New covenant believers do not typically celebrate the feasts and festivals of the old covenant, but most of us are usually aware of major feasts such as Passover, either through our own study of Scripture or by having Jewish friends and acquaintances. Still, there is one old covenant festival that is unfamiliar to most of us, even though it was one of the most joyous feasts during Old Testament times. This festival is called Purim, which we read about in the book of Esther.
Like many of the other old covenant feasts, Purim is tied directly to the historical circumstances of the people of God. Jewish cousins Mordecai and Esther are living in exile in Persia, and at Mordecai’s urging Esther eventually rises to the position of queen (Est. 2). This, however, does not ensure their safety in the foreign land, for another member of the court, Haman the Agagite, has an intense hatred for Mordecai and wants to destroy him and his people. Having cast lots to determine the best day to accomplish his sinister plan, Haman secures the permission of the king of Persia to annihilate the Jewish people living under his reign (chap. 3). The Hebrew term for lots, which were something like modern dice, is purim, so it easy to see where the name for the festival of Purim comes from.
Faced with the certain destruction of his fellow Jews, Mordecai turns to the only human agent who could help him — Queen Esther. She is initially reluctant to help because going before the king could end in her own death (4:1–11), but Mordecai’s plea for her to stand with her people and his promise that she is certain to perish if she does not help moves her to speak with the king (vv. 12–17). We should note Esther’s courage at this point, for she is truly putting her life on the line to save her people without knowing if her plan will succeed. She is forced to trust in the Lord’s hidden providence and do what she knows to be right even though there is no clear word from God that she will survive and be blessed. In this she is much like us. We must always do what is right even though we do not know whether our Creator will allow the consequences of our actions to be pleasurable for us (James 4:13–17). Ultimately, her intercession does bring an end to Haman (Est. 5–7), but she goes into it not knowing what will happen to her.