In the citadel of Susa, the Jews kill 500 men, along with the sons of Haman (Esther 9:6-10). The king then asks Esther what she would like to do next (vv. 11-12). She asks for permission for the Jews to defend themselves the next day in the rest of Susa (v. 13). She also asks for the bodies of Haman’s sons to be impaled and displayed as a deterrent (v. 13). By the end of the two days, another 300 men in Susa, and 75,000 in the rest of the provinces, are killed. We’re horrified by this massive body count. Did the Jews go too far in defending themselves?
War and killing are never neat and tidy. Perhaps some Jews did go too far. Perhaps some Jews held grudges against their neighbours and used this chance to get back at them.
But we need to keep six things in mind:
- If Haman’s plan went ahead, it is likely more people would have died. One estimate is that there were 750,000 Jews at this time.4
- The text suggests that the killing was limited to men only (Esther 9:6, 15; see 8:11).
- 75,000 may have been a small percentage of the total population of the Persian Empire.5
- Although the Jews were allowed to take the possessions of their enemies, they laid no hand on the plunder (Esther 9:10, 15-16). There is no hint that the Jews were motivated by greed.
- King Saul took the plunder but didn’t kill King Agag, as he was meant to (1 Samuel 15). The Jews in Esther do the opposite: they leave the spoil, and kill the enemy, including all of King Agag’s line-Haman and his ten sons. What is the narrative saying? The Jews finish what Saul should have done, in the way it should have been done.
- Relief and peace can only be experienced if the enemy is completely removed. If pockets remained of those who hated the Jews, the Jews would always be worried that they would rise up and attack them again (another reason to kill Haman’s ten sons). This is similar to what we find in the oracles against the nations (see Ezekiel 28:24-26).
We can imagine how the Jews were living in fear for their lives. Yet now they can celebrate relief from enemies and the fear of death because of their deliverance. We are again reminded of God’s hidden hand at work as we recall Mordecai’s words: ″relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise″ (Esther 4:14).
4Joyce G. Baldwin, Esther, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 104.
5The population of the Persian Empire in 500 BC is estimated to have been between 17 to 35 million people; Josef Wiesehofer, ″The Achaemenid Empire″ in The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State Power from Assyria to Byzantium, eds. Ian Morris and Walter Scheidel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 77.
Are we sometimes tempted to take revenge? What advice does Paul give us (Romans 12:19)?
Do you fear death? If so, why? As Christians, why is it that we can live a life free from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-16)?