The Feast of Purim
March 22nd, 1970 @ 8:15 AM
THE FEAST OF PURIM
Dr. W.A. Criswell
3-22-70 8:15 a.m.
Now I was asked—this is Purim, the days of Purim for the Jewish nation, and the Book of Esther in the Bible was written to explain The Feast of Purim—and I was asked, “If God would put it in your heart, would you preach from the Book of Esther?” Well, it has been years and years since I even thought about preaching from the Book of Esther, but because these are the days of that feast, I just said, “Lord, bless me as I read the book and bring the message on it today.”
You know, there is a psychological persuasion that is almost universal. I read it in the newspapers. I hear it discussed in commentary on the radio, read it in editorials in the newspapers. It is everywhere pervasive. This is what. You look at the poor people huddled together. They are in a ghetto there. They are on the wrong side of the railroad there. They are economically depressed. They live in squalor and poverty. And we see the situation, and then we are told by the sociologists, by the people who are supposed to have the answers, and never do, but they are supposed to have the answers. And they say what is lacking here is economic rehabilitation and amelioration. These people are iniquity ridden. And they are thieves, and they are drug addicts, and they are given to violence, armed robbery, and rape. Now if we could raise their economic level, if we could provide for them fine material possessions, then we have got all of our crime problems solved and all of the other problems attendant to a society that lives in an urban situation. All of it will be solved if we can give material things and raise the economic level of these people. Magnificent!
So the Book of Esther starts off with a man by the name of Ahasuerus from Persian into Hebrew, into English, it comes out Ahasuerus. From Persian into Greek into English it comes out Xerxes [Esther 1:1]. He is the man who after the battle of Marathon, in which his father was defeated, called together an army that looked like the dust of the earth and the sands on the seashore for number. He is the one that lashed the Hellespont because it destroyed his bridges. He was the one that built a throne to watch his armies destroy Leonidas, Leonidas, Leonidas and his brave band of three hundred Spartans at the pass of Thermopylae. He was the one that built a throne to watch the battle of Salamis when Themistocles destroyed his fleets from off the face of the earth. Xerxes as it comes out through the Greek in the English, Ahasuerus as it comes out through the Hebrew in the English, he reigned in Persian from about 485 BC to 465 BC when he was murdered by two of his chamberlains.
Now this man lives in a golden palace. Therefore, according to the sociologists and the psychologists, his house must be a sanctuary, a veritable gate to heaven. He sleeps on a golden bed. Surely a man who sleeps on a golden bed [Esther 1:6], must arise to great benefactions. He drinks out of a golden cup [Esther 1:7]. Surely the man who drinks out of a golden cup will be the finest moral exemplary paragon that walks on the face of the earth. He eats out of a silver platter. Surely the man who eats out of a silver platter will go out to be the most splendid, and virtuous, and glorious, and blessed of all of the men who could walk down the streets of Babylon or Shushan.
But, but, and I find that not only in the Bible, but I find it in life in Dallas and life everywhere else. Why, the crime commissioner says if you want to know where the dope addicts are, go out into the affluent sections of our city. The only difference between the rich and the poor is that the rich are better able to hire lawyers to hide their sin and iniquity. But they are just as vile and just as iniquitous and just as full of aberration and transgressions as the poor. The economic status makes no difference at all.
And this king Ahasuerus, when he sits down with his noblemen for a Saturnalia that extends over half a year [Esther 1:4], he and his ministers of state do not retire from their convocations as chieftains and heroes of virtue and moral progress, but they stagger away, half-beast and the half-devil, drunken in an immoral orgy [Esther 1:5-7]. The king is bogged down in rottenness and voluptuous iniquity and compromising carnality. The scene opens with the king and the princes of his hundred twenty-seven provinces in an orgy [Esther 1:1, 5-8]. I do not know why, but we never learn the lesson of a king Ahasuerus or a king Solomon. The whole world strives after the first chapter of Esther and the first chapter of Ecclesiastes.
For progress we must reach after wealth and affluence and all of the gadgets that wealth is able to bring to human life and to the human home; when actually there has never yet been demonstrated any connection between affluence and moral progress, none at all, none at all. A nation and a city and a people are lifted up by great moral and spiritual commitments, but they have never been lifted up by great material possessions. Even the Lord said, “A man’s life consisteth of not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” [Luke 12:15].
If I were looking for a rotten society and a rotten nation and a rotten city, I would look for a city like Rome in the days of the empire when the wealth of the great provinces that circle the Mediterranean Sea were brought into the city. And if I were looking for a reason for the disintegration of the moral and cultural and social life of America, I would seek to find it not in the dedication of our forefathers who carved an empire out of the wilderness, but I would look for it in the abundance of the affluence of modern American society. There is rottenness; there is an iniquity, propensity on the part of men. When they become affluent they forget God and bog down in the morass such as you see herein the first chapter of the Book of Esther.
I have said all that just to remind us that it is God, and it is moral commitment that elevates a nation and a people and a life and you, and not the abundance of your possessions.
So it starts off with a king with his noblemen, and they are in an orgy [Esther 1:1-9]. Now, I haven’t time to go through the whole story; I would make this observation. How the story came about was, in their orgy the king decided he would ask his beautiful queen Vashti to come and display her beauty before those drunken noblemen, and she refused [Esther 1:10-12].
Now the prince; in that kingdom, there was a prince by the name of Haman [Esther 3:1]. And, apparently for no reason at all, just by the whim of the king, Haman was elevated and advanced to be the second in the kingdom [Esther 3:1]. But there is always something about a little man that makes him feel the more important if all of his fellow men grovel at his feet. The only thing that Haman really liked was to see his servants and his fellow citizens fall flat on their face as he walked or rode down the streets of Shushan, Shushan the palace of the great Medo–Persian Empire. Isn’t that a strange concomitant of little men? The smaller the statue, the higher must be the pedestal that exhibits it.
You have the same story in Switzerland in the 1300s. There was a man by the name of William Tell who loved his boy. And in that day there was an Austrian ruler by the name of Gessler. He put his hat on a pole and demanded that when the citizens of Altdorf pass by that they genuflect and bare their heads before his hat. That is where the story of William Tell came from. He refused to bow; he refused to genuflect.
That’s what happened here. Haman, a little man, a small man, loved to see his servants and his fellow citizens grovel in his presence [Esther 3:2]. Now there was one who refused to do it. And when he saw him refuse to bow, his anger—and that is another characteristic of a little man—his anger and his desire for vengeance knew no bounds. And not only against the man did he contrive evil but against a whole race to which the man belonged [Esther 3:2-6].
Now, he also had an eye on something else. You see this over and over again in history. For the race to which the man belonged was an industrious group of people, so he had his eye on the confiscation of their properties [Esther 3:13]. Hitler did that. All of that anti-Semitism of Hitler was just a smoke screen to cover up; what he actually wanted was the confiscation of the property of those despised and hated people. For every one of them that he put in the gas chamber, immediately what they possessed belong to Hitler’s treasury. And this man had an eye on that. You see, they were an industrious people, and in their destruction, all of the properties would come to him.
And the king was no less, for this man Haman promised to the king ten thousand talents of silver [Esther 3:9]. I tried to find out how much that would be. I had a hard time with it because of the fluctuating prices of metal. A talent is a weight. In the Bible, a talent is a weight like a sheckle is a weight, a talent is a weight. A talent is all that an ordinary man could carry. Now, Haman promised to the king ten thousand talents of silver. That is if you had ten thousand men carrying all of the silver that they could bear, that is how much he promised for the destruction of that race and that hated man. Herodotus, looking by, who describes all this Persian era, according to Herodotus, I figured out that what Haman promised Ahasuerus was two thirds of the yearly tribute of the entire Medo-Persian Empire. Well, that’s men.
Now I speak of the Jew, Mordecai is his name, Mordecai. Why didn’t he bow down to Haman? Well, in the Scriptures he gives the reason. Mordecai says that he is a Jew, and he doesn’t bow down, only before God [Esther 3:4]. I kind of like that, don’t you? He explains to Haman that he is a Jew, and he doesn’t bow down before anyone except God. You see, there are men everywhere that will bow down to a dog if it would raise their salary, or advance them with the boss, or further their interests, or appease their lusts, do anything. “For what is it to bow down?” That’s what they say. “That’s nothing to bow down.” But this Jew said that because of his faith and his religion, he could not bow down before a man [Deuteronomy 6:4-7]. I say, “I like that.”
When I see people bowing down, even kissing the ring of a man, bowing down before a man, there is something about it that just jerks me straight up. I would die before I would do that. I would not do it. If I were going to be shot at sunrise, I would not bow down before a man, much less kiss his hand. I would not do it.
And Mordecai the Jew refused to bow [Esther 3:2]. When all of those people before the palace at Shushan bowed down when Haman came, he stood straight up. And Haman hated it. Kind of had a little backbone in his religion, didn’t he? He kind of believed something, didn’t he? Which is so different from most of us, don’t believe anything, don’t have any convictions about anything, and would do anything for anything.
All right, another thing about this man Mordecai. He had an illimitable faith in God. When he made his appeal to Esther, he said:
Who knows but that you are come to the kingdom for such a time as this, but if you refuse, if you refuse, and you do not make appeal for your people and your family, then deliverance will arise to the Jews from another place: but thou and thy father’s house will be destroyed.
Isn’t that something? You may be slain, and I may be slain, and our father’s house may be slain, but God will raise up deliverance to the people from some other source; God will not let His people be destroyed [Esther 4:14]. That is exactly what God meant when He put a flaming bush on the back side of the desert before Moses who was shepherding in the land of Midian [Exodus 3:1-2]. An unconsumed bush, a bush that burned undestroyed [Exodus 3:3]; so Israel through the centuries and through the millennia, a bush unconsumed by the fire.
And another thing about Mordecai, he must have been and was a kind and a good man. Hadassah [Esther] was the name of that child [Esther 2:7]. She was the child of Mordecai’s uncle, his father’s brother. They were cousins, and the father died, and the mother died, and Hadassah was taken by Mordecai, this orphan girl, and he reared her in the nurture and love of the Lord [Esther 2:7].
Now the plot; the plot was very simple, very simple. Haman was going to buy from the king the privilege of confiscating all the property of the Jews and to destroy all of the Jewish people in the civilized world. He’s going to give him ten thousand talents of silver for it [Esther 3:8-11]. And when the king heard the clink of those coins, he made no inquiry even about who the people were that were going to be destroyed. He merely said, “Do with them whatever seemeth good to thee” [Esther 3:11]. [He] did not even know who they were. Then the Book says, “And the king and Haman sat down to drink” [Esther 3:15]. And wherever you find that line in human history, you have got trouble. “And they sat down to drink.” There is no good that ever came out of that to a man’s business, or to a man’s home, or to a man’s soul, or to a man’s city, or to a man’s nation.
I read one time a historian’s verdict that the reason Napoleon lost the battle at Waterloo was because the night before Marshal Ney stayed too long over his wine, and when he was awakened the next morning and the battle was joined, his head was thick, and his thinking was fuzzy. There never was any good that came out of that.
“And the king and Haman sat down to drink” [Esther 3:15]. And then, in order to consummate his full desires and ambitious egotism, he erected a gallows fifty cubits high on which to hang Mordecai [Esther 5:14], a symbol of the beginning of the destruction of all of the Jewish people. He was superstitious. Isn’t that strange how worldly people are? And the more worldly they are, the more superstitious they are. That’s why in these daily newspapers you will see those astrological forecasts. You would never find a real child of God directing his life by an astrologist. You wouldn’t find that in a million years. But when people are worldly and worldly and out in the world, they are increasingly superstitious.
And so, Haman had them cast lots, Purim [Esther 3:6-7]. Haman had them cast lots before him, to pick out the lucky day in which he could consummate all of his nefarious schemes. So the lot fell and in the providence of God, and you are beginning to see His hand now, the lot fell in the twelfth month, going to have time now for God to work through this evil and iniquitous design. It is to be twelve months. The lot fell on a day in the twelfth month. That is where the word Purim came from, from the casting of lots.
All right, the hand of God, isn’t unbelievable? The name of God is never mentioned in the book, and I think there is a reason for it, that we might come to see that in all of the providences of life, in all of them, God’s hand moves. Everything, what happens, whatever it is, behind it God is taking care of His own. Now in the sixth chapter, “On that night could not the king sleep” [Esther 6:1]. Why couldn’t he sleep? How many ‘could nots’ will you find in human history? “On that night the king could not sleep.” Isn’t that amazing? He could not sleep on that night.
Now in his sleeplessness, he commanded the book of the records of the chronicles, and in the Bible you will find so many references to the chronicles of the Persian Empire. The chronicles, and it happened to open at a certain place. And that place to which it opened was the place that told what Mordecai had done to save the life of the king. Now why should it have opened there? Why didn’t it open a chapter before? Why didn’t it open one page beyond? That’s God. And it was read before the king how Mordecai had saved his life [Esther 6:1-2].
And the king said, “What is this? Has anything been done to award that man who saved my life?” [Esther 6:3].
“None at all.”
So he avows to elevate him in the kingdom and honor him for saving the king’s life. Then you have a story of Haman coming in, there being asked what ought to be done to the man whom the king would honor, and Haman thought it was he going to be honored [Esther 6:4-6]. That is what egotism does for you. It will always put you in a place that disastrously works for your disintegration; egotism, personal ambition. And it was Mordecai [Esther 6:7-10]. So when Haman honored Mordecai publicly [Esther 6:11], he went to his house humiliated, and his wife prophesied, “This is the beginning of your fall before the Jew” [Esther 6:12-13].
So Esther calls him to the banquet, and in that banquet on the second day, she tells the king of an invarious iniquitous scheme to destroy her race and her people [Esther 6:14-7:4], and the king in anger says, “Who dares to do this?” [Esther 7:5]. And Esther says, “The enemy is this wicked Haman,” and points him out [Esther 7:6].
Oh, but you ought not to offend the world. You ought not to accost iniquity. That is what is the matter with us. We never deign to offend the world, but the world ought to be offended! Whenever you see salacious, dirty, pornographic movies and dirty and filthy pornographic literature, and whenever you see drunkenness, whenever you see iniquity and drug addiction—last night, yesterday afternoon late, I was shown a picture here in Dallas where one young man is inducing a drug into the veins of another young man, and the police in this county were looking on it. Wouldn’t that honor, virtue, and morality, and law enforcement—the world ought to be offended, and it ought to be accosted, and it ought to be challenged! Just like Esther did here with Haman, “the enemy is this wicked man” and pointed him out [Esther 7:6]. Just like Nathan did David, “Thou art the man” [2 Samuel 12:7]. You are the man!
And wicked Haman was afraid [Esther 7:6]. The wicked fleeth even when there are none to pursue [Proverbs 28:1]. Iniquity will make a coward out of you. You lose your moral strength and stamina. Iniquity will dissolve you into water. So the king says, “Hang him” [Esther 7:9]. And of all things, one of the chamberlain, one of the eunuchs in the palace says, “Why, there is the gallows in Haman’s yard” [Esther 7:9]. And what could Haman say? He built it. He did it. It is just after his imagination, and it is exactly the height that he likes for gallows to be, around fifty cubits high. Not forty-nine, not fifty-one and a half, but fifty just as Haman likes it.
And on that same iniquitous instrument that he himself contrived and devised, there his own life was no more, emasculated, crucifixion, not by nailing of the hands, that was a Roman invention, but by impaling the horrible [Esther 7:10]. Oh dear, when I read this, how I am reminded of the judgments of Almighty God. “He that soweth to the wind shall reap the whirlwind” [Hosea 8:7]. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. And if you sow to the flesh, you will of the flesh reap corruption; but if you sow to the Spirit of the Spirit shall you reap everlasting life” [Galatians 6:7-8].
O Lord, teach us, and help us, and convict us, and guide us, and forgive us, and save us, like that spiritual that we sing:
Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart, in my heart.
Lord, I don’t want to be like Judas in my heart, in my heart.
Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart, in my heart.
[“Lord, I Want To Be A Christian,” traditional]
Help me, Lord, to love righteousness, and to love kindness, and to love virtue, and to love goodness, and to love Jesus, and to love God. And Lord, deliver me from personal ambition, self-seeking, and egotism, and all the things that contribute to the downwardness of life. O God, in Christ lift me up. Put my feet on a road that shall lead to peace, and happiness, and quiet, and rest, and blessing, and someday into heaven itself. Grant it, Lord, for me and for the people to whom I preach.
Our time is gone. We must sing our hymn of invitation. And while we sing that hymn, to give your heart to Jesus, to put your life in the hands of God, to come into the fellowship of the church, to bring your family with you, or your wife, or your friend, or just you, while we sing this song, come. On the first note of the first stanza, come. God will bless you in that decision. He will open the door for you in the way. Make it tonight. Make it this morning. Make it now. Make it today. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.