The Book And The Festival (1)

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 20 and continued through Thursday, March 21. However, in Jerusalem, Purim will begin on the evening of Thursday, March 21 and will end on the evening of Friday, March 22 (soon you will know why).  As you are reading this post, children and adults alike, in costumes and with a 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.

As you probably know, Purim is not among the holidays that God ordered Israel to keep—you won’t find it in Leviticus 23—so why do we celebrate it, and what do we celebrate?


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 the 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 selected by Haman’s pur (lottery) 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 says his famous 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.




If one happens to be in a synagogue on Shabbat before Purim, one would be surprised to 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 a hidden beginning of the book of Esther – one which is hidden so deeply that it is often overlooked. 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 our Haftarah, in 1 Samuel 15, we read:  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]  

We just heard that in the Deuteronomy, God commanded “to blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” – and when Saul spared Agag, he clearly disobeyed God and His 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]

Bear with me please, we are about to make an amazing discovery:

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. 

Can you see this “hidden beginning”? In fact, the story of Purim starts here, in 1 Samuel. 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 it seemed that the story was 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, for instance. 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. This is one of the lessons of this profound and prophetic book – and we will learn more lessons next time, as we continue our discussion of Megillat Esther. 

Chag Purim Sameach! 


[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

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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. Elizabeth I. Seibel-Ross

    Ah, now I think I might have a deeper understanding of Mordecai’s words when he spoke the prophetic (and past looking) words to Esther: “… relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish…” As Saul, Mordecai’s kinsman had failed to honor God’s command, not only did he loose his divinely appointed leadership of Israel, but his house perished. Samuel, Mordecai, and Esther chose to honor God’s directive; and the Jews of Persia were given the chance to live as they battled against the king’s army. Thank you, as always, for your wonderful guidance Julia, and a blessed Purim – always!

  2. It's Beginning to Rain Ministries

    Hello Julia, I love your brief biblical studies that you send me! I have been a student of the Israel Study Center/Israel Bible Center for 2 years now. Is there any way you could attach a twitter link to these studies so I could share them with my 12 thousand followers? I do this with all of my other studies. Just a thought, and thank you so much for these gems from the Word of God you send. Shalom.

    1. Julia Blum

      Hello, thank you for your kind words and thank you for your thoughtful suggestion, I really appreciate it. Since this is not my personal blog, this is the blog of Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, only they can make this decision. I forwarded your suggestion to a right person, and I am waiting to hear from him! Thanks and blessings!

  3. Marge Schwartz

    How did Agag have any living descendants, since all the Amalekites were destroyed except for him, and Samuel had him killed the next day (when he returned), unless somehow Agag had a sexual relationship the previous night, (of the day Saul spared him), with an Israelite?

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Marge, thank you for your comment. It is a well known question, and there are several ways to answer it. First, even though it’s possible that Haman was a literal descendant of Agag from 1 Samuel 15, the fact that Haman is called “the son of Hammedatha the Agagite” (Esther 3:1), does not necessarily mean it. Some scholars think that “Agag” was not a proper name, but a general title of the kings of Amalek (like Pharaoh of Egypt, for instance). Second, nothing in 1 Samuel 15 indicates that every single Amalekite died at that time. Maybe, some of them actually escaped – and maybe one of these survivors was the ancestor of Haman. But in any case, the main argument still stands: Saul disobeyed God and didn’t kill the King of Amalek, – and therefore Mordecai had to deal with Haman.