The final three chapters of the book include the feasting at Mordecai’s promotion and the two feasts of Purim. These chapters bring about a resolution to the themes of the book, tell us the purpose of the book, and show us the resolution of the most important conflict in the book — the conflict between those wishing to exterminate the Jewish people and the Jewish people themselves. These chapters show that God’s decree will come to pass, even without miracles to accomplish it. They show that the Jewish people understood this battle as a continuing part of the war between Israel and the Amalekites, which God said He would fight for Israel. And all of the literary devices in use in the book find their climax in this conclusion.
Esther 8 begins, ”On that day King Ahasuerus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told what he was to her. And the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman” (Esther 8:1-2). Yet the conflict is not completely resolved at this point. After all, the decree that cannot be revoked is still in effect. Therefore, the text tells us, ”Then Esther spoke again to the king. She fell at his feet and wept and pleaded with him to avert the evil plan of Haman the Agagite and the plot that he had devised against the Jews” (Esther 8:3). Thankfully, the king again pardoned the Queen for approaching him this second time uninvited. Then Esther asked him, in much the same format as her earlier request, to revoke the earlier decree.
This time the text says, ”let an order be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, which he wrote to destroy the Jews who are in all the provinces of the king” (Esther 8:5). Thus now Esther is calling the shots like Haman had done before and Memucan before him. The king’s scribes were summoned again and a new edict written to whatever effect Esther and Mordecai might wish with regard to their people. This new edict also went out to the 127 provinces of Persia. The new decree ”allowed the Jews who were in every city to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, children and women included, and to plunder their goods” on that day when the previous decree had said people could attack them. Thus the king was forced again, in public (like concerning Vashti), to issue a decree showing his mistake.
The chapter ends, ”Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a robe of fine linen and purple, and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor. And in every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them” (Esther 8:15-17).
Jobes notes the irony that it was the ”injured pride” of Haman that had led him to plot the death of Mordecai and the Jewish people and then it was the king’s ”injured pride” that led him to call for the death of Haman. She also notes that the reason Haman’s home was given to the Queen is that the property of a traitor would be seized (this being further evidence that it was in fact an execution on the grounds of treason). The king could have done with it then as he wanted and decided that because the Queen had been wronged by Haman that he would give it to her. Thus in another irony Haman’s plot led to Mordecai getting what Haman had – property and position in the kingdom.
One of the most important observations about this chapter is the way in which the king is unable to grant Esther’s request. He is powerless to change the law decreeing death for the Jewish people. This should perhaps remind you of one of the kings in Daniel who was unable to save Daniel from a law that the king had signed. The solution is rather creative – write another decree that would make the first one without much teeth. The chapter ends with the great reversal of the book in full swing. Yet there is also a comparison to be made between this Persian king and the king of kings. After all, God did not revoke his decree of death. But He did institute a new decree of life for all who believe in Jesus because Jesus experienced the wrath of God and death on the cross. Jobes has a helpful extended discussion on the topic of holy war that is most helpful in teasing this out. After all, Christ is not only the holy warrior but His sword in the hands of Rome pierced Himself.
Esther 9 begins on that fateful day – in the 12th month, the month of Adar, on the 13th day. And it tells us, ”on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them” (Esther 9:1). And the Jews won in these battles of self-defense. The text tells us, ”No one could stand against them, for the fear of them had fallen on all peoples. All the officials of the provinces and the satraps and the governors and the royal agents also helped the Jews, for the fear of Mordecai had fallen on them” (Esther 9:2-3).
The text tells us that in Susa the Jews killed 500 men, including the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. The names of the ten sons are listed in the passage. But, it tells us, ”they laid no hand on the plunder.” This was reported to the king who asked Queen Esther if she had any wish to be fulfilled. And Esther asked that the Jews in Susa be given another day and that the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows (which you now know what that means, they are already dead). The next day they killed another 300 men in Susa but left alone the plunder. The passage implies that the Jews did not attack the wives and little children, none having been mentioned. It is worth noting that the decree in allowing such an attack was merely a mirror image of what Haman had decreed – he sought the death of the Jews, including women and children. In the rest of the provinces the number of those killed is given as 75,000. But again, the text tells us that they did not lay a hand on the plunder. The author’s love of pairs has prepared us for Esther’s request for a second day of killing in Susa. This may even by why the author has stressed pairs throughout the book — it is part of making her request more reasonable than some might want to understand it.
In any case, because Susa got an extra day for Jewish self-defense the pattern is described this way: the other provinces had the attack on the 13th day of the month and rested on the 14th day making it a day of feasting and gladness; in Susa the Jewish people had the attack on the 13th and 14th days and rested on the 15th day making it a day of feasting and gladness. ”Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the rural towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and as a day on which they send gifts of food to one another” (Esther 9:19).
Next Mordecai sent letters to the Jews telling them to observe both the 14th and 15th days of the month of Adar as feast days. And the explanation of Purim’s origins then are laid out in detail. Esther 9:23-26a says, ”So the Jews accepted what they had started to do, and what Mordecai had written to them. For Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur (that is, cast lots), to crush and to destroy them. But when it came before the king, he gave orders in writing that his evil plan that he had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore they called these days Purim, after the term Pur.” Then we hear about a second letter beginning in verse 29 from Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail and Mordecai the Jew, concerning the observance of Purim. The feast was to be kept from generation to generation.
One of the curiosities of the text is why the Jewish people did not take plunder even though the decree issued by Mordecai allowed it. First of all, that decree simply was the reverse of the decree issued by Haman. But it is also important that the Jewish people recognized that they were bound by the decree of God more than it. That is, this is part of the ongoing holy war with the Amalekites, which included King Agag (Haman’s ancestor). Therefore, since they were not permitted to take plunder in God’s original decree concerning that war neither did they take plunder in this part of that ongoing war. After all, someone else from the tribe of Benjamin had been king of Israel (namely, Saul) and one of his faults was in taking plunder in his battle with King Agag. So even though there is no mention of God in this entire book the Jews thought of themselves as His army in this fight. The thrice mentioning of the Jews not taking plunder from the Agagites in the kingdom of Persia emphasizes that this generation succeeded where King Saul had failed. So again yes the book does not mention God, but the presupposition of the book is that God continues to fight for Israel against the Amalekites. Even Esther had this presupposition since she refused to intercede for Haman the Agagite, an Amalekite. (It is no accident that in the New Testament Jesus chose a new Saul from the tribe of Benjamin who sounds a lot like the first Saul in the beginning since the first Saul persecuted David but then this new Saul is changed when he sees Jesus — we normally call this Saul the apostle Paul. This pattern has already been established in Esther since Mordecai is a new Saul because Mordecai is from the tribe of Benjamin and a son of Kish like the first Saul.)
Jobes tells us that Hebrew mss (manuscripts) put the names of Haman’s sons in ”margin-justified columns, set off from the rest of the text.” The same is true for the list of Canaanite kings crucified by Joshua’s army in Joshua 12:9-24. Jobes says, ”Perhaps the practice of setting apart these names from the rest of the text visually expresses the idea that these enemies of Israel had been set apart for destruction” and she notes that Ray Dillard teaching in class suggested the names on the page ”visually suggested their hanging.” She also mentions the possibility that these were Daiva names. Such names had been in use for early Iranian and Hindu gods but she tells us that later they had become associated with the demonic in Eastern religions. If so, then the names show just how appropriate it was for these ten sons to be killed in holy war. Unfortunately, there is no way for us to know for sure at this present time. Much clearer is the assertion that this is a reversal from the public hanging (via impalement) of Saul and his sons. A very important observation in this regard, as was pointed out to me when I was teaching the material, is that the reason the ten sons of Haman the Agagite had to be killed (while this may not have been true as discussed earlier for other enemies of the Jews) is that it is part of carrying out God’s decree that none of the Amalekites should survive — the very decree that Saul did not keep and lost him his crown.
It is important to note that the reason for the book is not only to explain the origin of Purim but then also to explain why it was observed on two days in some places. I would think this might be one of the reasons for the author’s love of pairs. After all, you keep noticing these pairs as you study the book and then you almost expect that the feast will be extended for a second day to make a pair.
I find interesting what Jobes says about the medieval Jewish interpreter named Abraham Saba saw in the book. He thinks that this book marks the shift of Israel from following God only because of the miracles they had seen to putting their faith in Torah rather than miracles. As Jobes says, ”The story of Esther implies that what God’s Word has decreed will happen, even without miracles.” I find this interpretation interesting because it would go a long ways to explaining the purpose of the book as wisdom literature, since wisdom literature often has such a purpose regarding Torah. This time there was no one holding up Moses’ arms so that Joshua and the army could defeat the Amalekites – as we learn about in the Torah. But we do have a chronicle telling of the fulfillment of that story so many generations later. Jobes observes that YHWH told Moses to write this victory in Exodus 17 as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua and thus it is fitting that the story of Esther was written down (and I would note it was also recited each Purim after it was written and circulated). Moreover, Jobes rightly notes that Purim has one major difference with the other major Jewish feasts found in the Torah. Those feasts in the Torah were God’s commands – Purim was something that the people it took upon themselves to observe. Yet everyone was even more convinced that their purim (lots) were in God’s hands.
Esther 10 brings the book to a close with three more verses, hardly meriting a separate chapter number. These verses simply explain the full promotion of Mordecai in the Persian empire. Thus the king taxed the land and the coastlands, the book appeals to ”the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia” in a way similar to that found in other historical books in Scripture, and then it says that Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to the king and great among the Jews and popular among his brothers ”for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people” (cf. Esther 10:3). Mordecai is thus made to sound like the coming Messiah even though not much has changed in the way Persia operates (cf. the taxes).