This was an appropriate week to celebrate the Feast of Purim. The children, and many adults, wore costumes, in keeping with a tradition that is not of Jewish origin, yet which has become part of our yearly celebration. In similar manner, members of the government continue to wear their masks and costumes, to give the appearance of being what they are not and to cover up the reality of who they are and the games they are playing.
The Scroll of Esther – The Presence of Him Who is Invisible
Some stories, like true vintage wine, become better with age. One of them is the story of the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. We are commanded to tell the story from generation to generation. It reveals the presence of God, His might, His power and His holiness and ability to save the people whom He has chosen (Deut. 7:7-8). These attributes of God are also present, and He remains mighty to save, even when He is not in the forefront of the action, but in the background and even when He is not referred to or mentioned by name. This is the situation in the Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther).
We know the story and is a great one. It is a story of absence – absence from the country where the sons of Jacob were to shine, to prosper, to worship God in the majesty of His holiness, to be blessed and to be a blessing. It is a story of the absence of a national leadership amongst the captives from Judea and Samaria who were taken first to Babylon during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, some of whom were later brought to Persia (modern-day Iran) and who were living during the reign of King Ahashverush (Ahasuerus). It is a story where the absence of God in the lives of the captives stands out by the failure to refer to Him. It is a story that serves as the background for the complaint of the people, as revealed in the explanation of the vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel, namely, an absence of hope: “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off”.'” (Ezekiel. 37:11)
This comment is being written on the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, the day “when the king’s command and edict were about to be executed, on the day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, it was turned to the contrary so that the Jews themselves gained the mastery over those who hated them”. (Esther 9:1)
We look at the story with the benefit of hindsight. It is written for us and we can see how the pieces that seem disjointed all fit together and reveal the Hand of God and His unseen presence among His people, during one of the lowest times in the history of the nation of Israel. The major players are Mordechai, his niece Hadassah (whose name in exile was changed to Esther), King Ahashverush, who ruled over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia and Haman, to whom the king gave exceedingly great authority. The king commanded that all of his servants, who were at the king’s gate, were to bow down and pay homage to Haman. But, Mordechai did neither.
From a political perspective, we see a “situation developing”. One man, who was at the king’s gate (i.e., was part of those who were close to the seat of power and who were able to come in and go out of the court without a special permit), defied the command of the king and would not bow down. It is recorded for us that Mordechai was living in the citadel of Susa. He was a descendant of Kish, who was a Benjamite and part of the upper class families who were taken captive and exiled along with King Jeconiah of Judah. (Esther 1:5-6) Another famous descendant of Kish was Saul, Israel’s first king, who disobeyed the Lord’s instructions given through Samuel the prophet, to strike and totally destroy Amalek. King Saul defeated the Amalekites, but allowed their king, Agag, to live – an act of disobedience that resulted in the Lord rejecting Saul from being king. Ultimately, the prophet Samuel killed Agag.
But, Haman is said to be “the son of Hammedatha the Agagite”. So, the consequences of Saul’s disobedience had future consequences for the nation of Israel. The descendants of Agag came to distant lands and some of them, like Haman, ended up in the service of the king of Persia. And so, once again, a descendant of Kish meets up with a powerful Amalekite.
However, not only is Mordechai a descendant of Kish, he is also a Benjamite. Benjamin was the last son of Jacob. He was born after Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, after Jacob crossed the Jabbok and after he and all of his household bowed down before Esau. (Gen. 32-33, 35:16-18) Therefore, Benjamin, who was the only son of Jacob who was born in the land of Israel, did not bow down before Esau. And, his descendant, Mordechai, stood his ground, as well, and did not bow down before Haman. When questioned by the king’s servants why he refused to bow, his answer was that “he was a Jew”. (Esther 3:5) The refusal of Mordechai to bow down before Haman “filled him with rage”. When he was told “who the people of Mordechai were … Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordechai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahashverush (Ahasuerus)”. (Esther 3:5-6) Lots (Purim) were cast to determine the day that this would take place.
Haman’s understanding went beyond the simple fact that there are a people under the king’s rule who have a different religion. The issue was not the existence of a different religious belief, which could be tolerated, but rather, the Jewish people, whose existence would not be tolerated by the descendant of Agag, the Amalekite. After all, only Mordechai refused to bow down, but the entire nation would suffer the consequences of his act of defiance.
The rest of the story continues, with Haman convincing the king to issue an edict that the Jewish people be destroyed. Haman was even willing to pay money into the king’s treasury if the king would agree to his request. Mordechai publicly demonstrated against the king’s edict and enlisted his niece, Hadassah (i.e., Esther, after whom the Scroll is named) to appeal to the king. Esther had been chosen to replace the deposed Queen Vashti, when the latter refused to appear before the king and his drunken friends, who had been partying for seven days. Esther explained to Mordechai that her life would be endangered if she came into the presence of the king without being summoned. Mordechai wisely explained the situation in a clear and unequivocal manner: “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14) Things don’t get much clearer than that. Esther understood the gravity of the situation and that it was not her life only that was at risk, but those of the Jewish people who were under the rule and reign and authority of the king – her husband.
She requested that all of the Jews in Susa fast (and impliedly, pray) for her and not eat or drink for three days. She and her maidens would do the same and afterwards, she would go to the king, contrary to law, and, as she said: “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) And she and they did so and on the third day, the fate of Esther and the Jewish people was decided. The sentence of death had already been passed. Now, would the sentence of death be carried out, or will there be life? The golden scepter was extended to her and with it, life for her and eventually, life for the Jewish people. She chose the manner of presenting her petition to the king and the timing of it. In the meantime, the king had a bout with insomnia and had the chronicles of the kingdom read to him. It was then that he learned that Mordechai discovered and informed about a plot to kill the king, who now decided to publicly honor and reward him by dressing him in royal garments and having him paraded through the city square on a horse, on which the king had ridden. Haman was appointed to do this for Mordechai and to proclaim before all the people “Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desire to honor.” (Esther 6:10-11) This further enraged Haman.
When Esther revealed to the king what Haman had done, the king issued another edict that allowed the Jews to defend themselves, inasmuch as by law, he could not cancel his own decree. Haman was the recipient of the king’s wrath, as he and his ten sons were hanged on the gallows and what had been meant for evil was turned around for good. (Esther chpt. 9) Mordechai recorded the events and sent letters to all the Jews in all the provinces under the authority and rule of King Ahasverush (Ahasuerus), obliging them to annually celebrate the 14th and 15th days of the Hebrew month of Adar, “because on those days the Jews rid themselves of their enemies and it was a month which was turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday … for Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the adversary of all the Jews, had schemed against the Jews to destroy them and had cast Pur, that is the lot, to disturb them and destroy them…Therefore they called these days Purim after the name Pur…So these days were to be remembered and celebrated throughout every generation, every family, every province and every city; and these days of Purim were not to fail from among the Jews, or their memory fade from their descendants…The command of Esther established these customs for Purim and it was written in the book” (Esther 9:20-32)
At the end of the story, Mordehai was exalted to a position of power and authority, second only to the king himself. He was “great among the Jews and in favor with his many kinsmen, one who sought the good of his people and one who spoke for the welfare of his whole nation.” (Esther 10:3)
There is much that this story reveals and many aspects of it have significant, and indeed, eternal ramifications and applications for those within the Messianic community, as well as for the whole world. We see how the Hand of God was moving behind the scene, using the drunken feast of the king to embarrass the then queen, who was removed because of her disobedience to the command of the king (by the way, there was significant reason for that refusal); the choosing of Esther to replace her; the positioning of Mordechai as one who was at the king’s gate and his overhearing the plot to kill the king; his being of the descendants of the tribe of Benjamin; his refusal to bow before Haman the Agagite; the unsuccessful attempt to destroy the Jewish people and Mordechai’s being exalted with power and authority, second only to the king himself.
Our God reigns! “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” (Prov. 16:33) What the enemy of our souls meant for bad, God used for good.
Israel sorely needs men like Mordechai today. He was the godly remnant amongst a people who believed that God had forsaken them. He represented the hope of a national restoration, when there had not yet been any experience with exile. Living outside the land, away from the Temple service, away from the place where God commanded the blessing, was all that the people knew. Yet, one man stood in the gap. He said “no”. He would not bow down to man and certainly not to a descent of those who sought to destroy the Jewish people. Today, we see and experience that once again, the nations conspire together against God and against His people, saying, “Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation that the name of Israel be remembered no more” (Psalm 83:4). Who knows whether we are alive for just such a time as this! We need to pray that God would raise up His Mordechais, those who are not willing to bow before the Obamas, the Ahmedinijads and the Nasrallahs of this world and the rulers of the United Nations and European Union. We need people to proclaim who they are and, by extension, who we are as we face the plans and pursuits of nations to divide this land and scatter God’s people. God doesn’t change. He remains the same yesterday, today and forever! A little faith can move mountains. “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7)
With the thoughts of God’s sovereignty in mind, let’s take a look at what else happened this past week.
Threats of a Nuclear Iran
Nothing seems to faze Iran’s determination to develop nuclear capability. A report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) indicates that Iran remains on its course and further, that it started to install advanced centrifuges in its main uranium enrichment plant in Natanz. The report was circulated last Thursday to the 35-national board and was then leaked to the press. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “this is a very serious report, which proves that Iran is continuing to advance rapidly toward the red line I drew [referring to a speech he made at the U.N. General Assembly last September, during which he displayed a picture of a bomb with a fuse, on which he drew a red line, which indicated the final stage of the preparation of a nuclear bomb]…Iran is closer than ever to obtaining enough enriched material for a nuclear bomb.” The start of the upgrade is a concern to the six world powers who are preparing to meet with Iran this coming Tuesday in Kazakhstan to resume “talks” about its nuclear program. Given their lack of seriousness during the various rounds of “negotiations” held in 2012, we see that Tehran is making a mockery of the world’s efforts to curtail its nuclear ambitions. Its model is North Korea, who has ignored the condemnation of the world and has tested three nuclear weapons in the last seven years – and has survived. Iran is trying to follow suit. Against this, God said: “No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper.” (Isaiah 54:17)
In last week’s TWTW, I cautioned that “Time is beginning to press on Netanyahu and, in order to form a coalition government within the period allowed by law, he may end up having to make concessions for government posts and potential legislation that will come back to haunt him … and the nation. Woe to us if politicians are assigned to positions of major responsibility for which they are not suited.” The following day, it was reported that Tzippi Livni, whose left-wing party “Hatnuah” received only six seats in the 19th Knesset, was the first to join the coalition. She was given the post of Justice Minister AND received authority to conduct diplomatic negotiations on behalf of the Prime Minister. At a joint press conference held with Livni, the Prime Minister stated, among other things: “the country is facing enormous challenges, some of which are unprecedented…The threats from Iran, Syria and Hizb’allah do not stop for a moment. To address these threats, we need a broad and stable government that unites the people.” Then he added the following: “We must make every effort to advance a responsible peace process with the ‘Palestinians’.”
Not surprisingly, both Netanyahu and Livni came under fire from their respective party members and constituencies, who believe that both betrayed those who supported and voted for them. Livni pointed out what she considered to be the achievement in the coalition agreement: “Into my hands were placed the responsibilities to be the negotiator for Israel on the basis of two states and I am also proud to be the next Justice Minister to keep a Jewish and democratic Israel.”
An aide to Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the President of the “Palestinian” Authority, called Livni’s appointment and authority to conduct diplomatic negotiations as a “positive sign”. If our enemies think something is good for them, it cannot be good for us. Livni served as foreign minister under Ehud Olmert, who offered to divide Jerusalem. She is an outspoken proponent of evacuating settlements in order to bring about a peace deal with the “Palestinians”. Netanyahu is opposed to both actions. So, the question of the day is whether either or both of these politicians has had a change of view.
Habayit Hayehudi, headed by Nafali Bennett’s, quickly got on Netanyahu’s case, saying “[In] contrast to pre-election promises, Netanyahu is not establishing a government based on the nationalist camp. The agreement with Livni, who led the disengagement process [from the Gaza Strip], will make it tough for us to join the coalition.”Indeed, bringing Livni into the government is the height of political cynicism and a perversion of the will of the voters who cast their lot, and the fate of the nation (from a human point of view), into the hands of Netanyahu.
Likud-Beytenu officials were quick to point out that Bennett was given the opportunity to be the first to sign a coalition deal, “but he missed it.”
There is no question that campaign promises have been broken and that Netanyahu has compromised on personal and national priorities, from the point of view of the Likud. Prior to the elections, Netanyahu made it as clear as clear could be that irrespective of the results of the elections, Livni would not be in charge of the peace process. She, for her part, has consistently attacked Netanyahu’s foreign policy. Both have turned a hundred and eighty degrees, which spells big trouble for Netanyahu to form and to maintain a coalition. This could lead to his notifying President Peres of his failure to form a government. This will affect Naftali Bennett more than Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), who may end up losing votes if another election needs to be held.
In the spirit of Purim, one of the papers here ran a caricature of Netanyahu holding a Scroll of Esther, version of 5773 (2013), wherein Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett are both dressed up as as queens to Netanyahu, who is dressed up as king. He is saying that he called Vashti and she refused to come. He called Esther and she refused to come. So he asks the question: “What is going on here?” Politics!
Bennett has indicated that he will not join the coalition without Lapid. With everyone turning their backs on campaign promises, will Bennett agree to abandon his pact with Lapid and join the government? Netanyahu knows that he needs either Bennett or Lapid to form a coalition. Bennett is by far the better choice to keep a semblance of a nationalist government. As a result, Netanyahu said this past Friday that he is determined “to do all it takes” to get Bennett to join the coalition. So, the two parties are talking to each other again. And, as expected, both expressed a desire to put their past differences behind them and move on. But, negotiators for Habayit Hayehudi said that they would insist on removing Livni as chief negotiator with the “Palestinians”: “Defining Livni as the top diplomat when it comes to the peace process is not something we can live with.” So, some red lines are already being drawn by Bennett for joining the coalition. It is doubtful that Likud-Beytenu would be able to acquiesce to this demand, without renegotiating with Tzippi Livni. if the latter were to happen, there would be no reason to think that Netanyahu’s party would not reneg on future agreements as well. Pressure is mounting on Bennett from within his own ranks to get him to break the unnatural alliance with Lapid. Time is starting to run out. He needs to quickly decide whether he will join, or run the risk of new elections with a dissatisfied electorate. We should have a good idea in which direction we’re heading by the end of this week.
The Hizb’allah – time to call it by its name
During his speech at a ceremony commemorating the 93rd anniversary of the death of Joseph Trumpeldor (a Zionist pioneer who was killed defending the Tel Hai settlement outpost in 1920), President Shimon Peres demanded that the European Union include the Hizb’allah on its list of terrorist organizations. His words were to the effect saying it the way it is: “A short distance from here a terrible tragedy is taking place. In Syria, the president is shooting his own people and [Hizb’allah leader, Hassan] Nasrallah, who drapes himself in religious robes, is pushing Lebanon toward a bloody conflict, even though it has no enemy [in Israel]. The time has come to call the Hizb’allah by its name – a murderous terrorist organization.”
Israel’s Homefront Defense Minister, Avi Dichter, said last week that adding the Hizb’allah to the EU terrorist list would interrupt the organization’s financing, adding “Europe, that’s the real base of Hizb’allah. If they aren’t able to gather money or raise finances in Europe, they are going to be in trouble.” So, who do we know in Europe who can cut off these funds?
There’s an old saying in this neck of the woods: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We’ll, it sounds good in theory, but not always in practice. In our neighborhood, we have several enemies and two of them are at odds with one another. Unfortunately, it is not because one of them wants to become friendly with us. The Syrian rebels, who are essentially Sunni Moslems and who are opposing the regime of Bashir al-Assad, who is an Alawaite, a minority faction of Shiite Moslem, threatened to attack Hizb’allah leader Nasrallah, also a Shiite, if he continues to support Syrian President Assad. The rebels referred to Nasrallah as a criminal and said that his era is almost over, adding: “Anyone who dares to attack our people and our land will pay a hefty price.” May the words come quickly to pass. I wonder how Nasrallah feels, knowing that his own cousins hate his guts.
I’ll leave you this week with an oft-quoted expression that defines a Jewish holiday: “They tried to kill us. They didn’t succeed. Let’s eat!”
And That was The Week That Was.
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I am exceedingly jealous for Zion, yes, with great wrath I am jealous for her.’ Thus says the LORD, ‘I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain.” (Zechariah 8:2-3)
Have a blessed week.