohim (the Son of God), came in the flesh, identifying Himself with us all (Phil. 2:5-8). But even in this He came as a humble Jewish carpenter. He could have come as a Persian, Greek, or Roman, but chose rather to be identified as a Jew. Messiah identified with us to save us. “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him… For I say that Messiah has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers…for He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (John 1:11, Romans 15:8, Heb. 2:11). Those who identify with Him are saved in Him.
If we are ashamed of identifying with the Jewish people, are we not denying the purpose of God in Messiah? This is why Paul proclaims his Jewish identity in the book of Romans: not to boast in the flesh, but to boast in a faithful God who has not forsaken Israel!
Through a turn of events, and by God’s grace, Esther repented (Esther 4:16) and eventually became a hero. We, as well, can repent of any failure to identify with God or His people. We, like Esther, can also play a significant role in God’s work in this world. As a believer in Yeshua, whether Jewish or Gentile, isn’t it time for you to identify with God’s people, promises and purpose?
Have a Happy Purim!