Purim: Self-Defense in Jewish History

Today, March 6th, begins Purim 2023. This Jewish holiday is often treated like a blending of Christmas, Halloween and Easter with candy, gifts and costumes for kids. Most Christians ignore it. But there is a deep significance that goes beyond the over-romanticized marriage of newly crowned queen, Esther — who replaced Vashti when she was thrown out of the kingdom —  and King Ahasuerus, ruler of the Persia-Median Empire.

The story is in the Book of Esther where Haman (the King’s adviser probably a descendant of Amalekites, ancient enemies of Israel) prevails on the King to decree a genocide against the captive Jewish population. The date was set by purim; i.e., the drawing of lots. The fact that Esther was secretly Jewish led to her appealing to the King not to allow the destruction of her people. According to the Hebrew calendar, Purim lands on the 14th day of the month Adar, which is the sixth month of the (Jewish) year. Adar roughly corresponds to March in the Gregorian calendar, give or take a few days.

The photo below depicts Jan Žižka, a  contemporary and follower of Jan Hus and who led the resistance against overwhelming professional troops by raising a volunteer army of untrained farmers armed with pikes and a few muskets and pistols.   Žižka was a successful military leader and is now a national hero in the Czech Republic. He was nicknamed "One-eyed Žižka", having lost one and then both eyes. Jan Žižka led Hussite forces against three crusades and never lost a single battle despite being completely blind in his last stages of life. Like Esther, he stood for his people and stopped a genocide. The Moravian War helped launch the Reformation years before the time of Martin Luther.

Queen Esther stood for her people while facing possible death for daring to approach the king without being summoned. King Ahasuerus issued a new decree because under the ancient laws of the Medes, the King cannot revoke a decree that he has previously entered and proclaimed.

The new Decree allowed the Jews to defend themselves. Most Jews and Christians seem to draw all kinds of interesting and valuable conclusions about how God works behind the scenes providentially and according to His sovereign will. The fact, however, that the King’s Decree permitted citizens of the empire to come to the defense of their Jewish neighbors raises the issue of whether the story is first about the Second Amendment.

Certainly there are all kinds of symbolic and allegorical elements to Esther’s dramatic act of standing for her people during a dangerous and critical time in the history of the Jewish people. For twenty-four hours the decree allowed Jews to confiscate the property of those who were trying to kill them. The Jews and their friends were so successful in defending the Jewish population that Ahasuerus issued another Decree giving the Jews another twenty-four hours to confiscate property.

The temporary solution to an imminent genocide was similar to the Second Amendment because it authorized self-defense and defense of others for forty-eight hours. The Second Amendment does the same thing permanently for all Americans as long as the U.S. Constitution and the right to bear arms remains unimpaired.

Most religious people I know don’t see this as being a very acceptable interpretation. The armed defense element of the story usually gets overlooked in most Sunday School presentations and over the pulpits of most preachers. When I tell my Christian brothers and sisters that armed defense is a calling from God, they laugh nervously or look at me like I am a heretic.

However you interpret this Bible story, it invites all kinds of hermeneutics (principles of interpreting Scriptural text). The first and most important rule of exegeting a text is to look at how it was understood by the author at the time.

And secondly, look at how the text was understood by the audience that received the text at the time. Modern Jews celebrate Purim by giving gifts to children and the poor. I don’t recommend going out and purchasing firearms for minor children or poor people, however.

But how many honest, working people in violence-ridden neighborhoods would benefit from knowing what the Bible says about armed self-defense—and so many other subjects—that are often ignored because of the potential for controversy and dissension? With proper training in the full Gospel and an understanding of how God delivers His people from oppression, poverty, violence and injustice, violent places like Chicago could be transformed!

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