Purim is almost upon us. Next Wednesday night, we will join the rest of the Jewish world in reading the Book of Esther, remembering how God used Esther and Mordecai to save the Jewish people from the hands of Haman and the Persians. The Shabbat before Purim is always referred to as Shabbat Zachor, or the Shabbat of Remembrance. Its purpose is to remember the command in Deuteronomy to never forget what the Amalekites did to the Israelites in the wilderness.
We read, “Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget” (Deut 25:17–19).
The special Haftarah portion for the day is 1 Sam 15:2–34 where we read that Saul was given the command to destroy the Amalekites. However, he takes many of their animals and spares the king named Agag. As a result, he loses his right to kingship and is dethroned. This ties into Purim because Haman is descended from King Agag of the Amalekites. Haman is Amalek by another name. In Jewish understanding, people who seek to do harm to the Jewish people are Amalek. Therefore, to remember Amalek has come to mean remembering our history of persecution and resolving that it would never happen again. There is a phrase that has been used in the Jewish world since the Holocaust: Never again!
The sad truth is that anti-Jewish sentiment will continue until Yeshua returns. We are called to fight it and always remember that this type of thinking and behavior comes from the forces of darkness who fight against God. Therefore, this behavior always reminds us of the calling of Israel to be a light to the nations. It also should motivate us to share the Good News of the Messiah with Jewish people.
As Messiah followers, Jew and Gentile, we all identify with the king of Israel, Yeshua. Therefore, we can all relate to Shabbat Zachor! We should all remember that the forces of darkness are against anyone who identifies with the God of Israel! Yeshua said: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:10–12).
As Israel, and all people who come under the headship of the King of Israel, we remember the persecutions and difficulty. But there is more to this remembrance than remembering a difficult past. Shabbat Zachor is also a call to remember the great promises of God. We remember the tenacity to survive and thrive, and the miraculous demonstrations of deliverance. We remember hope! (See, for example, Romans 5:3 and James 1:3).
Yeshua said, “Remember me!” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). We must always remember the forgiveness and deliverance of our sins in Messiah Yeshua. The weekly Torah portion for the week is Vayikra (Leviticus 1–5) which describes the various offerings that the people could bring to the tabernacle to restore relationship with God. They all point to the offering of Messiah. We must always remember that there will be a resurrection of the dead and life forever in a new heaven and new earth. On Shabbat Zachor, we remember Purim—which always reminds us that to be on the right side of history is to be with the God of Israel, now in Yeshua the Messiah. In him there is the hope of victory!
Finally, a question is raised as to “Why Amalek”? Why not the Egyptians who certainly persecuted Israel? The answer given is that while Egypt enslaved the people, the Amalekites specifically took advantage of the vulnerable people on the journey in the wilderness. The text specifically says, “how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God” (Deut 25:18). May we always remember that Amalek can be found not only in anti-Jewish or anti-Messiah follower activities. Amalek may also be found in a lack of concern or interest in those who are vulnerable, who are faint and weary. May Amalek not be found among us! (But more on that when we get to Leviticus 19 in a few weeks!)