Saturday, May 11, 2024


The book of Esther is interesting because, throughout the book, God is not mentioned, although he is clearly behind some of the events described. God rescues Esther and her Uncle Mordecai from an evil political leader called Haman. This is an inspiring event, but there are a couple of difficulties with the book.

The first tricky issue is that Esther was chosen to be a member of the king’s harem (Esther 2:8) As an exile in Persia, Esther only had the rights of a slave. If she had refused to join the harem, she would have been killed. She chose to save her life and submit to the king. God blessed her decision, so we have to assume that he did not have a problem with her choice. He understood that she had very limited scope for action.

The second problem is more difficult, due to unjustified violence. Haman told the King of Persia that the Jews were keeping themselves separate and were a risk to his empire. He claimed that they did not obey the king’s commands (Est 3:8). Haman persuaded the king to issue a decree that the Jews could be massacred on a particular day without any recriminations.

The royal secretaries were summoned. They wrote out in the script of each province and in the language of each people all Haman’s orders to the king’s satraps, the governors of the various provinces and the nobles of the various peoples. These were written in the name of King Xerxes himself and sealed with his own ring. Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day (Est 3:12-14).
This was a terrible menace to the future of God’s people. Fortunately, Esther was able to intervene with the king and explain that her life and the lives of her people were in jeopardy. The king was enraged, and Haman was hung (Est 7:5-10). The king issued a new edict giving the Jews the right to defend themselves against any attack on them or their property.

The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate the armed men of any nationality or province who might attack them and their women and children and to plunder the property of their enemies... A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality (Est 8:11,13).
This new edict turned the situation around. The people of Persia became afraid of the Jews, and any who had planned to attack them quickly changed their minds. On the day when they were due to be attacked, the Jews gathered together to protect themselves (Est 9:2-3). The Jewish response was extremely harsh.
The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them,and they did what they pleased to those who hated them (Est 9:5).
Eight hundred people were killed in the Citadel of Suza, where the king lived. Seventy-five thousand people were killed in the rest of Persia on the 13th and 14th day of the month of Adar.

Mordicai established these days as a feast for the Jews.

Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor (Est 9:20-21).
This feast is called Purim, and it is celebrated by the Jews to this day. However, it is different from the main feasts of Israel (Passover, Weeks, Trumpets, Tabernacles). These were formally instituted by God (Lev 23), whereas Purim was instituted by a human appointed by a pagan king (not by God). The decree was confirmed by Queen Esther (Est 9:32). Feasts initiated by God have more vailidity.

Several things should be noted about the events behind this nasty event in Persia.

  • Standards of justice were low in the Persian Empire. As exiles in the land, the Jews were bound to obey the decrees of the Persian king, but they also subject to a higher law. They were not entitled to act according to the commands of the king, if they were contrary to the Torah.

  • God did not command the Jewish people to attack and kill their enemies in Persia. The king had given an edict that allowed this response, but the decision to attack and kill people was taken by the people themselves. They effectively chose to become a lynch mob.

  • The violent action of the people could not be justified by the Jewish law. The Torah allows people to defend themselves if they are attacked, but it does not allow pre-emptive attacks against potential enemies.

  • The Jews organised for the ten sons of Haman to be killed on the gallows. According to the Torah, children are not to be punished for the sins of fathers (Deut 24:16; Ezek 18:17-18).

  • Celebration of unjustified violence is a dangerous practice for a nation, as it opens it up to spirits of violence.

  • The Purim event is used by modern Israel to justify pre-emptive violence against its enemies. This practice is wrong because it is contrary to the Torah’s teaching on Defence and War.

The book of Esther must not be used as a justification for pre-emptive military strikes. For God's people, war must always be a last resort, preceded by strenuous to make peace.

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