Esther 9-10 – The Day of Reckoning and Rejoicing
9:1-4 – The day arrives. After all that had been done and the joy of chapter eight, the actual day for the struggle of the Jews had yet to be decided though things were increasingly in the favor of the Jews. The Jews had been authorized to defend themselves against anyone taking aggression against them on the thirteenth of the twelfth month. Not only could they take action against such persons, but they also had the support of the government officials and so “the tables were turned” (cf. Jer.30:16). The rise of Mordecai lent tremendous support to the upsurge of Jewish support by the various government personnel including those who were earlier mentioned as caring for the monies that Haman would have contributed to the coffers of Persia (9:3-4; cf. 3:9).
9:5-17 – The defeat of the Jewish enemies and the end of Haman. Rather than this being a Jewish killing spree, it was an organized and authorized response to aggression against the Jews. In fact, the author of Esther repeats three times that the Jews did not take any plunder as they had been authorized to do by the edict from Mordecai (9:10, 15, 16; cf. 8:11). It is stated that the Jews “did what they pleased” which would be a reversal of what Xerxes had told Haman he could do to the people he plotted against (cf. 3:11). What they “pleased” was not the same level of destruction that had been plotted against them though. However, the sons of Haman were all put to death and thus their names were listed in order to signify the complete destruction of Haman’s family line. As an aside, the names of his ten sons are listed in the Hebrew text with the name to one side and the definite direct object marker to the other creating a clearly distinct list-type following the pattern of the list of defeated kings in Joshua 12:9-24 and cities gifted by David after defeating his enemies at Ziklag in 1 Samuel 20:27-31. There was a clear accounting to the king of all those killed in the citadel of Susa (9:11-12), Susa proper (9:15) and throughout the empire (9:16). After reporting to the king the initial slaughter of the Jewish enemies in the citadel of Susa he asked what more could be done for Esther giving her a sort of carte blanche to do as she desired. So Esther requested that the enemies in Susa proper be dealt with the next day. Were they expected to try to continue to attack the Jews? Why should she ask for another day of killing? The text does not answer this. The killing that lasted an extra day in the city of Susa became the reason that the celebration of Purim was observed on two different dates by Jews in the cities and those in the country (9:18-19). Esther also asked that Haman’s ten sons that were killed be hung on gallows for a public display of their shame (cf. 1 Sam.31:1-13 – the public display of the bodies of King Saul and his sons by hanging). The numbers reported killed (500; 300; 75,000) have been considered nothing more than items of farcical comedy by some (Berlin 81-82), but records of factual history by others (Jobes 199) despite the excessive numbers.
9:18-32 – The institution of Purim. The “day of feasting and joy” was not observed on the days of killing and battle, but on the day after when things were peaceful finally. Also, the “celebration is…different from the feasts prescribed by the Torah. Rather than being imposed on the people from above as God’s command met, Purim began as the spontaneous response of God’s people to his omnipotent faithfulness to the promises of the covenant” (Jobes 214). The institution of this day (though celebrated on different days in different locations) became one of celebration for having gained “rest” from enemies (contrast how Haman plotted to take “rest” from Jews by their enemies – 3:8). It was not a celebration of battle or destruction. It was a celebration of joy having come from sorrow and rest from enemies and thus a day for blessing others including particularly the poor (9:19, 22). Thus, Mordecai wrote and sent letters about these events to all of the Jews throughout the empire and described what should be done concerning this celebration that it should be carried out in perpetuity (9:27-28; cf. Exo.17:14). The Jews received this gladly (9:23, 27). As part of the closing remarks the story was written in summary fashion (9:24-25) as an “‘official version’ of the story…simplified and sanitized” to make the king seem to be the one responsible for saving the Jews from wicked Haman and thus leading to the reversal of events (Berlin 90). This all was used for an etiological explanation for the name “Purim” as the casting of the pur (an Akkadian term that had the Hebrew plural affixed to it for unknown reasons in naming the festival) or lot which would otherwise apparently be lost to the readers of the book since it was some time after the initial events. Esther also wrote a letter of commendation for this celebration. Both of their letters were sent to all of the provinces of the empire as a message of “goodwill and assurance” (Heb. shālôm wə’ĕmet “peace and truth”; cf. Isa.39:8; Jer.33:6; and the reverse order in Zech.8:19). Not only was there to be feasting, but this appears to have been preceded by a time of fasting (likely over the days of conflict leading to the celebration with rest and feasting). Why should Esther have written something more than what Mordecai had written and what might this have added to the credibility of that writing? Perhaps this adds to the established authority of Esther who earliest in the story was submissive and now was one who acted the part of the queen as one with authority.
10:1-3 – The continued rise of Mordecai. The conclusion of the book (technically 9:18-10:3) acts as a sort of appendix to summarize what happened after the events of the victory of the Jews against their enemies where the Lord had turned their “lot” from sorrow and destruction into one of joy and blessing. The final few verses enumerate how Mordecai continued to exercise authority throughout the empire as well as to be recorded in the annals of Persia for all he did (following the identical pattern for recordings of the kings of Israel and Judah, for example: 1 Kings 14:29; 15:7, 23, 31; 16:14; 1 Chron. 27:24; 2 Chron.25:26). Mordecai was exalted among the Jews because of all he did on their behalf (cf. the celebration of “Mordecai’s Day” in 2 Macc.15:36). Why should Mordecai be so exalted in the conclusion of a book named after Esther?