God Is Our Defender
Passage: Esther 8:9–9:17
Today we will be looking at the account of how Mordecai planned Israel’s defense and how God gave a great victory. But before we get to this story, I’d like to review where we have come through the eyes of Mordecai. We are first introduced to Mordecai in Esther 2 when Esther is suddenly taken into the king’s harem only to become queen to the world’s most powerful man.
Roughly six years later Haman the Agagite and enemy of the Jews was elevated to second in the kingdom. Mordecai despised Haman, and things quickly turned bad when Haman sent out a decree, which authorized Israel’s enemies to kill them and plunder their property.
Mordecai was devastated because this seemed to be an impossible situation. There was obviously no moral discretion in the palace. Even if Mordecai could somehow get an audience with the king, how would he even appeal to such an evil man? But even if he somehow persuaded the king to his side, a decree with the king’s seal could not be revoked, so there was no way to just make this decree go away.
Mordecai didn’t have much to lean on, but he did have one card to play, and that was Esther. But first he had to convince her to make an appeal. He pulled that off, but there were still many steps to go. She had to survive entering the king’s presence uninvited so that she could even make an appeal. I’m sure this pained Mordecai deeply. Was he pushing Esther to commit suicide? But what else could he do.
He prayed, God blessed, and she survived. Mordecai had to be relieved. But could little Esther possibly charm the king into rejecting the counsel of his most trusted adviser and doing something for the Jews? Incredibly, she did. Esther won the king’s heart and exposed Haman for the evil man that he was! And so when we left off last week, Haman was dead and Mordecai had taken Haman’s place at the king’s right hand. And the king had given Mordecai and Esther permission to right a decree to counteract the original one.
I’m sure that Mordecai was overjoyed. Roughly a week earlier, he was mourning the coming genocide of the Jews, but now he was at the king’s right hand, and the king was on the side of the Jews. But the battle was far from over because the original decree was still law. Now Mordecai had to prepare the Jews to defend themselves, and they would have to fight their enemies.
That’s where we will pick up today.
The Decree (8:9–14)
The Publication of the Decree (vv. 9–10, 14):
According to v. 9 it is now the 23rd day of the 3rd month. Haman’s decree had gone out 2 months and 10 days earlier on the 13th day of the 1st month, and Esther probably made her appeal within a week’s time of the first decree. Mordecai probably spent a couple of months discerning how best to counteract Haman’s decree before sending out his own decree.
Verses 9–10, 14 repeat much of the language from chapter 3 when Haman sent out his decree. They give a lot of the same details about the recipients of the decree, the translation of the decree, and the delivery of the decree.
But the narrator also makes some subtle changes to drive home the superiority of the new decree. This decree is not just addressed to the officials; it was also addressed to the Jews and translated into Hebrew. And the author emphasizes the authority of the decree by adding that it was delivered quickly and with pomp, using the king’s couriers and the royal horses. The narrator wants us to really see that the authority of the king now stood behind the Jews. The story has a help hopeful, expectant feel.
And verses 11–13 describe the…
The Content of the Decree (vv. 11–13):
To fully appreciate this decree we have to remember that on the 13th day of the 12th month, anyone in the kingdom was welcome to attack the Jews, kill them and their families, and take all of their possessions. It was a terribly brutal decree.
And Mordecai’s decree mirrors the original decree in order to enable the Jews to defend themselves and insure their continued safety from their enemies. We are going to see that they didn’t actually use all of the power Mordecai gave them, but Mordecai wanted the Jews to have full authority to do what they needed to do to protect themselves.
Specifically, on the 13th day of the 12th month, v. 11 says they could band together and defend themselves, and then Mordecai uses the 3 verbs that have popped up over and over with Haman’s decree. They were free to “destroy, kill, and annihilate” any group intent on doing them harm.
This is where we might start to get a little uncomfortable. Mordecai gave them the liberty to do more than just hold these people off. Verse 11 adds that they were free to kill their enemies’ “little children and women, and to plunder their possessions.”
This is a difficult statement for us to stomach, and a couple of translations have actually tried to remove this edge by making this verse say that they could defend themselves against anyone who would do damage to the Jews’ children and wives. But pretty much everyone agrees that the Hebrew most naturally refers to the Jews killing their enemies’ wives and children.
We need to park here for a moment because it’s really hard for us to wrap our minds around this kind of brutality. It seems to contradict the NT ethic (Rom 12:17–21). And it’s not just Christians who struggle with this. A common argument against the truthfulness of Scripture is to say that the God of the OT is brutal and heartless. Others will say that the God of the OT is different from the God of the NT; therefore, he cannot be the unchanging, holy God we claim that he is.
In our particular context, there are a couple of easy answers to this. First, chapter 9 is clear that Israel did not act on the entirety of Mordecai’s decree. We are told 3 times that they did not take the plunder of those they killed even though they had the authority to do so. And nothing is said of them actually killing women and children. The body count in chapter 9 is only of men. Therefore, Mordecai is simply giving Israel the authority to do whatever was necessary.
But still how could killing women and children ever be justified? And even if they didn’t do it here, God clearly demanded it in other places such as with the Canaanites, and the Amalekites. We have to begin with the fact we are very small, and God is very big, holy, and wise. And the Bible is clear that God does not answer to us; we answer to him. He knows infinitely more than we do, and he is the standard of righteousness and justice, not us.
And furthermore, anytime we assume that sinners deserve anything other than judgment, we fail to appreciate just how holy God is, how sinful people really are, and what kind of judgment we all deserve. The Book of Revelation is clear that when we see God for who he is, we will praise him for executing justice on the earth. Therefore, when we struggle with the ways of God, it is never because God is doing something wrong; it is because we have a very limited knowledge and perspective.
And oftentimes in the OT, God authorized Israel to carry out his judgment through “holy war.” The OT is clear that holy war was always about justice, not empire building. That’s clearly what’s at stake in our text. The word translated “avenge” in v. 13 is used many times in the OT of God’s just punishment for sin. Israel’s enemies were a threat to God’s people, and when you curse God’s people, you can expect the curse of God.
And so when we get squeamish about the judgment in the Bible, remember how bad sin really is, and then be amazed that if you are in Christ, you will never have to face the judgment you deserve. This is because, yes, God’s judgment is severe, but Jesus bore God’s judgment for sin on the cross. He bore the wrath I ought to endure so that all I will ever know is grace.
And we also need to understand that because Christ has died, we live in a new era where holy war is not our responsibility (Luke 9:51–56). James and John wanted to bring down judgment, which would have been just, but Jesus said that he has a very different mission for this age. This age is about redemption. And so this needs to be our focus. When we see sin and corruption, our desire should not be like James and John to see God destroy but to save. And then we should pray and we should go with the intent of telling people that their sin is wicked but there is mercy with Christ.
And as Romans 12 says, when people sin against us, we must forgive as we have been forgiven, knowing that in time, God is going to make all things right. Therefore, we don’t need to fret about justice; we can just focus on demonstrating love and reaching people for Christ.
Returning to the story, in just a couple of months, the Jews’ fortunes shifted dramatically and there was a very different feel not only for the Jews but the entire kingdom.
Notice in vv. 15–17…
Joy over the Decree (8:15–17)
These 3 verses describes a drastically different situation from the end of chapter 3 when Haman’s decree went out.
I’d like to note 4 differences.
Mordecai exchanges sackcloth for royal robes.
At the end of chapter 3, Haman is wearing the royal robes and having a drink with the king, and Mordecai is wearing sackcloth and has his head covered in ashes. But now Mordecai emerges from the king’s throne room wearing royal apparel. God has worked on behalf of Mordecai.
And notice the people’s reaction.
The people exchange confusion for joy.
3:15 states that when Haman’s decree went out, the whole city, not just the Jews, was perplexed or confused. They were appalled by the brutality of the decree. But 8:15 states that when Mordecai appeared, the people rejoiced. They clearly saw Mordecai’s decree as a just response to Haman’s decree. But notice as well how differently they respond to Mordecai. When Haman was promoted, Xerxes had to make a decree forcing everyone to bow to him. No one liked Haman. But Mordecai doesn’t need a decree. The people are glad to see him in his new position.
The Jews exchange grief for gladness.
Verses 16–17 note that the Jews had a very different reaction from the first decree. They still had to defend themselves 9 months down the road, but God’s hand was clearly on their side. He had exalted Mordecai to second in the kingdom, and the king gave them the right to defend themselves. They were confident that God would continue to give the victory.
It wasn’t just the Jews that saw this.
The nations see God’s hand on the Jews.
It’s impossible to know how many of these were genuine conversions. Probably some of these people were just looking out for their own skin or hoping to gain Mordecai’s favor. But regardless, it was obvious by the promotion of Mordecai and the newly revealed identify of Esther that the God of Israel was not just any god. He is the God of gods, and the nations feared the Jews.
God worked in marvelous ways that were apparent to all, but the 13th day of the 12th month is still coming. And so almost 9 months pass, and finally the day of reckoning comes.
Esther 9:1–17 describes…
Execution of the Decree (9:1–17)
Victory throughout the Empire (vv. 1–5):
The narrator begins in v. 1 with an ominous tone. The day of reckoning finally arrived after the Jews and their enemies had prepared for months. It was the day, as he says in v. 1 when “the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them.” But they were sorely disappointed because “the opposite occurred…” The Jews won an overwhelming victory that day.
Verse 2 states that the Jews gathered all throughout the Persian Empire, and they didn’t just survive. They went on the offensive against the evil people who wanted to destroy them, and no one could stand against them.
Of course, this was ultimately because God was with them. But one of the ways that God fought for his people is that God gave the Jews favor with the government officials throughout the empire. From their standpoint, they just wanted to get in good with Mordecai, since they could see that he was a powerful and effective ruler. But by this point in the book we know that God was at work in the shadows influencing their hearts. God turned them in favor of the Jews.
As a result, v. 5 states that God gave the Jews a great victory against the wicked men who would want to do them harm. Again, we are reminded of God’s promise in Genesis 12:3. God told the nation of Israel through Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you.” These wicked peoples who opposed the Israelites were ultimately opposing God and his redemptive purpose. God did what he said he would do. He cursed these enemies of Israel.
Then with vv. 6–10 the scene shifts more narrowly to…
Victory in Susa (vv. 6–10):
Verse 6 tells us something about how much hatred there really was toward the Jews. They killed 500 enemies just within the citadel at Susa. 500 enemies were working in the government complex.
Verses 7–9 then specifically add that they killed the 10 sons of Haman. These men were major threat to revive the plot of their dad, but God enabled the Jews to remove that threat entirely.
I also want to emphasize that last statement of v. 10. It’s clearly important because it is repeated in vv. 15 and 16. On a very simple level, it tells us that the Jews had a very different motive from their enemies. They wanted to kill the Jews so that they could plunder them. In contrast the Jews had no interest in selfish gain. They just wanted to be safe. It’s also confirms that this was in fact holy war. Anytime Israel engaged in holy war they were not to take plunder because everything about that people was tainted with sin. The enemies that Israel destroyed that day were wicked people.
The King’s Favor (vv. 11–14):
With v. 11, the scene shifts to the king’s throne room. When the king hears about the success the Jews have had, he is impressed. These Jews must really be something to kill 500 enemies in a single day. Therefore, he asks Esther what more he can do on her behalf.
Esther replies (v. 13) by asking for the Jews in Susa to have one more day to defeat their enemies. She also asks that Haman’s 10 sons “be hanged on the gallows.”
That’s quite the request, and we might be tempted to think that it was a bloodthirsty and brutal. But we have to remember that the people Esther wanted dead were evil enemies of God’s people. They deserved the curse of God, and hanging Haman’s sons on the gallows would be a powerful reminder to everyone else not to even consider doing harm to the Jews.
Of course, we aren’t free to hang our enemies, but we live in the age of grace. And I think it’s also important to add that the church is a very different entity than a nation like Israel. Nations, including our own, have a biblical right to take aggressive steps that individuals do not.
Day 2 and Summary (vv. 15–17):
Well, Ahasuerus agreed to Esther’s request, and v. 15 tells us that the next day the Jews in Susa killed an additional 300 men. But again they did not take the plunder.
Verse 16 then moves to an empire-wide perspective. During those 2 days the Jews killed 75,000 of their enemies. That’s a lot of enemies, and it demonstrates how much animosity there was toward the Jews throughout the kingdom. It’s also worth nothing that 75,000 is only a fraction of how many people would have died if the Jewish nation had not been able to defend themselves. Potentially millions, including women and children, would have died apart from the second decree that Esther and Mordecai worked so hard to bring about. This was a truly marvelous deliverance.
Therefore, v. 17 notes that the Jews rested and rejoiced. And again, God is not named in this account. He doesn’t defy any laws of nature or provide some dramatic deliverance like he does in other places, but his fingerprints are all over the story. And God turned what had been a seemingly hopeless situation 11 months earlier into an incredible victory.
What’s the Point?
I’d like to highlight two takeaways from this account.
God will accomplish his redemptive purpose.
It’s been a while since we really talked about this, so I want us to step back for a moment and consider the significance of all of this within God’s eternal purpose. Over 1500 years earlier, God had said to Abraham that one day, he was going to send his Messiah, through whom he would bless the nations, from the nation of Israel. And then 1,000 years later God told David that the Messiah would come from his descendants.
These are very important promises because Jesus is the central character in the story of the Bible. He is the one who would deal with sin, and he is the one who will one day come again and finally destroy all sin and wickedness. Jesus is pretty important, and Satan is no dummy. He understands that. He certainly was at work behind Haman, and he saw Haman as an opportunity to destroy God’s eternal purpose and promises.
Therefore, as bad as it would have been if thousands or even millions of people had died in this genocide, something even bigger was at stake that day. If the Jews were destroyed, the plan of redemption would have been destroyed. But that wasn’t going to happen. No one can stand against God, and he never breaks a promise.
And so the Jews were not destroyed. The line of Christ continued. And roughly 450 years later Jesus came. He lived a perfect life, and he died for sin. And just as assuredly as he came the first time, he will come again, and he will finish his plan of redemption. He will destroy all evil and establish a righteous kingdom. And we will enjoy his perfect presence for all eternity. We know this, and we can rest in this. And so let’s renew our commitment today to live this week not for the world we can see but for the one that most assuredly is coming. Second…
God will defend you.
Our text for today told a story about how God defended his people at a time when they were terribly weak. They were in captivity, and the vast majority were not living for God. God didn’t owe them anything, but he never abandons his people. Even when God judged Israel, it was for their good. And God didn’t abandon them in Persia. He defended them.
And the NT assures us that God will also defend us. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor 10:13). God will never allow Satan to attack us with such force that we cannot resist. The Devil will never make you do anything because God will always give a way of escape. What a blessing it is to know that we can rest in that promise.
Sometimes the battle with sin is terribly difficult. We get tired and discouraged, and we feel lost. But we are never alone. God sees, and he will defend you and sustain you.
But his defense doesn’t end with giving a way of escape. The NT promises that Jesus defends us even when we sin. “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Folks, God sees every sin you commit, and every one of them grieves his heart. As such, John says that our goal must be to not sin. There is no place in Christian doctrine for apathy about sin or the pursuit of holiness.
But regardless of how hard we try, we will sin. And what a blessing it is to know that when we do, Jesus is before the Father, and he is defending us based on the fact that he already paid for every sin. Therefore, if you are in Christ, you will never face the wrath of God. Praise the Lord today, that God is faithful to his people, and God will defend us.