If you were asked to name a holiday that celebrates with gift giving, would you say, Christmas, birthdays or maybe Mother’s Day? The celebration that falls on the 14th and 15th of the Hebrew month of Adar likely wouldn’t top your list.
Though mostly unknown in churches, Purim is the one holiday in the Bible where the tradition of annual gifting was established. And, that custom is still observed more than 2500 years later.
The Feast of Purim is a lively biblical celebration filled with symbolism. Costumes mask identities. Hamantaschen cookies and meat-filled dumplings called Kreplach represent the hat or ears of the villain in the story. Noisemakers drown-out the name of the diabolical antagonist, Haman, during the annual reading of the Megillah (book of Esther). And based on the biblical text, Purim baskets are assembled and freely shared so that everyone can enjoy the holiday
Here’s the outcome of what happened when the Jewish people were saved from near extermination as recorded in the book of Esther:
Therefore the Jews of the villages who dwelt in the unwalled towns celebrated the fourteenth day of the month of Adar with gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and for sending presents to one another.
And Mordecai wrote these things and sent letters to all the Jews, near and far, who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, to establish among them that they should celebrate yearly the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar, as the days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies, as the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor.
So the Jews accepted the custom which they had begun, as Mordecai had written to them, because Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to annihilate them, and had cast Pur (that is, the lot), to consume them and destroy them; but when Esther came before the king, he commanded by letter that this wicked plot which Haman had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows (Est. 9:19-23).
The Jewish people in the Persian Empire had experienced a harrowing 12 months. In a blatantly anti-Semitic maneuver, Haman—who is the government official described as “the enemy of the Jews”—dictated a letter calling for the annihilation of the Jewish populations.
Haman’s letter became law and was irrevocable in targeting the entire Jewish population living in the Persian Empire. With legal authority to carry out his anti-Semitic plan of annihilation, He ordered that officials should strategically organize for the massacre set 12 months later on the 13th of Adar.
But God—who is not once mentioned by name and therefore appears to be hidden in the account—had providentially established Esther (Hebrew: Hadassah) as queen consort to the Persian monarch, Xerxes. Although her Jewish identity was not widely known, Esther’s position provided the opportunity to intervene on behalf of all Jewish people threatened by Haman’s evil plan (1).
The law could not be rescinded. Ultimately, a clause was added allowing the Jewish people to defend themselves against the enemies seeking their destruction. The Jewish community was saved!
Mordecai was promoted. He immediately instituted the Feast of Purim. It was a jubilant occasion celebrated by every Jewish person in the Persian Empire to demonstrate unity as a people. The same is true to the present day. Regardless of geographic location, religious affiliation or cultural background, the Jewish people celebrate Purim as a unified people.
To reinforce the unifying spirit of Purim, mishloach manot (sending portions) is observed in compliance with Mordecai’s edict (v. 23). Baskets filled with ready-to-eat food and beverages are sent to friends and neighbors as part of the joyful celebration today. Not only does the provision assure that everyone will be able to enjoy a variety of foods for their feast, but a spirit of goodwill and unity connects the worldwide Jewish community.
No one is left out. Purim is a joyful time for everyone because gifts to the poor called matanot la’evyonim are still part of the celebration as Mordecai outlined. According to rabbinic tradition, giving to the poor provides opportunity to act in cooperation with God to encourage the disheartened and lift the spirits of those in need (Isa. 57:15). In making provision for the poor, gratitude to God is expressed by helping others.
Purim stands as a memorial to the reality that even though wicked men may attempt to destroy the Jewish people, it can never happen. God affirms, “I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob” (Mal. 3:6).
The destruction Haman intended for the Jews, however, boomeranged back to himself and his family as ordered by Xerxes. His fate was sealed on the gallows he’d built for Mordechai.
Everyone who loves the Bible should celebrate Purim and thank God for preserving His Chosen People. In the spirit of this ancient celebration, make Purim a time to intentionally focus on blessing others. Read the book of Esther and sample some Hamantaschen cookies during your coffee break, like the ones I received from a Jewish friend!
1) Purim banner images (Photo credit: Pixabay/[Public domain]/Enhancement and digital composition, MKM Portfolios)
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. Rev. McCracken authentically communicates biblical truth that makes his presentations relevant for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church in Bible prophecy. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.
Copyright © Charles E. McCracken 2018, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.