We begin our "lucky 13" story in the book of Esther, where the number appears more times (six) than any other Biblical book. Persian King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I the Great) promotes a man named Haman to the powerful position of Prime Minister (Esther 3:1). This promotion makes him the second most powerful person in the vast empire!
Haman soon becomes enraged, however, when a Jewish official named Mordecai refuses to follow the king's command to bow and revere him like a god (Esther 3:1 - 5). His fierce anger moves him not only to seek revenge on Mordecai but also on all the Jews throughout the empire (Esther 1:1, 3:6).
Haman's lucky day
Haman hatches a plan to convince the king that the Jews are worthless lawbreakers who deserve total annihilation. Being a superstitious person, he decides to find which day will prove lucky for his evil scheme of genocide to succeed.
Starting in Nisan (Abib), the first month of the Hebrew sacred year, Haman has lots (called Pur) cast each day to determine which one might be lucky. He continues this practice for a number of days until, on day 13 of the twelfth month (Adar), he receives the sign he has waited for (Esther 3:7, 13)! It is on this day of the month that he plans to fulfill his revenge against the Jews.
It is possible Haman also decided to appear before the king with his accusations and murderous plan on the same day the lots came up lucky (Adar 13). He almost certainly needed such favor, as Persian kings made it illegal for anyone to approach them, on their throne, unless they were summoned (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, Chapter 6, Section 3, see also Esther 4:11).
Those who dared break the law of the king would receive an immediate death penalty from axe-wielding guards. Even Queen Esther had to have the king extend her special favor, through his sceptre, before she could safely come to him (4:11, 5:1 - 2).
An edict of destruction
Haman approaches the king and receives the permission he desires to destroy the Jews (Esther 3:10 - 11). He then waits until his lucky day 13 arrives the following month (Nisan) before having the royal scribes write the official edict declaring all Jews should be destroyed on the thirteenth day of Adar. The edict is then immediately sent to Persian officials, with copies posted for all people to see (verses 12 - 15).
Haman's edict is unusual and especially brutal. It is not only delivered to those working for the king it is also posted, in several languages, in all 127 provinces for everyone to read! All Jews, including women and children (regardless of age), were to be murdered by the empire's non-Jewish residents. As an further incentive for carrying out this demonic order, anyone who killed a Jew was allowed to take their land, cattle and any other possessions as spoil (Esther 3:13 - 15).
Destined for failure
Haman's luck begins to run out, however, when both Queen Esther and Mordecai (both Jews) get involved to save their people. Additionally, though not directly recorded in the Bible, God seems to have had a hand in certain perfectly timed events that turned the tide against Haman (Esther 5:2 - 3, 6:1 - 11, 7:8).
Haman is executed less than two and one half months after recording his edict of death (Esther 7 to 8:9). Queen Esther then quickly arranges for the king to write a new edict. This decree authorizes all Jews to defend themselves on Adar 13 against all those who would do them harm. When the day arrives, even the public officials defend the Jewish people from being slaughtered (9:3 - 4).
A day to remember
The number 13 would ultimately prove lucky for the Jews. They not only were spared destruction, they were able to rid the empire of all those who hated them. Their influence in the empire also grew tremendously, in large measure due to Mordecai replacing Haman as the Prime Minister (Esther 8:1 - 2). Mordecai is also given control of Haman's vast wealth, which in today's money was worth more than $150 million dollars.
Every year, starting at sunset on Adar 13 (see Esther 9:15, 19 - 21), Jews celebrate their deliverance on Purim. The holiday's name is the Hebrew plural of the Persian word for "lots" (Pur) which, though initially used to seal their demise, became a reason to celebrate their luck!