The date was fast approaching: the time when anyone could kill a Jewish person and take anything that he or she owned with the full authority and permission of the Persian government.
Think of what it must have been like to be a Jewish person living in the Persian Empire during that period. Imagine how many people saw that time as an opportunity to act on their anti-Semitism. How many others viewed that date as a chance to enrich themselves at the expense of a Jewish family? How many enemies of the Jewish people took the time to identify their targets, plot their strategy, and plan their options as that day approached? How do you think you would feel if you had to live with the knowledge that some of your neighbors were actively plotting to kill you?
Now it might be easy to say, “Well, why couldn’t the Jewish people just relocate and get away from those who wanted to kill them?” That would normally seem to be a good idea but the question is, relocate to where? Remember that the Persian Empire covered most of the known world at that time. There was scarcely a place where anyone could go that would not be subject to Haman’s decree.
We should also remember that travel was slow and difficult in those days. There were few paved roads and there was always the potential danger of bad weather or thieves along the way. The best option might be to try and hide out during that time but a determined enemy would be sure to find you- and even if you did survive, who knows what would be left of your former home once you returned.
So things looked pretty bleak- but then the royal couriers suddenly delivered a second decree. This new law stated:
“On the thirteenth day of Adar, the twelfth month, the Jews in every city and province will be allowed to get together and defend themselves. They may destroy any army that attacks them, and they may kill all of their enemies, including women and children. They may also take everything that belongs to their enemies. A copy of this law is to be posted in every province and read by everyone” (Esther 8:11 CEV).
This new law gave the Jewish people the legal protection they needed to defend themselves against those who sought to kill them. However, there were large numbers of others who joined Haman in his anti-Semitic attitude- and those people would not be so easily deterred
“These were the king’s orders: The Jewish people in every city have the right to gather together to protect themselves. They may destroy, kill, and completely wipe out the army of any state or people who attack them. And they are to do the same to the women and children of that army. They may also take by force the property of their enemies” (Esther 8:11 NCV).
The king’s ruling meant that the Jewish people had now been given the right to protect their homes, their properties, and their lives with the full authority of the Persian government. This was great news for the Jewish community within the Persian Empire but the cold hard truth was that Haman was far from alone in his hatred of people like Mordecai and the rest of the Jewish population in general. The reality was that there were tens of thousands of other “Hamans” throughout the Persian Empire as well.
So what about those others who were still planning to act under the authority of Haman’s first law? What about those who had already worked out their strategy to attack the Jewish people? What about those who saw Haman’s unjust law as a good opportunity to make a profit? What about those who were determined not to miss a once in a lifetime chance to act on their extreme anti-Semitism?
You see, even though the government had now issued a second order allowing the Jews to protect themselves, this second order didn’t necessarily prevent anyone from attempting to carry out the instructions of the first order. As we’ll see, that’s apparently what many people throughout the Persian Empire decided to do at the cost of their lives.
As we go on to look at the tens of thousands of deaths that will be inflicted upon the enemies of the Jewish people in Esther chapter nine, we shouldn’t lose sight of an important truth: choices lead to consequences. You see, many people will lose their lives because one man wanted to eliminate an entire group of people just to get back at someone who had “disrespected” him. That man was Haman, and if he had never launched his initial attack upon the Jewish people then tens of thousands of others who shared the same anti-Semitic attitude would never have lost their lives.
In this instance, Haman’s ungodly choice led to a series of unintended consequences that ultimately ended the lives of thousands of people, including his own.
“Now in the twelfth month, that is, the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, the time came for the king’s command and his decree to be executed. On the day that the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, the opposite occurred, in that the Jews themselves overpowered those who hated them.
The Jews gathered together in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm. And no one could withstand them, because fear of them fell upon all people” (Esther 9:1-2).
You may remember that Haman originally chose the thirteenth day of the month of Adar as the date to execute his plan to eliminate the Jewish people (see Esther chapter three). Haman chose this particular date by “casting Pur” as we’re told in Esther 3:7. The process of “casting Pur” was somewhat similar to the act of throwing dice while playing a board game today. This probably involved tossing an ancient form of dice upon a calendar in order to determine the right date to take a particular course of action.
As it turned out, this superstitious attempt to determine the best date to destroy the Jewish people resulted in an outcome that Haman never anticipated for,“On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them” (Esther 9:1 NIV). This experience should serve as a serious warning to anyone who -like Haman- may be tempted to seek direction from a game of chance or a spiritual source other than God. Those other sources might include things like fortune-telling, astrology, psychic readings, séances, or the use of things like tarot cards, Ouija boards, or other similar forms of divination.
Remember that Haman thought that he had chosen the right date to execute his plan but the opposite occurred on the date that he was directed to choose. Not only did the enemies of the Jewish people die on that date, but Haman lost his own life long before that time ever arrived. If Haman had only sought direction from God or one of His representatives, then he would have received a much different answer and thousands of deaths (including his own) could have been avoided.
So in the end, the only thing Haman really did was to provide an opportunity for the Jewish people to legally overpower those who wanted to kill them.
“In the first month (that is, the month of Nisan) in the twelfth year of the rule of King Ahasuerus, servants threw pur, namely, dice, in front of Haman to find the best day for his plan. They tried every day and every month, and the dice chose the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar)” (Esther 3:7 CEB).
The Bible provides some very clear warnings against the kind of activity that Haman used to execute his plan against the Jewish people. For instance, one Biblical warning against this type of activity is found in Deuteronomy 18:10-12, a passage that warns people about getting involved with those who practice a similar sort of divination or other, related things. Another example is found in the Old Testament book of 1 Chronicles where we’re told that King Saul died specifically because he went to a medium with a request to bring the prophet Samuel back from the dead (1 Chronicles 10:13).
Of course, anyone who is familiar with the Bible may point to a New Testament example where the Apostles cast lots to determine who should be chosen to replace Judas following his betrayal of Jesus (see Acts 1:15-26). So why was it OK for the Apostles to cast lots but not OK for Haman to do the same? Well, the difference has to do with intent.
You see, the Apostles intended to discover God’s will through the act of casting lots. We know this because the Scriptures tell us, “Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs'” (Acts 1:24-25 NIV). While we could say that the act of casting lots is probably not the best way to learn God’s will, what the Apostles did was very different from what Haman did. The Apostles sought to learn what God wanted them to do, but Haman had no concern for God’s direction and superstitiously sought to determine the best date to carry out a personal attack against a race of people he hated.
Instead of seeking guidance from a roll of the dice or some unknown spiritual source, the Bible provides us with a better alternative for anyone seeking to learn about the future…
“Someone may say to you, ‘Let’s ask the mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead. With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do.’ But shouldn’t people ask God for guidance? Should the living seek guidance from the dead?” (Isaiah 8:19 NLT).
So “On the very day that the enemies of the Jews hoped to overpower them, the tables were turned against them. The Jews overpowered their enemies instead” (Esther 9:1 CEB). This passage tells us that Haman was not the only person in the Persian Empire with an agenda against the Jewish people. As mentioned earlier, Esther 9:1 tells that there were many “Hamans” throughout the Empire who saw Adar 13th as an opportunity to overpower, rule over (ASV), gain mastery (ESV), or take power over (LITV), the hated Jewish people.
So in response to Haman’s decree, the Jewish population gathered together as permitted under Mordecai’s law for a single purpose: “…to defend themselves against those who tried to harm them” (Esther 9:2 CEB). The original language used to author this passage tells us that there were people within the Persian Empire who actually tried to “search out” or “strive after” (1) the members of the Jewish community with the intent to inflict evil upon them. (2)
In response, the Jewish people within the cities of the Persian Empire gathered together in an act of self-defense and the result was that “no one could stand against them, for the fear of them had fallen on all peoples” (Esther 9:2 ESV). There were two reasons to explain the fact no one could stand against these Jewish citizens. One of those reasons should be fairly obvious but the other may be much less obvious.
The obvious reason for the success of the Jewish people in defending against Haman’s unjust law comes first…
“And all the officials of the provinces, the satraps, the governors, and all those doing the king’s work, helped the Jews, because the fear of Mordecai fell upon them. For Mordecai was great in the king’s palace, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces; for this man Mordecai became increasingly prominent” (Esther 9:3-4).
While the members of the Jewish community gathered together for self-defense, it’s clear that they received some important help. That help came in the form of the various government officials who worked to assist the Jewish people against those who sought to harm them. You see, these governmental leaders were faced with three choices…
- They could choose enforce Haman’s earlier decree.
- They could choose to enforce Mordecai’s later decree.
- Or they could choose to do nothing and watch to see how these two competing laws affected the events of the day.
We’ll take a closer look at why these officials may have chosen to help enforce Mordecai’s decree next.
(1) OT:1245 baqash (baw-kash’); a primitive root; to search out (by any method, specifically in worship or prayer); by implication, to strive after (Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
(2) OT:7451 ra` (rah); from OT:7489; bad or (as noun) evil (natural or moral): (Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
“And all the rulers of the provinces, and the lieutenants, and the deputies, and officers of the king, helped the Jews; because the fear of Mordecai fell upon them” (Esther 9:3 KJV).
Even though Haman had once been a powerful government official, his authority had now disappeared following his execution in disgrace. Since he had now become a politically unimportant figure, it made very little sense for any other governmental leader to enforce Haman’s decree.
There was also the fact that “Everyone was afraid of the Jews…” (Esther 9:2 CEV) during this time. This fear provided these governmental leaders with an internal motivation to protect the Jewish people against those who desired to kill them. The reasoning behind their internal fearfulness is explained next: “all the provincial officials—governors, administrators, and royal representatives—helped the Jews because they were all afraid of Mordecai” (Esther 9:3 GNB).
It should come as no surprise when political leaders make decisions for their own political benefit- and these government officials could clearly see that Mordecai was a leader who was growing in both power and influence. Therefore, it made good sense for these officials to help carry out Mordecai’s decree and protect the Jewish people. When faced with an opportunity to gain favor with the Queen (Esther, a Jewish woman) and the Prime Minister (Mordecai, a Jewish man), these lower level officials decided to make the politically beneficial decision to assist the Jewish people.
So when taken together, these explanations represent some of the more obvious reasons to explain the fact that no one could stand against the Jewish people. However, there is another, less obvious (but far more important) explanation behind the success of the Jewish people in defending against Haman’s unjust law. That reason can be found in the fact that God remains true to His promises even when His faithfulness may not seem very visible.
For instance, God made an important promise to Esther and Mordecai’s ancestor Abraham when He said, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you…” (Genesis 12:3). Even though there were no bright lights or thunderous pronouncements to call attention to the way that God fulfilled this promise in the lives of Esther, Mordecai, and the rest of the Jewish people living in the Persian Empire at that time, God still kept His word to these descendants of Abraham just as He had promised.
“Thus the Jews defeated all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, with slaughter and destruction, and did what they pleased with those who hated them.
And in Shushan the citadel the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men. Also Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai, and Vajezatha the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews — they killed; but they did not lay a hand on the plunder” (Esther 9:5-10).
Its possible to read through the passage quoted above but still fail to grasp the extreme level of violence that these verses represent. For instance, it seems that there were people in Shushan whose anti-Semitic hatred was so great that they actually decided to sacrifice their lives in an attempt to eliminate the Jewish people. While this level of bloodshed may be difficult to comprehend, we should remember that the members of the Jewish community in Shushan were dealing with a group of individuals who were determined to inflict something that we might refer to as “ethnic cleansing” today.
Among those who lost their lives in this action were Haman’s ten sons. While these verses provide no detail regarding their deaths, it’s possible that Haman’s sons held the same anti-Semitic attitude as Haman did while attempting to enforce the terms of his decree. If this is true, then it means that these men did not sacrifice their lives for a noble or honorable cause but gave their lives instead as an act of racial hatred.
Another possibility is that Haman’s sons tried to avenge their father’s death in some way. You see, Haman and his family had once belonged to a privileged, upper class level of society and the disgrace of his public execution (along with the loss of his estate) was sure to be something that would infuriate his sons. Remember that these men had lost everything their father owned- and now the very same person who had once been the object of their father’s hatred was now living in their family home, being served by their family’s attendants, and spending their family’s inheritance.
Since months had passed since the time of his humiliating death, Haman’s sons had a good opportunity to allow any such feelings of anger or resentment seethe and grow. With these things in mind, it’s easy to imagine a situation where Haman’s sons made a strong effort to avenge their father’s death on the very day his decree went into effect.
“In Susa, the capital city itself, the Jews killed five hundred people. Among them were the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews…” (Esther 9:6-7 GNB).
One final possibility to explain the bloodshed against Haman’s family is that one or more Jewish citizens of Shushan initiated an attack on Haman’s sons. Remember that Haman’s sons represented a potential threat to the Jewish people as long as they lived, and the decision may have been made to treat them in much the same way as opposing forces treat each other during wartime. In other words, Haman’s sons may have been classified as “enemy combatants” during the one-day war that took place on the thirteenth of Adar and lost their lives as a result.
But whatever the precise reason, the Jewish people involved in this action did something highly unusual for those who were victorious in a conflict such as this: “…the Jews didn’t lay a hand on anything their enemies owned” (Esther 9:10 CEB). You see, it was common for the victors in an armed conflict to lay claim to anything of value that a defeated enemy may have possessed. At the very least, it’s was not unusual for a returning soldier to carry a memento or souvenir home from the battle. In fact, Haman’s earlier decree stated that anyone who killed a Jewish person on the 13th of Adar could take and keep his or her belongings (Esther 3:13). But we’re told three times in Esther chapter nine that the Jewish people “…laid no hand on the plunder” (ESV).
Since it was a common practice in those days to take anything valuable from a defeated enemy, it appears that the Jewish people made a deliberate decision to be different. But the question is why? Why wouldn’t the Jewish people take anything of value from their vanquished enemies? Well, there is a long answer and a short answer to that question.
The short answer is this: the refusal to take anything of value would demonstrate to everyone that the Jewish people were interested in their survival and not in any material gain. In other words, the people who decided to use Haman’s decree as a opportunity to declare war upon the Jews lost their lives as a result of their desire to commit genocide and not because the Jewish people wanted to plunder them. This told everyone that the Jewish community’s real motivation was protecting their lives against those who sought to kill them and not in growing rich as a result of someone else’s death.
“And in Shushan the palace the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men” (Esther 9:6).
There is another answer to help explain the fact that the Jewish people did not take anything that had been owned by those who were killed. That answer involves some unfinished business between Mordecai’s ancestors and Haman’s ancestors.
As was mentioned earlier, it’s very likely that Haman was a member of a people group known as the Amalekites. The Amalekites had been one of Israel’s oldest enemies going all the way back to the days when the Israelites left Egypt on the way to the land that God promised to give them. Their attacks on the people of Israel eventually caused God to make the following statement: “Write this into a permanent record, to be remembered forever, and announce to Joshua that I will utterly blot out every trace of Amalek.” (Exodus 17:14 TLB).
Later on, God gave these instructions to a prophet named Samuel: “This is what the LORD of Hosts says: ‘I witnessed what the Amalekites did to the Israelites when they opposed them along the way as they were coming out of Egypt. Now go and attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have. Do not spare them. Kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.” (1 Samuel 15:2-3 HCSB).
Samuel gave this command to a king named Saul, the man who served as leader over Israel during that time. Saul got his army together and we’re told that, “He captured Agag, the Amalekite king, but completely destroyed everyone else. Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality” (1 Samuel 15:8-10).
So Saul’s instructions were clear: wipe out the Amalekites along with everything they owned. But Saul and his men decided instead to hold on to everything they thought was good. So it’s possible that the Jewish people learned from Saul’s bad example and made a conscious decision to refuse to take anything of value from those who desired to kill them. This would help to right the wrong that Saul had done and help to demonstrate that the Jewish people were sincerely interested in following God’s instructions, even if it meant passing up an opportunity to enrich themselves.
“On that day the number of those who were killed in Shushan the citadel was brought to the king. And the king said to Queen Esther, ‘The Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the citadel, and the ten sons of Haman. What have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? Now what is your petition? It shall be granted to you. Or what is your further request? It shall be done'” (Esther 9:11-12)
The “citadel” in Shushan probably referred to the area of Shushan where the king’s palace and other governmental centers were located. Today we might refer to this area as a precinct or district within the capital city and five hundred people lost their lives there as a result of Haman’s decree and Mordecai’s counter-decree.
When this news was delivered to the king, he responded with a rhetorical question, or a figure of speech where a question is used for emphasis or effect: “If that many were killed here, what must have happened in the provinces? (Esther 9:12 CEV). The unspoken assumption behind this question was that many others had also died throughout the Empire as a result of this action- and as we’ll soon see, the king’s instincts proved to be correct.
But first, the king had a request to make of his queen: “Is there anything else you want done? Just tell me, and it will be done” (Esther 9:12 CEV). Well, as it turned out, Esther did have something else in mind…
“Then Esther said, ‘If it pleases the king, let it be granted to the Jews who are in Shushan to do again tomorrow according to today’s decree, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged on the gallows.’ So the king commanded this to be done; the decree was issued in Shushan, and they hanged Haman’s ten sons. And the Jews who were in Shushan gathered together again on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and killed three hundred men at Shushan; but they did not lay a hand on the plunder” (Esther 9:13-15).
It’s not entirely clear why Esther asked the king to grant this one-day extension for the Jewish community of Shushan to continue this fight against their enemies. A person who is unfamiliar with Esther’s story up to this point might simply assume that she made this request with an attitude of revenge or vindictiveness. But before we assign those motives to Esther’s request, we should stop to think about the other possibilities that may have led to her response- and we’ll look at some of those possibilities next
“‘If it please the king,” Queen Esther responded, ‘give the Jews of Susa permission to extend the terms of the order another day. And have the bodies of Haman’s ten sons hanged in public display on the gallows'” (Esther 9:13 MSG).
Even though the fighting in the citadel area of Shushan had already claimed the lives of five hundred people, there may have been more enemies hiding out within the larger portion of the city. That possibility may have led Esther to request a second day to deal with any remaining adversaries who were still left behind. It’s also possible that Esther somehow learned of further attacks that were being planned against the Jewish people. If this was the case, then her request was designed to help prevent future acts of terrorism and further protect the lives of her people.
But whatever the exact reason, eight hundred enemies of the Jewish people were eventually killed in Shushan over this two day period. And to help serve as an additional deterrent, Esther made one additional request: “‘…let the bodies of Haman’s ten sons be hanged on the platform'” (Esther 9:13 NCV). Now we know from a previous passage that Haman’s ten sons were already dead (see Esther 9 6-10). Since these men had already been killed, what purpose would this request serve?
Well, the concept behind Esther’s request was similar to the modern day idea behind the graphic images that are shown to encourage people to stop smoking cigarettes or avoid driving an automobile while intoxicated. For example, the graphic images of smoking-related diseases or mangled auto wrecks are used to communicate an important message: “This could happen to you if you smoke cigarettes or drive a vehicle under the influence of alcohol.”
In a similar way, the public display of these bodies would help deter any further anti-Semitism and serve as a warning to anyone who might seek to plan further evil against the Jewish people. In fact, the wording behind this passage seems to indicate that Haman’s sons were hanged upon the very same gallows that their father had originally intended to use to kill Mordecai.
If this is true, then it means that the bodies of Haman’s sons were hanged upon a 75 foot (23 m) tall gallows that could be seen by just about anyone in Shushan. That would help to serve as a strong deterrent to anyone else who might seek to act against the Jewish community in that area.
“The remainder of the Jews in the king’s provinces gathered together and protected their lives, had rest from their enemies, and killed seventy-five thousand of their enemies; but they did not lay a hand on the plunder. This was on the thirteenth day.
And on the fourteenth of the month they rested and made it a day of feasting and gladness. But the Jews who were at Shushan assembled together on the thirteenth day, as well as on the fourteenth; and on the fifteenth of the month they rested, and made it a day of feasting and gladness” (Esther 9:16-18).
So the good news was that the Jewish people were victorious against the effects of Haman’s decree. The bad news was that more than 75,000 people had to die as a result. To get an idea of how many people this number actually represents, 75,000 citizens would represent the entire approximate population of the American cities of Wilmington Delaware, Boca Raton Florida, or Pawtucket Rhode Island. This number would represent the total approximate number of citizens in the cities of Chatham England, Rockhampton Queensland Australia, or Chilliwack Canada.
So the tens of thousands of people within the Persian Empire who shared Haman’s attitude also shared his fate. This should help to provide us with an idea of just how much anti-Semitism existed within the Persian Empire at that time. Remember that we’ve already been told that “no one could withstand (the Jewish people)” in Esther 9:2. Yet despite the fact that no one could withstand the members of the Jewish community, more than 75,000 people apparently still tried to do so.
We also know that “…all the rulers of the provinces-the governors, officials, and aides-helped the Jews for fear of Mordecai” (Esther 9:3 TLB). But even in spite of these disadvantages, it appears that the enemies of the Jewish people still continued to fight against the Jews, even to the death. This should help to illustrate the deep anti-Semitic attitude that was held by some within the Persian Empire during that time.
While the Jewish community in Persia successfully defended themselves against those who were their enemies, their response does bring up an important question for those who follow Jesus and take the Scriptures seriously today. For instance, a thinking person who is familiar with the Scriptures may have trouble reconciling the response of God’s people in Esther chapter nine and Jesus’ teachings from Mathew chapter five. We’ll take a closer look at those teachings and their relationship to events of Esther chapter nine next.
Anyone who is familiar with the New Testament may find it difficult to reconcile the instructions found in Matthew chapter five with the actions taken by God’s people in Esther chapter nine. For instance, what about Jesus’ famous teaching from the Sermon On The Mount in Matthew chapter five when He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43-44 NKJV).
Doesn’t there seem to be a conflict between the response of God’s people in Esther chapter nine and Jesus’ instruction in Matthew chapter five? Well, here’s how one source answers this important question…
“This (response) seems to contradict all we as New Testament believers understand about retribution. Romans 12:17 couldn’t be clearer: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” Verse 19 continues, “Do not take revenge.” Were the Jews disobedient to God’s law? Had Mordecai and Esther been extreme in proposing this bloody plan (cf. 8:8)?
What is clear from both passages and from the entire biblical testimony is the reality of God’s wrath and judgment. In the Old Testament, the Jews were instructed to kill their enemies as a way of executing God’s wrath (cf. 1 Sam. 15). Today’s reading from Esther complies with Old Testament law (cf. Ex. 21:23-25). The language of this passage clearly states that the killings that took place were not random. They targeted the enemies of the Jews (vv. 2, 5, 14). The Jews took up arms, not to satisfy their own bloodthirst, but to defend themselves. They were not motivated by greed because they specifically did not lay hands on the plunder of their enemies (vv. 10, 15, 16). These killings were a righteous expression of the wrath of God against His enemies.
Jesus redefined our position towards our enemies: love them and don’t seek revenge (cf. Matt. 5:38-42). This doesn’t mean that God no longer executes His wrath against the evildoer. Romans 12:19 promises that God Himself will repay the wicked their due. What initially might have appeared to be a contradiction is now the fullest picture of how God treats sin and the unrepentant sinner.” (1)
We’ll talk more about this important relationship between the Old and New Testaments next.
(1) Today In The Word Moody Bible Institute, Saturday, May 28, 2005
“The other Jews who were in the king’s provinces had also assembled to defend and free themselves from their enemies. They killed 75,000 of those who hated them…” (Esther 9:16 GW).
“Don’t pay people back with evil for the evil they do to you, or ridicule those who ridicule you. Instead, bless them, because you were called to inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9 GW).
Even though God no longer calls human beings to participate in executing His justice as He once did in the Old Testament, this does not mean that God’s attitude towards evil or wrongdoing has changed. You see, the reality is that every human being is facing a death sentence right now, at this very moment (see Genesis 2:16-17). The execution of that sentence is only a question of where, when, and by what method.
Remember that God’s standard for human beings is perfection. He has every right to demand that we meet this standard because that’s how He originally created us (see Genesis 1:31). Unfortunately, the very first human couple broke this standard when they chose to disobey God. Everyone since then has followed in the footsteps of this first couple (Adam and Eve) in disobeying God. Since God is completely and totally perfect, he can’t just let things “slide;” He has to act justly when someone breaks the rules. Unfortunately, the sentence for disobeying God results in the death penalty for anyone who is guilty.
This death penalty may be executed in many different forms including illness, accident, old age, or different kinds of warfare. In the Old Testament, God sometimes chose to use human beings to carry out this penalty. But beginning with the New Testament and continuing today, Jesus has instructed us to, “Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them! And don’t be concerned about the fact that they won’t repay. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as sons of God: for he is kind to the unthankful and to those who are very wicked. (Luke 6:35 TLB).
This does not mean that God changed His mind or changed the rules. Remember that the timing and execution of this death penalty is completely up to God and just because God no longer involves human beings in this process as He once did in the Old Testament doesn’t mean that the penalty no longer applies. The good news is that even though you can’t avoid the death penalty, you can avoid the death sentence.
“Therefore the Jews of the villages who dwelt in the unwalled towns celebrated the fourteenth day of the month of Adar with gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and for sending presents to one another.
And Mordecai wrote these things and sent letters to all the Jews, near and far, who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, to establish among them that they should celebrate yearly the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar, as the days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies, as the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:19-22).
So the fighting in the rural areas of the Persian Empire ended on the thirteenth day of the month but the hostilities continued for one additional day in the urban areas of Shushan. This helps to explain why these victory celebrations were held on two separate days. And just to make sure that everyone understood how and why these two dates were to be celebrated as holidays, Mordecai put together a sort of “reference manual” for everyone to use when he “recorded these things and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far” (Esther 9:20 ESV).
The act of setting aside this period as a special time of celebration would help the Jewish people to remember what God had done for them in saving them from those who had tried to end their existence. Since God did not have an easily visible role in protecting the Jewish people from the effects of Haman’s law, this holiday celebration would help to remind everyone that these events were no mere coincidences.
In one sense, this idea is not unlike the modern day holidays of Christmas and Easter where two specific dates are set aside as remembrances of Jesus’ birth along with His death and resurrection. And like those special days, the remembrance of the Jewish people’s deliverance in the book of Esther also continues today. As we’ll see, this annual celebration is still known by the very same name that was given to it in the book of Esther: Purim (pronounced “poor – eem”), the joyous celebration of the Israelites’ deliverance from Haman’s attempt to wipe them out.
“So the Jews accepted the custom which they had begun, as Mordecai had written to them, because Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to annihilate them, and had cast Pur (that is, the lot), to consume them and destroy them; but when Esther came before the king, he commanded by letter that this wicked plot which Haman had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows.
So they called these days Purim, after the name Pur. Therefore, because of all the words of this letter, what they had seen concerning this matter, and what had happened to them, the Jews established and imposed it upon themselves and their descendants and all who would join them, that without fail they should celebrate these two days every year, according to the written instructions and according to the prescribed time, that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city, that these days of Purim should not fail to be observed among the Jews, and that the memory of them should not perish among their descendants” (Esther 9:23-28).
As mentioned earlier, the annual celebration mentioned above is still known by this very same name today: Purim (pronounced “poor – eem”), the joyous celebration of the Israelites’ deliverance from Haman’s evil decree. Today, the observance of Purim begins with a time of fasting on March 13th referred to as “The Fast Of Esther.” This commemorates the period when Esther and the people of Israel fasted before she approached King Ahasuerus to plead for the lives of her people.
During this holiday, the book of Esther is publicly read within the synagogue, the place of worship among the Jewish people. People also give gifts to support those less fortunate and send meals to one another (see verse 22). In this way, the Jewish people of the 21st century continue to carry out Mordecai’s 5th century B.C. instruction: “…every Jewish family of every future generation in every province and every city should remember and observe the days of Purim for all time to come” (Esther 9:28 GNB).
However, we’re told that “…the Jews took it upon themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year” (Esther 9:27 NIV emphasis added). This could indicate that some were not comfortable with the establishment of Purim as a national holiday- and that may have led to some direct action from the Queen.
“The Jews ordained and took it upon themselves and their descendants and all who joined them that without fail every year they would keep these two days at the appointed time and as it was written” (Esther 9:27 AMP).
Even though the idea of celebrating Purim seems to have been widely accepted, there may have been some who were uncomfortable with those who “…took it upon themselves…” to set up another religious holiday alongside the others that had been already established by God in the first five books of the Bible. This could help to explain why the Queen felt that it was necessary to get involved…
“Then Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter about Purim. And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews, to the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, with words of peace and truth, to confirm these days of Purim at their appointed time, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had prescribed for them, and as they had decreed for themselves and their descendants concerning matters of their fasting and lamenting.
So the decree of Esther confirmed these matters of Purim, and it was written in the book” (Esther 9:29-32).
Even though Mordecai had risen to become a powerful official within the Persian Empire, it seems that Esther still felt it was necessary to affirm his earlier message recognizing Purim as a national holiday (see Esther 9:20-23). The queen’s letter apparently wasn’t intended to be a direct commandment but seems to be a friendly attempt to encourage the Jewish people to join in the observance of Purim “…with words of peace and truth.” In any event, “Esther’s command confirmed these customs of Purim, which were then written into the record” (HCSB) for everyone to follow.
So even though the enemies of the Jewish people had hoped to eliminate them through the use of Haman’s decree, the opposite occurred and the Jewish people were given “…rest from their enemies” (Esther 9:22 RV). Although Haman’s law appeared to spell the end for the Jewish people, God’s “behind the scenes” provision had actually provided them with a great victory over those who had originally intended to harm them.
Like the Jewish people of the Persian Empire during this time, you never know what God may be doing behind the scenes on your behalf. Remember, just because you can’t see God at work doesn’t necessarily mean that He isn’t working to make good things happen without your knowledge.