Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through the book of Esther in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This series is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.
- David Dunham opened the series by looking at Esther chapter one.
- David Dunham looked at Esther chapter two.
- Dave looked at Esther chapter 3.
- Zach looked at Esther chapter 4.
- Dave wrote on Esther 5.
- Dave wrote on Esther 6.
- Dave wrote on Esther 7.
- Dave wrote on Esther 8.
- Today Dave writes on Esther 9 and 10.
Esther 9:1, “Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.”
Great literature is filled with great reversals. Take Shakespeare’s plays, for example. Whether it is a tragedy like Romeo and Juliet, where the characters’ blossoming prospects of love and happiness are dashed and turned to sorrow, or a comedy like Twelfth Night, where impending disaster is averted and it all turns out happily in the end, there is almost always a dramatic turn in the course of events.
The Book of Esther is, as we have seen, similarly built around a great reversal of fortunes. Whether Esther is a tragedy or a comedy depends on one’s perspective. For Haman and his allies, it is a great tragedy, as all of their schemes to triumph over the hated Jews come to nothing. For Esther, Mordecai, and the community of God’s people, however, it is a comedy in every sense, with the transformation from imminent disaster to a situation where everyone may live happily ever after and laugh at earlier fears.
A Reversal Declared
This theme of reversal becomes explicit in the very first verse of Esther 9: “Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them” (Esth. 9:1). Finally, the day of decision for the Jewish community in the Persian Empire had dawned on the thirteenth of Adar. The conflicting edicts of Haman and Mordecai against and in favor of God’s people were now put into play, raising the question of which edict would win the day. The writer doesn’t leave us in suspense for long. On the contrary, he tells us at the very outset how the day turned out: the tables were turned. Those who had hoped to dominate and destroy the Jews were themselves destroyed. Suspense has been deliberately eliminated so that the writer can highlight the main point of the chapter: a reversal has been brought about in the fortunes of God’s people. The end of the story shows those who had been powerless, the Jews, in complete power, dominant over their enemies on the very day when their enemies had hoped to be dominant over them. After this verse, the rest of the book is wrap-up.
That it is wrap-up, however, does not mean that it is unimportant. The lengthy denouement to the story shows us three things: it describes the reversal in detail (Esth. 9:2–16), it shows how the reversal is to be celebrated in perpetuity (Esther 9:17–32), and then, in a concluding postscript (Esther 10:1–3), it invites us to reconsider the reversal’s ultimate impact.
A Reversal Described
First we have the outworking of the reversal described in detail:
Esth. 9:2–10, “The Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm. And no one could stand against them, for the fear of them had fallen on all peoples. All the officials of the provinces and the satraps and the governors and the royal agents also helped the Jews, for the fear of Mordecai had fallen on them. For Mordecai was great in the king’s house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces, for the man Mordecai grew more and more powerful. The Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them. In Susa the citadel itself the Jews killed and destroyed 500 men, and also killed Parshandatha and Dalphon and Aspatha and Poratha and Adalia and Aridatha and Parmashta and Arisai and Aridai and Vaizatha, the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, but they laid no hand on the plunder.”
Israel’s victory was nothing short of comprehensive, as the extensive detail shows. All the Persian officials and royal bureaucracy supported the Jews out of the fear of Mordecai. His position ensured the success of his edict, rather than that of the disgraced and deposed Haman. As a result, the Jews were free to slaughter and destroy all their enemies, just as their enemies had planned to do to them. In the acropolis of Susa, the center of power in the empire, they killed five hundred men in one day. The large number slain within the acropolis itself highlights the extent of the opposition to the Jews in positions of influence and power. Included in the slaughter were all ten of Haman’s sons, whose importance is highlighted by listing each and every one of their names. The holy war against this Agagite had been carried through effectively, unlike King Saul’s half-hearted assault on his ancestor (1 Sam. 15). Haman had no seed left to carry on his unholy war against the seed of the Jews. With the death of his sons, the loss of his position, and the confiscation of his estate in the previous chapter, all of the things in which Haman boasted in Esther 5 are now gone, along with his own life.
Nor was a single day enough for a victory of this magnitude. When the information of the scale of the slaughter in his capital came to Ahasuerus, he seemed more impressed than perturbed by the news: “That very day the number of those killed in Susa the citadel was reported to the king. And the king said to Queen Esther, ‘In Susa the citadel the Jews have killed and destroyed 500 men and also the ten sons of Haman. What then have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces! Now what is your wish? It shall be granted you. And what further is your request? It shall be fulfilled’ ” (Esth. 9:11–12). In fact, the king was so impressed that he repeated, unsolicited, his offer to Esther to grant her petition and her request. Whatever she wanted would be given to her—and what she wanted was not a fur coat or a diamond, but more time for pressing the destruction of those who had organized themselves against the people of God. Esther requested one more day for the Jews to carry out the edict, and for the sons of Haman to receive dishonor as well as death: “And Esther said, ‘If it please the king, let the Jews who are in Susa be allowed tomorrow also to do according to this day’s edict. And let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows.’ So the king commanded this to be done. A decree was issued in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged” (Esth. 9:13–14). This too was part of the practice of holy war, as it had been carried out by Joshua: the leaders of the defeated enemies were not only killed, but their bodies were also hung on trees as a sign of their being under God’s curse (Josh. 8:29; 10:26).
Was this additional day of killing a vindictive and vengeful gesture on Esther’s part, or merely a pragmatic and realistic attempt to secure the position of the Jewish people? In fact, it was neither. What Esther was doing was pressing through toward completion the practice of holy war against the self-declared enemies of God. That this was her understanding of what was going on is made abundantly clear by the refrain repeated at the end of verse 15: “The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they killed 300 men in Susa, but they laid no hands on the plunder” (Esth. 9:15; cf. 9:10, 16). Even though Mordecai’s edict had permitted the taking of plunder, which was merely normal practice in warfare, the Jews refrained from enriching themselves through this conflict because it was holy war, so the spoils were not theirs to take. The same reserve was shown by the Jews in the countryside around the empire, who likewise took part in the war against God’s enemies but kept themselves from the spoil: “Now the rest of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also gathered to defend their lives, and got relief from their enemies and killed 75,000 of those who hated them, but they laid no hands on the plunder” (Esth. 9:16). Once again, the failures of King Saul’s campaign against Agag were being reversed (1 Sam. 15:14–19). The end result that flowed from the events initially set in motion by Haman’s edict was that God’s enemies were comprehensively defeated throughout the empire. Instead of being destroyed, as Haman intended, God’s people received rest from those who hated them. The world was indeed turned upside down.
A Reversal Celebrated
It was not enough to win the victory, however; the victory also had to be celebrated. Sometimes in the closing moments of a sporting event, the commentator will say, “It’s all over but the shouting.” The saying means that the action on the field of play is effectively finished; all that remains as the clock winds down is the celebration in the stands. The shouting is also an important part of the victory in holy war. The shouting provides the opportunity to give praise where praise is due, and go on record with thankfulness to God for victory won and rest received. So it was that after the Egyptians and their chariots were buried in the Red Sea, Moses led the people in a song of praise to God (Ex. 15). So also, after the victories at Jericho and Ai, Joshua led the people in covenant renewal at Mount Ebal (Josh. 8:30–35). And after the Lord delivered his people under Deborah, she led them in thanksgiving (Judg. 5). Indeed, many of the psalms are psalms of acknowledgement, in which the psalmist records his thanks publicly for God’s deliverance. In some cases, thanksgiving became a lasting ordinance. The most striking example is Passover, the annual festival at which God’s people were commanded to remind themselves and their children of God’s protection during the final plague and his deliverance of them from Egypt (Ex. 12).
These unique and repeated festivals of thanksgiving provide the context and background against which to read the story of the establishment of Purim:
Esth. 9:17–19, “This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that a day of feasting and gladness. But the Jews who were in Susa gathered on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and rested on the fifteenth day, making that a day of feasting and gladness. Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the rural towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and as a day on which they send gifts of food to one another.”
Seen against the backdrop of other Old Testament festivals, the horizontal aspects of the festival of Purim are striking. It was established as an ordinance by edicts from Esther and Mordecai, not from God:
And Mordecai recorded these things and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, obliging them to keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same, year by year, as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor.…
Then Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew gave full written authority, confirming this second letter about Purim. Letters were sent to all the Jews, to the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, in words of peace and truth, that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther obligated them, and as they had obligated themselves and their offspring, with regard to their fasts and their lamenting. The command of Queen Esther confirmed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing. (Esth. 9:20–22, 29–32)
In the festival of Purim the Jews, both far and near, bound themselves to feast, rejoice, and give presents to one another and gifts to the poor. This celebration was to endure forever, rather like the laws of the Medes and the Persians, which never pass away. What the people were to remember was Haman’s plot and the king’s intervention to deliver them:
So the Jews accepted what they had started to do, and what Mordecai had written to them. For Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur (that is, cast lots), to crush and to destroy them. But when it came before the king, he gave orders in writing that his evil plan that he had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore they called these days Purim, after the term Pur. Therefore, because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them, the Jews firmly obligated themselves and their offspring and all who joined them, that without fail they would keep these two days according to what was written and at the time appointed every year, that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every clan, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants. (Esth. 9:23–28)
Nowhere in any of these instructions do we find any obvious word about God’s people binding themselves to praise God for his deliverance and remind their children of this demonstration of God’s faithfulness, as was central to a feast like Passover. It seems as if they could have obeyed Mordecai and Esther’s edict to the letter and gone through the whole day without thinking about God even once. Just as with their lamenting and fasting in chapter 4, the vertical dimension seems to have been absent from their praise. They could simply give their neighbor an “Esther is the Reason for the Season” T-shirt and settle down on the couch for a big meal.
Does that make celebrating the feast of Purim wrong? Does the writer want his hearers to abandon the festival as being an unauthorized feast? Almost certainly not. After all, the heart of the feast of Purim, as the Bible reports it, was exactly right. It was a memorial of the time when the Jews got rest from their enemies, when their sorrow was turned to joy and their mourning to celebration (Esth. 9:22). The theme of gaining rest from one’s enemies is a motif with rich overtones in the Old Testament. It was a prerequisite for the building of the temple in Deuteronomy 12:10 and the sign of the completion of the conquest under Joshua (Josh. 11:23). These themes came together in 2 Samuel 7, where as the Lord established David’s kingdom and gave him rest from his enemies, the king started thinking about building the temple. How could anyone possibly remember the turning around of darkness into light and the receiving of rest from one’s enemies without thinking about God? How could anyone possibly celebrate Purim without seeing what God had done? The poor who are raised from the dust and the needy who are lifted out of the ash heap and seated with princes should need little urging to join in praising the Lord (Ps. 113:5–9).
This is particularly true if we read more carefully what Mordecai actually wrote in his letter to the Jews establishing Purim. Esther 9:24–25 literally says: “For Haman, the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and he had cast the Pur (that is, the lot) to harass them and to destroy them. But when it came before the king, he said in writing, ‘Let his evil plot which he has plotted against the Jews return upon his head’—so they impaled him and his sons upon the tree.” These verses have caused commentators some difficulty, because they raise the question, “When exactly did Ahasuerus issue this supposed decree to deliver the Jews and return Haman’s evil upon his own head?” This version doesn’t seem to square exactly with the portrayal of events in the previous chapters, in which it was Mordecai who issued the decree that saved the Jews, without much assistance from King Ahasuerus. This observation has led some scholars to think that what we have in Esther 9 is a “cleaned-up,” public version of events, designed to give more credit to Ahasuerus than was really his due. But perhaps the jarring mismatch between the letter and the events of the story is actually a hint to think more deeply about which king is in view in Mordecai’s letter. Ahasuerus’s name is nowhere in the letter, because it was not Ahasuerus that really saved the Jews, and he was not the king whose intervention changed the course of history! It was the Great King, God himself, who reversed the fortunes of Haman and the fortunes of the Jews. His decrees, written in the heavenly scrolls, were the ones that really could not be reversed! So Mordecai’s letter could be read by the Persians as glorifying King Ahasuerus, but the alert reader was pointed to a higher hand.
The trouble with annual festivals is that in the midst of the busyness of organizing the celebration, alertness can easily go out of the window. Just how easy it is to celebrate the turning of darkness into light and the receiving of rest without ever thinking about the God who accomplished them becomes clear every year as December rolls around. Crowds of people hear songs that declare the message of the incarnation far more clearly than the hidden message of Mordecai’s letter. They join in singing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” without ever thinking in the slightest about why the world should rejoice. We too may send presents to one another and give gifts to the poor, through donations to the Salvation Army and toy drives for charity. We too may feast and celebrate, year after year, without fail. We don’t even need to bind ourselves to obey an edict from our community leaders, since the advertisers ensure the seasonal focus far wider and more intensive coverage than Mordecai’s imperial messengers could ever have done! Yet in all of the getting and giving, in all of the eating and feasting, where is God? Do we remember exactly what we are supposed to be celebrating? In the midst of celebrating the coming of light into the world to transform our darkness, have we completely forgotten who that light is and how that reversal was accomplished?
It is the same with all our other annual celebrations: Thanksgiving, Easter, New Year, even our birthdays. In the midst of all of the busyness of celebrating, in all of the feasting and giving, where is God? Do we remember the one who in love has redeemed us from futility and death? Do we stop to give thanks where thanks is really due, to our gracious heavenly Father? When we celebrate life’s good times, we so easily forget the greatest gift of all.
A Reversal Reconsidered
The edict to celebrate the feast of Purim forever is not the end of the story though. Tacked on the end, rather awkwardly, is the little postscript of chapter 10:
King Ahasuerus imposed tax on the land and on the coastlands of the sea. And all the acts of his power and might, and the full account of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people. (Esth. 10:1–3)
What are these verses doing there? How do they round out the story? They serve to put into perspective the great reversal of the Book of Esther by showing us how much remained unchanged after all.
The postscript starts out with the notice that King Ahasuerus imposed tribute throughout the empire, to its most distant shores. Mordecai the Jew and Esther, daughter of Abihail, might now be the ones writing the edicts in Haman’s place but Ahasuerus was still king. His own personal interests remained paramount, no matter what the cost to his loyal subjects.
Some commentators try to put a positive spin on the notice of new taxation by seeing a parallel with the taxes Joseph imposed on the Egyptian economy after he was elevated to power (Gen. 47:13–26). For them, the point is that doing the right thing by the Jews is actually good for the royal economy. However, it is one thing to celebrate the taxation of the hated Egyptians and quite another to be happy about a new imposition on your own back! This is especially true when it is clear that the money raised will not be spent on education and the public welfare of the people, but on the personal interests and whims of the emperor. If the emperor was really short of cash, he could always have melted down one or two of the couches we were shown in his gardens in Esther 1. In fact, the imposition of taxes on the empire is itself another reversal, but this time a negative one. At the time of Esther’s coronation as queen, there was a general remission of taxes (Esth. 2:18). Now, even though Esther is more queen than ever, the earlier blessings are reversed. The more things change, the more they stay the same in the empire of Ahasuerus.
This brief notice invites us to go back and reconsider the extent of the reversal that has happened for the Jews. Yes, the Jews have received rest from their enemies all around … except for one enemy, Ahasuerus himself. It was his callous indifference that enabled Haman’s edict to be signed into law in the first place, because he believed his vizier’s statement that it was not in his best interests to give this people rest (i.e. leave them alone; Esth. 3:8). Haman received his just deserts, and God the Great King intervened to give His people the rest that King Ahasuerus would have denied them. King Ahasuerus himself remained untouched, however. He was still in charge, still exercising his power and might in his own interests.
That being the case, the present fate of God’s people rested on Mordecai. It was surely good news for God’s people that now Mordecai was second in rank to Ahasuerus, in a place where he was able to seek good for his people and speak peace to all his seed. The position once filled by the enemy of the Jews was now occupied by their friend. This was good news, but it was not yet the best of news. When they truly have rest from their enemies all around, their king will surely no longer be named Ahasuerus, but will be a king who embodies the virtues described in Psalm 72, especially the pursuit of justice and righteousness. True rest would come when the one who seeks their good and speaks their peace is not second in rank to anyone, but himself reigns as the true king. In other words, the text itself shows us that the great reversal of the Book of Esther is not yet the Great Reversal of full redemption. It was a great deliverance, to be sure, but any deliverance that rests on the influence of a single individual who must inevitably grow old and die, in an empire that has not been radically transformed, is at best only partial and temporary. We need a greater reversal yet, one which results in the coming of the true King, the Prince of Peace, whose reign will never end!
The Greatest Reversal
The feast of Purim, when properly understood, is more than just a reminder to God’s people of his past ability to intervene decisively even while remaining hidden to all but the eye of faith. It also pointed beyond itself to show us the need for a greater deliverance yet to come. The events celebrated by Esther’s generation and their descendants provided a foreshadowing within history of the judgment of the wicked and the deliverance of God’s people, but neither of these was comprehensively accomplished. More than seventy-five thousand of the enemies of God’s people were slain, while Mordecai and Esther rose to positions of considerable influence and power. Yet at the same time, one of the people most directly responsible for their danger, King Ahasuerus, escaped scot-free. God’s people near and far rightly celebrated their deliverance from immediate extinction, but at the end of the day, the power of the empire was left largely intact.
What we have not yet seen in Esther’s day, then, is the complete fulfillment of the ancient prophecy: “Peace, peace, to those far and near,’ says the Lord. ‘And I will heal them.’ But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked’ ” (Isa. 57:19–21). In the Book of Esther we see the tossing sea temporarily driven back through God’s grace and providence, but not yet finally stilled. That awaited the coming of one greater even than Mordecai, one who would be the Prince of Peace, for whom Isaiah looked. This coming one would still the raging sea of wickedness once and for all, and would proclaim full and final peace to those who were far away and peace to those who were near (Eph. 2:17).
Yet He did so not by waging comprehensive holy war on the historic enemies of God’s people, the Gentiles, and destroying them utterly, but rather by destroying the ancient enmity between them and God (Eph. 2:14). He came not as a mighty warrior but as the Prince of Peace. In Christ, former Amalekites and Jews are now brought together into the glorious peace that flows to the one new people of God. Yet our peace has a great cost. Peace was established for us by God declaring holy war on His own Son. This is what was happening on the cross: God the Father laid upon His Son Jesus the guilt of all the sins of those who would become his people. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 put it, “[God] made him to be sin who knew no sin.” Having laid our sin on His shoulders, God the Father then poured out the full measure of His wrath against sin upon Him. All of the ugliness and pain of the entire history of holy war were concentrated into six hours of awful agony and the burning darkness of the cross. His body was not merely tortured and brutalized by the Romans to the point of death, but was exposed to cosmic shame by being hung on the cross. Like Haman and his sons, Jesus’ body was hung on a tree, the ultimate sign of God’s judgment curse (Deut. 21:23). On the cross Jesus fully bore God’s curse upon our sin. Why? So that we might receive peace through His righteousness and have rest from all our guilt and sin and access into the life-giving presence of God.
Becoming Purim People
What a difference understanding our forgiveness in Christ makes in our lives. Now we have peace with God. We have a peace that transcends any peace this world has to offer because it rests not on a Mordecai to plead our case before a king like Ahasuerus, but on Jesus, who brings us constantly into the presence of the King of kings. Jesus is the one who seeks our good and speaks peace to us as His seed (Esth. 10:3).
To be sure, life often still looks as it did in the days of Mordecai and Esther, and we are tempted to respond in the same way as the Jews of their generation did, without reference to God. At times, we appear to be in the midst of the tossing sea and in danger of being overwhelmed by the mire and the mud. Perhaps a Haman seems to be in control of our personal destiny, and so we weep and wail. Then things turn around and a Mordecai or an Esther appears for us and life becomes better, so we feast and celebrate and say to one another, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” Studying our patterns of feasting and fasting may reveal where our priorities and hopes lie. But the eye of faith is constantly looking beyond the visible circumstances of this world to the unseen heavenly reality, where even now Christ is enthroned for us.
The Book of Esther calls us to analyze our fasting and our feasting to help us diagnose our hearts. What things cast us down to the depths of despair? What things lift us up to the heights of exultation? Even the way we celebrate the festivals of our religious calendar—such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter—can be a powerful diagnostic tool. What do we have to have to make these celebrations “right”? What things cause us anxiety and stress every year because we are nervous that they won’t get done? Do we have to have a large pile of presents at Christmas? Do we have to have certain foods cooked just right at Thanksgiving? Do we require the presence of certain family members around the table at Easter? For many people, there are things that they are inordinately stressed out about each year, because they feel that everything has to be just right.
Why does the level of domestic stress rise dramatically over the holiday period? It is because the festival itself exposes our idolatries. It is not just our festival tantrums that expose our hearts, though. Even our seasonal feelings of happiness and satisfaction may expose our hearts. It is not just the worst Thanksgiving ever, when we burn the turkey and throw a plate, which shows our trust is placed in the wrong thing. It may even be the best Christmas of our lives, when everything we put on the table is perfect, and our spouse bought us the most thoughtful present ever. Is that all it takes for the festival to satisfy our hearts? Is our definition of the best festival ever really so horizontal that it holds no need for God’s work of creating gladness in our souls? Our hearts are sometimes condemned by what we rejoice in, as well as what we worry about.
How then might we celebrate these feasts properly? To be sure, Christmas and Easter are not commanded in Scripture, to be celebrated on a particular day at a particular time of year. We cannot insist that Christians celebrate the incarnation on or around December 25, or that we celebrate the resurrection on a particular Sunday in the spring. The date is not important. But if the reversal of Purim was worth celebrating annually, as a reminder of God’s intervention in history, how much more should those who understand the Greatest Reversal of all celebrate. How much more should we find ourselves on our knees with thankfulness to God, not simply that life has gone well for us this year (if it has), but because death has been transformed into life for us in Christ. With the birth of Christ, light has come into the world, a light that can never be extinguished. Through the death of Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, peace has definitively been given to us, a peace that no circumstances can ever add to or take away from. In Christ, we have rest from all our efforts to win God’s favor in our own strength, a resting on his righteousness given to us as a free gift. Don’t forget the real significance of the feast in the midst of the seasonal busyness!
But don’t forget to feast either! We have something to celebrate at these festivals. There is nothing wrong with exchanging gifts and hanging seasonal decorations at Christmas, enjoying turkeys and pies along with an abundance of other good things at Thanksgiving, decorating eggs and eating lamb at Easter. We should celebrate God’s goodness to us as God’s people have always done, with good food and good fellowship. In the midst of that fellowship, though, don’t just invite neighbors and friends to share the joy. Remember those who are poor, both those who are poor in things and those who are poor before God. Our times of feasting should be times for sharing with the less fortunate, for looking out for the lonely, for welcoming outcasts and strangers into our families. These are times of special opportunity for sharing the gospel good news with those who have never heard it, rich or poor, that they too may receive God’s peace. These are times for pointing all to Christ, the true light of the world, the true Prince of Peace. The celebration of his birth, the opening move in the greatest reversal of all, is something that will truly never pass away, until his kingdom comes in all its fullness. The celebration of his death and resurrection, the climax of God’s plan of salvation, is something that Christians will never tire of observing, until he returns again in his glory.
Indeed, we have something to celebrate every Sunday as we gather together with God’s people. The Puritans who refused to celebrate Christmas and Easter annually did so not because they were against celebration. On the contrary, they wanted to stress the fact that we celebrate the Great Reversal every Lord’s Day as we gather with His people. For them, every Sunday was Christmas, every Sunday was Easter, every Sunday was Thanksgiving. There should constantly be a note of celebration and joy in our worship too, for we remember the death from which we have been spared. A somber tone may be appropriate for a funeral, but not for a feast day! Our tongues should be filled with such rejoicing that we can hardly wait to burst into songs of praise to celebrate the great victory that our God has won for us, turning death into life, darkness into light, the prospect of hell into the assurance of heaven.
The kingdom of Ahasuerus has passed away, though the evil empire still remains around us in different forms. Here on earth, we are constantly still involved in a life-and-death struggle with the forces of evil. But it will not always be so. The Day is coming when our King will return to claim His throne and the days of the evil empire will end. The Day is coming when the angels will cry out at last, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). On that day, we too, like the elders in heaven, will fall on our faces and cry out, “Worthy is God the Father and the Lamb that was slain, by whose blood we have been redeemed for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (see Rev. 5:9). To which, all creation will simply add, “Amen!”