PURIM—The Amalekites Among Us

This month, March 11-12 marks the most joyous holiday on the Jewish calendar—Purim—the festival celebrating the Jews’ victory over Haman. This evil anti-Semite had succeeded in convincing the King of Persia to sign an edict to kill all Jews throughout the 127 provinces of his kingdom. But one thing he did not count on—the new queen of the land—Esther, was actually a Jewess named Hadassah. God used her to turn the tables on Haman!

But this story has a much deeper conflict than appears on the surface. Its roots begin in the Book of Genesis and its two stories of sibling rivalry: Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob and Esau. You may be aware of the modern conflict between Israel and her Arab neighbors that stems from Isaac and Ishmael, but you may not realize there is another hostile connection through Esau.

If you know the story of Abraham and Sarah, you know Abraham had a son, Ishmael, by Sarah’s Egyptian handmaid Hagar, because Sarah was barren. But true to His promise, after 25 years, God gave Sarah and Abraham a son, Isaac who was the child of promise. Eventually, Ishmael, the son of a bondwoman, was cast out with his mother, because of their mockery of Isaac.

Isaac married Rebecca, a cousin from Abraham’s clan, and they had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. When they were grown and Isaac was old, Rebecca helped Jacob steal the birthright blessing from Esau the elder. In the aftermath, when Esau vowed to kill him, Jacob fled to his mother’s family where he stayed 20 years. But Jacob did not flee only because of Esau’s rage against him. His parents used this occasion to send him away to find a wife from among their family. Esau had made their lives miserable by marrying two ungodly Canaanite women, and Rebecca did not want Jacob to marry a woman of Canaan. They sent him to her brother Laban’s home to find a wife from their clan.

When Esau realized his father was displeased with his choice of Canaanite wives, he went to his Uncle Ishmael (Isaac’s Egyptian half-brother) and married one of his daughters.

Why This Is Significant:

In this union, we have the joining of Ishmael and Esau, whose descendants became Israel’s worst enemies to this day! Take a look at Esau’s lineage: His firstborn was Eliphaz. His son was Amalek—Esau’s grandson. The Amalekites became Israel’s bitter enemies. We are told in Genesis 25:18, Ishmael’s descendants “dwelt from Havilah to Shure.” We will see later that the Amalekites also dwelt there; for they were family.

During Israel’s exodus in the wilderness, the Amalekites attacked them. As Moses stood on the mountain with the rod of God in his hand, the battle went for Israel. But when he tired, and his arms dropped, the enemy prevailed. So Aaron and Hur stood on either side of him and held up his arms until the sun went down and the battle was won. The Lord told Moses to write it down in a book for a memorial, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua that He would “utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven…. For the Lord has sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus17:8-16).

King Saul Meets King Agag

When Saul was Israel’s first King, the prophet Samuel spoke to him of God’s charge to utterly destroy the Amalekites and all they had, including wives and children, and even their cattle. God did not want even one survivor of the seed of Amalek to remain. Saul and his army slew the Amalekites “from Havilah to Shure” (the same region inhabited by Ishmael’s people). But Saul disobeyed, sparing their king, Agag, and the best of their animals. The next day, Samuel arose in the morning and came to Saul who declared that he had performed the commandment of the Lord. When Samuel heard the bleating of the cattle, he knew Saul was lying. When he learned Saul had also spared King Agag, he rebuked Saul and ordered Agag to be brought to him, and Samuel slew him with the sword on the spot (1Samuel 15).

So the last Amalekite is dead—right? Not according to Jewish history. When Agag was taken prisoner and not killed as Samuel had commanded, that night a servant girl was sent to serve him dinner. Agag raped her, impregnating her. Had Saul killed him the day before when he was captured, it would not have happened. But soon a son was born of Agag the Amalekite, and 500 years later, the Amalekites show up again as Israel’s evil enemy in the person of Haman in the land of Persia.

The Jews of Persia

The Israelites had gone into captivity for their sins, and not all returned to Israel. Some remained in the kingdom of Persia, two of whom were Mordecai and his young cousin Hadassah, a beautiful maiden, who became Queen Esther.

The King, Ahasuerus, was holding a seven day feast of eating and drinking while his first Queen, Vashti, held a feast for the women. On the seventh day, he commanded her to appear before him at the men’s feast so he could show her off to his drunken companions, but she refused. Infuriated, he ordered her banished, but later he missed his wife. He was advised to hold a beauty pageant to look for a replacement. Hadassah was taken to the palace with many other young women in the capital of Shushan. Mordecai advised her not disclose that she was a Jew—not even to the King. When the King saw her, he loved her above all others and made her his queen—Queen Esther.

King Ahasuerus had promoted Haman as Prime Minister over all the princes of the 127 provinces of Persia. He was an Agagite—an Amalekite who hated Jews. He especially hated Mordecai who sat at the city gates, because he would not bow down to him. One day Mordecai overheard two of the palace servants discussing a plot to kill the King, and he told Esther, who reported it in Mordecai’s name. The two men were hanged, and the incident was recorded in the book of the Chronicles of the Kings.

The Plot to Kill the Jews

Meanwhile, Haman was seething in his hatred of Mordecai and the Jews. He basked in his honor of Prime Minister and loved that the people bowed when he came through the gates—except for Mordecai. According to Jewish history, Mordecai wore an idol around his neck. Of course, no Jew would bow down to an idol. At first, Haman did not know that Mordecai was a Jew, but when he was told, he then sought to destroy all the Jews in Persia. He “cast lots” to decide when it was to take place, and the result was the 12th month of Adar. (It is from the Hebrew word for casting lots—pur—Purim is derived.) Haman took his plan to the King, describing how much trouble the Jews were; they did not obey Persian laws, and needed to be exterminated.  Unwittingly, and hastily, the King signed off on the plan, sealing it with his ring, which meant it could never be reversed!

Letters were sent to all provinces declaring: On Adar 13, all Jews will be killed, and their property could be taken. Hearing of the plot, Mordecai and all the Jews lamented, wailing in sackcloth and ashes. Esther heard of Mordecai’s behavior and sent her maids to inquire what was wrong. They returned with a copy of the decree and Mordecai’s instructions that she should go to the King and make supplication for her people. But Esther replied that there was a palace law—if anyone, man or woman, should enter the inner court of the King without being summoned, they would be put to death—unless the King held out his golden scepter. Not only this, but the King had not called for her in 30 days.

Mordecai’s unforgettable response: “Think not that you will escape in the King’s house more than all the Jews. For if you hold your peace at this time, their deliverance will arise from another place, but your father’s house will be destroyed. And who knows whether you were come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” 

Esther returned her message for him to have all the Jews in Shushan to fast three days with her and her maids, and then she would go to the King, which was against the law. She concluded with her unforgettable words: “And if I perish—I perish!” (Esther 4:12-16).

Three days later, dressed in her finest royal apparel, Esther made her way into the throne room of the King. And when he saw her, he held out his golden scepter, and she touched the top of it. He asked her what she wanted. Obviously it had to be very important for her to break the law and risk her life. She invited him and Haman to a banquet that she had prepared for them. (Obviously, she had faith he would come for she had prepared all in advance.) Haman was quickly summoned, and they went to the banquet. There the King asked her what her petition was, and it would be granted to the half of his kingdom. Esther replied:

“If I have found favor in your sight, and it pleases the King, let the King and Haman come to the banquet I shall prepare tomorrow.” Imagine how elated Haman was! Not only was he enjoying the rank of Prime Minister with all its perks, but now he was dining with the King and Queen alone! But his joy was short-lived! On the way home, he saw Mordecai at the gate, and as usual, he did not bow to honor him. At home, he told his wife of all his good fortune, the glory of his riches, and how the King had promoted him above all princes; and today, the Queen had invited him alone to a banquet with the King! And he was to attend another banquet with them tomorrow! But he lamented: “Yet all this avails me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the kings gate.”

Mordecai Has To Go!

His wife and friends told him to build a scaffold to hang Mordecai the next day before he went to the Queen’s banquet. But that night, the King in the palace got a case of divine insomnia! Unable to sleep, he called for his servants to bring him the Book of the Chronicles and read to him. They read the account of how Mordecai had reported the plot to have the King killed. The King asked what honor had been given for Mordecai, and they replied, “Nothing.” At that very time, Haman was on his way to speak to the King about hanging Mordecai on the gallows the next day. Before he could share his plan, the King said, “What shall be done for the man the King wants to honor?” Thinking it was himself, Haman said: “Let him wear the King’s royal apparel and crown, and set him upon the King’s horse to be led through the city, and proclaim before him: ‘This is the one the King delights to honor.’”

The King instructed Haman to make haste and do so to Mordecai the Jew. Haman (no doubt in shock), did so, and then went home mourning with his head covered. When he told his wife of the unfortunate event, she said some of the most telling, remarkable, irrefutable words concerning the Jews:

“If Mordecai be the seed of the Jews, before whom you have begun to fall, you shall not prevail, but shall surely fall before him” (Est. 6:13).

The next day when the King asked what Esther’s petition was, she said, “Let my life and the life of my people be given me. We have been sold to be destroyed.” The King couldn’t imagine who would do such a thing and said as much. When Esther told him the enemy was the wicked Haman, the King rose up in wrath. When he learned Haman had erected a gallow to hang Mordecai, he commanded that Haman be hung thereon. Although he could not rescind the edict to kill all the Jews, he issued a new edict allowing the Jews to defend themselves, and the rest is history: “And no man could withstand them; for the fear of them fell upon all people.” In the end, the Jews slew thousands who sought to kill them, and Haman’s 10 sons were also hanged on gallows in public display for all to see their demise.

Prophetic Secret Hidden in Their Names

In the Hebrew scroll of the Book of Esther, there is a curious oddity in the spelling of three of the sons’ names. In each name, just one letter is written in a smaller point size for no grammatical reason, drawing attention to them. The letters are tet—shin—zain, and their numerical values are 400—300—7, equaling 707.

In the Hebrew calendar, our 20th century (two millennia) is their millennium 5000. Just as it is standard practice today to leave off the 20 when we write the year 2017, so they left off the 5, as it was understood it is the millennium 5000. Thus, 5707=1946 on our calendar. On October 16, 1946, at the Nuremberg trials for Nazi war criminals, ten men were executed and hung on gallows. Originally, eleven men were to be hung, but one committed suicide by cyanide beforehand.

Moreover, before he was hung, Julius Striker, a vicious anti-Semitic writer, shouted from the gallows: “Heil Hitler! Purim Fest 1946!” Remarkably, he related that event to the event in the Book of Esther!

Queen Esther instituted this feast of Purim to be observed every year as a day of rest, feasting, gladness, and sending gifts to one another. Today, as Jews keep this feast, the Book of Esther is read out loud to the children. Every time they hear the name Haman, they loudly “Boooo!” When they hear Mordecai, they shout “Yay!”

Iran is Modern Persia

Today, Persia is modern Iran, Israel’s arch enemy, who has sworn to wipe her off of the map. Two years ago, during the festival of Purim, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke by invitation to the whole U.S. House of Congress in an effort to convince them not to negotiate with Iran, and to take action to stop them from developing a nuclear bomb. It was a replay of the Book of Esther, and Netanyahu even referred to it as such in his address. Just as Esther went before the king to ask for her people’s deliverance, he came to plead with our government to stand with Israel and against Iran. The White House would not heed. They wanted to pursue peace talks that have failed over and over, and give Iran more time to develop nuclear weapons. Since then, we have seen Iran has broken the treaty, and in January, our former president declined to veto a U.N. resolution condemning Israel. Truly, there are still Amalekites among us!

Today, there is a new president in the White House and a new House of Congress who are prepared to stand by Israel and protect her, the only democracy in the Middle East, from modern Amalekites who have vowed to destroy her. As Christians, we are Israel’s greatest friends. Let us support our government’s pro-Israel actions, because those who stand against her will surely fall.

And we have come into the kingdom of God for such a time as this!