Friday, May 29, 2009

The Non-Biblical Festivals - Purim

Purim is a conundrum. It is based upon a book of the Bible, Esther, and yet even in that book there is a mystery. In the entire book, not once is there any reference to God, the Lord, or any mention of God in any way. That God’s sovereignty is at work is not in question when one reads the story, yet He is not mentioned once. The second puzzle is the way in which Purim is celebrated. It is celebrated in an outrageously pagan fashion and does not resemble any other festival whatsoever. That God not only allowed this to develop, but includes this book in the Bible explaining why it is celebrated is peculiar. The fact that Jesus must have been obligated to celebrate this festival as part of the Jewish tradition defies understanding. Yet, it does exist and there must be a reason. We will try to see why God has allowed this festival to develop.

To understand Purim, one needs to read the book of Esther. The story of Esther is one of court intrigue. Queen Vashti is banished because she defies King Ahasuerus, therefore a beauty contest is staged for the king to choose a new bride. Mordecai sends his niece Esther to compete. She is so beautiful and sweet that the king falls instantly in love with her and makes her queen. Mordecai warns her not to tell anybody she is Jewish. While sitting in the gates of the king, Mordecai overhears a plot against the king. He tells Esther who tells the king, thus saving his life. Haman is an employee of the king who gets advanced to a very high position, even above the princes basically making him second in the kingdom. Mordecai refuses to bow down to Haman, which makes him extremely angry. Someone tells Haman that Mordecai is a Jew, so Haman decides he will not only go after Haman, but after all the Jews to destroy them. He gets the king to make a decree to kill all the Jews by promising to give money to his treasuries. When Mordecai hears the news he has a message sent to Esther asking her to speak to the king. She sends the message back that she hasn’t seen the king in a month and that if anyone goes in without being called, it is instant death unless the king holds out his scepter. Mordecai reminds her that she is a Jew too, and can’t escape the decree, and that if she doesn’t do something the Jews would be delivered by someone else, but she and her father’s house would be destroyed. He also tells Esther that perhaps she has been put in the position for a purpose, namely to save her people. Esther tells Mordecai to have the people fast for three days and that she and her maidens would do likewise and then she will go in to the king. She does so and he holds out the scepter. She invites him to a banquet along with Haman. So they come to the banquet. He asks her what her petition is and tells her it will be granted even to half of the kingdom. She asks if they would come to another banquet the next night and she would make her request then. Haman is full of himself and happy until he sees Mordecai who again refuses to bow down to him. A friend suggests that Haman build a gallows (to hang Mordecai), which he does. That night the king can’t sleep, so has someone bring the records of the chronicles to read to him (nothing like a boring book to send you off to sleep). They read about Mordecai letting him know about the plot to kill him. He asks what had been done to reward this service, to which they reply that nothing had been done. He asks who is around that can deal with this. They tell him Haman is available, so he calls in Haman. Haman was there to speak to the king about hanging Mordecai. The kings asks Haman what should be done for the man that the king wants to honor. Being all full of pride, Haman thinks the king is talking about him, so he says that the person should be given royal robes to wear, put on the king’s horse, given a crown to wear, and have the princes parade him throughout the city proclaiming why he is being given this honor. So the king tells Haman that he has to do this for Mordecai. Haman is so upset at this humiliation that he runs home in mourning with his head covered. Now Haman has to report to the banquet Esther has prepared. The king asks what her petition is, and she asks for her life and the lives of her people. She tells him that if they had just been sold into slavery, she wouldn’t ask for anything, but since their lives are at stake she is asking. The king, surprised, asks her who would dare do this. She replies that it is Haman. The king is furious and walks out, while Haman asks Esther to intervene for his life. Haman has fallen on Esther’s bed (people reclined on couches when eating back then) to make his pleas and the king comes back and finds him on her bed, at which point, he thinks Haman is trying to force himself upon Esther. He tells the chamberlain to hang Haman, which they do, on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Esther admits to the king who Mordecai really is and he gives Mordecai Haman’s job. Esther, now crying, asks the king to stop the decree. He says that once he sets his seal to a decree, it can’t be reversed, but he sends out a new decree that the Jews can fight back against anyone that dares to touch them. This support from the king so scares everyone that a lot of the people convert to Judaism. The rulers of the provinces, lieutenants, deputies, and officers of the king all help the Jews, as they fear Mordecai since he has become very powerful. So the Jews kill all of the enemies that would hurt them. Haman’s ten sons also get hanged. Mordecai then declares that from that point on, the two days of this event will be a perpetual holiday with feasting and giving of gifts.

I have tried to make some connection between the people of the story to Christ, the church, Satan, Antichrist, anything that might make sense. So far this is what I came up with, however there are things in the story which don’t fit. Let’s say the King = God and Vashti = Israel. Vashti (Israel) is rebellious, so the king (God) banishes her and looks for a new bride. Mordecai = Christ. Esther = Church. Mordecai (Christ) brings Esther (Church) for the king (God) to accept as a new bride. Haman = Satan. Haman (Satan) hates Mordecai (Christ) as Mordecai won’t bow down to him and seeks to kill not only him, but Esther (Church). Mordecai is honored for his service to the king by being paraded in kingly apparel and accoutrements and Haman is the one forced to carry this out. Where this spiritualized interpretation falls apart, is the conspiracy that Mordecai overhears, Esther’s intervention for her people, and the king’s decree that the people can fight back (and they win). I can’t make a connection with these things to anything. And even the symbolism applied above is somewhat tentative. Rather than being a spiritual metaphor, it may simply be that the story is merely illustrative for us. If we are abundantly blessed or given a position of authority, epecially if we have done nothing to bring it about or deserve it, it may be that God has put us in that position as He will require somthing from us, not for ourselves but for others. When we come to that point in our lives, it is imperative that we gather up our courage and do what needs to be done.

Another interesting thing about this festival is the Mardi Gras spirit that runs wild, even in the most straight-laced parts of the Jewish community. There is no sense of sacredness about the day, and none of the restrictions or prohibitions associated with the other festivals. That it is celebrated in this way, and that the book has no mention of God, although His sovereign control and intervention is seen in the story, is odd. The day is celebrated with costumes, masquerades, plays, parodies, feasting and a heavy consumption of liquor - in other words drunkenness. This is certainly not something God would promote, so we have to look at the festival and the way it is celebrated to see if we can draw any parallels to Satan’s part in the end times, as that might teach us something about what will happen. God uses negative things as well as positive things to teach us, and maybe this is the case here.

The Mardi Gras feeling of this celebration is confusing. In the Talmud (one of their holy writings) they are instructed with these words. “It is the obligation of each person to be so drunk [on Purim] as not to be able to tell the difference between ‘Blessed be Mordecai’ and ‘Cursed be Haman’”. This is such an ungodly directive that it is bizarre. The story of Esther is always read aloud, with noisemakers being used every time Haman’s name is mentioned. At this time they also have parodies and outright mocking of the traditions as well as the Torah (scriptures). They feel that they hold the Torah so sacred the rest of the year that they need to let loose and not be so sanctimonious about it. Purim is considered to end the cycle of yearly festivals (the first being Passover). At Passover, God is the author of their redemption. They say the cycle ends with Purim where God has retreated (His name is not mentioned once) and they have brought about their own salvation (without God’s help). The sin of pride in their boast of having brought about their own salvation is akin to Satan’s pride of his own importance. This festival seems to be more authored by Satan than God and its meaning for us (if there is any) in relation to what we are studying still eludes me. The only idea that has come to mind is that this is an object lesson for us. Even when God is the one who saves us from a bad situation, many will ignore the fact that God has had anything to do with it. They take credit for themselves. The celebration that man created around “his” victory is lewd, crude, and rude. It only goes to show that when we are our own “god”, we get more sinful and debased. It allows us a good look at ourselves compared to God. If anyone else can contribute to this, please do so. I admit I am reaching for any idea that will make this make sense at all.

A month or so after Purim is the festival of Passover. It can be clearly seen that this is exactly what the Catholic church celebrates today before Easter. Mardi Gras, followed by Lent about a month (40 days) before Easter (Passover). The similarity between Mardi Gras’ and Purim’s festivities cannot be dismissed. An online search showed that the history of Mardi Gras is traced back medieval Europe and before that they vaguely reference Roman spring pagan rituals. It would seem that the actual source of this festival comes from the ancient Jewish festival of Purim. The timing of the year, the association with Easter (Passover) and the way of celebrating it are simply too coincidental to not believe they are connected.

As one final note on Purim, I find it disturbing to read what one author says about it. The italics and parenthesis are mine. “We can live by the Torah all the rest of the year, because for one day we can let out our repressed feelings as we overturn all the rules, even turning the Torah itself upon its head. Both for the sake of Torah and ourselves, we need Purim to laugh at what we value (God and His Word?) and thus paradoxically gain a real sense of self-worth (pride?)…. Ad de-lo-yada - the state when all rules and inhibitions are swept away…when entering the world of the drunk, a world of blissful ignorance of reality - has another level of meaning as well. It is not an animalistic state of stupor, (Really. Have any of you seen a drunk before? I’d say it is a state of stupor.) but rather a higher degree of consciousness (that is so New Age and ridiculous - drunk is drunk. Intelligence goes out the window). It is a messianic/mystical moment when there is no difference between Haman and Mordecai, good and evil, for both are found in the Holy One ‘who created light and darkness, made peace and created evil’” (Totally New Age)

They feel resentful and repressed by all the rules the Torah inflicts. Without Christ they don‘t understand that we are free to live by the law (love God and your neighbor for in these two laws are found all of the law), not repressed by the law. The attitude of pride and rebellion towards God (when we consider how they view Purim) seems to be summed up in this last statement. “When all the other festivals will be abolished [in messianic times], Purim will remain.” This last statement from the Midrash not only shows the pride and rebellion against God and His festivals in favor of a holiday created “by themselves”, but an ignorance of Scripture by the writers of the Jewish commentary writings. We have just recently seen that the Feast of Tabernacles is mandated by God for the millennium. (As Christ’s wedding anniversary perhaps?) I have no doubt the other festivals will be celebrated as remembrances also. Purim may be the one festival that God does eliminate. Any insights here from you listeners would be greatly appreciated.

* Coming back now several years after writing this I have seen something that makes sense.  The last feasts that are celebrated before this are the ones about God's wrath.  What if this festival is a picture of the afterlife for those who go to hell?  The celebration smacks of paganism or Satanism.  The drunkenness, the attitude of contempt for God's law?  Is not this the sort of thing that will be found in hell?  Maybe this is a picture of what happens to those who do not make it into the Kingdom of God.

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