Purim -- The Upside Down Holiday (by Phillip Lester)

Greetings and shalom (peace). If you didn’t know it – this is a special day.  Today is Purim! In a world of blizzards and earthquakes, it’s always good to reflect on God's promises and protection of his people.  Today and tomorrow, February 28 - March 1, 2010, Jews around the world will celebrate 2 days full of joy and reminders of God's faithfulness in preserving their people.  While I'm still trying to figure out the best way to send an audio file, for the sake of time, I just want to mention a few items that center on the celebration of Purim. All disciples, Jewish and Gentile, would do well to celebrate this beautiful joyful fun holiday along with their Jewish friends. I truly believe that observing such Biblical based holidays is, educational, evangelistic, and plain fun!

Recognizing the meaning of such celebrations conveys a spirit of support and appreciation of the Jewish men and women whose courage and faith made it possible to bring Messiah into our world. Consequently, His coming provides the greatest of deliverances and consequently the greatest of joys.

Purim is a cool event, and not just because it occurs during winter! Like Passover and Hanukkah, this holiday involves the retelling of a series of historical events.  Set in the land of Persia, it's a story full of irony, surprises, suspense, humor, and several amazing events. Actually, it’s all recorded in the book of Esther.

Esther herself, is a study of great character; a gutsy young woman (possibly a teenager) who had both beauty, brains, strength of character and spiritual focus, all instilled within by her uncle Mordecai who raised her.  She didn't put her trust in her outward beauty or brains but in her relationship with God.  What a great study for young people today!  Talk about heroic common people! Mordecai is no slouch himself. And Haman? Well, let’s say he should be included in the list of world’s greatest evil men. So suffice it to say, Purim, has all the makings of an epic movie.

The book of Esther opens with a beauty contest and ends with a massacre. However, inside the book we are taken on a journey back to the Persian Empire and observe the hand of God working to preserve his people while in foreign captivity. With its traditional customs of giving of gifts and bringing joy to the poor, the holiday of Purim resembles Christmas. However, the best descriptive title I can think of is “the Upside Down Holiday."  While Purim commemorates the day originally set aside to wipe out the Jewish race, throughout the book of Esther, the tables are turned. The very day in which the Jews were going to be exterminated became their day of deliverance. Go figure!

There is plenty of stuff to keep young and old engaged while getting a peek at the way God works throughout history on behalf of His people. It’s a story of drinking parties, beauty contests, and reversals of fortune, of intrigue, adventure, heroines, vengeance and villains.  Keep in mind that throughout the book of Esther the name of God is noticeably absent. However, it’s evident that His hand is at work behind the scenes.  Just like today, He is always working on behalf of those who love Him - even when it doesn't appear so obvious. In so many ways that is the way and message of the cross:  What appears weak and a humiliating event is transformed by God’s power and wisdom to become the single most significant event to bring about the power to change hearts and lives.

Purim contains several other relevant insights and lessons for us today.  Focusing on Purim helps appreciate the spirit of anti-Semitism that has been threatening to exterminate the Jewish people throughout history. For example, Hitler's idea of the "Final Solution" was not so original. Throughout the Torah we see the children of Abraham being bullied and come close to annihilation.  Hints of this enmity go back to the earliest portions of Genesis, beginning with Satan in the garden, to the feud between Esau and Jacob, to the attack by the Amalekites of the Israelites following their release from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 17).  Even the Book of Revelation implies this ongoing struggle and conflict (Rev 12) and connects it to the struggle to bring the Messiah into the world. The spirit of Esau, and later the spirit of Amalek, remains at the core of the Middle East conflict today.

The book contains valuable lessons on taking responsibility for doing what's right even in uncertain times. There are dramatic lessons on the consequences of pride and the rewards of courage and humility. Mordecai, the Jew, just another captive who was viewed as a nobody, was raised up by God to be a somebody, a national celebrity, while Haman “the Agagite”, on the other hand, who thought he was a somebody -- always due honor -- ended up being forced to swallow his pride along with a few other dishonoring challenges (like being executed on the very gallows he prepared for others to die on).

On Purim, after reading the story of Esther, the traditional Jewish customs for this holiday include enjoying a great feast, dressing up with colorful costumes to reenact the story, eating traditional cookies called Hamentashen, and drowning out any mention of the name of “Haman”. There is an emphasis on giving of gifts and reaching out to the poor.

For today, do yourself a favor and read the book of Esther and relish in observing God’s amazing work behind the scenes. Most importantly, rejoice with your Jewish friends that this event happened. Find yourself a Jewish synagogue to visit and enjoy an entertaining and educational Purim play that recounts the events that began as a catastrophic crisis and ended as an amazing turn of events, overthrow of evil, and freedom and prosperity for those who were originally targeted to die. It will be good for your faith, good for your children’s faith, and will lead you to express heartfelt praise and worship to Hashem.

Tell your kids about it, rejoice and be glad today that you are alive and please pass the Hamentaschen.     Happy Purim -- Phillip

Please direct any comments, questions, and feedback to  pplester@aol.com  For some excellent supplemental info on Purim I recommend you check out this short article: at  http://docstalk.blogspot.com/2010/02/purim-2010-guide-for-perplexed.html Phillip Lester

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