The Events of Purim

We have finally reached the day that became known as Purim. It begins in chapter 9 with the giving of the date, Adar 13. As the text says the edict of the king, the first edict, had given the people of the kingdom the hope of overpowering the Jews. However, the tables had turned due to the edict written by Mordecai in the name of the King and now the Jews were the stronger.

All over the kingdom of King Xerxes the Jews gathered to defend themselves against those who hated them. The Jews that are mentioned here would not only include those natural  born Jews, but also all those from other nationalities who had become Jews; their numbers had greatly increased.

There was also another factor involved in this battle, those who came to attack them were actually afraid of them. This reminds me of the account of Gideon when the Midianites actually attacked each other in their fear. There is also the account of when the Israelites were first entering the land of Israel and Rahab tells the two spies in Jericho that the hearts of the people were melting in fear because of them. They had heard what their God had done for them. Sound familiar? The people who attacked the Jews here in Esther might have come out to fight because of their hatred for the Jews, but they were also afraid of them because they knew what God had all ready done for them. So their hearts melted in fear and were defeated.

Scripture tells us in James 2:19 that even the demons tremble in fear. They know who God is and they know what he can do to them. Yet they still come out to fight. We also know from James 4:7 that when we submit to God and resist the devil he will flee from us. We see in Esther that the Jews had submitted to God and the enemy who is afraid of them is defeated.

Do you see the difference in the two types of fear that is mentioned? The first type of fear at the end of chapter 8 led to salvation while the second led to death. The first developed faith and love while the second flowed from hate. The first was out of a fear of the one true God and the other out of a fear of death and defeat. What a difference!

The nobles and officials of the kingdom even helped the Jews in their battle. Why? Because they feared Mordecai. I do not think this is the same fear as the one at the end of chapter 8 because there is no mention of them becoming Jews here. Rather their fear seems to have more to do with Mordecai’s power in the palace under Xerxes. Mordecai’s reputation went all throughout the land and his power increased greatly. You see, Mordecai had the king’s ear. They all knew of the influence Mordecai had. King Xerxes respected the views of Mordecai, if not sharing them himself, and took them to account. The fear here led to a respect of authority despite one’s own views.

The Jews were victorious over their enemies and even killed the sons of Haman and 500 men in the citadel of Susa itself. Please understand this. With all we have said above there were many in the citadel itself, where the King, Queen and Mordechai lived, that sought to kill the Jews. It would not surprise me if many of them were related to Xerxes, as well as, members of the Zoroastrian priesthood and if this was and unsuccessful coup. After all, if you are going to kill the Jews in the citadel would you not be going after the two most powerful Jews in the kingdom, the Queen and Mordechai, not to mention that Jew loving Xerxes who married not only outside the family but a Jewess and then aligned himself to her family instead of the other way around. If you are going to have any hope of survival in an attack in the citadel you are going for it all. You are going to kill the King.

When this is reported to Xerxes, I picture him in a war room getting updates on the battle, he turns to Esther his queen and makes a very interesting statement. Not only does he report the death of the five hundred and the 10 sons of Haman, but also wants to know how successful they had been in the rest of the kingdom. He and his wife are in this together. Then comes the ultimate statement and expression of love and trust. Xerxes says to Esther, “Now what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? It will also be granted.”(NIV)  Did you catch it? We have seen Xerxes make similar statements before, yet this one stands apart. Do you see why? He places absolutely no limit on her petition or request. He simply says, before he hears it, it is yours. He stands unequivocally beside her with no reservations at all. The ultimate show of trust and love! She is the apple of his eye and he will withhold nothing from her. Let that picture wash over you and then remember our King lavished his love on us.

Esther wants complete victory, not just a partial one. She wants to make sure all those who hate her people are gone from Susa. She asks, “if it pleases the king”(NIV) for another day of fighting in Susa. She also asks for the sons of Haman to be displayed for all to see. She wants all to know what happens to those who would defy the living God. It is interesting to note that when Xerxes is killed in a coup led by Zoroastrian priests and family members about 10 years later that it does not take place in Susa.

And so it pleased the king to grant by his command and edict another day of fighting in Susa. While those in the provinces, which remember included Israel, rested and feasted with great joy on the 14th of Adar – after killing 75,000 on the 13th – the Jews in Susa assembled again to fight and killed another 300 men.

The Jews defeated their enemies but none of them laid their hands on the plunder. They were not after riches. They were after the right to live. They were after relief from their enemies. Yet God gave them a plunder they could have never imagined. Their tent had been enlarged with the coming in of new followers of Yahweh. He had truly blessed them with true fruit and a heart turned back to Him and His covenant.

May God rescue us from our enemy and enlarge our tent,

Vicky

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The Religion of the Persian Empire

Zoroastrianism was the religion of the Persian ruling family during the time of Cyrus, Darius and Xerxes.  It was the religious perspective in which Xerxes would have been coming from when he was getting to know Esther.  As we will see in many ways, their religions were very similar.  Could that had made it easier for the two of them to relate to each other and even perhaps easier for a possible conversion of Xerxes to Judaism.  It was not until the time of Xerxes’ son, Artaxerxes, that it became the official religion of the Persian Empire.

  • Zoroaster was the prophet who brought this religion to Persia.  However, it is not clear when he lived.    Dates are given from 1600 B.C. to 500’s B.C. –  this is a large range.  Most scholars put it at about 1000 B.C. – the time of David. 

  • Their god is Ahura Mazda (meaning Wise Lord), who is:

      • Omniscient (knows everything)

      • Omnipotent (all powerful)

      • Omnipresent (is everywhere)

      • Impossible for humans to conceive

      • Unchanging

      • The Creator of life

      • The Source of all goodness and happiness

    • Does this sound familiar?  In many ways the god of Zoroastrianism sounds a lot like the one true God.

  • Zoroaster’s Vision

    • At the age of thirty, Zoroaster had a divine vision while bathing in a river during a pagan purification rite. On the bank of the river he saw a ‘Shining Being’ made of light who revealed himself as Vohu Manah (‘Good Mind’).  Vohu Manah led Zoroaster to the presence of Ahura Mazda (God) and five other radiant beings, which are called the Amesha Spentas (Holy Immortals). This was the first of a number of visions in which Zoroaster saw Ahura Mazda and his Amesha Spentas; during each vision he asked many questions. The answers given to Zoroaster are the foundations of Zoroastrian religion.

  • It is said that Zoroaster tried to convert his neighbors, in northeastern Iran, but they would not convert.  He then went on a pilgrimage going west (interesting to remember is the fact that if he went west he may very well have come into the land of Israel) and when he came back he found a king (if during the 500’s this may have been Cyrus’ family) that was willing to convert to his faith.

  • What is very interesting about Zoroaster going on pilgrimage is that from many aspects of Zoroastrianism it would almost seem a sure thing that he came into contact with Judaism given their many similarities.  However, liberal scholars like to turn it into Judaism and therefore Christianity borrowing from Zoroastrianism.  They like to claim that Zoroastrianism is the oldest of all the monotheistic religions.

  • Beliefs

      • Ahura Mazda has an adversary called Angra Mainyu (meaning ‘destructive spirit’).   Angra Mainyu is the originator of death and all that is evil in the world.  Ahura Mazda, who is perfect, abides in Heaven, whereas Angra Mainyu dwells in the depths of Hell. When a person dies they will go to Heaven or Hell depending on their deeds during their lifetime.

      • Amesha Spentas translates as ‘Holy Immortals’. Just as light rays are emanated from the sun but are not the sun, so the Amesha Spentas are emanated by God but are not God. These emanations are seen as the divine attributes of God. They helped God fashion the world and each is associated with a particular aspect of creation.  Western scholars have likened the Amesha Spentas to the Archangels in Christianity. This is not strictly correct as they also represent spiritual attainments, in other words, each Amesha Spentas brought one closer to Ahura Mazda as they attained to that Amesha Spentas’ attribute. Zoroastrians believe that man can know God through his Divine Attributes.

      • The six Amesha Spentas are:

        • Vohu Manah – Good mind and good purpose.

        • Asha Vahishta – Truth and righteousness.

        • Spenta Ameraiti – Holy devotion, serenity and loving kindness.

        • Khashathra Vairya – Power and just rule.

        • Hauravatat – Wholeness and health.

        • Ameretat – Long life and immortality.

      • Dualism in Zoroastrianism is the existence of, yet complete separation of, good and evil. This is recognized in two interconnecting ways:

        • Cosmically (opposing forces within the universe)

        • Morally (opposing forces within the mind)

Cosmic dualism

Cosmic dualism refers to the ongoing battle between Good (Ahura Mazda) and Evil (Angra Mainyu) within the universe.

It is important to understand that Angra Mainyu is not God‘s equal opposite, rather that Angra Mainyu is the destructive energy that opposes God’s creative energy. This creative energy is called Spenta Mainyu. God created a pure world through his creative energy, which Angra Mainyu continues to attack, making it impure. Aging, sickness, famine, natural disasters, death and so on are attributed to this.

With cosmic dualism we have life and death, day and night, good and evil. One cannot be understood without the other. Life is a mixture of these two opposing forces.

Moral dualism

Moral dualism refers to the opposition of good and evil in the mind of mankind. God’s gift to man was free will; therefore man has the choice to follow the path of Evil (druj – deceit) or the path of Righteousness (asha – truth). The path of Evil leads to misery and ultimately Hell. The path of Righteousness leads to peace and everlasting happiness in Heaven.

As with cosmic dualism, we have the polarity of happiness and sadness, truth and deception and so on but with an emphasis on choice. This choice is crucial as it determines whether we are the helper of Ahura Mazda or the helper of Angra Mainyu. When all of mankind chooses the former over the latter, evil will finally be defeated and Paradise on earth will be realized.

In practice, modern Zoroastrianism has a positive outlook. It teaches that Mankind is ultimately good and that this goodness will finally triumph over evil. This could be seen as a retrenchment from the faith’s original purity of dualism

Important Practices:

  • Sacred Fire –  They believe that the elements are pure and that fire represents God’s light or wisdom

  • Purification – Clean and Unclean – Sacred Bathing

  • Coming of age and the Naojote

  • Marriage

  • Festivals

  • Fatherhood – We read in Herodotus:  “Next to prowess in arms, it is regarded as the greatest proof of manly excellence to be the father of many sons. Every year, the king sends rich gifts to the man, who can show the largest number: for they hold that number is strength.”

  • Death – The dead were placed in open towers so that there flesh could be eaten by the vultures or decayed by the elements and then their bones are placed in boxes.(Jews would do the same thing with the bones of their dead.)

Scriptures –  The Avesta can be roughly split into two main sections:

  • The Avesta is the oldest and core part of the scriptures, which contains the Gathas. The Gathas are seventeen hymns thought to be composed by Zoroaster himself.

  • The Younger Avesta – commentaries to the older Avesta scriptures written in later years. It also contains myths, stories and details of ritual observances.

Much of this information is from:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/zoroastrian/ritesrituals/navjote.shtm

http://www.avesta.org/ritual/rcc.htm#chap2