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25 Feb, 89 tweets, 15 min read
THREAD: Universe Reversed: A Meditation on Purim

[Image: “The Festival of Esther” by Edward Armitage. The Royal Academy of Arts Collection.]

Of all the holidays of the Jewish liturgical calendar, Purim is perhaps the most exuberant.
Children dress up in costumes, and friends send portions of food to each other. Many give gifts to the poor and throw lavish parties with plenty of food and drink.
While the Books of Moses mandate many other feasts on the calendar, Purim is a later addition, with an entire book to tell the story of why the Jewish people have been keeping the holiday for the 2500 odd years since the event it celebrates.
Every year, as the feast of Purim is observed, the miracle of the salvation of the Jewish people from genocide is proclaimed by reading aloud the book of Esther.
Almost fairytale-like in its archetypal characters of a brave queen, her wise guardian, and a scheming villain who experience “coincidental” twists of fate, the story concludes with surprising reversals that leave the audience satisfied that evil has received its just reward.
While the broad strokes of Esther’s story are entertaining and hopeful, the book also rewards attention to its details and subtle inferences that connect this account of cousins in exile to the grander narrative of Scripture, giving added depth and color with each discovery.
-----The Reversal of Saul’s Failure------
So in the tradition of Purim, let us “reverse” the clock and trace a thread hidden in that often-overlooked treasure-trove of Scripture: the genealogy.
In Esther 2:5-7 we learn, “Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king…
…of Babylon had carried away. He was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, the daughter of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother.” At first glance, we can glean relevant details from these verses.
For instance, the writer introduced the two protagonists as first cousins—a Jewish man and woman from Benjamin’s tribe—who are victims of the Babylonian exile. But what are we to make of Mordecai’s and Esther’s pedigree? Are these names that we have seen somewhere earlier?
Indeed, these names tell of a royal lineage. Kish is King Saul’s father, mentioned in 1 Samuel 9:1 and 1 Chronicles 8:29-33. Shimei is the son of King Saul, recorded in 2 Samuel 16:5.
Though Mordecai and Esther are descendants of this famous Benjamite king, the author does not mention Saul himself. But in a book notable for its omission of the word “God,” what is not openly acknowledged in the text is often just as important as what is.
Why is it vital for us to understand that Esther and Mordecai are descendants of King Saul?

Another genealogy holds the key. In Esther 3:1, we learn of another character in the story: Haman.
“After these things, King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him.” Haman also has royal ancestry, descending from King Agag, the Amalekite.
The Amalekites were the ancient enemy of the Israelite people.
When Moses led the newly emancipated Hebrew people out of Egypt, they had not even reached Sinai before the Amalekites fought the weary travelers at Rephidim.[Exodus 17:8–16; Deuteronomy 25:17–19] A battle ensued, and Joshua led the fighters while Moses climbed a nearby hill.
While Moses’ hands were lifted in supplication and holding up the staff of God, the Hebrews prevailed in battle, but when he lowered his arms, they lost ground. Seeing this phenomenon, Aaron and Hur supported Moses’ arms, and the Hebrews won the battle.
Despite the victory, God never forgot the Amalekites who attacked His people in their vulnerable state.
Immediately after the battle, the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”
And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”[Exodus 17:14–16]
Indeed, many generations would bear the mark of the deep-seated hostility of the Amalekites and the Israelites. While the Israelites continued conquering the promised land, the King of Moab, Balak, hired a seer, Balaam, to curse the Israelites.
The people of Israel had just defeated the Amorites, and Balak feared that Moab was next. However, when Balaam arrives, he delivers a series of oracles blessing Israel rather than cursing them.
In his final oracle, Balaam describes the defeat of Israel’s enemies, including the Moabites and the Amalekites:

“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
and break down all the sons of Sheth.
Edom shall be dispossessed;
Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
Israel is doing valiantly.
And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
and destroy the survivors of cities!”
Then he looked on Amalek and took up his discourse and said,
“Amalek was the first among the nations,
but its end is utter destruction.”[Numbers 24:17–20]
Several hundred years later, the LORD commanded King Saul to fight against the Amalekites for their attack on Rephidim generations earlier. Not only is Saul to strike the Amalekites, but God instructs him to devote them entirely to destruction.
“Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”[1 Samuel 15:3]
Initially, it looks like Saul follows the command, defeating the Amalekites, capturing Agag, their King, and devoting to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword.[1 Samuel 15:9] However, Saul spared King Agag as well as the best livestock.
When the prophet Samuel confronts the King on his disobedience, Saul replies that the livestock was kept as spoils and sacrifices for the LORD. Samuel responds, “Is not obedience better than sacrifice?
Because you rejected the word of the LORD, He has rejected you from being king.”[1 Samuel 15:22-23] Saul begged for restoration, but Samuel repeated the judgement of God.
Before leaving, Samuel called for Agag, who appeared cheerfully before the prophet, thinking that Saul had spared his life. However, Samuel curses him and kills him, fulfilling the command that the LORD had given to Saul.
Centuries again pass, and the nation of Israel splits, suffers devastating defeat, and goes into exile. Far from their homelands, an Agagite Amalekite named Haman and a Benjaminite Israelite named Mordecai find themselves both in Persia’s royal courts.
Ancient hatreds fan into flame. Perhaps Haman is thinking about the death and defeat of his ancestor Agag and wants revenge.
Or perhaps Mordecai’s refusal to bow to Haman and acknowledge his authority brings to the surface all the insecurities of their ancient bloodlines.[The Amalekites were decedents of Esau and the Benjamites descendants of Jacob.
It is interesting to note that Benjamin was the only one of Jacob’s 12 sons who did not bow to Esau in Genesis 33:7, having not yet been born.] Whatever the reason, Haman schemes to wipe out all the Jewish people living in the vast provinces of Persia and maneuvers the King to…
…sign the genocidal plans into law, using the mighty empire’s mechanisms to enforce his vengeance.

However, a vital piece of information is hidden from Haman that proves to be his downfall. There is another Benjamite and descendant of Saul in the royal court.
Esther, the cousin and beloved[Not only did Mordecai righteously adopt and raise his orphaned cousin Esther, but he earnestly cared for her, as evidenced by his daily checks on her welfare in the King’s harem.
See Esther 2:11.] ward of Mordecai, had been crowned queen five years earlier, but Mordecai had instructed her not to reveal her background.
When the future of the Jewish people in Persia hangs in the balance, Mordecai asks Esther to advocate for her people from her exalted position. Initially, Esther is hesitant, as breaking royal protocol to approach the King would risk her life.
Mordecai famously answers her, “Do not think to yourself that in the King’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.
For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but **you and your father’s house will perish**. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”[Esther 4:13-14]
Mordecai had framed the issue wisely: “This is not merely a local, contemporary matter, but an ancient hatred that will hunt you down if you refuse to act. If you do not risk your life to save the Jews, God will raise up someone else.
We are the covenant people whose seed bears a promise, so we cannot be completely wiped out. However, the remains of Saul's dynasty can be utterly destroyed and go down in shame if we do not seize this moment to redeem our family’s past sins.”
Esther hears and understands what is at stake. She calls a fast for three days and determines to lay down her life if need be to intercede for the Jewish people.
Disobedient Saul’s distant daughter would obey her instructions and calling, resulting in the complete reversal of fortunes: the Jewish people’s salvation and the destruction of Haman and his followers.
-----The Reversal of the Lots-----
The redemption of Saul’s house’s honor is just one of many reversals in the book of Esther, however. Reversal seems to be the key and theme of the entire book.
The pattern of details turned on their head is spelled out in the two Hebrew words, "wenahafokh hu’" meaning “on the contrary” or “it was the opposite” at the start of chapter 9.
At the beginning of the story, Esther acts like a Gentile, but in the end, Gentiles are acting like Jews. The lots, or “purim,” used to determine the date of the Jewish people’s destruction, instead decided the day that the Jewish people would celebrate for millennia.
Instead of Haman receiving the regal respect and honor he desperately desired, he was humiliatingly forced to honor his enemy Mordecai. Mordecai, who mourned in sackcloth and ashes at the news of imminent execution, ends the story dressed in indigo, white robes, and a crown.
Instead of Haman’s minions killing the Jews with impunity, the Jews are granted the legal right to defend themselves and kill their attackers. Instead of Mordecai being hung on the gallows that Haman had prepared specifically for him, Haman himself is hung on the gallows.
[The word often translated as “gallows” in Esther’s English translations is the Hebrew word _ets_ which literally means, “tree.” The common means of execution in Persia at the time was impaling on a stake, and then being “hung” or displayed on a wooden pole.
The cross is similarly described as a “tree” and an instrument of shame and humiliation.]
Though the Hebrew Bible’s redactors never codified the order of the books of the Old Testament, Esther’s scroll is often the last of scrolls in the writing section, which seems to be a logical choice.
While the Psalmist mourns that the wicked prosper in this age, and King Solomon asks why evil doesn’t seem to have swift recompense, Esther offers hope to the Jewish people, an almost apocalyptic model where the good end happily and the bad unhappily.
God was and would be faithful to preserve His people whether they are in exile or not, and He will repay those who touch the “apple of His eye.”[Zechariah 2:8] When Balaam had long ago prophesied that Amalek would meet its end, he said, “A star will rise out of Jacob, and a…
…scepter from Israel will rise up.” Esther, being the Persian name meaning “star,” and Mordecai’s name meaning “staff” or “scepter,” seem to be excellent candidates for the fulfillment of this oracle.
But even though their bravery preserved the Jewish people for the time being, Balaam had not spoken of cousins as the ultimate saviors of the Jewish people, but had said, “I see **Him**, but not now, I behold **Him**, but not near.”
That “Him,” the promised seed, would be the ultimate Savior of Israel that Esther and Mordecai had foreshadowed. Still, it would be many more centuries before His first appearance in Israel.

-----The Reversal of the Cross-----
When the long-awaited and prophesied Messiah, Jesus, ministered in Israel, His story was marked by many parallels and reversals similar to Esther’s story. Jesus was of a royal lineage, a son of Abraham and a son of King David.
As Haman offered 10,000 talents of silver to the King of Persia to destroy the Jewish people, so Judas betrayed Jesus for execution for a mere 30 pieces of silver. Just as Esther laid down her life for her people, so Jesus laid down His life for His people.
The _purim_ in Esther, the instrument used to determine the Jews utter defeat, instead marked the day of their ultimate victory, just as the cross did for Jesus.
The cross also recalls the gallows meant for Mordecai’s execution, but was instead the means of Haman’s destruction.[1 Corinthians 2:7-8] What Satan had meant for evil, the Lord gloriously used for good.
Is it no wonder then, with these remarkable reversals, that as Jesus prepared to ascend into heaven, His disciples asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”[Acts 1:6] As long as the world is being turned upside-down, why not the ultimate reversal…
…where the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our God?[Revelation 11:15] Jesus told them that it was not yet the time for the restoration of the kingdom, but charged them to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth.[Acts 1:8]
Time passed; the Romans, yet another enemy of the Jewish people, overthrew Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. The Jewish people were again subjected to brutal exile.
For centuries and millennia, they suffered from that ancient anti-semitic hatred that so marked the Amalekites.[This persecution ironically and tragically was often at the hand of the “followers” of those apostles who yearned to restore Israel under the leadership of her…

-----The Reversal of Elam’s Fortunes-----
When the Jewish people established the modern state of Israel in 1948 in the wake of the horrors of the Holocaust, many saw this as “restoration” long hoped for.
But instead of peace, the young state was bombarded on all sides by neighbors furiously determined to push them into the sea, just as the Amalekites had during the conquests of Joshua and Saul. One such bitter enemy is Iran, the contemporary face of ancient Persia.
Iran is so intent on wiping Israel from the map that countdown clocks to Israel’s destruction are a common sight on Tehran’s streets.[In 2015, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there would be "nothing" left of Israel by the year 2040, which prompted clocks counting down to that date.…
…[…]] Just as Haman had determined the date of the destruction of the Jews through the toss of the dice, his purim, so the state of Iran has set a date for the destruction of Israel.
But in this intensely Islamic nation, the God who hid Himself in the book of Esther is again working beneath the surface for the salvation of a people.
The underground church in Iran is the fastest-growing community of believers globally. […]
In a stunning reversal of their upbringing / politics, the members of this hidden movement esteem the Jewish people, declaring her King who came and is coming again. In the heart of the deadliest enemy of Israel, a growing number are pledging their allegiance to Israel’s Messiah.
[See documentaries “[Sheep Among Wolves ],” and “[Sheep Among Wolves: Volume II ]” for first-hand accounts from Iranian followers of Jesus.]
Perhaps for the sake of this underground church or even for Queen Esther, the prophet Jeremiah spoke of the reversal of Elam’s fortunes, the predecessor of Persia and Iran, so long ago:
“Behold, I will break the bow of Elam, the mainstay of their might. And I will bring upon Elam the four winds from the four quarters of heaven. And I will scatter them to all those winds, and there shall be no nation to which those driven out of Elam shall not come.
I will terrify Elam before their enemies and before those who seek their life. I will bring disaster upon them, my fierce anger, declares the LORD.
I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them, and **I will set my throne in Elam and destroy their King and officials, declares the LORD. But in the latter days I will restore the fortunes of Elam**, declares the LORD.”
[Jeremiah 49:35–39]
So we see that in the proclaiming of the miracle of Purim, we are declaring a gospel truth: things will not always be as they are. There is coming a day when the Lord will reward the righteous—those who are called by and call on His name.
There is coming a day when the Lord will judge the wicked—those who have rejected His invitation. The first will be last, and the last will be first. A righteous and just King will reign in Jerusalem and restore the kingdom of God.
The nations that treated Jesus’ brothers well will be separated from the nations that mistreated Jesus’ brothers, like sheep and goats. The Jewish people will be finally and fully saved and safe from all of their enemies.
May that moment of ultimate justice, that universal reversal of this present evil age, come speedily in our days.

Amen. Maranatha.
---Bibliography/Recommended Resources---
“[Behind the Scenes of the Book of Esther…].” @oneforisrael
“[Purim]” AlephBeta.
“[Esther: Mechanics and Messianics.\_Mechanics\_and\_Messianics]”
“[Esther: A Literary Analysis…].”
“[Esther & Agag…].”

(Note: if I hadn't pitched an article on Purim, I would have just kept my annual tradition of retweeting Jame's resources on Esther which are fantastic and much more informative and in-depth than this thread. Highly recommend!)
“[The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary].” Robert Alter.

“[New Bible Commentary].” Gordon J. Wenham, J. Alec Motyer, D.A. Carson, R.T. France.
P.S. Here is the thread in article form, for those who prefer. 🙂

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