Esther 9: 1 – 17 Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, when the king’s command and edict were about to be executed, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain power over them, but which had been changed to a day when the Jews would gain power over their foes, the Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who had sought their ruin; and no one could withstand them, because the fear of them had fallen upon all peoples. All the officials of the provinces, the satraps and the governors, and the royal officials were supporting the Jews, because the fear of Mordecai had fallen upon them. For Mordecai was powerful in the king’s house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces as the man Mordecai grew more and more powerful. So the Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, slaughtering, and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them. In the citadel of Susa the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred people. They killed Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai, Vaizatha, the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews; but they did not touch the plunder.
That very day the number of those killed in the citadel of Susa was reported to the king. The king said to Queen Esther, ‘In the citadel of Susa the Jews have killed five hundred people and also 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 you. And what further is your request? It shall be fulfilled.’ Esther said, ‘If it pleases the king, let the Jews who are in Susa be allowed tomorrow also to do according to this day’s edict, and let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows.’ So the king commanded this to be done; a decree was issued in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they killed three hundred people in Susa; but they did not touch the plunder.
Now the other Jews who were in the king’s provinces also gathered to defend their lives, and gained relief from their enemies, and killed seventy-five thousand of those who hated them; but they laid no hands on the plunder. This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that a day of feasting and gladness.
Reflection The story of Esther is nearing its end. The great reversal of fortunes of the Jewish people, whose annihilation was plotted, is now revealed.
Similarities with the Exodus story are brought to mind, except that God’s actions, so prominent in saving the threatened Israelites in Exodus, are hidden in the story of Esther. Esther is told in such a way that the reader is invited to ponder how it is possible for the Jewish people not only to survive this attack upon their existence, but subsequently to flourish.
I suppose it depends on the presuppositions the reader brings to reading Esther. Is it by the sheer brilliance and single mindedness of Esther and Mordecai that the Jewish people are saved? Or is it by a series of providential coincidences that they survive and flourish? Or is this a demonstration by the God of Israel that the chosen people will not be abandoned to their fate, and their times are in God’s hands? Or is it a combination of these, or other factors that brings them to safety?
The divine hand, secretly at work for good in all, is written into Esther. The big picture, presenting God’s saving work in the midst of the people of God, is celebrated joyfully in the Jewish festival of Purim. Christians too, can appreciate this celebration of the hidden work of God in our midst.
However, this demonstration of God’s salvation is not without its problems. The awful reality of the Holocaust and endemic anti-Semitism are two issues. When we venture into the details of the story – the necessary Jewish slaughter of their enemies is difficult to accept, despite being interpreted as a defensive measure.
I hope we can avoid allegorising details of this story. God’s Spirit is indeed at work in our world.
Gracious God We believe that you are at work in our world, beckoning us on, not forcing our cooperation, but working in and throughout our lives and the life of the world. Open us out to your Spirit’s presence, that we may play our part in your kingdom’s work. In Christ’s name we ask this Amen
The Revd John A Young, retired minister of the National Synod of Scotland URC, member of Giffnock URC.