Hidden Treasures in the Book of Esther

Purim: Flamenco
A Purim Parade

As we rapidly approach Purim, we find ourselves in as much turmoil as our forebears (whether physical or spiritual) who lived through the events that led up to it.  As news continues to pour in of the incredible toll of the earthquake in Japan and upheaval in the Middle-east, of the collapse of the American economy and the European demography, the festivities surrounding a proper Purim celebration can seem a little out of place.  And yet, they are more important to us now than in times of peace because they remind us that the Holy One of Israel cares for His own.

Purim, like Hanukkah, takes place in the “long silence” between the High Holy Days of Sukkot and Passover–and just like Hanukkah, stands as a reminder that even when Heaven is silent, the Eternal watches over Israel.  It’s interesting that the books that record the events celebrated in Hanukkah, 1 and 2 Maccabees, were never canonized by the rabbis and were only fully canonized by the Catholic Church in response to the Reformation.  The book of Esther, alone of all the canon of the Tanakh, was in a curiously gray position regarding its Spiritual inspiration in both Judaism and Christianity right up through the third century. In fact, Martin Luther would raise the question as to whether it should be considered canon in the 15th century.

The reason for this curiously indeterminate status is pretty simple:  Not only does Esther not contain the Tetragrammaton, the Holiest Name of God, it contains no direct reference to the Holy One at all.  Instead, it contains only the most oblique reference to the Rule of Heaven, such as Mordecai saying, “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Est. 4:14).

It turns out that Esther does contain the Name, but only in coded form and only in the original Hebrew manuscript.  An excellent study of this and the other codes hidden in Esther can be found here in far more detail than I had in my own notes.  However, I’d like to point out a hidden code in Esther that most people miss.

The day on which Haman obtained permission from Xerxes to wipe out the Jews was “the thirteenth day of the first month” (Est. 3:12).  The scribes were summoned on that day to compose and send out the orders to the governors of the provinces.  It is reasonable to assume that Mordecai heard the news immediately after that, and that Esther heard about his mourning very shortly after it began.  Therefore, Esther’s fast can be read one of two ways:  Either it began on the 13th, and lasted through the 14th and 15th for a total of three days (cf. Esther 4:16), or it perhaps began near evening on the 14th (which would give additional time for all of the messages going back and fourth) and Esther approached the King on the 17th.  The former view is favored by the sages (Rashi is cited in the above-linked article), but the latter view gives Esther an even greater Messianic import.

When Yeshua was arrested, it was the night of the 14th of Nisan, the first Biblical month since the time of the Exodus (12:2).  As a result of His arrest and crucifixion, His disciples fasted (Mat. 9:15).  After three days, Yeshua was given His life back by the King of Eternity, just as Esther was given her life back after three days by the King of Persia.  (There’s actually a whole theme in Scripture of life being given on the third day, as we discuss briefly here.)

What?  You mean Esther is a Messianic type?  Yes indeed, in this context.  However, I suspect that the prophetic meaning behind this historical event goes even deeper.  See, in every other case where we have an individual whose life is a prophetic picture of the Messiah, it’s always a man.  The woman is consistently a symbol of the people of the Holy One, whether Israel or her grafted-in branches from the Gentiles.

Moreover, Mordecai actually has some Messianic traits himself.  Haman’s plot is to hang Mordecai from a gallows because Mordecai refused to bow to him (Est. 5:14).  “Gallows” is actually a mistranslation; it literally reads that Haman wanted to hang Mordecai from a tree. It turns out that the Persians were the ones who actually invented crucifixion, and the tree refers to the pole on which the victim was bound or impaled to die a slow, public, shameful death.  Haman, our stand-in for the Adversary, wants to crucify Mordecai–but in the end is crucified upon the very tree which he intended for his enemy (Est. 9:10).  In the same way, when the Adversary instigated the crucifixion of Yeshua, he was hoist by his own petard, the very instrument of death that he meant to destroy the Messiah becoming the means of his own undoing.

“But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the wisdom that has been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds for our glory, which none of the rulers of this world has known. For had they known it, they wouldn’t have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Co. 2:7f)

So is this simply a matter of two figures splitting the duty of the Messianic type?  Or is there something more?

What if Esther did not exactly represent the Messiah, but rather those who are in Messiah.  This whole concept of being “in” the Messiah Yeshua, to be so unified with Him that we end our old lives and are raised for Him to dwell in us is a centerpiece of Paul’s theology, but was not unique to him.  Yeshua said (John 15:5),  “I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  Revelation 14:13 speaks of the blessed state of those who die “in the Lord.”  This is far more than just an illustration; it is a sublime mystery, the ultimate in mysticism, a union that every mystical and religious system in the world seeks–and miss because they seek it on their own terms instead of Hashem’s.

And if indeed Esther, who is so identified with the Messiah by her actions and restoration to life on the third day, is a picture of those who are so identified with the Messiah that we were raised with Him, what does that say about our duty to Israel?

Then Mordecai asked them return answer to Esther, “Don’t think to yourself that you will escape in the king’s house any more than all the Jews.  For if you remain silent now, then relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Who knows if you haven’t come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Est. 4:13f)

Are we to think that if we are silent in petitioning the King for Israel that we will escape the judgment?  Or should we, like Esther, be willing to risk our lives to intercede for our Jewish brothers and sisters, both in the Land and scattered throughout the world?

Esther is a book of celebrations.  But it is also a book with a call.  Let us answer that call.


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