The Feast of Purim.
B. C. 509.
20 And Mordecai wrote these things, and sent letters unto all the Jews that were in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus, both nigh and far, 21 To stablish this among them, that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar, and the fifteenth day of the same, yearly, 22 As the days wherein the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning into a good day: that they should make them days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor. 23 And the Jews undertook to do as they had begun, and as Mordecai had written unto them; 24 Because Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had devised against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur, that is, the lot, to consume them, and to destroy them; 25 But when Esther came before the king, he commanded by letters that his wicked device, which he devised against the Jews, should return upon his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. 26 Wherefore they called these days Purim after the name of Pur. Therefore for all the words of this letter, and of that which they had seen concerning this matter, and which had come unto them, 27 The Jews ordained, and took upon them, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them, so as it should not fail, that they would keep these two days according to their writing, and according to their appointed time every year; 28 And that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed. 29 Then Esther the queen, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew, wrote with all authority, to confirm this second letter of Purim. 30 And he sent the letters unto all the Jews, to the hundred twenty and seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, with words of peace and truth, 31 To confirm these days of Purim in their times appointed, according as Mordecai the Jew and Esther the queen had enjoined them, and as they had decreed for themselves and for their seed, the matters of the fastings and their cry. 32 And the decree of Esther confirmed these matters of Purim; and it was written in the book.
We may well imagine how much affected Mordecai and Esther were with the triumphs of the Jews over their enemies, and how they saw the issue of that decisive day with a satisfaction proportionable to the care and concern with which they expected it. How were their hearts enlarged with joy in God and his salvation, and what new songs of praise were put into their mouths! But here we are told what course they took to spread the knowledge of it among their people, and to perpetuate the remembrance of it to posterity, for the honour of God and the encouragement of his people to trust in him at all times.
I. The history was written, and copies of it were dispersed among all the Jews in all the provinces of the empire, both nigh and far, v. 20. They all knew something of the story, being nearly concerned in it–were by the first edict made sensible of their danger and by the second of their deliverance; but how this amazing turn was given they could not tell. Mordecai therefore wrote all these things. And if this book be the same that he wrote, as many think it is, I cannot but observe what a difference there is between Mordecai’s style and Nehemiah’s. Nehemiah, at every turn, takes notice of divine Providence and the good hand of his God upon him, which is very proper to stir up devout affections in the minds of his readers; but Mordecai never so much as mentions the name of God in the whole story. Nehemiah wrote his book at Jerusalem, where religion was in fashion and an air of it appeared in men’s common conversation; Mordecai wrote his at Shushan the palace, where policy reigned more then piety, and he wrote according to the genius of the place. Even those that have the root of the matter in them are apt to lose the savour of religion, and let their leaf wither, when they converse wholly with those that have little religion. Commend me to Nehemiah’s way of writing; that I would imitate, and yet learn from Mordecai’s that men may be truly devout though they do not abound in the shows and expressions of devotion, and therefore that we must not judge nor despise our brethren. But, because there is so little of the language of Canaan in this book, many think it was not written by Mordecai, but was an extract out of the journals of the kings of Persia, giving an account of the matter of fact, which the Jews themselves knew how to comment upon.
II. A festival was instituted, to be observed yearly from generation to generation by the Jews, in remembrance of this wonderful work which God wrought for them, that the children who should be born might know it, and declare it to their children, that they might set their hope in God, Ps. 78:6, 7. It would be for the honour of God as the protector of his people, and the honour of Israel as the care of Heaven, a confirmation of the fidelity of God’s covenant, an invitation to strangers to come into the bonds of it, and an encouragement to God’s own people cheerfully to depend upon his wisdom, power, and goodness, in the greatest straits. Posterity would reap the benefit of this deliverance, and therefore ought to celebrate the memorial of it. Now concerning this festival we are here told,
1. When it was observed–every year on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the twelfth month, just a month before the passover, v. 21. Thus the first month and the last month of the year kept in remembrance the months that were past, even the days when God preserved them. They kept two days together as thanksgiving days, and did not think them too much to spend in praising God. Let us not be niggardly in our returns of praise to him who bestows his favours so liberally upon us. Observe, They did not keep the day when they fought, but the days when they rested, and on the fifteenth those in Shushan, and both those days they kept. The sabbath was appointed not on the day that God finished his work, but on the day that he rested from it. The modern Jews observe the thirteenth day, the day appointed for their destruction, as a fasting-day, grounding the practice on v. 31, the matters of their fastings and cry. But that refers to what was in the day of their distress (ch. 4:3, 16), which was not to be continued when God had turned their fasts into joy and gladness, Zech. 8:19.
2. How it was called–The feast of Purim (v. 26), from Pur, a Persian word which signified a lot, because Haman had by lot determined this to be the time of the Jews’ destruction, but the Lord, at whose disposal the lot is, had determined it to be the time of their triumph. The name of this festival would remind them of the sovereign dominion of the God of Israel, who served his own purposes by the foolish superstitions of the heathen, and outwitted the monthly prognosticators in their own craft (Isa. 47:13), frustrating the tokens of the liars and making the diviners mad, Isa. 44:25, 26.
3. By whom it was instituted and enacted. It was not a divine institution, and therefore it is not called a holy day, but a human appointment, by which it was made a good day, v. 19, 22.
(2.) Mordecai and Esther confirmed their resolve, that it might be the more binding on posterity, and might come well recommended by those great names. They wrote,
[1.] With all authority (v. 29), as well they might, Esther being queen and Mordecai prime-minister of state. It is well when those who are in authority use their authority to authorize that which is good.
[2.] With words of peace and truth. Though they wrote with authority, they wrote with tenderness, not imperious, not imposing, but in such language as the council at Jerusalem use in their decree (Acts 15:29): “If you do so and so, you shall do well. Fare you well.” Such was the style of these letters, or such the salutation or valediction of them: Peace and truth be with you.
4. By whom it was to be observed–by all the Jews, and by their seed, and by all such as joined themselves to them, v. 27. The observance of this feast was to be both universal and perpetual; the proselytes must observe it, in token of their sincere affection to the Jewish nation and their having united interests with them. A concurrence in joys and praises is one branch of the communion of saints.
5. Why it was to be observed–that the memorial of the great things God had done for his church might never perish from their seed, v. 28. God does not work wonders for a day, but to be had in everlasting remembrance. What he does shall be forever, and therefore should for ever be had in mind, Eccl. 3:14. In this affair they would remember,
(1.) Haman’s bad practices against the church, to his perpetual reproach (v. 24): Because he had devised against the Jews to destroy them. Let this be kept in mind, that God’s people may never be secure, while they have such malicious enemies, on whom they ought to have a jealous eye. Their enemies aim at no less then their destruction; on God therefore let them depend for salvation.
(2.) Esther’s good services to the church, to her immortal honour. When Esther, in peril of her life, came before the king, he repealed the edict, v. 25. This also must be remembered, that wherever this feast should be kept, and this history read in explication of it, this which she did might be told for a memorial of her. Good deeds done for the Israel of God ought to be remembered, for the encouragement of others to do the like. God will not forget them, and therefore we must not.
(3.) Their own prayers, and the answers given to them (v. 31): The matters of their fastings and their cry. The more cries we have offered up in our trouble, and the more prayers for deliverance, the more we are obliged to be thankful to God for deliverance. Call upon me in the time of trouble, and then offer to God thanksgiving.
6. How it was to be observed. And of this let us see,
(1.) What was here enjoined, which was very good, that they should make it,
[2.] A day of generosity, sending portions one to another, in token of their pleasantness and mutual respect, and their being knit by this and other public common dangers and deliverances so much the closer to each other in love. Friends have their goods in common.
[3.] A day of charity, sending gifts to the poor. It is not to our kinsmen and rich neighbours only that we are to send tokens, but to the poor and the maimed, Luke 14:12, 13. Those that have received mercy must, in token of their gratitude, show mercy; and there never wants occasion, for the poor we have always with us. Thanksgiving and almsgiving should go together, that, when we are rejoicing and blessing God, the heart of the poor may rejoice with us and their loins may bless us.
(2.) What was added to this, which was much better. They always, at the feast, read the whole story over in the synagogue each day, and put up three prayers to God, in the first of which they praise God for counting them worthy to attend this divine service; in the second they thank him for the miraculous preservation of their ancestors; in the third they praise him that they have lived to observe another festival in memory of it. So bishop Patrick.
(3.) What it has since degenerated to, which is much worse. Their own writers acknowledge that this feast is commonly celebrated among them with gluttony, and drunkenness, and excess of riot. Their Talmud says expressly that, in the feast of Purim, a man should drink till he knows not the difference between Cursed be Haman, and Blessed be Mordecai. See what the corrupt and wicked nature of man often brings that to which was at first well intended: here is a religious feast turned into a carnival, a perfect revel, as wakes are among us. Nothing more purifies the heart and adorns religion than holy joy; nothing more pollutes the heart and reproaches religion than carnal mirth and sensual pleasure. Corruptio optimi est pessima–What is best becomes when corrupted the worst.
– Matthew Henry Commentary