DIG: What does they did as they pleased mean in the context here? What happened in the fortress of Susa? Why? What did the Jews do with the plunder? Why? What did Queen Esther ask for and receive from King Ahasuerus? How was it possible that the Jews killed seventy-five thousand of their enemies? Why are there two different dates for the observance of Purim?
REFLECT: What is the difference between killing and murder (see my commentary on Exodus Dp – You Shall Not Murder)? What do you do that’s not for money? Even though you know you will be criticized, will you do something tough for the LORD in your life (that you know needs to be done)? Or do you usually pass? Do you know why? Are you feeling like you are living in a walled (protected) city today, or do you feel like you are living in an unwalled (unprotected) city?
On the day of the battle, the twenty-third day of the third month, the month of Sivan, 474 BC, the Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them (9:5). Perhaps the words, they did as they pleased to those who hated them, suggests a frenzy of wild vengeance because of the combination of the verbs. In the wider context, however, the inference is that the Jews were given a free hand to defend themselves without official interference from the government.
The Jews must have had many enemies in the fortress of Susa, because they killed and destroyed five hundred men plus Haman’s ten sons (9:6). Maybe Haman had influenced them. Probably the Jews of Susa concentrated on the enemies that were found in the fortress as being the most dangerous, or perhaps the known enemies of the Jews sought refuge in the fortress to try to protect themselves. Although five hundred sounds like a lot, it was not a high percentage of the population. This points to the fact that the majority of the citizens of Susa supported the Jews.
But they did not lay their hands on the plunder as Haman had hoped to do. Three times it is stated that they were not doing this for the money (9:10b, 15-16). The author may also have had the incident in First Samuel 15:17-23 in mind when King Saul disobeyed ADONAI by taking the plunder of the Amalekites. This time the Jews were careful not to make the same mistake again. In addition, the decision not to enrich themselves at the expense of their enemies would not go unnoticed in a culture where victors were expected to take the spoil. The very novelty of such restraint would be talked about, remembered and taken as proof of their upright motives, probably resulting in Gentile converts.105
The number of those slain in the fortress of Susa was reported to the king that same day (9:11). The king seemed indifferent to the results. The number of those killed did not include any Jews. It must simply be that the victory over their enemies made the loss of their own companions seemingly insignificant by comparison. But it is hard to believe that not one Jewish life was lost, although the narrative would have us think so. Maybe the mention of Jewish deaths would put a damper on the Jewish Marti Gras known as Purim. The Jews had but one thought that day, and it was survival.
The King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “The Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men and the ten sons of Haman in the fortress of Susa. Apparently the king was indifferent to the results of the slaughter that day. What have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? If the Jews killed so many in Susa, how many must they have been killed in the whole empire? Now what is your petition? It will be given you (but this time he did not add, up to half the kingdom). What is your request? It will also be granted” (9:12).
She requested one more day to root out the enemies of the Jews who were trying to destroy them, and the public humiliation of the bodies of Haman’s ten dead sons, just as their father had been humiliated. Although barbaric by our standards today, it was a common occurrence in ancient warfare (First Samuel 31:1-3). Esther replied: If it pleases the king, give the Jews in Susa permission to carry out this day’s edict tomorrow also, and let Haman’s ten sons be impaled on poles (9:13). Esther is almost universally condemned for requesting the fighting to go on for a second day. The author, however, makes no attempt to either exonerate the queen or to justify her request. It seemed to be perfectly acceptable to him. Did she let her newfound power go to her head? Or were her reasons for requesting a second day of fighting legitimate, even though they are unknown to us and possibly unknown to the author? We simply don’t know.
Whether or not Esther was justified or not, the perennial failure of Isra'el’s greatest leaders to war against moral and spiritual darkness without being engulfed in it themselves suggests that no human being is worthy to wage a true holy war in the name of YHWH. God’s strategy against sin and evil was awaiting the perfect Warrior (see Bj - The Jews Rejoiced), who could execute divine justice with clean hands and a pure heart. His name is Jesus.106
They also killed Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai and Vaizatha, (9:7-9) the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews (9:10a). The Massorah prescribes that the names of the ten sons of Haman be written in a perpendicular column on the right hand side of the page, with the vav (and) on the left hand side. This is probably derived from the tradition that the ten sons were impaled on a tall pole, one above each other. It is also customary in reading the Megillah on Purim. The rabbis teach that if someone can say all ten of Haman’s sons names in one breath (because they all died together), it will bring good luck.
The ten sons of Haman were also killed that day, leaving no one to carry on their father’s legacy of hateful pride. The apple, after all, doesn’t fall far from the tree. This was a common practice in ancient warfare. When the leader was killed, so was his whole family so that no one could live on to mount a vengeful coup. The names of Haman’s sons may help us to better understand what kind of a war Esther was engaged in. They are of special interest because they may be daiva names of ancient Persia. Daiva were once used of the gods in early Iranian and Hindu writings but later came to be associated with demonic powers in Eastern religions. As seen above, all the names have a characteristic “a” vowel, in keeping with their father and grandfather’s names, as if binding the entire family together. If the names of Haman’s sons do reflect this origin, the original readers would have probably recognized them as demonic. The author possibly listed the names to show the allegiance of Haman and his family to the demonic powers of darkness and evil and, therefore, proper casualties of Purim.107
The Nazi’s banned all Purim observances. On January 31, 1944, Hitler said that if the Nazis went down to defeat, the Jews would celebrate a second triumphal Purim. How right he was! On October 16, 1946, ten Nazis were hung in Nuremburg just like the ten sons of Haman. One of them was Julius Streicher, who said as he was hung, “Purim, 1946.”108
So the king commanded that this be done. An edict was issued in Susa, and they impaled the ten sons of Haman (9:14). The Jews in Susa, probably the center of anti-Jewish element, came together on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar, and they put to death in Susa three hundred men who attacked them, but, we are reminded once again that they did not lay their hands on the plunder (9:15). This number was for the whole city of Susa, is small compared with the five hundred killed in the fortress on the first day. This further proves that the Jews did not kill indiscriminately, but only those who attacked them.
Meanwhile, the remainder of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also assembled to protect themselves and get relief from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of them (9:16a). Another detail that has been considered improbable is that the Jews killed seventy-five thousand of their enemies after the second decree of the king. To those who have doubts about the possibility of such a massacre of their enemies, Carl Friedrich Keil, the famous messianic Jew from Germany (1807-1888) reminds us of the massacre of St. Bartholomew in France when Carlos IX put thousands of Protestants to death and banished hundreds of thousands from France. He also notes that Ferdinand the Catholic banished three hundred thousand Jews from Spain. Keil suggests that the population of the Persian Empire from Ethiopia to India must have been at least one hundred million. The Jews must have numbered between two and three million. So perhaps the number of anti-Semites killed need not be considered so improbable.109
Even after the death of Haman, his decree of destruction remained in force for the Jews. But the counter-decree (see Bi - Now Write a Counter-Decree in the King's Name in Behalf of the Jews) by Ahasuerus gave the Jews the right to defend themselves and their property in the face of deadly assault (8:11). While it is true that many Persians died in their attack on the Jews, their deaths were not the result of Jewish aggression, but of Jewish self-defense! None of the Persians would have died if they had refrained from attacking the Jews. Their integrity in this manner is emphasized by the repeated statement: But did not lay their hands on the plunder (9:10). The Jews refused to enrich themselves through their victory over the Persian aggressors (9:16b).110
This happened on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar. The feast was observed on the thirteenth of Adar, or the original day set for the slaughter of the Jews. This was done in all the provinces. And on the fourteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy (9:17). Apart from the Feast of Dedication and Nicanor’s Day, both instituted in the mid-second century BC, there were no festivals during the last five months of the Hebrew calendar (February to March). By the middle of the last month of the year a reason for family rejoicing would be a welcomed highlight after a long, cold winter.
The first observance of Purim took place on the fourteenth of Adar outside the capital city of Susa. This verse is a kind of parenthetical explanation. Verse 19 explains how this feast was observed in the villages and unwalled towns. That is why rural Jews - those living in villages and large towns without walls - observe the fourteenth of the month of Adar as a day of joy and feasting, a good day for giving presents to each other (9:19). It was a day of joy, instead of a day of sorrow; it was a day of feasting, instead of a day of fasting; it was a good day, instead of a day of mourning; and it was a day for giving presents to each other, instead of having things taken away from them.111
However, the second observance of Purim took place on the fifteenth of Adar because they fought for another day (see By – Susa Purim). The Jews in Susa had assembled on the thirteenth and fourteenth of Adar, and then on the fifteenth of Adar they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy (9:18). This set the stage for different Jewish observances. To this day, those Jews living in villages without walls celebrate Purim on the fourteenth of Adar, but those in cities with walls celebrate it on the fifteenth of Adar. Always being different, the Samaritans observed this feast a month earlier, in the month of Sh’vat. These last two verses are summaries that may seem to be contradictory to other verses, 9:21-22 for example. These summaries, however, telescope the events. That is to say, they are too brief to give all the details that would show they are not contradictory.
Therefore, a plot to destroy the Jews resulted in a festival that helped to unite and sustain them.