First, let us explain that the Feast of Purim is not one of God’s commanded Holy Days. It is celebrated by the Jews, and observing the Purim Feast by them is, per se, not against Scripture. As a Jew, Jesus would have kept the Feast of Purim, although there is no specific reference in the New Testament that He did. But as it is pointed out in the Question, many times the way in which it is celebrated is clearly against God’s commandments.
The date for Purim in 2010 was February 28th and this year will be on March 20th.
Wikipedia makes the following comments about this festival:
“Purim is a festival that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people of the ancient Persian Empire from Haman’s plot to annihilate them, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther. According to the story, Haman cast lots to determine the day upon which to exterminate the Jews.
“Purim is celebrated annually according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (Adar II in leap years), the day following the victory of the Jews over their enemies; as with all Jewish holidays, Purim begins at sundown on the previous secular day. In cities that were protected by a surrounding wall at the time of Joshua, including Shushan and Jerusalem, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, known as Shushan Purim. Purim is characterized by public recitation of the Book of Esther, giving mutual gifts of food and drink, giving charity to the poor, and a celebratory meal. Other customs include drinking wine, wearing of masks and costumes, and public celebration.”
Many of these activities are praiseworthy. Giving charity to the poor is a trait that we must all practice (Deuteronomy 15:7, 11; Proverbs 22:9 and 28:27; Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:33 and 14:13; Acts 10:4; and Galatians 2:10, among many other references in the Bible). Giving mutual gifts of food and wine to others shows good hospitality (Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7-8; 1 Peter 4:9). Dancing and celebration in themselves are not wrong (Exodus 15:20; 2 Samuel 6:16; Psalm 30:11; Luke 15:25), but when this leads to excess and wrong behaviour, then it is not in accordance with biblical instruction on how to live our lives.
In a programme broadcast on British television in February 2010, it showed what happened at the Feast of Purim in Jerusalem last year. The presenter said that this was the one day of the year that the Mea She’arim (the ultra-orthodox Jews who will stone your car if you drive into their area on the Sabbath) were allowed to get so drunk that they wouldn’t even remember it. They interviewed young religious men saying to the camera that they were going to get really drunk and seemed to revel in the idea.
In her book “This is Israel”, Sylvia Mann wrote the following in 1980: “…Mea She’arim is still looking as it did a century ago. The whole community is Ashkenazi – Jews of Eastern or Central European origin – and is fanatically orthodox. Only Yiddish is spoken, for Hebrew is observed as the language of prayer.”
Of course, the Mea She’arim are just one group of Jews who observe the feast of Purim.
One report about Purim in 2009 said: “A group of ultra-Orthodox men, black silk coats shining, fur shtreimels on their heads, stood yesterday on the corner of one of Tel Aviv’s bastions of secular life – Ahad Ha’am and Sheinkin streets – formed a circle and broke out in Hassidic dance. They pulled a secular man into the circle with them, singing at the top of their lungs, perhaps a bit tipsy. I had not seen such true joy in a long time. My eldest son was just then on his way back to Tel Aviv from a trance party at Hamat Gader in the north, which had begun at dawn and ended with last light. Six thousand young people, 28 arrests for possession of narcotics, and on the phone my son said it had been great. And yet the ultra-Orthodox dancing was more memorable for me. The day before I was thrown out with threats from Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim quarter.”
Another report said: “One is supposed to imbibe enough strong drink to blur the distinction between Mordechai and Haman, there was no sign on the streets of anyone being overtly drunk. Passing the large Yakiray Yisrael Yeshiva, however, we could see bottles being passed around amongst the men in the large study hall that had been converted into a makeshift all-male dance hall.”
We can see from all this information that this group conducts itself as being ultra conservative throughout the year, but on the Feast of Purim, drinking, smoking by the very young and drug taking is all permitted.
There are indeed a number of issues that we need to address and lessons that we can learn.
First of all, the modest and sensible use of alcohol is permitted. Psalm 104:15 talks about “wine that makes glad the heart of man.” The apostle Paul encourages Timothy to “use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities” (1 Timothy 5:23), and Jesus instituted the New Testament Passover with the bread and wine (Matthew 26:27-29; Mark 14:23-25; Luke 22:20). However, the excess of alcohol is condemned (compare Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-32; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Timothy 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:3). Drunkenness is one of the works of the flesh “and those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21; compare also 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Drug use can lead to or is intoxication. Illegal drugs are clearly prohibited in Scripture, but even the use of “legal” drugs can be dangerous, and the same Scriptural principles can apply as they do to alcohol. One report said that “The short term effects of any intoxication can be slurred speech, staggering, and poor judgment and reflexes. Large doses can cause unconsciousness or death. The user may become so confused he takes more drugs without realizing the consequences. Long term effects can be addiction. Users think they must have the drug to function. Obtaining drugs can then become the main function of life. Tolerance requires greater amounts to get the same effect. Stopping can cause extreme withdrawal, anxiety, convulsions and even death.”
With respect to cigarette smoking, God says that our bodies are the temple of God. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who [better: which] is in you, whom [which] you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
The Bible never directly states that smoking is wrong. But many biblical principles prohibit smoking. 1 Corinthians 6:12 tells us: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Paul is not saying that it is lawful for him to commit murder. But even in regard to things which are “neutral” or permitted, he still refuses to come under their power or mastery. How much more it is true that we must not engage in things which are harmful.
Smoking is undeniably strongly addictive, and it is clearly very bad for our health, causing damage to the lungs and the heart. Smoking is in no way “helpful” or “expedient” (1 Corinthians 6:12, Authorized Version). We are not glorifying God with our body, when we smoke (1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31). Smoking does not reflect any love and care for ourselves and our health.
In addition, smoking is also not just merely unpleasant for passive by-standers, but medical research has shown that it is very dangerous for their health as well. It can even become, to an extent, more dangerous than for the smoker. Smoking does not show love for our fellow man; it is totally selfish and self-oriented.
It is important to note that the Bible teaches that true Christianity is a way of life. In Acts 9:2 we read: “…[Saul] asked letters from [the high priest] to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem..” Acts 19:23 further enforces this understanding: “And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way.”
True Christianity is a full-time commitment – a complete way of life, every second of every day – without taking any time off. If we let down our defences Satan will exploit any weaknesses that we have and any carelessness that we show if we are not close to God and stay that way. Unlike those who have not been called at this time and who do stray from their normal religious behaviour even if for only one day a year, we must take our calling very seriously at all times. We must remember that “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
1 Peter 5:6-10 tells us exactly what we must do: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.”
Lead Writer: Brian Gale