Bible Commentary: Esther 8

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Esther 8

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A New Edict

The same day as the events of the previous chapter, the king gave Haman's estate to Esther (Esther 8:1 Esther 8:1On that day did the king Ahasuerus give the house of Haman the Jews' enemy to Esther the queen. And Mordecai came before the king; for Esther had told what he was to her.
American King James Version×
). "Persian law gave the state the power to confiscate the property of those who had been condemned as criminals (cf. Herodotus 3.128-29...)" (note on verse 1). Esther revealed her relation to Mordecai, who was then brought in and given the king's signet ring, making him the prime minister in place of Haman. Mordecai's position is later explained to be "second to King Ahasuerus" (Esther 10:3 Esther 10:3For Mordecai the Jew was next to king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brothers, seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed.
American King James Version×
). Having just honored Mordecai for saving his life, the king probably saw this man as one he could trust. And Mordecai being the adoptive father of the queen was another reason to accord him high status. In a further example of poetic justice, Esther commits Haman's estate to Mordecai, making him very wealthy. Recall that Haman had sought to confiscate the property of the Jewish people (see Esther 3:13).

Yet there was still a major problem, which Esther brought to the king—the decree to destroy the Jews was still in effect. As other scriptures show, Persian law could not be altered (see Daniel 6:8 Daniel 6:8Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which alters not.
American King James Version×
, Daniel 6:12 Daniel 6:12Then they came near, and spoke before the king concerning the king's decree; Have you not signed a decree, that every man that shall ask a petition of any God or man within thirty days, save of you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions? The king answered and said, The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which alters not.
American King James Version×
, Daniel 6:15 Daniel 6:15Then these men assembled to the king, and said to the king, Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establishes may be changed.
American King James Version×
). But depending on the wording of a decree, a second decree might be able to effectively invalidate it. This is what the king instructed Esther and Mordecai to draw up in Esther 8:7-8 Esther 8:7-8 [7] Then the king Ahasuerus said to Esther the queen and to Mordecai the Jew, Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and him they have hanged on the gallows, because he laid his hand on the Jews. [8] Write you also for the Jews, as it likes you, in the king's name, and seal it with the king's ring: for the writing which is written in the king's name, and sealed with the king's ring, may no man reverse.
American King James Version×
. In verse 9 we see that it was the third month, still leaving almost nine months until the time set for the Jews' destruction in the first decree—thus allowing ample time to prepare for an attack at that time.

Verses 11-12 have led many to reject Esther as an uninspired book. The view is that Esther and Mordecai were evil in calling for such vengeance as to utterly wipe out their enemies, including women and children, when God had not ordered such a thing. Yet that is based on a misreading of these verses. If we carefully compare these verses with Haman's original decree, we can see that the original decree is actually quoted in them—so that the women and children are not those of the enemies but of the Jews. Note the wording of the original decree referred to in Esther 3:13 Esther 3:13And the letters were sent by posts into all the king's provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.
American King James Version×
: "And the letters were sent by couriers into all the king's provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions." The counter-order in chapter 8 is to defend against anyone who would try to carry out the wording of the first decree. Notice in Esther 8:11-12 Esther 8:11-12 [11] Wherein the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey, [12] On one day in all the provinces of king Ahasuerus, namely, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar.
American King James Version×
that the Jews were to "protect their lives—to destroy, kill, and annihilate all the forces of any people or province that would assault them, [them being the Jews, including] both [as the original decree stated, the Jews'] little children and women, and [who would assault the Jews] to plunder their possessions, on one day in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar." That this is not talking about the Jews killing the women and children of their enemies and plundering their property in revenge should be clear from the fact that when the Jews carried out the decree, they killed only men (see Esther 9:6 Esther 9:6And in Shushan the palace the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men.
American King James Version×
, Esther 9:12 Esther 9:12And the king said to Esther the queen, The Jews have slain and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the palace, and the ten sons of Haman; what have they done in the rest of the king's provinces? now what is your petition? and it shall be granted you: or what is your request further? and it shall be done.
American King James Version×
, Esther 9:15 Esther 9:15For the Jews that were in Shushan gathered themselves together on the fourteenth day also of the month Adar, and slew three hundred men at Shushan; but on the prey they laid not their hand.
American King James Version×
) and they did not take any plunder (see Esther 9:10 Esther 9:10The ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, slew they; but on the spoil laid they not their hand.
American King James Version×
, Esther 9:15-16 Esther 9:15-16 [15] For the Jews that were in Shushan gathered themselves together on the fourteenth day also of the month Adar, and slew three hundred men at Shushan; but on the prey they laid not their hand. [16] But the other Jews that were in the king's provinces gathered themselves together, and stood for their lives, and had rest from their enemies, and slew of their foes seventy and five thousand, but they laid not their hands on the prey,
American King James Version×
). The point of the new decree, then, was simply for the Jews to defend themselves against those enemies who would seek to cause them harm. However, this probably did include striking preemptively against those who had already shown themselves hostile to the Jews.

When the new decree came, the mourning of the Jews was replaced with great rejoicing (Esther 8:16 Esther 8:16The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honor.
American King James Version×
). No doubt news also spread of all that had transpired. This was a cause of great fear of the Jews among the people of the empire (verse 17)—no doubt due to a perceived supernatural favor that must have rested on them. Surprisingly, this sparked mass "conversions" (see same verse). The phrase "became Jews" is interesting—as it shows the name Jew as applied not in an ethnic sense but as denoting one who was part of the Jewish religious community. Motivated by fear of the Jewish people, it seems likely that most of these conversions were not genuine. Many may have merely claimed to be Jews without making any changes in their lives at all. Nevertheless, this all served to increase the acceptance of the Jews in the empire—and it enlarged their numbers to help dissuade would-be attackers. The real point here, though, is to see just how far the tables had turned. The change was so drastic that it was now deemed dangerous to not be a Jew.

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