Purim: The Story of a Courageous Bride

Her name was Hadassah. You might know her as Esther. She was a Voice in the Desert who saved her people from destruction and death. She was beautiful. She was obedient. She was courageous. She was a Jew. Hers is a beautiful story of love, courage, and obedience. The story of Purim is most commonly associated with the Jews of Persia (modern-day Iran) being victorious over their enemies. However, there is so much more to this story. Purim is a lesson in being courageous, what it means to be obedient, how to be a voice in the desert, and how to be a Bride that is worthy of her King. This and so much more is what we learn from Hadassah and the story of Purim.

Over the course of time, King Ahasuerus gained victory over his adversaries and brought peace to his kingdom. To celebrate this peace, he held a large banquet for the royals in his kingdom. At the end of this long banquet (and much drinking), the king summoned Queen Vashti to come before him so he can parade her as his prize to the other nobles. Queen Vashti refused to come before the king and the king’s wise men advised him to send out an edict that Vashti be queen no more and was to be replaced by someone better and more worthy.

Enter Hadassah. When Hadassah was a young girl, her parents were killed and she was left an orphan. The text does not tells us how her parents were killed but we can presume it had something to do with a battle during the captivity of the Jews. As an orphan, Hadassah is taken in and raised by her older cousin Mordecai. When the edict goes out to the kingdom that all “lovely young maidens be sought for the king,” Hadassah is taken to the citadel of Susa. Mordecai instructs Hadassah not to reveal her Jewish identity and she is obedient. After 12 months of preparations, Hadassah is brought before the king.

Each young woman could ask for anything to take with her to go before the king. While the other young women asked for jewels and gold, Hadassah asked for only what the guardian of the women advised. When she went before the king, he “loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and loving-commitment in his eyes more than all the maidens. And he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.”

In time, there arose to power an evil man named Haman. He hated Mordecai and sought to have him killed. Haman devised a plan that would not only kill Mordecai but all the Jews in Persia. He manipulated the king into signing a decree which would destroy all the Jews in the province. When Mordecai learned of Haman’s plan, he told Hadassah that she must use her position with the king to stop this annihilation from happening. At first, Hadassah does not see a way to do this as she has not been summoned by the king…and no one can appear before the king unless called upon.

In one of the most famous passages of the book, Mordecai tells Hadassah,

“Do not think within yourself to escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep entirely silent at this time, relief and deliverance shall arise from another place, while you and your father’s house perish. And who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

In the second most famous passage, Esther responds, “Gather all the Jews in Susa and fast for me. Then I shall go to the king, which is against the law. And if I perish, I shall perish!”

Hadassah goes before the king and after two strategic banquets, exposes her true identity and the deceit of Haman. The king then signs another edict allowing the Jews to bear arms and defend themselves against their enemies and Haman is hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. It was a great victory for the Jews of Persia.

However, there is so much more to this story than just the victory over Israel’s enemies. Underneath all the layers, there is a story of a courageous bride; one who has made herself ready and has done the hard work so that she is found ready when she appears before the King.

Hadassah had to leave the life she knew and move to the palace where the king dwelt. We envision life at the palace as this glamorous life of food, fun, and freedom. But in reality, the palace was a harsh place for a woman. She could only stay in the women’s quarters, unless of course, she was summoned. She had to essentially compete with the other women and concubines for her place in the palace and her life certainly was not her own. But Hadassah was obedient to go and when she arrived, she won favor by being submissive to the servant of the king.

In the same way, we need to leave our life and all we envisioned for our lives behind when the King calls us to His palace. We should never expect our King to leave His palace and come to live in our house. We have to conform to His ways, not Him to our ways.

Hadassah underwent twelve months of preparations before she could go in to the King. Twelve months. That was just for their one night, that doesn’t include the waiting period afterwards for him to decide which girl to make queen! Hadassah obediently and patiently waited and went through all the preparations that were given to her. She understood that she would not be ready for the king without them. She did not fight the hard work or deny the areas in which she lacked. Instead, she embraced this time as a time to make herself perfect and ready for her king. And it paid off! We read that she found favor in eyes more than all the other maidens and that he loved her.

Often times, the Holy Spirit will send people or circumstances our way that highlight the areas in our lives in which we lack. Many times we fight these changes because we don’t think we need to change, we don’t see the point, or we don’t want to wait the time it will take in order to complete the work. Don’t fight these preparations…embrace them as a gift from YHVH. It is in these times of hard work and preparation that we are making ourselves more beautiful, more pleasing, for our King. And how worth it will it be when our King says to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

When she appeared before the king, we see that she only took that which her guardian advised her. This is key; it’s what set her apart from all the other women vying for the king’s affections. She took the time to seek the king’s desire by asking his servant. Often times, we think we can pick what gift we bring to our King. We think that just because we bring Him a gift that He should accept it. That’s not how His kingdom or any earthly kingdom works. When you bring someone a gift, especially the King of Kings, you should always ask what He wants to receive. She desired to know what would please him. Again, we should conform to His ways instead of making Him fit ours. The fact that Hadassah sought the servant about what the king desired, demonstrates her willingness to obey and submit.

Unlike Vashti, Hadassah knew to whom to submit herself. Hadassah started with her family, Mordecai. She obeyed his command to not reveal her identity and she listened to his counsel when it was time to rise up in order to save her people. We can assume that as a young girl, she obeyed him and learned to submit herself to authority. Vashti, who clearly had an issue with authority, had gotten prideful in her place as queen. So prideful, she thought she was even above the king himself! Sometimes we can get too comfortable with where we are in life and this can produce a sense of pride. When we no longer listen and obey, shema in the Hebrew, to the voice of our King, we put ourselves in a dangerous situation. We set ourselves up to be removed. If we learned anything from the book of Esther, its that everyone is replaceable if they refuse to play their part. Vashti’s rebellion towards her husband and her unwillingness to submit to her king caused her to be removed from her position for someone “who is better than she.” Don’t be a Vashti.

Hadassah was not only beautiful and lovely, she was incredibly courageous and strong. She was a warrior. When the time came for her to lay down her life for her people, she was ready and prepared. Had she not submitted and done the hard work, she may not have been ready at the right time. And just like we learned from Vashti, “do not think you will escape because you are in the king’s palace. For if you remain completely silent, relief and deliverance will arise from another.”

Hadassah had lived her whole life as a sacrifice to God. YHVH never leaves us unprepared. Think back to the circumstances you have faced or are facing. All of these things are actively being used by YHVH to prepare you for His destiny for your life. Don’t doubt your abilities; don’t doubt the call on your life. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

It’s not about us; it’s always about bringing Him the glory He rightfully deserves. Because everything is to bring YHVH glory, if you refuse your position, like Vashti, there will be another to replace you. We tend to think that God will go on begging us to play our part and to do His work. The truth is that He doesn’t need us to accomplish His work. He wants us and desires us to be part of His plan, but He is King of the Universe, He doesn’t need us to do anything! So how merciful and beautiful that He would choose us to bring Him glory. Don’t refuse Him. There is always someone else who would love to take your place.

Hadassah also had to face the enemy seeking to destroy her and her people. She did not cower and she did not back down. She was smart and cunning when dealing with Haman and was able to find favor with the king on behalf of her people. We all face the enemy seeking to destroy us every day. Our enemy is not flesh and blood but the one who seeks to destroy the people of YHVH. He will try everything he can to deceive us and destroy us. He will whisper in our ears lies that keep us deceived. Lies that tell us we aren’t good enough. Lies that we didn’t really hear from God. Fear is one of his favorite tactics. If he can make us so afraid that we refuse to act, then he will be victorious over us every time.

Being afraid is normal, but it doesn’t have to stop us. Think about skydiving. You can be afraid, but you can’t let it stop you from jumping out of the plane. Don’t be afraid to stand up and be a voice in the desert. YHVH will never leave you alone; He will never leave you unprepared. Never be afraid to stand for what is right, even if it is against the law. Seek the Lord and ask for His wisdom and He will be faithful to provide and show you the way in which to walk.

This year, Purim begins on Saturday, March 15 at sundown and ends Sunday, March 16 at sundown. As you celebrate Purim, reflect on the story of Purim and the life of Hadassah, a courageous bride who saved her people.

A Sabbath Prayer: A Quiet Pool

“Quiet Pool” is from Frances J. Roberts’ book Come Away My Beloved. God has been showing me these past few weeks that I need to lay aside my worries, fears, doubts, questions, and anything else that keeps me from Him and His perfect peace…His shalom. This is really a great devotion any day but I thought it was especially perfect for ShabbatI pray this Sabbath you will enter into His rest. Enjoy and be blessed!

Wait upon Me.

Let your life be as a deep, quiet pool. Let your heart rest in My hand as a bird in a nest. Let your eyes be still. Let your hands be free. For then I shall fill all your vision, and then I shall take your hands into Mine and My power shall flow forth into you.

If you would only make yourself a place apart, yes, removed from the pressure and turmoil, and there I will meet you. Yes, I wait for your coming. For I long to pour out My blessings upon You, and I long to give you My fullness. Only be still before Me. Never let the toils and cares of the day rob you of this sweet fellowship with Me.

For I know what you need, and I am concerned about your duties and responsibilities. You will find your cares vanish, and your load is lightened by an unseen hand. I would have you bring Me your love, and even as you are bringing Me your love, I shall in turn bring to you My power, so that I work for you in a twofold measure.

I will give you the power to discharge your duties with greater efficiency. I am actively engaged in working for you in ways you cannot see, to make your path clear, and to bring about things you could never accomplish, and which would otherwise absorb your energies and wear out your patience.

So I say again…Rest in Me. Wait upon Me. Come apart with Me. Seek My face. Seek My fellowship.

O YHVH, what shame that You should need to beg us thus! Better that others might find us unavailable because of our occupation with You, rather than for us to be so slow to come, so dull to hear, so cold of heart, so indolent of soul.

O God, spare us Your wrath! Do not let Your anger be kindled against us. Let us ask only one thing more, and do not turn away.

Grant this one prayer more, O YHVH, that You would give us all that is lacking in us; intensify our hunger and fire our devotion; take the indifference from our spirits; and have within us Your wonderful way and perfect will, O YHVH, we pray. Amen

 

Why I Don’t Celebrate Valentine’s Day

I do not celebrate Valentine’s Day. I know what you’re probably thinking. “If you had a boyfriend you’d probably feel differently.” Thank you for pointing that out but, no, that’s not why I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. As a Biblical believer, I do not celebrate holidays that have pagan origins. I bet I know what you’re thinking again, besides asking “when did she become a mind-reader”: “But I don’t celebrate it that way so, it’s ok.”

In the spirit of romance, let’s think about it this way. What if your husband had previously dated someone and every year on this former girlfriend’s birthday, he had a celebration? When you ask him about why he celebrates his former girlfriend’s birthday every year, he says, “Well, I am not celebrating her birthday anymore. I redeemed it and now use it to celebrate your birthday!” I don’t know about you, ladies, but this answer would not make me happy. The fact that he still sees this day as any sort of holiday is bad enough but now, add the fact that he has taken my special day and changed it to what is her special day! I would not be thrilled…to say the least. I certainly wouldn’t want to celebrate this so-called holiday. Questions would race through my mind of, “Does he still love her?”

“Does he love her more than he loves me?”

“Does he just see me as a replacement for her?”

“Does he even love me, for me?”

It is the same with God. We all at one time lived apart from God and were joined to other lovers (i.e. the former girlfriend). When we make a commitment to leave our past behind and seek after YHVH with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, we must leave behind our past and our former lovers. The same questions we would ask if our husband refused to let go of his former girlfriend are the same questions God asks too. “Do they just see me as a replacement? Do they even love Me, for Me?”

When we just replace the meaning behind the pagan holidays and their rituals, instead of leaving them completely behind, we are doing the same thing as the husband in the analogy. We show YHVH we haven’t left our other gods behind; our former ways are our current ways but in a different form.  

While some historians believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated to commemorate the death or burial of St. Valentine (there are several prominent saints with this name so it’s uncertain which Saint Valentine is the real one), others claim that it was an attempt by the Christian church to “Christianize” the pagan ritual of Lupercalia. Lupercalia, celebrated February 15, was a Roman fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.

To kick off the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The Luperci priests would then sacrifice a dog as a symbol of purification and a goat as a symbol of fertility. The goat skin was then cut into strips and then dipped in sacrificial blood. The fields and the young women of the area were then “gently slapped” (whatever that means) with the dipped-in-blood goat strips in order to make them more fertile in the coming year.

According to legend, all the young women would then place their names in a giant urn, in which the city’s bachelors would then take turns selecting the name of a maiden to be paired with for the coming year. Often times, not always, however, these matches led to marriage. Because of the promiscuous nature of this pagan festival, it was outlawed at the end of the 5th century by Pope Gelasius, even though it had survived the initial rise of Christianity. Pope Gelasius declared February 14 to be St. Valentine’s Day as an alternative to Lupercalia.

So you see, Valentine’s Day is rooted in pagan tradition. YHVH tells us to be set-apart; a nation of priests. How can we be set-apart if we yoke ourselves to the ways of this world? Why is it so hard for us to let these things go? Yes, I know…they are tradition. And yes, I know…you don’t celebrate with these intentions. But does celebrating these holidays sanctify us? Does it bring glory to YHVH?

Many Christians say that they have somehow redeemed these pagan holidays for God and so it’s ok to celebrate them. The truth is that you as a person or we as the church body have no power to do that. Only God can redeem something. But does He really want to redeem these holidays? No, He doesn’t. He never chose these pagan celebrations for His people. Besides that, you can’t redeem something that was never yours to begin with. To redeem something means to release, liberate, deliver, rescue, save, or restore something. There is an implication that the thing you are trying to redeem once belonged to you but has since been lost. These pagan holidays never belonged to YHVH; they were never meant to be part of His system. In fact, He specifically warns us against the pagan ways of the surrounding nations.

         “Guard yourself that you are not ensnared to follow after them [the nations which YHVH cuts off], after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire about their mighty ones, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their mighty ones? And let me do so too.’ Do not do so to YHVH your God, for every abomination which YHVH hates they have done to their mighty ones, for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their mighty ones.” Deuteronomy 12:30-31

YHVH has feasts and celebrations that He has designated as set-apart in order to sanctify us. These are the holidays the people of YHVH should be celebrating, not holidays steeped in pagan and godless tradition. Leviticus 23 outlines the 7 feasts of YHVH as Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Shavuot (Pentecost), Yom Teruach (Day of Trumpets), Yom Kippur (Day of Coverings), and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). These were the holidays Yeshua would have celebrated. These are the holidays Jesus guarded and treasured with every fiber of His being.

Does it somehow negate what Jesus did on the cross to celebrate the Biblical feasts? Most certainly not. Yeshua Himself said, “And it is easier for the heavens and the earth to pass away than for one tittle of the Torah to fall away.” We, as Christians, believe that God and His Word stand forever; that they are unchanging. This includes His feasts and His warning against pagan celebrations.

If this day is all about showing love to the special people in your life, then let’s make a conscious effort to do that more than just this one day. We don’t need to designate a day to show those we care about that we love them. Maybe this year we need to get better about loving those around us, instead of needing a designated day to remind us. We can also work on showing YHVH that we love Him and His Word. Let’s show Him that we love Him more than our traditions. More than what everyone else is doing. More than our pride. More than ourselves. Let’s make everyday a good day to fulfill the Torah by loving YHVH and loving others!

 

The Blessing of Sabbath

Shabbat. Sabbath. The Lord’s Day. A day of rest. The seventh day. A holy day. The weekly holiday. These are just a few of the many names Shabbat or Sabbath goes by. But what is Sabbath really? The Torah, or the Word of God, tells us that this day is many things for the people of God. It is an everlasting sign of our covenant with YHVH (God) to be observed throughout our generations, it is a joy, it is a holy day, and it is life-giving to all those who guard it.

My grandmother raised my mom to observe Sabbath, who then taught me and my sister about Shabbat. While I can’t say that we always observed sabbath growing up, we did our best to try and now, because of the faithfulness of my grandmother, her children’s children love and guard the Sabbath of YHVH just as much as she does.

We always knew that the true day of Sabbath was Friday night to Saturday night and this confused me growing up in a church that said it had been changed to Sunday. It wasn’t until I was in college that I would find out the truth behind why this holy day was changed from the Friday/Saturday model to Sunday.

In Daniel 7:25, we are told, “and it [the fourth beast/the anti-Christ] speaks words against the Most High, and it wears out the set-apart ones of the Most High and it intends to change appointed times and law, and they [the set-apart ones] are given into its hand for a time and times and half a time.” From Daniel’s vision, we are told that the spirit of the anti-Christ is to change the appointed times and the law; change can include adding or taking away. What are the appointed times? In Hebrew, the word moedim means “feasts, appointed times, celebrations.” The word for “law” in Hebrew is Torah. However, Torah tends to get a bad reputation from this translation. Hebrew is a language of depth and rich with meaning. So to simply say Torah is “law”, we miss so much of the fullness of what it really is. Torah is truly God’s instruction book for His people. It is the righteous right-rulings that we are to live by. Just as our earthly father would establish rules for living in his house, our heavenly Father has rules for His house. So when any person tells us something that changes Torah, whether by adding or taking away from, we know this to be the spirit of the anti-Christ trying to destroy the ways of God and His people.

In 325 AD, Constantine, Emperor of Rome, held the First Council of Nicaea. It was through the Council of Nicaea that Constantine established many of the fundamental elements of Christianity as we know it today. Constantine was a relatively new ruler and many riots were breaking out at this time due to religious clashes between the Jews of conquered Jerusalem and the Romans who were now flocking to Jerusalem. In order to quench the riots, Constantine made a compromise between the two religions. He took the Nazarene faith (believers of Yeshua/Jesus) and mixed it with Mithraism (sun worship). He took the Nazarene’s belief in Yeshua and the sun worship of the pagan Romans and created the new “universal” religion of Catholicism. By taking elements of both religions, Constantine hoped to unite these warring factions and bring the people together in unity. We see many examples of this still happening today. We hear messages of “Coexist”, “we all worship the same god”, and “no one’s belief system is wrong.”  One of the elements Constantine kept from sun worship was their most holy day of the week…..SUN-day. This is how Sunday came to replace Friday/Saturday as the Sabbath.        

We can obviously see that the enemy has great motivation to change the system of God and to keep God’s people in the dark on these matters. Genesis 1:14 tells us that the sun, moon, and stars are to be “for signs and appointed times,” meaning that from the beginning there was a system in place that God designed to point us to the times and seasons He had ordained to meet with us. By changing this system, the enemy keeps us from knowing the times to meet with YHVH and keeps us from knowing the times and seasons we are in. Hebrews 4 tells us that Sabbath here on earth is a foreshadow of the ultimate sabbath rest we as believers will enter into one day…meaning dwelling in His Kingdom in the New Jerusalem. But if we don’t understand Shabbat, and more importantly His Torah and all the feasts of YHVH, we will never understand the fullness of the plan He has for us.

I know several people who had said that since they have begun to guard Shabbat, they have seen huge changes in their lives. For instance, they have drawn closer to God, they have seen spiritual blessings multiply in their lives, and they feel the peace of God covering their lives. Isaiah 58:13-14 says,

“If you do turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My set-apart day, and shall call the Sabbath ‘a delight’, the set-apart day of YHVH ‘esteemed,’ and shall esteem it, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in YHVH. And I shall cause you to ride on the heights of the earth, and feed you with the inheritance of Jacob your father. For the mouth of YHVH has spoken!”

So you see, keeping Shabbat is a blessing to those who guard it. We can also see YHVH feels very strongly about Sabbath and that it is to remain a holy, set-apart day. We also see from these verses that we are not to do “our own ways nor find our own pleasure” on Shabbat. This doesn’t mean that you should be unhappy or bored when celebrating Shabbat; it simply means that we are to find our delight in God on this day and not in the common things of life.

For example, keeping the Shabbat holy doesn’t mean you veg out, watch tv and never leave the couch. It means you spend your time with family and friends celebrating all that God has done for you this week. It means setting aside special time with YHVH to tell Him you love Him and in turn, letting Him refresh you and revive you. Setting this day apart as a holy day means not finding your pleasure in the common things of this life but in the holy things of above.

Many people ask, “But I’m not Jewish. Does the Sabbath still apply to me?” The answer is a resounding YES! Isaiah 56:1-7 tells us that any son of a foreigner who joins himself to YHVH, who guards the Sabbath, and holds fast to His covenant will be brought to the mountain of God and will rejoice in His house of prayer. God says He accepts the offerings of the son of a foreigner who joins Himself to YHVH. So we don’t have to be Jewish in order to keep Sabbath; we just have to be willing to join ourselves to the house of God.

There are some people who say that say that the Sabbath doesn’t have to be on a specific day of the week because any day is a good day to worship God. Yes, it is true that you can worship God any day of the week and not only on Sabbath but that doesn’t change the command YHVH gave us to keep this specific day holy. Keeping the Sabbath doesn’t negate worship on any other day and neither should it keep us from worshipping Him every, single day of the week or any time He calls us into prayer and worship. It simply means that there is something special about this day; something that can only happen on this day of the week. When we submit ourselves to our Husband, something incredible happens. We are free. As YHVH draws us close to Him on this day, we are made free to live the life that He desires for us. It is through obedience that we gain life and freedom. So when we choose to be obedient and live our lives as an offering to our Father, it is then that we gain a freedom we have never felt before; it is then that He breathes His spirit into us and refreshes our life.

I have heard it said that by keeping the Sabbath and guarding the Torah, that a person is put back “under the Law” and that these things somehow cancel what Jesus did on the cross. However, Yeshua kept the Sabbath. The Word is clear that He went to synagogue, read the Scriptures, spent time in prayer, taught and fellowshipped with His disciples, and even performed miracles on this day. If we are to strive to live our lives as Yeshua did, why don’t we strive to keep Shabbat as He did? I have never heard anyone say that the command “do not murder” is not to be kept because of Jesus’ death on the cross. We have no problem obeying “do not murder”, “do not commit adultery”, “honor your mother and father” and so on. So why do we have such a problem with Sabbath?     

YHVH and His Word are the same yesterday, today and forever. This means He does not change. His Word does not change. His Word does not contradict itself. YHVH is not the author of confusion; the enemy of the believers is, though. The enemy has a reason to keep us from knowing the truth about YHVH’s Torah, the truth about YHVH’s Ways, and the truth about Shabbat. If he can keep us in the dark and keep us from knowing the truth, it’s only that much easier for him to deceive us. We MUST seek the truth with all our heart! And when we find it, we cannot harden our heart to it. It may go against our traditions or what we were brought up to believe, but ultimately, if our hearts are seeking after YHVH’s truth, we have to let those things go. When we come before YHVH, we conform to His ways; we never make Him conform to our ways. We must be like Ruth who said, “Your God will be my God and your people shall be my people. Ba’asher telchi elech. Wherever you go, there I shall go.” It might be hard. Others may not understand or agree with what we are doing, but really, our goal in this life is to be a pleasing sacrifice to YHVH, not man.

Shabbat Shalom!