Read the Passage: Esther 8
Salvation and Petition (8:1–6)
With the death of the villain Haman in Est. 7:8, one might think the narrative would come to a quick conclusion. However, the book of Esther contains three more chapters, including two of the longest chapters in the entire text. Indeed, while the Jews’ nemesis Haman had been executed, his earlier decree that allowed for the destruction, the killing, and the annihilation of the Jews remained in effect. Chronologically speaking, at Haman’s death two months and ten days had elapsed since his genocidal decree had been issued (cf. Est. 3:12; 8:9). Yet, it would still be eight months and twenty days before the murderous law would go into effect. As this chapter begins, then, in Est. 8:1–2 Ahasuerus gave Esther the estate of Haman, the king learned of Mordecai’s relationship to Esther, and he transferred the same legal powers that Haman had earlier possessed to Mordecai.
While Esther had been given the estate of Haman, and Mordecai was apparently elevated to the political position once held by Haman, the genocidal decree against the Jews that was issued by Haman was still a threat to God’s people. Moreover, since “the laws of the Persians and the Medes . . . [could] not be altered” (Est. 1:19), it was not possible simply to repeal the murderous law. Thus, in a similar manner to her first appearance before the king, which is recorded at Est. 5:1–5, in Est. 8:3–6 Esther appeared before Ahasuerus a second time and was again offered the golden scepter. Esther’s petition, recorded in Est. 8:5–6 is that a law “be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman” (Est. 8:5). So, in essence, while Esther knew that Haman’s genocidal decree could not be repealed, she also knew it was possible to issue a new law countermanding the earlier murderous plot.
Reply and Decree (8:7–10)
Since he had given Mordecai the political position earlier held by Haman, the king’s response to Esther’s petition was, “You yourselves write a decree concerning the Jews, as you please, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s signet ring” (Est. 8:8). While this did provide a way to counteract the genocidal decree, it is striking that Ahasuerus had apparently not learned from the Haman fiasco about the dangers of loaning out his signet ring to others. Yet, Esther and Mordecai used their authority wisely for they issued a decree, the details of which are recorded in Est. 8:11–12, which allowed for the Jews to defend themselves with deadly force, if necessary, on their planned day of destruction. Observe the narrative detailing the issuance of Esther’s decree in Est. 8:9–10 is almost an exact reiteration of the narrative of the writing of Haman’s decree in Est. 3:12–15.
Rejoicing and Conversion (8:11–17)
It is interesting that the petition issued by Esther and Mordecai did not specifically invest the Jews with the power to randomly attack their enemies. Rather, it allowed the Jews “to gather together and protect their lives” (Est. 8:11), using deadly force, if necessary. A comparison of the genocidal decree of Haman at Est. 3:13, with the defensive decree of Esther at Est. 8:11, reveals that the second statute countermands the first at every point. Note that the Jews presumably would have gathered in self-defense even if the second decree had not been issued. Yet, Esther’s statue made it legal for the Jews to use deadly force to protect their lives, and it was a public service announcement that the Persian authorities were not anti-Semitic. The decree was published far and wide “so that the Jews would be ready on that day to avenge themselves on their enemies” (Est. 8:13).
In Est. 8:15 the narrator writes that “Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, with a great crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple.” These details are given to show Mordecai’s position in the kingdom as vice-regent. It also shows that Mordecai’s second reward (i.e., permanent viceroy) at Est. 8:15 was greater than his first reward (i.e., temporary hero) at Est. 6:11. Indeed, at Est. 6:8 the horse wore the crown, but now Mordecai wears it! Mordecai’s position and wisdom gave the Jews “light and gladness, joy and honor” (Est. 8:16; cf. Prov. 29:2). Est. 8:17 notes that wherever the second decree went within the empire, it resulted in rejoicing, gladness, and even a holiday among the Jews. Further, the text notes, “Many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them” (Est. 8:17; cf. Zech. 8:23).
- How does the Abrahamic Covenant relate to the events narrated in the book of Esther (cf. Gen. 12:1–3)?
- Why did God wait more than two months to deliver the Jews from the threat of genocide? Why does God often wait to answer the prayers of His people?
- What differences can you detect between Esther’s two appearances before Ahasuerus (cf. Est. 5:1–5; 8:3–6)?
- When, if ever, it is moral for Christians to defend themselves with force, perhaps even using deadly force?
- What does it mean that many of people of the land became Jews? How important are the actions of God’s people before a watching world?