Esther 9: 1-10Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, when the king’s command and edict were about to be executed, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain power over them, but which had been changed to a day when the Jews would gain power over their foes, 2 the Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who had sought their ruin; and no one could withstand them, because the fear of them had fallen upon all peoples. 3 All the officials of the provinces, the satraps and the governors, and the royal officials were supporting the Jews, because the fear of Mordecai had fallen upon them. 4 For Mordecai was powerful in the king’s house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces as the man Mordecai grew more and more powerful. 5 So the Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, slaughtering, and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them. 6 In the citadel of Susa the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred people. 7 They killed Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, 8 Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha,9 Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai, Vaizatha,10 the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews; but they did not touch the plunder.
We are at the part of Esther where one has to make a choice on how they will hear this. Many Christians throughout history have come upon this section with distaste, this is certainly one of the reasons Martin Luther didn’t like the book. The slaughter of over five hundred people, an event that would dwarf events like the Oklahoma City Bombing, Sandy Hook Elementary, or Columbine, in fact by percentage of population it would probably rival the loss of life on the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center. If you take the numbers as literal, this is a horrific event (at least if you are not a Jew). In my opinion the numbers are probably hyperbolic, but in either case this is another of those events of violence in the Old Testament that can be difficult to stomach. This is definitely a mindset of retributive justice (you threatened me, so I will do violence to you) that still plays out in wars and genocides even in recent history.
On the other hand, this does reflect a world where anti-Semitism continues to be a real and present force in the lives of Jewish people. This was probably one memory where, instead of being victim, the Jewish people were feared because they actually had power through Mordecai and Esther. Much like Ahasuerus becomes a foil for whatever king they find themselves under and Haman becomes the oppressors they have, this victory probably becomes a counter story in the midst of their lives. When they are weak and powerless they can look back to a time when they were strong.
It is so easy for the oppressed, when given power, to become the oppressor-and even many Christians, who should take Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness and non-violence seriously, have become the worst offenders. One doesn’t need to know much history to pull up events like the Holocaust (a “Christian” nation attempting to wipe out the Jews), Bosnia/Kosovo (Serbs, who are predominantly Christian attempting to wipe our Croats who were predominantly Muslim), or Rwanda (predominantly Christian), or Sudan (Muslim north vs. a Christian south) and the list could go on and on. Violence and death are here to stay with us, and in America we are very sheltered from the horror, we in the past year grieved the events in Sandy Hook and that was a major domestic event for us.