Salvation in Esther 9: Israel, Xerxes and Us (Guest Post from David Shaw) image

Salvation in Esther 9: Israel, Xerxes and Us (Guest Post from David Shaw)

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Esther 9–10 is a difficult passage. The bloody violence in the text, for example, has long been debated by scholars of the book. In a section that raises so many questions, one that we rarely think about––as surprising as it may sound––is the salvation of Xerxes. (I know. I was stunned too.)

The Book of Esther clearly identifies the salvation of God’s people as its primary topic. But in these last chapters, more is in play that often goes unspoken. Alongside the salvation of God’s people, you also have the (admittedly temporary) salvation of Xerxes and his rule of the Persian Empire. Follow along with me working backwards through the text of Esther to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

We are told in Esther 9:6–10 that 800 men within Susa’s citadel were killed. That is, there are 800 men within the corridors of power who had sided with Haman’s edict and were committed to the destruction of the Jews including Esther and Mordecai. Why does this matter? Well, Esther is, of course, married to Xerxes. So, if after 9 months––the time it took for Haman and Mordecai’s edicts to come into effect (see Est 3:7; 8:9–14)––you’ve chosen to side with Haman and go after the Jewish people, you’re also going up against Queen Esther and the Prime Minister, Mordecai.

And if you’re aiming to take out the queen and her right-hand man, you aren’t going to stop there are you? You can’t buddy up to the king after killing his wife and much-favoured PM! Put simply, a coup d’état is in the works. The end game is that Haman’s co-conspirators are going after Xerxes and his throne. The attempted genocide of God’s people is a step along the way to seeing Xerxes removed from power and almost certainly killed. The narrative of Esther provides clues earlier in the text that this is indeed the case.

Esther 6, for example, presents Haman exposing his own royal pretensions by expressing a desire to wear the king’s robes and ride the king’s horse (vv. 7–9). Taken together with the death of 800 citadel men who enacted Haman’s edict (Esther 9), and it’s not a stretch to suggest that before his death, Haman had built an allegiance that would back him for the crown.

Now for the irony: our introduction to Haman (Esther 3) finds him seeking the destruction of the Jewish people by getting in king’s ear: “There is a certain people dispersed…in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from . . . all other people . . . and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them” (v. 8). However, as the narrative unfolds, it is the Jews whom Haman had suggested “it [was] not in the king’s best interest to tolerate” who, by defending themselves, ensured that Xerxes’ was saved and that his rule would endure. This point is of a kind with Mordecai’s own efforts to save Xerxes earlier in the narrative (Est 2:19–23).

In other words, it is the people of God’s successful fight for survival that ensures the survival of Xerxes’ own reign. And if you are faced with Xerxes or Haman to rule over you, you’d take Xerxes every time. He may be fickle, but he’s less likely to kill you any time soon, especially with Esther as his queen, and Mordecai at his right hand. All of this might lead one to wonder, therefore, if Haman was involved in the plot to assassinate Xerxes back in Esther 2. The narrator doesn’t say, but the prospect is tantalizing.

As such, we can say legitimately that the victory of God’s people over their enemies leads not only to their salvation, but also the salvation of Xerxes and his empire (at least for the time being).

It is also worth adding that in the 9 months during which the edicts of Haman and Mordecai hang over the Persian Empire, all the people were faced with a choice: should they side with Haman, or should they side with Esther, Mordecai, and the people of God? Will they wage war, or pursue peace? It is a liminal space between the edict and its enactment, between judgment and salvation.

Judgment is found in opposing God’s people and his chosen mediators (in this case, Esther and Mordecai) while salvation and redemption is found in granting one’s allegiance to God’s mediators and his people. Haman’s fall and Mordecai’s rise hint at the victory of God’s people to come. As such, nobody who dies in the battle of Esther 9 is innocent. Each person had 9 months to determine the side on which they would fight. Those who chose to stand with Haman by taking up arms against God’s mediators and his people shared in his tragic fate.

In closing, the kind of choice that faced the Persian Empire during those 9 months is analogous to that which Moses articulated to Israel in Deut 30:19: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live”. Strangely enough, this is the same question that every person must answer for themselves when presented with the gospel of Jesus. Like God’s people in Esther, our own lives are lived in that liminal space between judgment and salvation. God has provided a Mediator in Jesus who gave his life for our redemption and desires our allegiance. The question that remains is, will we grant him that allegiance?

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