THE BOOK OF ESTHER 5

By Rev Christopher Cooke

WEEK 5

Chapters 8,9 and 10

8:1-2: King Ahasuerus Makes Some Changes.

Is this poetic justice?
Is this what we expected to happen earlier in the story?

“There is a kind of ‘all’s well that ends well’ feeling at the end of verse 2. Perhaps Ahasuerus thinks he has done enough for one day, or indeed, has done all that needs to be done. Esther has Haman’s house, after all, and Mordecai has the king’s own signet ring. What more could they want”. Carol Bechtel.
Esther and Mordechai-Aert de Gelder (1645-1727

8:3-8: Queen Esther Pleads for Her People.

What is the unfinished business?

“Mordecai and Esther are being heaped with rewards, but their lives are still in danger”. Patricia Tull.

“More striking even than Ahasuerus’s lack of imagination is his lack of power. One cannot help but compare the ‘Mighty Man’ of the book’s introduction with the weak and ineffectual monarch pictured here… One thing, at least, is clear. Esther and Mordecai cannot rely on Ahasuerus for much help. The words of a dead traitor have proven more powerful than the commands of a living king. Their only option is to fight fire with fire – edict with edict”. Carol Bechtel.

Esther throws herself on the King’s mercy once again to show him the seriousness of the situation. Have you ever had to throw yourself on someone’s mercy to open their eyes to a case of injustice?

8:9-17: Mordecai Sends Out Another Edict.

What do you make of Mordecai’s Edict?
How does it compare with Haman’s?

The decree gives the Jews permission to defend themselves; that right may seem self-evident to modern readers but in the world of the Persian court in Esther, where everything is done according to the law, even self-defence must be legislated. The parallelism with the previous decrees emphasizes the wisdom doctrine of retributive justice, but Mordecai’s inclusion of women and children in his counter decree has made him vulnerable to a charge of ‘bloodthirstiness’”. Sidnie Ann White.

Patricia Tull believes the Book of Esther could end here with hardly any damage to its substance. Do you agree?

9:1-19: The Battles.

Does the violence that occurs in this chapter trouble you, given that some of it is requested by Esther? Why or why not?
Would it have troubled you less if Mordecai had been the one to make the request? Why or why not?

“Esther is true to real life as it is lived messily with loose ends and threads coming undone”. Johanna Van Wijk-Bos.

“The conclusion of Esther causes many people uneasiness. Its style and vision are so different from the rest of the book that many scholars think it may have been added by someone other than the author of the previous chapters. The earlier chapters’ keen sense of justice and aesthetics are not so distinct in the book’s conclusion. Yet theological gold can be mined from its very complexity”. Patricia Tull.

9:20-32: The Letters of Purim.

Should the Jews celebrate Purim?
Should Christians read the Book of Esther?

“The purpose of these letters is to give official sanction to the non-Mosaic festival of Purim. Purim, an essentially secular festival originating in the diaspora…” Sidnie Ann White.
“[Christians] would do well to remember, however, the main event of that celebration [Purim]; namely the reading of the book of Esther. Surely, we can manage that much. Indeed, we should more than ‘manage’ it, because there is a sense in which this book may have come into our canon ‘for just a time as this’. It is a book, after all, about the struggle to be faithful in the midst of an increasingly unfaithful culture.” Carol Bechtel.

10:1-3: Where has Esther Gone?

“But like Esther, rather than remaining children, rather than ignoring what is overwhelming to us, each of us had a God-given grace within us to step forward on behalf of people we care for, to engage in small acts of courage, even when we can hardly see what good they will do. And very often, when we do step forward, forces beyond our power will help us, as they helped Esther, in carrying out God’s good purposes”. Patricia Tull.

Reverend Christopher’s comments are shown below

8:1-2: King Ahasuerus Makes Some Changes.

Is this poetic justice?
Is this what we expected to happen earlier in the story?

The multiple silences of the story are brought to an end. Haman is revealed as the enemy of the Jews. Esther is revealed as a Jewess. Mordecai is revealed as Esther’s cousin. Esther is rewarded with Haman’s house (but how will she use it as she is in the harem?) King Ahasuerus remains much the same and hands over his signet ring which he took from Haman, and gives it to his new favourite: Mordecai. The signet ring is like a hot potato (Patricia Tull).

“There is a kind of ‘all’s well that ends well’ feeling at the end of verse 2. Perhaps Ahasuerus thinks he has done enough for one day, or indeed, has done all that needs to be done. Esther has Haman’s house, after all, and Mordecai has the king’s own signet ring. What more could they want”. Carol Bechtel.

8:3-8: Queen Esther Pleads for Her People.

What is the unfinished business?

“Mordecai and Esther are being heaped with rewards, but their lives are still in danger”. Patricia Tull.

Haman’s edict still stands and it cannot be revoked. Esther and Mordecai have to find a way to neutralize Haman’s edict. Esther must first, by her charms, obtain the king’s permission to circumvent the decree. Esther has never been as dramatic or melodramatic as this before. Her appeal is based on her personal favour with the King and not about the ethics of mass murder. We notice that Esther puts all the blame on Haman. She also argues that the loss of the Jews would result in a loss of property for the King. Nevertheless, Esther’s ploy works and Ahasuerus, characteristically, gives her carte blanche. He avoids responsibility once again by putting things in her hands. Ahasuerus displays a basic indifference to the fate of the Jews. Esther absolutely identifies with her people the Jews. Ahasuerus absolutely refuses to take any initiative. It is up to Esther and Mordecai to try and set things right.

“More striking even than Ahasuerus’s lack of imagination is his lack of power. One cannot help but compare the ‘Mighty Man’ of the book’s introduction with the weak and ineffectual monarch pictured here… One thing, at least, is clear. Esther and Mordecai cannot rely on Ahasuerus for much help. The words of a dead traitor have proven more powerful than the commands of a living king. Their only option is to fight fire with fire – edict with edict”. Carol Bechtel.

Esther throws herself on the King’s mercy once again to show him the seriousness of the situation. Have you ever had to throw yourself on someone’s mercy to open their eyes to a case of injustice?

8:9-17: Mordecai Sends Out Another Edict.

What do you make of Mordecai’s Edict?
How does it compare with Haman’s?

Esther calls on Mordecai to help draw up this important document. We have had an edict following Vashti’s rebellion and we have had Haman’s edict. Not surprisingly, Mordecai’s edict follows Haman’s in form quite closely. There are considerable parallels with Haman’s edict in chapter 3. Mordecai does not see this as a case for creative writing. It is very much modelled on Haman’s so that this counter-edict can be as effective as possible. Then there are the differences. Mordecai’s edict gives permission to destroy, kill, annihilate and plunder whereas Haman’s gives orders for the same. Mordecai’s is framed to allow self-defence while Haman’s was undisguised aggression.

“The decree gives the Jews permission to defend themselves; that right may seem self-evident to modern readers but in the world of the Persian court in Esther, where everything is done according to the law, even self-defence must be legislated. The parallelism with the previous decrees emphasizes the wisdom doctrine of retributive justice, but Mordecai’s inclusion of women and children in his counter decree has made him vulnerable to a charge of ‘bloodthirstiness’”. Sidnie Ann White.

This may well fit in with the concept of ‘holy war’ as this is what got King Saul in trouble when he did not carry this out against Agag. However, the verse ending is different in the Hebrew version. In that case, as Carol Bechtel argues, it would be Jewish women and children who are liable to be attacked. (In what follows, the Jews do not take plunder and there is no indication that anyone other than the attackers were harmed). There are two more contrasts between the edicts. Mordecai’s is also sent to the Jews who were excluded from Haman’s circulation list even though they were the victims. Haman’s edict was sent by couriers probably because there was no great urgency. Mordecai’s is sent by express mounted couriers – the pony express. After Haman’s edict, the King and Haman sat down to eat and drink. Mordecai leaves the King alone and appears in splendour in Susa. Now it is the Jews who eat and drink. It is a long way from the sackcloth and ashes and the fasting.

Patricia Tull believes the Book of Esther could end here with hardly any damage to its substance. Do you agree?

9:1-19: The Battles.

Does the violence that occurs in this chapter trouble you, given that some of it is requested by Esther? Why or why not?
Would it have troubled you less if Mordecai had been the one to make the request? Why or why not?

“Esther is true to real life as it is lived messily with loose ends and threads coming undone”. Johanna Van Wijk-Bos.
“The conclusion of Esther causes many people uneasiness. Its style and vision are so different from the rest of the book that many scholars think it may have been added by someone other than the author of the previous chapters. The earlier chapters’ keen sense of justice and aesthetics are not so distinct in the book’s conclusion. Yet theological gold can be mined from its very complexity”. Patricia Tull.

This chapter is full of inconsistences and redundancies. Esther’s appeal to the King seems more routine and less heartfelt than earlier. She is definitely more bloodthirsty than we have seen her earlier. Carol Bechtel would just say that Esther has become more determined. It is not clear why a second day of fighting was necessary other than that the feast of Purim as celebrated is a two-day festival. Haman’s ten sons were killed in the melee, and not executed, which suggests that they were among the attackers. There dead bodies are to be displayed on the gallows. The Jews take no plunder and spare women and children. What happens here is sometimes compared with the Warsaw ghetto in the Second World War when Polish Jews rose up to defend themselves from the Nazis. The battles at the end of Esther remind us that violence can be rooted in the desire for peace and security. The celebration is not in the slaughter itself but in the deliverance of the Jewish people.

9:20-32: The Letters of Purim.

Should the Jews celebrate Purim?
Should Christians read the Book of Esther?

“The purpose of these letters is to give official sanction to the non-Mosaic festival of Purim. Purim, an essentially secular festival originating in the diaspora…” Sidnie Ann White.

Mordecai’s letter is not a royal decree but a request to the Jews that they mark this annual celebration. We notice that are to be presents for the poor. Verses 24 to 26 give a synopsis of the book, severely telescoped, and in some cases in disagreement with the main plot. For instance, Ahasuerus is seen in a better light than elsewhere in the book. It reads as if he were the saviour of the Jews. Despite the author’s best attempts, the connection between Purim the pur (Haman’s casting of lots) remains tenuous and murky. There follows a letter from Queen Esther giving it all royal sanction. Although, Purim was not universally celebrated (the Dead Sea Scrolls suggest it wasn’t at Qumran), it soon became a very important festival. At the heart of this festival is the reading of the Book of Esther.

“[Christians] would do well to remember, however, the main event of that celebration [Purim]; namely the reading of the book of Esther. Surely, we can manage that much. Indeed, we should more than ‘manage’ it, because there is a sense in which this book may have come into our canon ‘for just a time as this’. It is a book, after all, about the struggle to be faithful in the midst of an increasingly unfaithful culture.” Carol Bechtel.

10:1-3: Where has Esther Gone?

These verses glory in the greatness of Ahasuerus and Mordecai. What a great king! Mordecai is said to have governed well, looked after the Jews but benefitted the whole of that great kingdom. In this way he is compared to Joseph in the Book of Genesis. This contrasts with the descriptions of Ahasuerus and Mordecai in the main part of the book. And Esther is written out of the story.

“But like Esther, rather than remaining children, rather than ignoring what is overwhelming to us, each of us had a God-given grace within us to step forward on behalf of people we care for, to engage in small acts of courage, even when we can hardly see what good they will do. And very often, when we do step forward, forces beyond our power will help us, as they helped Esther, in carrying out God’s good purposes”. Patricia Tull.

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