Monday 27 February, 2017
"The king’s edict"
By these letters the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to assemble and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, with their children and women, and to plunder their goods. (verse 11)
Here we have the last reversal in the book, when the edict intended to bring about the destruction of the Jews is superseded by an edict which facilitates the slaughter of the enemies of the Jews. Both moral and translation issues are intertwined in the interpretation of verse 11. Haman’s decree in 3:13 allowed the killing of all Jews, including women and children. The decree of Mordecai seems simply to parallel that and sanction the murder of women and children among the Jews’ enemies. A minority of translations, and commentators, see the ‘women and children’ as being Jewish, so those who attack Jewish women and children are to be killed. For me, with so much of Esther being about reversals and parallels, the decree of Mordecai does allow the slaughter of women and children.
For many Christians and Jews this violence and destruction of innocent people will be deeply troubling. While for those who search the scriptures of religions to confirm their view that religion is all about murder and hate, these chapters in Esther will be manna from heaven. How can we respond? First, Esther and Mordecai have not been held up as saints for us to model our lives on. Second, you could argue that verse 11 is about defensive violence. But you still have the issue of non-combatants. Finally, as Christians and followers of Jesus, we are under a new covenant which places love and forgiveness at the heart of how God deals with humanity and thus as the way we should deal with one another – even with those we may see as enemies.
† Lord, help us to take your word to us in scripture seriously. May we struggle with heart and mind to understand what you are saying to us today through it. Amen