Monday, August 16, 2010

Why Don't We Ever Talk about Passages Like This?

So, I was reading in the Book of Esther today, and I came across chapter 9. Yikes!

We all know the story of Esther. The Persian king Ahasuerus parties for seven straight days, and then sends a messenger to his wife Vashti to get dressed up so that he show off how hot she is to all of his drunken friends. When she refuses, he decides that she will no longer be queen and that all of the beautiful virgins of the land should be brought to him, and whichever one "pleases" him the most will be the new queen.

Mordecai is an honorable Jew living in Susa and taking care of his younger cousin, Esther, who "had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at" (2:7 ESV). Esther is summoned to the harem, but she keeps her ethnicity a secret. Sure enough, she pleases the king more than any of the other women and she is made queen instead of Vashti. Mordecai hears of a plot to assassinate the king, he tells Esther of the plot, she warns the king, and the king is saved.

Haman is Ahasuerus's top official. He hates Mordecai because Mordecai won't bow down to him. So, he plots to exterminate all of the Jewish people, Mordecai and Esther included. When Mordecai learns of the plot, he tells Esther that she needs to step in and save her people, even though doing so would put her own life at risk. He warns her that if she doesn't step in, deliverance will come from elsewhere but that she and her father's house will perish. Esther agrees to the plan.

Esther plans a banquet for Ahasuerus and Haman, during which she plans to talk to her husband about her ethnicity and Haman's plot.

Haman decides to construct a gallows from which to hang Mordecai.

One night, when the king can't sleep, he asks his officials to read to him from the annuls, and he realizes that he never honored Mordecai for saving his life. Just then, Haman comes in to get the king's permission to hang Mordecai. The king asks him what he should do to honor a special man. Haman, presuming that the king wants to honor him, says, "Dress him in the king's robe and put him on the king's horse." The king says, "Great idea. Do this for Mordecai."

After Haman's humiliation, he attends Esther's banquet with the king. During the banquet, Esther reveals Haman's plot, and the king orders that he be executed--hung from the gallows he constructed for Mordecai. Haman is executed, the Jews are saved, Mordecai and Esther are put in charge of everything Haman once ran, the feast of Purim is established as a remembrance, and everyone lives happily ever after. End of story.

But not really. Then we come to chapter 9.

On the day on which the extermination of the Jews was supposed to take place, a counter-extermination takes place instead. The Jews are allowed to get up and kill all of their enemies. In Susa alone, 500 men are killed. The report is brought to the king, and he says to Esther, "Well, you got what you wanted. Now, if there is anything else you want me to do--I'll do it. Up to half of my kingdom." Esther responds, "Let the killing continue for another day." Over the two-day period, 75,000 people are killed throughout the Persian empire.

Now, I have heard Esther characterized in a number of ways. Some are positive, pointing out that she risked her life to save her people. Others are negative, pointing out that she got her power through sexual prowess and that she didn't step up to save the Jews until Mordecai threatened her. Esther never honors God or even mentions Him.

But not once have I ever heard anyone point out that Esther, when offered anything in the world by the most powerful man in the world, chose to continue a massacre for an additional 24 hours. This makes Herodias's daughter's request look like a call for world peace.

What do we do with chapters like this? Have you ever heard a sermon on Esther 9?

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