Music playing Throughout the Bible, there are various feasts established to celebrate and commemorate. Today on Truth for Life, we'll look at the Feast of Purim.
Alistair Begg helps us understand what's so important to remember and why. Esther chapter 9 and the 20th verse. And Mordecai recorded these things and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, obliging them to keep the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same year by year, as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday, that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor. So the Jews accepted what they had started to do and what Mordecai had written to them. For Haman the Agagite, the son of Hamadatha, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast poor—that is, cast lots to crush and to destroy them.
But when it came before the king, he gave orders in writing that his evil plan that he had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore they called these days Purim, after the term Pur. Therefore, because of all that was written in this letter and of what they had faced in this matter and of what had happened to them, the Jews firmly obligated themselves and their offspring and all who joined them that without fail they would keep these two days according to what was written, and at the appointed time of every year, that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation in every clan, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants. Then Queen Esther, the daughter of Abigail and Mordecai the Jew, gave full written authority confirming this second letter about Purim. Letters were sent to all the Jews, to the hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, in words of peace and truth, that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther obligated them and as they had obligated themselves and their offspring with regard to their fasts and their lamenting.
The command of Queen Esther confirmed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing. Amen. Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the gunpowder, treason, and plot.
I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot. How many of you learned that at school? Not a single person? There's no surprising that.
Someone at the back? Oh, yes, we have two Brits in there. No, there's really no reason why you would, and you looked at me as I read it. The words are actually from a poem celebrating the intervention that foiled Guy Fawkes. Guy Fawkes was a Roman Catholic who, along with others, was seeking to blow up the Protestant controlled Houses of Parliament in 1605—quite a long while ago. In fact, a long time ago, from when I was a schoolboy and others liked me, but yet some three and a half centuries after that event, it was still regarded as such a significant event in British history that I and my friends would learn this poem. And the reason, straightforwardly, was to recognize that those who ignore history are almost inevitably doomed to repeat it. That for most of us, it is far easier to forget than it is to remember. And so many times throughout the Bible, the people of God are called to remember things, to remember events, and actually put in place certain things in order to aid with that recollection. And the events that are described here in Esther chapter 9 underscore the importance attached to remembering what we've been referring to as the great reversal or as the great deliverance.
And you will have noticed, as I read, that the comprehensive commitment to doing so is there. For example, in verse 28, they decided that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation and in every clan and province and city, and so on. Well, what were the things that they were remembering? Well, verse 24 and following give to us a very helpful summary. They summarize, helpfully, for some who haven't been studying Esther with us, the essential deliverance that is at the heart of the book. Because you will see there in verse 24 the references to Haman, who had plotted against the Jews and had done so by casting lots. And they had cast a lot in the prospect of the ruin and destruction of the Jewish people. But what they had determined to do had actually boomeranged on them and had come back upon the head of Haman and on his sons. And as we studied last time, we saw that where destruction was apparently the prospect of the people of God, it ended up being liberation, that whereas before their lives had been marked by fasting and by lamentation, now they were to be marked by feasting and rejoicing, and sorrow had been turned to joy.
And a little summary is there in 24 and 25. There is also, then, in the same section, and in verse 26, an explanation of the name Purim. Some of us have grown up with a background of understanding this, but for many of us we have no idea what it means.
Pur, P-U-R, is the Persian word for lot, and in its plural form it is Purim. And what it is is a commemorative festival that underscores the fact that although the activity of Haman, which was malevolent and engendered from within his own sinful soul, although that he did all of that and encouraged others to that end, what he was to discover and what unfolds in the story is what Proverbs 16.33 records, the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. In other words, the issues of contingency are under the sovereign control of God.
If you want to stay up late at night thinking about a big thought, if you can't get back to sleep, you can think about that. The lot is cast into the lap, an apparently haphazard throw of the dice upon which a decision is made, and yet Solomon says that even in that, every decision is ultimately from the Lord. And so, as we have studied Esther together, we've been discovering that the fate of God's people is not decided by the throw of a dice, that the people of God are not bobbing around on the sea of chance, that the people of God are not held in the grip of blind and deterministic forces, but the people of God are under the providential care of the one who is working all of the events of life out, according, as Paul says in Ephesians 2, to the eternal counsel of his will, where ultimately he will bring all things in heaven and on earth underneath the jurisdiction of King Jesus, so that every piece of history, every discovery of science, every dramatic production ultimately will serve to the end that before King Jesus, men and women will bow.
This certainly puts a different spin on our preoccupation with the news. It chides many of us for our long faces and our continual carping and complaining when we realize that although the lot is cast in the lap and so much seems to be unfolding in a higgledy-piggledy, haphazard way, nevertheless, every decision is from the Lord. Now, in this section that we've read, you will see that this Feast of Purim is, first of all, recorded by Mordecai. That begins in verse 20. Then in verse 23, we're told that it is accepted by the people. And then in verse 29 and following, it is confirmed by Esther. And that gives us a fair framework from which to begin. Now, remember that as with all the other feasts—the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Lights, the Feast of the Passover—as with all these other things, the reason for the establishing of Purim is in order that the people of God will not forget.
If we understand that, then we have the big idea. First of all, then, let's notice how Mordecai recorded these things, if you allow your eye just to scan from verse 20 and on. There was a spontaneity about what had happened, as you see it in verses 17, 18, and 19. This great deliverance that the people had enjoyed led spontaneously, if you like, to celebration. When people are happy and they have enjoyed the overturning of circumstances that seemed to be against them, then it's no surprise that they would sing songs, that they would eat together, that they would say, Isn't this fantastic? Now, we were moving towards this particular day of the year in the prospect of our destruction and our ruin, and yet this has all turned out for our deliverance. And so the spontaneous celebration, if that's what it is, in verses 18 and 19, is now standardized, if you like, by Mordecai as a result of his position as second only to the king and to the queen. He is, if you like, giving this celebration official status in order that the sort of natural reaction of the moment may not be lost over time, so that there would be captured for the people for all time the reality of this deliverance, especially as you get further and further and further away from having ever experienced it, as generation follows generation. That's why, incidentally, the war memorials are badly many of them in need of repair, because it's a long time since 1945 and 46. That's why we consider these things under the little phrase, Lest We Forget.
So Mordecai says, even though you're rejoicing in this moment, it's going to be important that we make sure that other generations understand this. And this, of course, is in keeping with the pattern of the Jewish people throughout all of their story, isn't it? For example, remember when the instruction is given by Joshua to set up the stones in the middle of the Jordan.
That seems like a strange thing to do. They set the stones up in the middle of the Jordan. And if people would say, Why are we setting the stones up in the middle of the Jordan? Heh. Joshua says, So that in years to come, when your children ask, What do these stones mean?
You will be able to tell them. But if we don't put the stones there, there will be no reminder. Therefore, there will be no point of reference. If we don't celebrate the feast, if we don't keep it as part and parcel of our history, then there will be no ability to reflect upon it. It makes perfect sense, doesn't it?
That's why we have monuments. I mentioned to you Simon Winchester's new book, The Men Who United the States. It's now out. I'm sure you all bought it on the strength of my recommendation, and if you have, you've begun to read it. And you know that Ohio features immediately in the book. I was very excited to discover that Ohio is right there, front and center. And not only Ohio, but East Liverpool, Ohio—a place I have never been and had no intention of going until I read the opening chapter of the book—and discovered that the conveyancing and the surveying of land pushing westward all began in East Liverpool, Ohio, and that there is an obelisk or there is a statue or there is a monument there which is pictured in the book, which is largely ignored by the entire community, surrounded by litter and parked cars, testifying to the significance of what happened when they determined we will apportion the land and we will make it available for sale. It all started right back there. I can tell you're intrigued by that, and you're all planning on going this afternoon, aren't you?
Probably not! But it was put there so that we wouldn't forget. And none of us even knew!
That's the point. That's why Mordecai does what he does, in order that this would be a commemoration. We understand the word commemoration. It is instituted in order to commemorate. To commemorate what? The days that brought relief—you can see that in the text—as the days on which the Jews got relief or rest from their enemies.
That's a recurring story throughout their history. And to commemorate the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday. So, the reason we're going to standardize this, says Mordecai, is in order that we might commemorate and, secondly, in order that we might celebrate, so that they would make them days of feasting and gladness—this is verse 22—days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor.
Okay? Makes perfect sense. We rejoice in the deliverance that is ours. We celebrate it on a horizontal basis, sending provisions to one another as an indication of God's kindness to each of us.
And we do not do it in a way that is selfish, but we dispense some of this largess to those who are in need and to those who are poor. So that nobody would say, Well, this is just a very selfish celebration. So that's the first point. It's there.
You can follow it up. Mordecai recorded these things. Secondly, verse 23, the Jews accepted these things. So the Jews accepted what they had started to do and what Mordecai had written. And then in that little summary statement, you realize that they understood that there was a higher throne than the throne of Ahasuerus, that ultimately their fortunes had been reversed because of the intervention of God himself, a God whose name is never mentioned and yet a God who appears everywhere.
There's surely none of them would have been in any doubt whatsoever as to the source of the relief that they enjoyed. And so we're told that they didn't merely accept this directive that came by way of the letters that Mordecai had written to them, but we're told in verse 27 that they firmly obligated themselves. They firmly obligated themselves. So it wasn't a case of, Well, this seems like a good idea, but we might do it, we might not.
No, they said, No, we're definitely going to do this. That's the nature of obligation. That's the nature of duty. Obligation is almost a dirty word now, isn't it? You know, we tell people, I don't want to make you feel obligated in any way.
Oh, yes, I do. I want my wife to make me obligated to her entirely. I want my children to be obligated to me in the jurisdiction of parental authority, not when they're beyond it but when they're in it. And the obligation that extends throughout interpersonal relationships is, first of all, an obligation on the part of the individual to God. And they recognize God has provided this deliverance. This feast is a celebration of God's activity. Therefore, they said, We will obligate ourselves, you will notice, verse 27, they obligated themselves and their offspring. You see how this challenge is?
Challenge is a sort of contemporary approach to child-rearing. Do you want any breakfast, honey? No.
As opposed to, Would you eat your breakfast? You're gonna die, clown. It doesn't sound very nice.
You don't say it like that. I'm not suggesting that. But you have a responsibility to obligate them to eat, don't you? And not to eat what they want to eat.
They obligated their children. We're going. I don't want to go.
Why? What are these stones for? Why do we have to go stand by the stones again? People think we're nuts.
Or think about Nehemiah's day, when the book of the law came out, and they discovered the Feast of Tabernacles, and they realized they hadn't been doing it. And they said, What we're gonna do is we're gonna go up on our roofs, and we're gonna build little places, and we're all gonna sit up there. Can you imagine the kids going, No, we're not. No, uh-uh, uh-uh. I've gotta go to school tomorrow.
We're not doing that. And if you do that, you and Mom and Dad, you can go up there, but I'm not going up there. Oh, you're coming up. Yes, you are.
Not only are you coming up, are you gonna like it? No, I'm not. Yes, you are.
It's an obligation. Who says? God says. I said, Who are you? I'm your dad.
Let's go. Contemporary Judaism is a lot to teach us about a lot of these things. They're not as concerned about this as the average Gentile. No. They understand this line. They obligated themselves, they obligated their children. It was gonna take obligation, you see.
That's why in Deuteronomy 6 you have that classic passage that we read at the time of baby dedications. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. And these things today shall be upon your hearts, and then you will teach them to your children when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up.
The progression is vital. If it's not on your heart, you will never obligate yourself to it, and you'll never obligate your children to it. Just let me say something to you in passing.
Our unwillingness to obligate, if you like, those who are in the framework of our influence, speaks to them about the things that are important and vital to us. So, for example, let's say that you routinely come to the second service in the morning, and then Aunt Mabel from Minnesota, who doesn't really like church—she came to stay with you over the weekend. Are you going to say to her, Well, now that you're here, Aunt Mabel, we need to give up our obligation? Or are you going to say, Hey, Aunt Mabel, if you want to ride to the airport, you've got to come with us to the second service?
Now, there's great skill and wisdom in this, and I'm not laying down the law of the Medes and the Persians, but you'd be surprised how many times the Aunt Mabel's will actually come along. If they know this matters to us, if they know this is on our hearts, if they know this marks our steps, but when we suggest that their visit can overturn the routine and the rhythm of our lives, then we convey something about ourselves, and we convey something to them about exactly what's going on. I wouldn't want to overstate that.
I've stated it. It's important for all of us to remember what God has done in the past so we can rest in His providence in the present and trust Him with our future. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. We are moving quickly toward the finish of our study in the book of Esther.
It's been a fascinating story, an excellent reminder of God's providence. If you've missed any of the messages, you can catch up at your convenience online. Like all of Alistair's teaching, this current series titled A Study in Esther can be listened to or watched for free through the mobile app or on our website at truthforlife.org.
Or if you'd like to own the entire series, you can purchase it on a USB for just five dollars. You'll find the information online at truthforlife.org slash store. Now Easter is just a few weeks away, and if you'd like to prepare by reading about Jesus' resurrection, we've got a terrific book for you. It's titled With a Mighty Triumph, Christ's Resurrection and Ours. This is a book that Alistair described as tonic for the soul. The book With a Mighty Triumph will help you understand why Jesus' resurrection gives all of us as believers the assurance that we will one day be resurrected as well. It's a book that draws from the Apostle Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 to explain how the gospel can transform you and give you hope even in death. Request your copy of the book With a Mighty Triumph when you give a donation online at truthforlife.org slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine. The Bible is full of stories of God delivering his people, so why didn't he deliver Jesus, his only begotten son, from the cross? Alistair explains tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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