Focal Passage: Esther 8:3-9:3, 26-28
Haman is dead.
Mordecai is saved, elevated with Esther to the highest echelons of power.
But what about the other Persian Jews? There’s still an edict in effect ordering their destruction.
The king would like to help, but a royal edict, once issued, cannot be revoked. The solution?
Esther and Mordecai may write an additional edict if they choose (8:3-8).
They go for self-defense, matching their enemies blow-for-blow and word-for-word.
Haman’s original edict gave orders to “destroy, kill and annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children … and plunder their goods” (3:13). Mordecai’s new edict allows the Jews to “destroy, kill and annihilate” whoever attacks them, “with their children and women, and plunder their goods,” and on the very day that Haman picked for the extermination (8:11-12).
During the Cold War it was called MAD — Mutually Assured Destruction. Our nation’s principal deterrent against a Soviet nuclear attack was the sure and certain knowledge that if they shot first we could, and would, shoot back, with equal or greater force.
Destroy us, and they would be destroyed, blow-for-blow. “Mad,” maybe, but effective.
Is deterrence what Esther and Mordecai are after? Faced with mutual destruction, everybody might just stand down. If not, the Jews will defend themselves. Or are they planning a preemptive strike?
Another lesson writer accuses the study guide of “sanitizing” the account by overlooking the carnage in Chapter 9.
The text is ambiguous about who starts the killing spree, but the Jews are strongly implicated and clearly have the upper hand: 500 enemies dead in the capital alone (8:17-9:6).
Even the king seems appalled: “What more do you want?” Esther requests a one-day extension to mop up the stragglers, including Haman’s ten sons (9:7-14).
The final body count empire-wide is 75,000 (9:16). To the Jews’ credit, “they did not touch the plunder” (9:10, 15). Robbery is not the motive here.
Purim is the two-day festival celebrating the victory (9:17-28): “a day for gladness and feasting … for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.” In this final reversal, the day Haman intended for sorrow is now remembered joyfully as one of deliverance.
The book clearly wants us to recognize God’s hand, even unnamed. Haman the Amalekite almost certainly would have gone after the Jews, sooner or later.
That Mordecai and Esther were on the scene and able to help was providential.
But the slaughter! Was God pleased with that? No wonder we need Jesus.