Haman’s death precipitates a complete turnaround within the kingdom. The king awards Haman’s house to Queen Esther. He then elevates Mordecai to the position Haman had held, including giving him the signet ring which he retrieved from Haman. So Mordecai assumes the position that Haman had held as the King’s chief advisor. But a few things remain to be done. Esther once again seeks the king’s attention unbidden.
He responds in signal fashion. As before he had given his ring to Haman and let Haman write the decree condemning the Jews, Ahasuerus now gives Mordecai permission to write the decree in his name that allows the Jews to defend themselves.
Esther spoke yet again before the king, and fell down at his feet, and begged him with tears to put away the mischief of Haman the Agagite, and his device that he had devised against the Jews. Then the king held out to Esther the golden scepter.
The timid Esther has become ever more bold. The first time she came in, she waited silently until the king extended his scepter to her. This time, perhaps spurred on by the peril of her people, and reassured by the King’s generous treatment of her and Mordecai, she petitions him for redress of the evil Haman had devised even before the king extends his golden scepter. Just as before, the scribes are called and the decree is inscribed. Couriers are dispatched to distribute the decree throughout the vast empire.
From Egypt in the East, to the Hindus river, the Jews rejoice. They will be allowed to protect themselves, and even to take plunder from those they defeat. The incentives now have been reversed. Those who might have sought to gain by fighting and destroying the Jews now not only face an armed and potentially armed enemy, but risk forfeiting all of their own possessions should they fail. The decrees of the Persian king cannot be reversed, so the date for the extermination of Jews remained. But the new decree finesses this law by countering the first decree with another. Both remain in force; neither is reversed. Yet the effect is to negate the first decree.
Even in the capital Shushan, some still sought the destruction of the Jews, including, not surprisingly, Haman’s ten sons. They were among the some 500 men were killed by the Jews within the capital. Apparently, Shushan was the site of considerable opposition to Mordecai and the Jews generally, because Esther requested that the Jews in the capital be given another day to fight back against their enemies. The text tells us that an additional 300 enemies of the Jews were killed. But, the author is careful to point out, “they didn’t lay hand on the plunder.”
No one could blame them if they had. After all, they had been living peaceably with their neighbors, they had not sought this opportunity for conflict. On the contrary, it was Haman who sought their demise. Probably the extra resistance within the capital indicates the breadth and depth of the political struggle for power. No doubt Haman had allies who were loathe to relinquish their influence with the king. Like Abraham when he rescued Lot, the Jews wanted to make it clear that this was self-defense, not seeking material gain.
At this point it would seem that everything which had been wrong has been turned right again. Haman and his sons are dead, Mordecai has been elevated to the highest place in the kingdom next to the king, and the Jews have been preserved. But Esther had requested one more thing:
“Let Haman’s ten sons be hanged on the gallows.”
To the modern ear, this sounds like a shocking request coming from the demure queen. Has this virtuous woman suddenly become vengeful and bloodthirsty? Remember, Haman did not want simply to kill Mordecai and his relatives, he wanted to wipe out all the Jewish people in the Persian Empire. This would effectively have eliminated Judaism from the world.
Esther wanted to make sure that no one would be tempted into such a heinous act again. Haman’s sons were already dead, she wanted them hanged from the gallows as a warning to enemies of the Jews. By hanging the dead bodies rather than giving them burial, this amounted to extinguishing Haman’s name and his posterity forever. There would be no monuments, no memorials over their remains. No place for sympathizers to go and mourn. “This,” the decaying bodies would proclaim, “is what happens to the enemies of the Jews.” For many days, all the citizens of Shushan would be reminded of Haman’s perfidy, and of his shameful end by the sight of the bodies of his ten sons slowly consumed by vultures and eventually becoming only a pile of bones.
Surely Esther would qualify as the strong partner of Joseph. Both were exiles, far from home, without father or mother, who rose to positions of influence and ultimately saved Israel. We tell the story of Esther as a beautiful girl who wins the heart of the king, and uses her feminine wiles to influence him. Artists often portrayed Esther as a fragile flower, fainting when she goes before Ahasuerus. But what we see on closer examination is a woman of amazing humility, whose winsome character, courage, and shrewd reason persuade a king and rescue the chosen people.
The story also cautions us concerning faith in our own judgments about who is devout and who is not. And it gives comfort to those who feel themselves “left behind.” Mordecai’s caution to Esther warns us as well, “Who knows if you haven’t come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” God places each one of us where, if we devote our lives and talents to him, we will play an indispensable role in His great plan of salvation.
Read other posts in the “Matriarchs and Prophets” series.