The Feast of Purim
March 22nd, 1970 @ 10:50 AM
THE FEAST OF PURIM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-22-70 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor first inviting all of our people to the fifty-first year that we have conducted services in a downtown theatre, and ever since the Palace Theatre has been built, we have had our services there. They are at high noon each day, beginning tomorrow. The message tomorrow is entitled We Believe in God; on Tuesday, We Believe in Christ; on Wednesday, We Believe in the Bible; and on Thursday, We Believe in the Judgment; and on Friday, We Believe in the Atonement. These things we believe. And could I say to our members, we are hosts to the city of Dallas in those unusual and God blessed services? And you be there if at all possible, from twelve o’clock to about twelve thirty-five or forty.
Now as you know, this is the Feast of Purim, a time when our Jewish people celebrate an unusual and significant deliverance. I was asked if I would not preach on that Feast of Purim, which is the story in the Book of Esther. I’ve never done anything like that. So I said I would try. And being a beautiful book in the Bible, I pray God will bless its message to our Jewish people, God’s chosen family, and to us.
Haven’t you read, haven’t you heard, don’t you hear it everywhere? These pockets of poverty and these ghettos on the wrong side of the railroad track or in a section of squalor and filth and dirt in the city, that these are the breeding places of crime, and violence, and armed robbery, and rape. And the sociologist comes by, and he is repeated like a refrain by your editors and your commentators and your politicians, “What is needed to solve the criminal problem in America and what is needed to rid ourselves of all of those acts of violence and assault is to upgrade these people; for the solution,” they say, “lies in affluence, in economic amelioration. And if we can raise the economic level of these people, put them in palaces and give them all of the accouterments of wealth, then we have done with the problem of crime and of violence.” Good. Let’s look at that.
Here in the Bible we are first introduced in the first chapter of Esther to a man by the name of Ahasuerus [Esther 1:1]. From Persian – he was the king of the Medo-Persian Empire – from Persian, into Hebrew, into English, his name comes out Ahasuerus. From Persian into Greek, into English, his name comes out Xerxes. His father was the Darius who led the Persian armies in the invasion of Greece and who was defeated at the battle of Marathon. His son is this Xerxes, who gathered a host like the sands of the sea for number. He’s the one that scourged and whipped the Hellespont because it blew away his bridges. He’s the one that built a throne to watch Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans destroyed at the Battle of Thermopylae. He is the one that built another high throne to see his fleets destroy the ships of Greece; but who under Themistocles destroyed the whole Persian fleet from off the Mediterranean Aegean Sea. This is that Ahasuerus.
He lived in a golden palace. Would you not think according to these sociologists that a man who lived in a golden palace would live in a veritable sanctuary? This man sleeps on a golden couch [Esther 1:6]. Would you not think according to the sociologists that a man who sleeps on a golden couch would rise to all manner of benefactions? This man drinks out of a golden cup [Esther 1:7]. Would you not suppose according to the sociologist that a man who drinks out of a golden cup would be a paragon of virtue and excellence? This man eats off of a silver platter. Would you not suppose according to the sociologist that the man who eats off of a silver platter would be a man who walks in marvelous rectitude before his people? I open the book to the first chapter of Esther, and that palace is worse than a stable; and Ahasuerus and his one hundred twenty-seven provincial governors are as filthy and as dirty as if they lived in a pigsty. Would you not have thought that the men who were gathered in this great national convocation would have left it as heroes and chieftains of virtue and excellence? But rather they reel from it; they stagger from it like half beasts and half demons.
Isn’t that funny? They teach us these things, and all the time the only difference in a poor man and a rich man if he’s a thief, if he’s a poor man he’s a poor thief, if he’s a rich man he’s a rich thief. But whether he’s poor or whether he’s rich, if he’s a thief he’s a thief, whether he’s rich or whether he’s poor. The poor man may be with a gun, plotting the robbery of a 7-Eleven store; but the rich man, if he’s a thief, will be plotting to cheat his stockholders out of all of their investments. They’re just the same. Yet they would persuade us that the difference in crime and virtue is a difference in economics. God says that’s a lie; and human history says that’s a lie!
The Lord Jesus said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things that he possesseth” [Luke 12:15]. And there is no record in human history that riches, and wealth, and affluence, and material possession ever raises the moral rectitude and virtue of the people. In fact, if I can read history at all, I would say that as long as those Romans were virtuous and hard-working people that they were able to expand, conquer; but when the affluence of the provinces of the Roman Empire that surrounded the Mediterranean Sea poured their wealth in the city of Rome, it found itself in a morass, and it bogged down in depravity, and luxury, and wanton immorality. And that’s exactly what happened here in the first chapter of the Book of Esther [Esther 1:1-9]. The king, Ahasuerus, and his princes have given themselves to voluptuous iniquity and to compromising carnality; and that’s the scene as the book opens. I don’t charge anything for that, that’s just free.
And of course, as you know, the men in their drinking and in their debauchery and in their orgy, they are like all other men. There’s not a day that goes by that you don’t see this in the men here in the city of Dallas. We want to have the accouterments of a stag party; “So bring on the queen, beautiful, beautiful woman, that we may look upon her beauty.” Doesn’t change; that’s the way it was then, that’s the way it is today in the city of Dallas. And some of my own men I’ve had others say, “Did you know I saw one of your deacons down there on the front row at that stag party?” Wouldn’t that thrill your heart? See, they’re just the same: human depravity, whether it’s in Ahauerus and his princes, or whether it’s in the First Baptist Church, it’s just all the same, all the same. Pretty hard for anyone of us to lift up ourselves and point a finger at anybody else; just all the same. “Bring on the queen that we may behold her beauty.” And God bless her, whoever Vashti was, she refused, “I will not do it” [Esther 1:10-12]. And that’s why it was that they chose another queen [Esther 2:15-17].
Well, we are now introduced to the second man here. He is a prince, and he is elevated by the king of the whole world, for the civilized world was in his hands [Esther 3:1]. And he was an absolute despot, an Oriental monarch. And for no reason at all that I can see, he elevated this prince, whose name is Haman, he elevated him to be second in the kingdom [Esther 3:1]. But he was a little man; and the mark of a little man is he expects the fawning sycophancy of all of those around him. So when Haman walked out in the streets, he expected all of the subjects of the kingdom to fall flat on their faces before him; the great Haman is walking by [Esther 3:2]. A little statue needs a high pedestal upon which to display itself; so little Haman needs the sycophantic genuflection of all of the people in order to feel himself important.
Same kind of a story––and I repeat human nature doesn’t change––that’s where the story of William Tell came from in Switzerland. In the 1300s there was an Austrian duke, ruler of Switzerland, by the name of Gessler; he put his hat on a pole in Altdorf. And when people passed by just his hat, they were to bow and remove their hats and bare their heads. And there was a Swiss citizen of Altdorf by the name of William Tell who put his arm around his boy and refused to bow. How do you like that? He refused to bow. And in Shushan, or Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire, there was an employee of the government, a Jew by the name of Mordecai, and when all of the citizens of Shushan bowed down when Haman passed by, Mordecai stood straight up [Esther 3:2]. A little man is big in his vengeful spirit. And not only against Mordecai himself did he avow injury and evil, but he avowed it against the whole family and the whole race to which Mordecai belongs [Esther 3:3-6].
There’s always something of justification in a man’s reasoning for the confiscation of the property of these people. They’re industrious; and wherever they are, whether in Israel or in Germany or in Russia or in the United States, wherever those people are, they work and they prosper, and they’re industrious, and they become affluent. That happened, as it always has through the generations, in the Medo-Persian Empire. And this man Haman, when he thought of the destruction of those people, he thought of the tremendous properties that would be appraised when he destroyed those families [Esther 3:2-6]. You see, Hitler had a reason for his anti-Semitism: it was an excuse to bring into the coffers of their Fuhrer, the millions and millions and millions of dollars that were confiscated when the Jewish people were destroyed in Nazi Germany; there was a reason for it.
You know, it’s a strange thing about people. Wherever they are that way, there’s always a big worm that eats at the heart. I don’t know why except God made it that way; there’s always a black drop in the blood stream. Look at Haman: he was superstitious. I have a little comment to make to you about that: the less religion you have the more superstitious you are; and that’s a general rule that you’ll never see violated. For example, I used to wonder where under high heaven are the people who read these astrological forecasts. They’re published everyday in the papers. Why, I said, “There’s nobody read those. Why, we are Christian people, we love God; we’ve been saved. We’ve been delivered.” So I asked, “Why in the earth do you men who edit the daily newspapers of Dallas and everywhere else, everyday you faithfully print an astrological forecast?”
These people who gaze at the stars and think up there in that planetary system they find all those auspicious and propitious moments when they’re to do so and so, or not to do so; why, I said, “That’s impossible.” And do you know what the editors told me? They said that “We know this is inanity; but, if we dare to take that out, there is no thing that is separated from the paper that will raise a greater outcry than if we take out of the paper these astrological forecasts.” Well, I thought, “Dear me, I gotta go to preaching again.” Oh, the less you know God and the less you’ve got religion and the less you are spiritually inclined, the more superstitious you are; you just put that down in everybody’s life. He’s got a hang up on something.
And Haman was. So, he was looking for a propitious day and a propitious month in which to destroy Israel. And he casts lots, Purim plural; Pur one lot, Purim, Purim, plural for lots; he cast lots in order to find the right month. He cast lots until he found the right month, and he cast lots until he found the right day. And as God had it, the month was the twelfth one; and they were casting lots in the first one [Esther 3:6-7]. So that’s the first evidence of the providence of God: there is time, there is time. Now, oh we must hasten.
Mordecai the Jew; why didn’t Mordecai bow? [Esther 3:2]. He explained to Haman that he was a Jew and he didn’t worship but God [Esther 3:4]. How do you like that? I say that’s great! And these people who bow down before a man and kiss his hand, to me, are the antithesis of what God expects in a Christian believer and disciple of the true Jehovah up there in heaven. We are not to bow before any man. And this man Mordecai said to Haman, explained to him, that he was a Jew and didn’t worship or bow before anyone but God. You know what my observation of most people is? They’d bow down to a dog if they felt it would further their lot, increase their salary, bring them something of reward. What is it to bow down? “Why, that’s nothing, just bowing down.” But God says it’s something. You’re not to bow down before any man. You’re not to bow down before any image [Exodus 20:4-5]. You’re not to bow down before any graven image. You’re not to bow down to anyone except the Lord thy God. “Hear O Israel”: this is the great Shema, “There is one God, there is one Lord; and Him only thou shalt serve, love, adore, worship the Lord thy God. And Him only shalt thou serve, and thou shalt teach that to your children, and to your children’s children” [Deuteronomy 6:4-7]. Well Mordecai explained that to Haman, “I’m a Jew, and we don’t bow down before men or before images” [Exodus 20:4-5].
I tell you, the more I read about these Jews the better I like them. I am far in spirit kindred to a Jew than I am to a whole lot of the segments of the Christian so-called church. I don’t believe in images; and I don’t believe in bowing down before idols. “Oh, but you don’t understand, pastor, this is not the thing itself; this is just to bring back to my mind this saint, or this so and so.” Did you know the idolater of Greek would have said that same thing to you? “Why, I don’t believe Pallas Athena is there; this just brings to my mind Pallas Athena, the goddess who lives up there on Mount Olympus. . . This is not Demeter, I realize, this just brings to my mind Demeter.” God calls that idolatry; and it is nothing else but idolatry. God says you are not to make unto you any graven image; and you are not to bow down before it, you are not to do it [Exodus 20:4-5]. And that’s what Mordecai said to Haman: “I am a Jew [Esther 2-4], and I don’t bow down.” I like this man [Mordecai]. Over here he exhibits a tremendous faith and one that I believe in. He said to Esther, he said:
Who knoweth but that thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
You Esther, you hesitate to go in before the king to plead for the life of God’s people;
But Esther, know this: that if you do not make that appeal, then deliverance will arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed
Isn’t that great? “God will preserve and keep and deliver. It is just that I am persuaded that God has chosen you to do it. But if you do not, deliverance will come from some other place” [Esther 4:14]. That is one of the great tenants of the faith. However the storm shall roar, and the waves rise, and the earth quake and the very stars fall out of the sky, somehow it shall be well with the righteous; God taking care of His own. That’s what the Lord meant when He showed Moses on the back side of the Midian desert a bush that flamed unconsumed [Exodus 3:2]. It was a picture of God’s people, the fiery furnace, and the fury of tribulation and persecution, and the wastes of governments cannot destroy the people of God or the kingdom of our Lord. He believed that; we believe that. He was a good man and a kind man [Esther 4:14].
Hadassah was her name [Esther 2:7]. Hadassah was his uncle’s daughter; his father’s brother’s daughter. So Mordecai and Hadassah were cousins. And when she was chosen queen, she was given the name of Esther, Star—I think that’s a beautiful name, Esther, Star. Now the plot, the plot: Haman says to Ahasuerus the King, “I will give you ten thousand talents of silver if you let me destroy these people who are disloyal subjects in the empire” [Esther 3:9]. Ahasuerus didn’t even inquire or ask who they were; but the clink of that silver was all sufficient. How much is ten thousand talents of silver? I tried to figure it out and I don’t know; the price of metals so rise. But a talent is a weight, it is a weight, like a shekel; a shekel is a weight in the Bible. A talent is a weight, and a talent is all that one ordinary, strong man can carry; that’s a talent.
Now Haman offered to Ahasuerus ten thousand talents of silver; all the silver that ten thousand strong men could carry. In my trying to find out how much that was, I learned – Herodotus in detail talks about Xerxes and his kingdom and all these things back there – Herodotus, by the computation of Herodotus, that ten thousand talents of silver would equal two-thirds of the income of the entire province in tribute for one whole year; it was an enormous sum. And the king greedily took it. And then the Scriptures say, “And they sat down to drink” [Esther 3:15]. And the king and Haman sat down to drink.
Whenever you see that in any life, in any corporation, you’ve got trouble. Just look ahead of you; you’ve got troubles. You’ve got troubles in the man’s life, you have troubles in the man’s home, you have troubles in the man’s children, and you’ve got troubles in the corporation. “And the king and Haman sat down to drink.” And then it says, “And Haman stood up and went forth glad” [Esther 5:9]. Oh, why shouldn’t he? Why, the whole world has been thrust into his hand, and all he has to do is walk down the glory road to the golden throne; think of it. Having the world in your hand, to wear it like a jewel or to play with it like a toy, think of it; or to put it on like an ornament, or to sit on it like a golden throne. The whole world in his hands, and that hated Jew; for him he built a gallows fifty cubits high [Esther 5:14].
But where is God all this time? So many times do we think that. Look at this world, and look at our own nation, and look at this thrust of dark and atheism; but back yonder, and over there, and up there, and way down here God: look at this, “And it came to pass that on that night could not the king sleep” [Esther 6:1]. Isn’t that something? The king could not––how many “could nots” will you find in human history?––the king could not sleep. On that night, that particular night, he couldn’t sleep. So he called for the books of the chronicles of the kings of Persia to be read before him [Esther 6:1].
And many times in the Bible you’ll hear those chronicles referred to. He calls for the chronicles; and the book happens to open just right there. Why didn’t it open two chapters ahead? Or why didn’t it open just one leaf behind? But it opens right there, just right there. And it opened at the place where the chronicle had written a story of how the king’s life had been saved by that Jew Mordecai [Esther 6:2]. And the king listening to the reading of the chronicles said, “Mordecai saved my life; I remember that. Was anything done to honor him?” No [Esther 6:3]. Then the following story that I haven’t time to follow through [Esther 6:4-7:10].
God’s hand keeping His people. God’s hand directing His people. God’s hand preserving His people. I have some deep persuasions about you and about Dallas and about America. I don’t think God will deliver that nation to destruction who sends out missionaries, and who preaches the Bible, and who loves Jesus [Psalm 33:12]. I don’t think so. I think there’s a hand of God to stay the enemy, if He sees His people on their knees in prayer, in supplication, in reverential worship and adoration [2 Chronicles 7:14]. According to the Book I believe that. And I think the same thing about you. I think there’s deliverance for you. Whatever the problem, whatever the tribulation, whatever the impossible deranging, unnerving, devastating, indescribable heartache, I think there’s deliverance for those who place their trust in God, for He lives, and He looks, and omnipotence is in His hands [Isaiah 41:10]. That’s what the Book of Esther was about: that God’s people might be encouraged in the faith, and that we might have great assurance in our Christian lives as we walk in the providential love and gracious mercies of the blessed Jesus.
Now we must sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you anywhere in this throng, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, come, make the decision now just where you’re seated. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. Do it and God will bless you in the way. He will walk down that aisle with you, and He will walk out that door with you. Come, “Here I am, pastor, I make it now.” Do it, while we stand and while we sing.