I haven’t thought much about Purim in awhile. It’s not something we observe in our home and I tend to think of Purim as being primarily for children, dressing in costume, playing games, telling jokes, that sort of thing. Back in the day, the congregation I used to attend observed Purim with a children’s play, which often took on some sort of Star Wars or other fantasy theme. But those days are gone, my children are grown, and my grandson isn’t even aware of Purim.
I received an audio CD from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) a number of days ago, but I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until I was weeding the backyard over the weekend. It’s interesting trying to pull weeds out of muddy plant beds, listening to D. Thomas Lancaster lecture about Purim to the congregation at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship, and periodically grab my pen and notebook to quickly jot down an important note or two. Fortunately, the sermon was just under thirty minutes, but it was frustrating not being able to actually start writing my commentary until after I finished getting rid of those pesky weeds (which took significantly longer than thirty minutes).
The sermon was originally delivered in 2008 but I can say that everything I heard was news to me.
Though Purim is a joy-filled holiday, its story might appear somber at first glance: It tells of the near-destruction of the Jewish people as decreed by Haman, an advisor to the Persian King Ahashuerus.
However, Ahashuerus’ newly crowned queen, Esther–who replaced Vashti when she was thrown out of the kingdom–is secretly a Jew. Due to her courage and her eventual role in saving the Jews, the story of Purim is known as “Megillat Esther,” or the Scroll of Esther.
Lancaster, in his sermon called “Purim 1946,” stated what most of us know, that it is the one book in Biblical canon that doesn’t mention God at all, and yet the mercy of God is quite evident. He also said what most traditional Jews and Christians agree upon, that this is a uniquely Jewish celebration. What the heck are Gentiles at Beth Immanuel or anywhere else, particularly Christians, doing celebrating Purim?
I’ll get to that.
The terrible events we read in the Book of Esther have been applied across all of Jewish history, for the evil that Haman did was perhaps the first recorded act of anti-Semitism, particularly with the goal of Jewish genocide. Across all the inquisitions, pogroms, persecutions, Talmud burnings, and even mass murder, we find the “Spirit of Haman” repeatedly returning to finish the job he started those many thousands of years ago. This “Spirit” is likened by Lancaster to a demonic force, and even the great dragon we find in Revelation 12.
The most obvious expression of this Spirit in recent history is in the person of Adolf Hitler and his bloody Holocaust, and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of such evil, especially with the rise in anti-Semitism we see in the world today, particularly in Muslim nations.
But the Scroll of Esther contains a secret, something hidden, as the presence of God was hidden in the text of the story.
But I will surely have concealed My face on that day because of all the evil that it did, for it had turned to gods of others.
–Deuteronomy 31:18 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
Lancaster points out that the Hebrew word for “concealed” or “hidden” uses the same letters as the name “Esther,” so he believes there is a connection.
This won’t be obvious in Christian Bibles but you would see it in an actual Scroll of Esther and it’s even evident in my Tanakh.
In Esther 9:6-10 a list of the names of the ten sons of Haman appears, but in the actual scrolls which are read on Purim in synagogues, the names are listed in columns with the name of a son on one side, and the word “and” on the opposite side of the page or portion of the scroll. The significance of this isn’t in the arrangement of the names in the list, but that in the actual scroll and in my Tanakh, there are three Hebrew letters that are printed smaller than the rest: TAV, SHIN, ZAYAN. However, they don’t seem to spell any word in ancient Hebrew.
Hold onto that thought. I’ll return to it.
Lancaster points out a rather odd detail I’ve never noticed before. The names of Haman’s sons are listed as I explained above, indicating that they were among those who were killed by the Jewish people, and yet, just a few verses later, Esther makes the following request of King Ahasuerus, a second request after she asked that the Jewish people be allowed to defend themselves:
Esther replied, “If it pleases the king, let tomorrow also be given to the Jews who are in Shushan to act as they did today, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged on the gallows.”
–Esther 9:13 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
Wait a minute. The ten sons of Haman are already dead. What’s the point of hanging their dead bodies on the gallows? The answer is simple and rather gruesome. The ancient “gallows” isn’t the same thing we think about when we see a hanging in some film about the old American West. She wanted the dead bodies of Haman’s sons to be impaled on stakes and displayed, probably as a warning against anyone who would dare to rise up against the Jewish people.
This request is why Purim is celebrated by Jewish people for two days if they live in a walled city. But there’s a midrash about Esther’s use of the word “tomorrow.” The midrash says that there are two kinds of “tomorrow,” the tomorrow that is now, that is, the literal day that comes after today, and a tomorrow that is in the future, which is at some far but perhaps unknown point in the future.
Now we return to the three Hebrew letters that appear smaller than the rest in Jewish texts of Esther. You can’t read them as a word, but you can read them as a date, since each Hebrew letter has a numeric value. In this case the date is the year 5707. Remember that Hebrew years aren’t counted the way we do in the modern era. The New Year on the Hebrew Calendar is on the Festival of Rosh Hashanah, literally “head of the year,” which most recently was observed from September 4th to September 6th in 2013. The current year on the Jewish calendar is 5774. Do the math. The Jewish year 5707 is 1946 on modern calendars.
What’s so significant about 1946? The Nuremberg Trials:
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the Allied forces after World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany. The trials were held in the city of Nuremberg. The first, and best known of these trials, described as “the greatest trial in history” by Norman Birkett, one of the British judges who presided over it, was the trial of the major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT). Held between 20 November 1945 and 1 October 1946, the Tribunal was given the task of trying 23 of the most important political and military leaders of the Third Reich.
On October 1st, the first verdicts were handed down, the death sentences of twelve Nazi war criminals, including a man named Julius Streicher:
[He] was a prominent Nazi prior to World War II. He was the founder and publisher of Der Stürmer newspaper, which became a central element of the Nazi propaganda machine. His publishing firm also released three anti-Semitic books for children, including the 1938 Der Giftpilz (“The Toadstool” or “The Poison-Mushroom”), one of the most widespread pieces of propaganda, which purported to warn about insidious dangers Jews posed by using the metaphor of an attractive yet deadly mushroom.
Of the twelve men sentenced to death, one of them was not present during the verdict and through a legal circumstance, was not executed. Another man committed suicide the night before the hangings (the Tribunal deemed these men unworthy of being extinguished by firing squad as would have been the case in a traditional military execution).
The hangings took place on October 16th, 1946. Streicher was defiant to the end and seconds before he was hung, Streicher venomously cried out, “Purimfest 1946!”
It was nowhere near the festival of Purim, which is usually in late winter or early spring, but it was Hoshanna Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot, which is also called “The Great Salvation.”
But of the twelve men sentenced to die on the gallows, only ten of the most vile and hateful Nazis, including the great anti-Semite Julius Streicher, died as did the ten sons of Haman so many thousands of years before. There are indeed two tomorrows, if you’ll accept it. There is a tomorrow that is now and a tomorrow that is in the future. The tomorrow Esther spoke of was the next day, but based on the Hebrew letters written smaller than the others in the list of Haman’s sons (and I have no idea how the tradition began), the tomorrow of the future was October 16th 1946.
I wonder if this is the last time though that we’ll face such heinous persecution of the Jews with the result of more “sons of Haman” dying on the gallows as payment for their crimes?
A date hidden in the Scroll of Esther with a prophetic message, much as the face of God is hidden in the Megillah. But according to Lancaster, that’s not the only hidden prophesy:
Mordechai left the king’s presence clad in royal apparel of turquoise and white with a large gold crown and a robe of fine linen and purple; then the city of Shushan was cheerful and glad. The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor. And in every province, and in every city, every place where the king’s word and his decree reached, the Jews had gladness and joy, a feast and a holiday. Moreover, many from among the people of the land professed themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.
–Esther 9:15-17 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
Read literally, we see the victory of the Jews in that ancient land we know today as Iran, where Mordechai, the uncle of Esther (her Hebrew name was Hadassah) was elevated very high and made very great in the Kingdom, and the Jewish people, at that point in history, knew peace, gladness, and joy, and they had light and honor in every province under the rule of the King.
But if you expand the scope of these verses to contain the Messianic Age, if the King is King Messiah, and the Jews are not just the Jews in King Ahasuerus’ kingdom, but the Jews from all over the world, who have been returned, all of them, from exile to their land, the Land of Israel, then you see a perfect picture of the Messianic Kingdom and described in numerous other prophesies in the Tanakh.
Except for one thing. What about the latter part of verse 17?
Moreover, many from among the people of the land professed themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.
I’ve heard this verse interpreted to mean that many Gentiles in the land converted to Judaism. Others have said they only pretended to be Jews for fear of retribution. Still, another way of looking at this sentence is that many people threw in their lot with the Jewish people, not taking on Jewish identity as such, but being overtly supportive of the Jewish people and Jewish practices.
But if this too is a prophesy as Lancaster suggests, what does it mean for believing Gentiles today? For Lancaster personally, it means pursuing the worship of Hashem, God of the Hebrews, through the study and practice of Messianic Judaism. Remember, the Bible says that in the last days, many nations will rise up against Israel, and the Holy Nation will almost be defeated, that is, until God comes to defend Israel and the Jewish people.
Once again, and for the final time, Israel will almost be wiped out and in the last moments, when all hope seems lost, God will once again save His people and destroy their enemies. And just as in ancient Persia, those people who are not Jewish will likely fear being taken also as the enemies of the Jews. What better way to be known to be a friend of the Jewish nation and an ally of Israel than to come alongside them right now, before the trouble starts or at least before the last war starts? That is what Lancaster seems to be doing right now.
I’m not saying that we all have to join Messianic Judaism, but consider this. Lancaster didn’t touch on this topic, but how many “sons of Haman” in the last nearly two-thousand years have been part of the Church of Jesus Christ? How many pogroms, persecutions, maimings, and murders have been engineered by people calling themselves “Christians”. You can justify it by saying they weren’t really “Christians” but the fact remains that normative Christianity in a variety of forms has been deeply involved in harassing the Jewish people and attempting to eradicate Judaism by destroying volumes Talmud, scores of Torah scrolls, and innumerable synagogues.
The darkest moments of the history of the Church are just as stained with the blood of Jews as was the soul of Julius Streicher, or the Spirit of Haman.
Just a few short years ago, Evangelical Christianity was a great supporter of Jewish Zionism, the belief that the nation of Israel is a Jewish nation. But recent stories in The Blaze, Charisma News and other Christian media outlets seems to show that Evangelicals are distancing themselves from supporting Israel. This is also true of Palestinian Evangelicals, and some of these groups seem to be instead backing those who could be the modern-day equivalents of the sons of Haman.
I can see I’ve made a mistake in thinking of Purim as primarily a children’s holiday. This year, Purim is observed from sundown on Saturday, March 15th until sundown on the following day. Listening to Lancaster’s sermon and realizing the implications as I was on my hands and knees pulling weeds out of the mud, I saw Purim as warning and cautionary tale. We in the Christian church, in its many denominations and expressions, cannot afford to take the prophesies Lancaster says are in the Scroll of Esther for granted.
I don’t believe October 16th, 1946 is the last time we’ll see “sons of Haman” publicly executed for crimes against humanity and especially the Jewish people. I believe there will come a day when God will fight for His people, the Jewish people, and Israel will be victorious, and the survivors of the nations who were enemies of the Jews will be very, very afraid, and they will be ordered by God to send representatives to Jerusalem to observe Sukkot each year, and to give glory and honor to Israel’s ruler, King Messiah (Zechariah 14:16).
We in the Church need to decide which side of Biblical prophesy we want to be on. Do we want to be for the Jews or against them? Will we come alongside the Jewish people in the final war, or will we learn to fear them because we pulled away from Israel?
I’ve already declared myself as a Gentile who studies Messianic Judaism, but Lancaster’s sermon gave me more reasons to believe that this decision is the correct one. No, I’m not telling everyone in all your local churches that you have to be like me. But then again, I’m a Gentile who studies Messianic Judaism and who attends a Baptist church. Maybe the proper response to Purim this year for Christians is to study the Scroll of Esther, consider the prophesies it contains, and make a choice about which side you’re on, Mordechai’s or Haman’s. I believe my church supports Israel and the Jewish people to the best of their ability and understanding, but we can be better. It wouldn’t hurt as you practice Christianity in the church and in your lives to maybe study from a Messianic Jewish perspective…just a little bit.
You can go to the Beth Immanuel audio page to listen to Purim 1946. I strongly recommend it. Purim is coming soon. So is the Messiah.
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
–Revelation 22:20 (NASB)