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A New Edict (Esther 8) December 10-11

The same day as the events of the previous chapter, the king gave Haman's estate to Esther (8:1). "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" (10:3). 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 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, 12, 15). 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. 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: "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 8:11-12 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 9:6, 12, 15) and they did not take any plunder (see 9:10, 15-16). 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 (8:16). 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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