The Feast of Purim is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from genocide during their exile in the Persian Kingdom. The Old Testament book of Esther provides the historical and theological background that explains the importance of the Feast of Purim.
Esther was raised by her relative Mordecai and recruited as a possible candidate for queen of King Xerxes (also called Ahasuerus). Mordecai instructed Esther not to reveal her ethnicity in order to not cause problems during this process. She was selected as queen and was granted a position of great status.
One of the king's close associates was a man named Haman. Haman despised Mordecai the Jew because the man would not bow in honor to him. Mordecai refused to worship anyone except the Lord God as instructed in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). Haman's anger resulted in a desire to destroy the entire Jewish population throughout the kingdom. His close association with the king helped make it possible for Haman to make the destruction of the Jews an irrevocable law that would be carried out on a certain date. The date was chosen by lots or, in Hebrew, purim.
Esther and her people fasted for three days before she made a plea to the king for him to save her Jewish people. This was important, because the queen could be put to death if she entered the king's presence without his request. Yet the king granted her favor and promised to grant her wish. After some elaborate details that involved two meals with the king and Haman, Esther begged for the redemption of her life and those of her people.
The king sentenced Haman to death upon his own gallows and placed Mordecai in an important advisory position. Mordecai and Esther then wrote new letters in the king's name that were distributed throughout the kingdom that allowed the Jews to protect themselves against their enemies. The Feast of Purim was instituted as a result to commemorate God's protection of the Jewish people each year (Esther 9:26-32).
Over time, Purim has become more of a national holiday than a religious one. In addition to prayers and the reading of Esther, Purim includes gifts, food, giving to the needy, and a large meal. When the book of Esther is read, the audience cheers when Mordecai's name is mentioned and shouts when Haman's name is said. The consumption of alcohol, dancing, parades, and costumes are also often common at this time. This idea of commemorating deliverance is also celebrated as a local Purim or personal Purim when a community or individual experiences a miraculous rescue.
In summary, the Feast of Purim includes an important biblical teaching as well as much cultural heritage that is practiced among Jews still today, remembering the important deliverance the Lord has provided and continues to bestow upon His people.
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