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February 27, 2018

Ancient Scroll of Esther

200-year old Megilat-Esther (Scroll of Esther) on Parchment, passed
down from Norma Sarvis’s ancestors in Belarus.


This Thursday March 1, the 14th of Adar * (beginning sundown the evening before), is Purim—the day when Jews celebrate, as described in the Book of Esther, their remarkable deliverance from a plot in Persia in 483 B.C. to annihilate them as a people.

It is a joyous occasion. The Scroll (Book) of Esther will be read. This is the only book of the Hebrew Bible which has from ancient times been copied out onto small parchment scrolls for use in many Jewish homes (see picture above). It is a time for celebration! “Feast” or “feasting” are mentioned at least eighteen times in the Book of Esther. A traditional Hebrew word for holiday yom tov appears only here (Esther 8:17) in the Bible. There will be Purim plays and costume parties; special pastries (Oznei-Haman—“Haman’s Ears”, small tri-folded butter cookies with sweet fillings), desserts and wine.

Although these are meant to be days for rejoicing and feasting (Esther 9:18-19)—for the observant, they are preceded by days of soberness of spirit and fasting. Esther 9:31 relates how, following the great deliverance, Mordechai and Queen Esther also prescribed annual times for fasting and lamentation, in remembrance of those which the Queen had called for her Jewish subjects as she was preparing herself to go in and seek the favour of the King.

An “Esther Fast” will be observed by many Jews from dawn to sundown Wednesday February 28th.

It is unfortunate that Purim has come to be regarded in Israel primarily as a minor holiday for children (often adorned in Halloween costumes from America). We bless the children, certainly—but for their very sake we believe it important that Israel take seriously all of the message of this season. We encourage you to join with us in doing so!

As an act of Intercession read through the Book of Esther, asking the Lord to illumine its message for today. Perhaps He will lead you to join together with us in the fast. Pray that the LORD our Banner would expose and deliver Israel from the covenant-hating spirit of
Amalek—which, like Haman in Esther and Mordechai’s day, would seek to annihilate God’s Covenant people Israel. And then, rejoice and celebrate the God who watches over all who care for and guard His covenants—to guide them in the way of His kindness and truth (Psalm 25:10).

* In most of the world, Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar (March 1 this year). However, Jerusalem and other “walled cities” celebrate “Sushan Purim” a day later on the 15th of Adar—as was done in ancient Shushan—“Susa” (Esther 9:18-19).

From Norma

Arise, Shine, for your Light has come!
(Isaiah 60:1)

The name “Isaiah” in Hebrew means, ‘The LORD is salvation.’ Central to the message of the book bearing his name (written over 700 years before the birth of Yeshua), is the declaration to Israel of the coming of her Messiah (Interestingly, the Hebrew roots forming this name are the same as those in the name Yeshua—“Jesus”). We find it fascinating the way this book and its message have happened to surface and to be highlighted at significant times in the modern history of the nation of Israel. Here are a few!

In 1947 the complete Scroll of Isaiah was among seven ancient scrolls discovered by three Bedouin shepherds in Qumran Cave #1 near the Dead Sea. A few fragments are missing, but otherwise it is complete. How interesting, that it was discovered just before the modern State of Israel was born! The Book is filled with Scriptures about Israel and her significance—

“ ‘Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her children. Shall I bring to the time of birth and not cause delivery?’ says the LORD.” (Is. 66:8-9)

Today, this precious scroll is stored at the Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, underground in a highly protected environment so that the parchment does not further deteriorate. A facsimile is mounted under glass at ground level for public viewing.

In 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the Modern State of Israel, the original fragile scroll was brought to the surface and placed on display for the public. Its two sections were laid out in two cases, with special UV- filtered lighting and exceptionally heightened security. The display proved so popular that it was extended, lasting over three months. Visiting this was quite an emotional experience for us. We were actually viewing an over 2000-year-old hand-copied scroll of Isaiah, penned on that piece of parchment many years before the Saviour of whom it prophesied would come into the world. It was written with modern Hebrew lettering…we will never forget how as we were looking over it, suddenly the words of Isaiah 60:` leapt out at us, Kumi, ori, ki va orekh—“Arise, Shine, for your Light has come!” Because, except for the guards, we were in the room alone, while viewing it, we were able to pray over this precious Word, for the salvation of our nation…that the veil will be removed and they will see their Light which is come!

Just last week, as Israel readies for her 70th anniversary, Isaiah again was in the news! Archeologists released the news that a clay seal was found near the Temple Mount which may well have belonged to the prophet Isaiah! The name ‘Isaiah’ is clearly visible on this artifact. A second word appears, but for the last letter which is missing and may have been chipped away, to spell the ancient Hebrew for “prophet.” This seal or bulla was discovered ten feet away from the place where a seal of Hezekiah was found in 2015. One archeologist commented, ‘You are looking at the first archeological reference of the prophet Isaiah outside of the Bible. It is amazing!”

I find it so interesting that in 1947 as Israel was going through birth-pangs, and 2008 at Israel’s 60th birthday, the book of Isaiah was highlighted in a special way in Israel. And now, the prophet himself is in the news!

Let us pray that Israel, as she enters into this significant year will be illumined to know ‘The LORD is Salvation!” Let us pray that many will have a revelation of the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, who bore away her sin.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…”

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