For Such A Time …

It’s Purim time – and of course, we will speak about Purim today. Almost everywhere, the festival of Purim is celebrated on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar. This year, in most places Purim began on Wednesday evening, March 16 and will continue through Thursday, March 17. In Jerusalem, however, Purim will begin on the evening of Thursday, March 17, and end on the evening of Friday, March 22. (Do you know why?) As you are reading this post, children and adults alike, in costumes and with great joy, are listening to the Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther). The entire book has to be read during this festive evening—it’s one of the “musts” of this beloved Feast.

Purim is not among the holidays that God ordered Israel to keep: one will not find it in Leviticus 23. So, why do we celebrate it, and what do we celebrate?

The Evil Reversed

I suppose, you have all read the book of Esther and would therefore know that Purim commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia from Haman’s intention “to destroy … all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in a single day”[1]. The story goes like this: expelled from the Holy Land, many Jews settled in the different towns of the Persian Empire. Some lived in the capital of Persia, Shushan. The king of the Persian Empire, the emperor Ahasuerus, was looking for a new wife and thus a beautiful and pure Jewish girl, Hadassah, an orphan raised by a godly Jewish man named Mordechai, became a queen of this world empire—Queen Esther.

As the story goes, Mordechai refused to bow his head in honor of Haman, who was Prime Minister to the emperor Ahasuerus. Infuriated, Haman pays off the king to decree a genocide of all Jews. The day chosen by Haman’s casting lots (pur) was the 13th of Adar. Hence by the way, the name of the holiday – Purim.

We then witness an amazing conversation between Mordechai and Queen Esther: Mordechai tells her about Haman’s plot and the King’s decree, and asks her to save her people. She is full of doubts at first, and then Mordechai speaks these well-known words:

If you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?[2]

Mordechai rallied the Jews to fasting and prayer, Esther also fasted and prayed for three days, and as a result, the miracle happened and the evil was reversed. Esther was able to convince Ahasuerus to hang Haman and to allow the Jews to defend themselves. On the 13th of Adar, battles were fought throughout the entire empire between the Jews and those who sought to destroy them. The following day, Adar 14, became a day of celebration of the ensuing Jewish victory. Since the battle in Shushan went on for two days, the celebration there was held on Adar 15. Thus, these two days were instituted as the festival of Purim – Adar 14 in unwalled towns, and Adar 15 in walled cities. Today, the only city in which Purim is celebrated on the fifteenth of Adar is Jerusalem.

Megillat Esther – the profound name of a profound book

By now, you might know the most unique feature of this book: it is the only book in the Bible that does not explicitly mention God. Why? We can answer this question as we read through the entire book. The word “God” doesn’t appear openly in the book because oftentimes God remains hidden in our lives—until we recognize Him and His handwriting in the circumstances and events that unfold.  Oftentimes it is only in hindsight that we can clearly see God acting in the history of our world, or in our lives: more often than not, divine salvation is “disguised” in ordinary events – “hidden” in what can be perceived as a series of “coincidences”. The Book of Esther tells us that we don’t need to be discouraged if we don’t “feel” God’s hand in our lives right now. We don’t have to ask: “Where is God today?”  One day, we will look back and clearly see His hand in hindsight. This is the message of this book—and is also the message of its name!

The words, Megillat Esther (the Scroll of Esther), reflect this amazing dynamic:  the name Esther (אסתר) might be related to the word nistar: “hidden” “concealed”; while the word Megillah is related to the word megaleh: “reveal”. So the words Megillat Esther can literally be translated as “the Revelation of the Hidden” – an amazing name for an amazing book!


Last time, we spoke about Shabbat Zachor (“Sabbath [of] remembrance שבת זכור) – the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim. On this Shabbat, we hear the name of Amalek in all the additional readings – both in the Maftir and Haftarah. The Maftir comes from Deuteronomy 25 and speaks about God’s commandment “to blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven,[3] and Haftarah – the reading from the prophets – comes from 1 Samuel 15 and tells us about King Saul. Why?

These Scriptures reveal the hidden beginning of the book of Esther. Undoubtedly, it is one more reason to see God behind all the events of Purim; one more reason to know that he is the One who has orchestrated these events.

In the reading from Deuteronomy, God commanded to blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven”. Therefore, in 1 Samuel 15, “Samuel also said to Saul….  Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them…”

And Saul attacked the Amalekites, from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt.…  But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them…[4]  

When Saul spared Agag, he clearly disobeyed God’s commandment. Right after that, he was rejected as king. We read in the same chapter:  Now the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.”[5]

Now, what was the lineage of Saul?

There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah, a Benjamite, a mighty man of power.  And he had a choice and handsome son whose name was Saul. [6]

Now, back to the Book of Esther:

Esther 3:1 After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite…

Esther 2:5 In Shushan the citadel there was a certain Jew whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite. 

So, actually, the story of Purim started centuries before the events described in the Book of Esther. King Saul, from the line of Kish, was commanded to destroy Agag, the king of the Amalekites – but he didn’t do it. We know that Samuel himself had to kill Agag, and at that point, the story seemed to be over. Certain laws exist in the spiritual world, however, that are unseen and therefore often ignored; nonetheless, these laws are just as inviolable as the law of gravity. Therefore, the line of Agag and the line of Kish had to meet again in the future:  Mordecai had to destroy Agag’s descendant, Haman, because Saul didn’t destroy Agag.



[1] Est. 3:13

[2] Est. 4:14

[3] Deut. 25:19

[4] 1 Sam. 15:3-9

[5] 1 Sam. 15:10,11

[6] 1 Sam. 9:1


The insights you read on these pages, are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion) classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible or studying in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insightsI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding eTeacher’s wonderful courses: (

If you like the articles on this blog, you might also enjoy my books; you can get them here.   

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Gladys Fox

    Thank you Dear Julia,
    Some of us wonder how Agag had descendants if Saul killed all the Amalekites .One Rabbi said that Agag was kept alive long enough to father a child . This however troubles me because it raises more questions than answers . I am wondering is it possible that when Saul told the Kenites to leave that Agag’s sons learned what was going to happen and decided to pack up and leave with the Kenites ? They then could have left the Kenites and set up their own community .
    I thank God for teachers like you and may He Bless you and protect you always .

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Gladys. I just discussed this issue in my response to Marge’s comment; so, please see my comment below. Blessings!

  2. Marge

    If Samuel destoyed Agag, the following day of Saul’s capture of him, as it seems happened, then how did Agag have any descendants, (unless he impregnanted someone that night, or other Agagites had been saved with him and allowed to live?

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Marge, it’s exactly what Jewish tradition says. The Midrash says that during the night between Agag’s captivity and his execution, he had time to have sex with a woman. Among the descendants of this woman, says the Midrash, was Haman. From a more academic point of view, I can add that it might be – and many scholars tend to think so – that in 1 Sam 15, “Agag” is not a personal name of the conquered king, but a general name referring to the kings of Amalek, as Pharaoh and Abimelech refer to the kings of Egypt and Gerar; and nothing in 1 Samuel 15 indicates that every single Amalekite on Earth died at that time.