Purim is a Jewish festival, celebrating Jewish deliverance in Persia (particularly in the capital Susa) from genocidal mobs enabled by law to the destroy the Jews. Xerxes' chief aide Haman had attempted a destroy the Jewish people, casting a pur (lot) to determine the day upon which the slaughter would begin. After Esther became queen, she and Mordecai revealed this plot to the king and so enforced an edict to counteract the genocide. The date selected for the genocide was then turned into a Jewish holiday, being called Purim, named after the kind of lot used to select the date.
The word Purim is a plural form of pur (pu-or), a special kind of lottery apparently based on rolling stones in such a way that chance decisions are made. The root word, used outside of this context, is translated, "to bring to nought, to take away or to break (an oath)." It the process of making a decision, this lottery eliminates all possibilities but one. One by one, months were eliminated, and then days in those months. In this way, the whim of the people is eliminated.
Having worked his way into the favor of Xerxes, Haman had become the first minister of the vast Persian empire. He was an Agagite, a subgroup among the Philistines that had been subjugated by the Jews during the reign of their first king, Saul, son of Kish. There was a long history of animosity between the Jews and Haman's people.
When Haman rose to power, a Jewish official named Mordecai had failed to bow when he drove by on his chariot. This made Haman very mad. The animosity that he had for the Jews rose to the surface and the Agagite prince decided to end what he called a threat to national security: an alien race scattered throughout the kingdom. Before taking the situation to the king, Haman carefully planned it down to the day.
In order to avoid the appearance of malice, he had his staff decide the date of the planned genocide by way of a lottery. In a process of elimination, much like that used to discover Achin among the many possible culprits in the days of Joshua, the twelfth month and the thirteenth day were selected.
When he brought the idea to Xeres' attention, Haman was careful to paint the threat of the Jews as being serious. He claimed that the aliens were different in so many ways, not the least of which was their disdain for the authority of the aristocracy. His description of the Jews was false, but the king signed off on the plan without any thought of the details.
The details were what amounted to the government's active support, by financial award, for the genocide of all those that identified themselves as Jews. The laws of Persia were irrevocable, setting the stage for massive bloodshed in the course of less than a year.
The Plot Revealed
Unknown to Haman and Xerxes, the queen who had been crained almost a decade before was in fact one of the Jewish people targeted by the evil plans. Now known as Esther, Hadassah the Benjamite had served under the watchful eye of her cousin Mordecai who had presented her to the king as a candidate when a search had been made to replace the rebellious Queen Vashti.
After hearing of the plot, Esther had sent her assistant to speak with Mordecai, who had lead the Jews in fasting and mourning their fate. The decision had been made to confront the King about the evil plan of the first minister. It had been risky, for the law was strict about who might come into the King's presence without permission, but once permission was granted, Esther set out to discredit Haman over the course of a couple of days.
When his plan was exposed, Haman had sought mercy from Esther. Unfortunately for him, he chose to confront her in her bedroom. In throwing himself at her feet, he got too close, causing a scene which Xerxes interpreted as violating his wife. The decision was swift: Haman met the end that he had planned for his enemy Mordecai: death by hanging.
The death of Haman facilitated the rise of Mordecai to take his place. Xerxes had a new chief advisor and second-in-command. However, a law established by the seal of the king could not be revoked. The only way to stop the legalized murder to come was to pass a law that would authorize protection for the Jews. The sentiment towards bigotry had many making plans to raid Jewish settlements for the bounty and for the booty. A civil war was coming within months.
The impracticability and impossibility of guarding the Jews from the Persian nationals called for the only alternative. A new law was crafted that fully supported the right of the Jews to defend themselves to the extent of destroying the mobs that threatened them and taking everything the enemy had as a reward. Like Haman's law, the Law that Esther and Mordecai crafted had the seal of the king. Both sides had about ten months to prepare.
Countermeasures in Susa
Xerxes had to remain neutral, for his seal was on both laws. The record only mentions rituals of mourning and fasting, and not prayer or God, but the underlying truth behind the rising tensions is not lost. It was a battle between good and evil. The resources of the Jews were limited, but they had an advantage of being on the side of righteousness. Through no fault of their own, they faced extermination. Xerxes had authorized their rights and it became their part to prevail against the unruly mobs to storm their towns.
When the time came, the battles in the capitol were totally one-sided. The Jews seemed invincible as they killed five hundred attackers on the first day. When asked what she needed, Esther said her people needed another day to finish the job. And so, on the fifteenth of Adar, another three hundred Persians fell trying to kill their neighbors. Throughout the empire, from India to Ethiopia, seventy five thousand anti-semitic citizens paid the price for their hate. In every case, though, the Jews left property to the families of the slain, proving that their motives were pure.
Establishment of Purim
As the new prime minister, Mordecai wrote a new law. Following the same process that Haman and Esther had used, his law became a permanent statute across the Persian empire. Even as the Jews were celebrating their victories, a commemorative holiday was declared, assuring that no one would ever forget what had happened under the full moon in those early days of spring. Everywhere Jews would gather from then on, they would have a two-day holiday to celebrate at the end of the year.
Though not set down by the Law of God, the invisible hand of the Almighty had blessed the day set aside by Persian law. The fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar became the most joyous of holidays, calling for feasting, gift exchanges and acts of mercy towards the poor.
In time, the law made in Persia began to be celebrated in the province of Judea, where the temple was being rebuilt. Purim was the first holiday since the ones set down in the Torah to commemorate events and facilitate annual sacrifices and offerings. Unlike these official holy days, no requirements were placed on the people. There were to be no special offerings or prayers pronounced. It was a fully "secular" holiday that would take on religious significance only as traditions were added through the years.
The obvious reason for the preservation of the story of Esther is the story behind the popular holiday. The absence of both the general word "God" and His name YHWH caused hesitation among scholars when it came time to collect the holy writings. However, the obvious work of God "for such a time as this" was persuasive enough to change minds. The book of Esther stands alone as a testimony to God's invisible presence among his people—wherever they are.