As we study the book of Esther, we note that it is an important book for the Jews. The events that took place are deemed so important for them that a festival was put in place to observe and bring to mind the celebration of deliverance from the evil one (Esther 9: 20-32). The festival is called Purim and celebrated annually. Every generation, family, province and city is reminded to observe the festival. A website for tourists in Israel writes “Purim is the festival that celebrates the Jewish people in the Persian Empire’s survival in the face of destruction in the wake of a plot by Haman” (https://www.touristisrael.com/purim-in-israel/4965/).
Ever since the destruction of the Jewish life in Judea by the Romans, the Jews have known life only in exile until the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. They are a people who have known and experienced the propensity for evil resident in their exilic world, through persecution of various kinds resulting in the loss of life, property and even the entire community. From the time of Esther, they have experienced the horrors of Haman’s evil plan on many occasions. One can only recount what Hitler did in the concentration camps of Auschwitz. He succeeded in the Holocaust to annihilate 6 million Jews out of the 7 million Jews that lived in Europe then. Sadly, there were no Mordecais or Esthers to save them from Hitler. In other words, there was no deliverance for the 6 million Jews. All they had was faith in the providence (of God), as recorded in Esther 4:14 that “relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews”. Relief and deliverance did come although many perished. As one writer puts it, “Purim celebrates the fact that the Holocaust, for all its tragedy and horror, has meant neither the end of Judaism nor the end of the Jews!”
Each Purim requires the retelling of the story, the story of their ancestors’ experience so that in hearing the story of crisis and deliverance, they may recapture the joy that the festival celebrates and remembers.
A blessing that is recited before the reading of the Scroll of Esther in the Purim service reads:
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has hallowed us with his laws and commanded us to read the Scroll (scroll of Esther)
Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old at this season.
Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us in life and sustained us and brought us to this sacred season.
Today we are threatened and shaken out of our comfort zones by the Corona Virus situation. In the news or in real life, we have read and seen how many people reacted when the DORSCON level was raised to orange. Out of fear, some people started buying many essential things, more than what was required. It is an irony that when the advisory was given to avoid crowds, people would crowd to supermarkets to buy things in bulk so that they can avoid crowds in future. This is what fear does. Fear makes people think for themselves and in their own abilities. Fear does not care if our neighbours are in need of toilet papers, rice or noodles.
Deep down, every one of us wants to live and preserve this life. Rightly so because as responsible people, we do what we can so that we can protect ourselves from catching the virus and spreading it further. But it does not mean we are immortal. We will all eventually die. But we have been saved from the ‘wages of sin’ through Christ. We have been promised eternal life in Christ Jesus so that we can exercise faith no matter what happens to this mortal life. Meanwhile, just like the Jews we are called to celebrate and remember our ultimate deliverance from sin.
As believers, every Sunday as we come together to worship, we retell the story of what God has done for us. We hear God’s word being read and preached to us. We sing of God’s goodness, faithfulness and what He has done for us through Christ on the cross. We recapture the joy of Jesus being raised to life, ultimately defeating sin on the cross. We pray as a community that “relief and deliverance” would come for the believers and even extend to non-believers so that they might be saved from their sins too! And we go forth in faith to do what has been entrusted to us through His word.
Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Apparently, some Jewish prisoners while in captivity were able to reproduce the whole book of Esther from memory because they have been listening and hearing it during their annual Purim festivals. And it helped them cope in whatever situation they were in. Today, we also hear of Chinese believers being able to recite many portions of the Bible from memory even as they go through persecution.
What have we heard about God? If the situation changes for worse and we are unable to gather for worship, what can we remember about our great God? Will we still have faith? Will we be able to testify of God’s faithfulness saying, “Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us in life and sustained us and brought us to this sacred season”?
Believers need not fear because we have faith in a God who is real and has kept His promises not only to the Jews but for all who believe in His name. Faith, unlike fear, is knowing that God is real and that we can trust in His promises. When I told my son that God does not change and will keep His promises, he exclaimed, “Thank God that daddy is not God because he cannot remember his promise to let me play on the computer!” Indeed! Thank God that none of us is God! Michael Ramsdem succinctly puts it “Our faith does not make God real. Faith is a response to a real God who has made Himself known.”
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” May we display faith for such a time as this.
Pr Loliro Sani
February 16, 2020