For the week of March 22, 2008 / 15 Adar II 5768
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36
Haftarah: Jeremiah 7:21 - 8:3; 9:22-23

Taking a Lesson from Purim

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. (Esther 9:20-22; ESV)

The festival of Purim, also called "the festival of Esther," begins the evening of Thursday, March 20. Purim commemorates the remarkable "turning of the tables" on the enemies of the Jewish people while living in Persia over five hundred years prior to the coming of the Messiah. A chief official named Haman held a grudge against the Jews due to his hatred of one Jewish man named Mordecai, because Mordecai refused to bow to him. Haman devised a law to allow the Persian people to annihilate the Jews on a particular day. That day was selected through the casting of lots. The word for lots in Hebrew is "purim," from which the name of the festival is derived.

While this was brewing, God had been working behind the scenes for his people's protection. Mordecai's close relative, Hadassah (also called, Esther) was chosen to be the King of Persia's new queen. When the news about the day of destruction was announced, Mordecai sent word to Esther to speak to the king on their people's behalf. Esther agreed even though to approach the king without an invitation could result in death, even for a queen. As it turned out, the king treated her favorably, and when he heard of Haman's evil plot, he had him executed.

As for revoking the law concerning the destruction of the Jews, that was another matter. The Persians had an established custom that laws could not be revoked. Instead, an additional law was established giving the Jews the right to defend themselves on the dreaded day. There is a big difference between being helpless victims facing government-sanctioned genocide and being given the right to defend oneself. Needless to say the Jews overcame their enemies yet again, resulting in what has become one of the most joyful celebrations of the year.

Do you see the parallel for us today? Those of us who belong to God through faith in Yeshua and truly seek to follow him face adversity. More than ever Bible believers are hated by the society at large. There are forces at work to silence the Bible's message. These forces don't just function in the society, but also in our faith communities. Those who speak against the pressure for believers to conform to the spirit of the age are ignored or silenced.

Years ago I heard a sermon on the topic of "Judging". Yeshua's words, "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1), were used to silence detractors in the congregation. The reasoning went something like this: If you judge others, then God will judge you. To criticize someone else's opinion is judging them. Therefore don't criticize others, which means don't disagree with what you are told by the leaders, because if you do, God will judge you. This kind of teaching effectively muzzles anyone who would have an opinion other than the one being dictated by the leaders. I would go so far as to call this spiritual abuse.

As I have looked at some of what is going on among Bible believers today, this message is common. It may or may not be taught so explicitly, but interacting with the teaching of God's Word is not encouraged. Everyone is simply expected to conform to whatever is being taught, even though the Bible encourages us to discern truth and even judge public messages (Acts 17:11; 1 Corinthians 14:2).

I have the impression that there are people sitting listening to bad teaching who know better, yet don't say anything about it, buying into the lie that this is what Yeshua would have them do. They simply accept the way things are. That's what it would have been like for the Jews of Esther's day if the law to defend themselves was not established. They would have been slaughtered by their enemies with no opportunity to defend themselves.

Those of us who allow ourselves, our families, and our friends to be oppressed by evil and foolishness in the name of Bible teaching are like the Jews of Esther's day who may not have known about the law to defend themselves. We think we are not allowed to speak up to defend our spiritual well being out of a wrong notion of what judging really is.

I am not calling for physical violence against heresy. There is a way to speak up in keeping with godliness. But we no longer need to be victimized by false teaching.

What a day of celebration it will be when those who know their God again stand up for his Truth!

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