The Jewish holiday of Purim, from the Book of Esther, is distinctly different from all the others.
First of all, Purim tells the story of Jewish people who chose to live in a prosperous foreign country instead of returning to help rebuild the nation of Israel. Many American Jews today are faced with this dilemma, and most, like Mordecai and Esther, choose what appears to be a "safer" alternative. Purim also shows how GOD uses people who are willing to listen and obey in order to save and preserve His Chosen People, wherever they are.
The story takes place in Shushan, the capitol of Persia, shortly after the reign of Xerxes (486-465 B.C.E.) According to the Book of Ezra, the Jews of the Babylonian Exile had been allowed to leave in 538 B. C. to rebuild Israel. The events described in Esther happened approximately 100 years later to the descendants of those Jews who decided to stay in Babylonia.
Their circumstances sound very familiar to our present time. They were mostly of the Persian middle class. A few had even risen to prominent positions. The central characters, Mordecai and Esther, had Persian names. The name of Mordecai is believed to be a variant of "Merodach", patron deity of Babylon. The name of Esther means "she who is hidden". Her Hebrew name is "Hadassah". Apparently, Mordecai and Esther, and most of the other Persian Jews, had chosen to assimilate into Persian society to avoid discrimination, Esther kept her Jewishness a secret even when she was chosen as Queen.
However, GOD always seems to raise up a Pharaoh, Hitler, or Haman, to remind the Jews of their destiny. Haman, the Jew-hater of this story, was a descendent of Amalek, the eternal enemy of Israel. King Saul hand an opportunity to destroy Amalek’s descendants, but disobeyed GOD. (1 Samuel 15:9) Therefore, Mordecai, a Ben jaminite like Saul, was forced to deal with Haman. Haman aroused the anti-semitic hatred of the Persians and planned to exterminate all Jews.
After casting lots (Purim), Haman decided the Jews would all be killed on the thirteenth day of Adar, and all of their property seized. He persuaded King Ahasuerus with reasons that are always used against Jews; and the Jews are aliens in the land, they have "different" laws and customs, they were disloyal to the nation. Foolishly, the King agreed with Haman's plan, and the fate of the Persian Jews was seemingly sealed.
However, GOD had a different plan. Responding to the supplications and pleas of His people, He raised up a deliverer in Esther, the Jewish Queen of Persia. Esther, like Moses, Gideon, and many others, was at first reluctant. She was afraid to expose her Jewish identity to help her people. Mordecai, her cousin and advisor, was forced to remind her in Esther 4:14 that GOD would raise another deliverer if she failed to respond. So Esther made the decision to lay down her life, if that was required, to save her people from destruction.
The remainder of the story is an example of GOD's justice. Haman is exposed and hanged, Mordecai is promoted, and the Jews in all of the Persian Empire are allowed to defend themselves against their enemies. And so the day of destruction was turned into a day of deliverance for the diaspora Jews.
Purim, like Chanukkah, is a sign of physical redeeming of GOD’s people. Today, Jews and Gentiles alike, have the perfect redemption in Yeshua the Messiah, who laid down His life to rescue all who accept Him. Purim, like all of the Jewish Holidays, point to Him as our Redeemer. It is a said by the Rabbis "While all other Festivals may be annulled, Purim will never pass away". We are redeemed by Yeshua, and like Purim, the salvation He brings will never pass away.
Purim, or the Feast of Esther, happens every year on the fourteenth and fifteenth day of Adar, the last month of the Jewish calendar. Adar usually corresponds with the month of March. Esther 9:27 & 28 teaches the Jewish people to "Keep these two days... and that these days should be remembered every generation".
In the Synagogues and Temples, the Megillah, or Book of Esther, is read aloud. When the name of Haman, the Jews’ enemy, is pronounced, children and adults alike, whistle, shake rattles, noisemakers, and stomp their feet to blot out the name. The children have costume parties and the women bake "Hamantaschens", which are small pastries shaped like a three cornered hat (Haman’s hat).
Even through Purim is a festive time, there is a period of fasting to remember that GOD heard His people when they fasted and cried out to Him. Also, Purim is a time for sending gifts of food to your friends and for helping the poor people in your community.