The word “Purim” means “lots,” and it is the plural form of “the lot” referred to in Esther 3:7, “In the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast pur (that is, the lot) before Haman to determine the day and the month until it fell on the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.” The lot was cast to determine on what day the Jewish people of Persia were to be annihilated.

The cause for the attack was the villain Haman’s outrage that a Jew named Mordecai would not bow or pay him homage. So Haman wanted to destroy not only Mordecai, but all of Mordecai’s people (see verses 5 and 6).

The heroine of Purim is, of course, Queen Esther, and the point of Purim is that God works in wonderful and unexpected ways to preserve His people. God used Esther’s beauty to place her in the court of the king, so there would be an advocate for the Jewish people when Haman’s wicked plot unfolded. But in addition to her beauty, Esther had the courage to approach the king to make the plight of her people known. The king had already assented to Haman’s request for a royal decree that the Jewish people be killed and plundered on the 13th day of the 12th month, and that decree could not be revoked (as per the Law of the Medes and Persians).

When the king realized that he had agreed to the destruction of Esther’s people, he had Haman executed. Then he allowed Mordecai to craft another decree that would counteract the first, enabling Jewish people to defend themselves against those who hated them. When the day came for their destruction, they prevailed. Those who wished to destroy the Jewish people were themselves destroyed.

Purim celebrations often include children’s pageants, with children dressing up as the various characters found in the book of Esther. The entire book of Esther is read in the synagogue and when Haman’s name is mentioned, noisy booing, stomping of feet and twirling of noisemakers is encouraged to blot out his name. Cheering for Mordecai and Esther is likewise encouraged. Some people send gift baskets on Purim. Purim is also a time for jokes and pranks among some who consider it somewhat of a Jewish “April Fool’s Day.” Most important, Purim is a time to reflect on God’s sovereign role in the preservation of the Jewish people. And it is time to reflect on how God chooses to use people who are willing to play a part in His plans, though it be at great risk to themselves.

A Christian application for Purim might go something like this: God keeps His promises and works against (what to us might seem like) great odds to save His people. This is true, not just in the physical, but in the spiritual world. If God puts you in a position of favor with an unbeliever, whether Jewish or Gentile, perhaps His purpose is for you, like Queen Esther, to do or say something courageous. Perhaps it is you He is waiting to use as an instrument of His salvation in that person’s life. As it is written in Esther 4:14: “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”