“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.” — Esther 9:22
Have you ever experienced a situation when desperate sorrow was transformed in a moment of time to unspeakable joy? Kim Abernethy, a young missionary who served with her husband Jeff at a remote mission compound in Liberia, had that happen to her.
In late March of 1990, just prior to the rebel uprising that ravaged Liberia, Jeff and Kim and the other missionaries in their area were notified by the American Embassy that Charles Taylor’s rebel forces, armed with guns and machetes, were in their vicinity and were planning an attempt to commandeer the mission compound. The missionaries were ordered to leave the area immediately, as the situation was so inflammatory that no one knew what would happen next.
Since Kim was seven months pregnant, she and her two little girls were evacuated by plane just forty-five minutes after the notification from the embassy. Arrangements were made for Jeff to load up important mission files and a few necessities, and then drive their beige Isuzu Trooper the one hundred miles to the capital city of Monrovia, where he would reconnect with his family. He would also take with him as many as possible of the Liberian Christians as possible, to remove them from the danger zone.
Kim and her girls arrived safely in Monrovia and settled into an apartment with some other missionary families to await Jeff’s arrival. However, that evening as the missionaries were eating a simple meal together, a couple of men from the Peace Corps came in. The men talked quietly to one of the missionaries, and after a few moments, that missionary came to Kim with a grave face and asked her to step away from the group. The news he gave her was devastating. Earlier that afternoon, the Peace Corps men had traveled the road that Jeff was to take between the mission station and Monrovia, and had come upon a terrible sight — a beige Isuzu Trooper askew by the side of the road, riddled with bullets. Everyone inside and outside the vehicle was dead. Due to the extreme danger, the Peace Corps men had been unable to stop and investigate further.
Kim felt like her heart would explode. Desperately calling on God for grace and composure, she managed to put her little girls to bed, and then called their families in the United States, not divulging details but asking them to pray for Jeff’s safety. Through the long night hours, she sat in the small bedroom beside her sleeping girls, claiming God’s promises in order to fight the fears that threatened to overwhelm her. Almost crumbling under the stark reality of what she might face the next day, she prayed for God’s help.
Early in the morning, as the sun began peeping over the horizon, she heard noises outside . . . the beep, beep, beep of a horn and the sound of a vehicle approaching. Could it be news? She hurried outside, and to her joy saw her husband’s Trooper coming through the gate — with no bullet holes!
She later wrote, “I remember being held back until the vehicle stopped, but as soon as Jeff stepped out of the car, I tackled him . . . crying, blubbering, talking almost incoherently. All the pent up fears and anguish of the past hours released in an array of overpowering emotions.”1 Right there, the missionaries gathered around the couple and joined in prayers of rejoicing, thanking God for His divine protection of Jeff and the other Christians with him, and praying for the families who had lost loved ones in that identical Isuzu Trooper.
Our focus verse today speaks of a time when the Jews of Persia celebrated a similar experience of sorrow turning to joy, and mourning to a good day. They had been miraculously delivered from the murderous plot of Haman, and as a result, an official feast of rejoicing was proclaimed.
As Christians, we may never encounter a time of personal crisis as dramatic as the captive Jews faced in Persia, or like Kim and Jeff faced in Liberia. However, we will encounter circumstances that try our patience, ruin our plans, and take us in unexpected directions. Still, we must trust God to provide the safety, protection, and provision we need. He may not always work in the way that we hope or assume is best, but we can be certain that He will never fail us. And one day, all challenges will be over and we will rejoice forever around His Throne!
Today’s text describes Mordecai’s institution of the annual Feast of Purim in celebration of the great deliverance of the Jewish people (verse 17-32 of chapter 9), and the continued advancement of Mordecai in the Persian Empire (chapter 10).
Esther had been faithful in what Mordecai had instructed her to do, and as a result, God delivered her and her people from those who purposed harm against them. After the fighting ended, the Jews celebrated with feasting and merriment. Mordecai recorded all of these events and sent dispatches throughout the provinces of King Ahasuerus, instructing the Jews to observe the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar (on the Jewish calendar) as a holiday.
Esther 9:17 describes the origin of the festival now known as Purim. The name is the plural form of the word pur which means “lot,” alluding to the fact that Haman had cast lots to determine the date when the extermination of the Jews would take place (see Esther 3:7).
Verses 29-32 point to a second official proclamation made by Mordecai, which instructed the Jews to include a time of fasting and mourning during the annual observance of the festival. These verses also add Queen Esther’s authority to the establishment of the decree.
To this day, Jews continue to celebrate Purim for two days in the Jewish month Adar, beginning on Wednesday evening and concluding Thursday evening. The Jewish calendar runs on a lunar cycle rather than the Gregorian calendar used by most of the world; on the Gregorian calendar, this holiday typically falls during February or March.
Purim is said to be the most joyous day of the Jewish year, and is loved by young and old. During the celebration, the entire Book of Esther is read aloud, plays are performed, gifts are given, and children dress up in a variety of costumes, including those depicting Esther, Mordecai, and even Haman. A typical cookie served during the festivities is called “hamantaschen” (meaning “Haman’s pockets”), and they are supposedly shaped like either Haman’s hat or ears.
In conclusion, the Book of Esther reinforces a principle attached to God’s covenant with the Jewish people that has never been rescinded: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
II. The deliverance of the Jews
C. The sequel to the plot (9:17 — 10:3)
1. The institution of the feast of Purim (9:17-32)
a. The joy of the Jews (9:17-19)
b. The origin and meaning of Purim (9:20-28)
c. The establishment of Purim (9:29-32)
2. The greatness of Mordecai (10:1-3)
When we go to God in prayer with an urgent need, God always hears our petition. In His perfect way and timing, His answer will come.
1. Kim Abernethy, In This Place: Cultural and Spiritual Collisions Refine the Heart of a Young Missionary in Liberia, West Africa, (USA: In Every Place Publishing, 2011).