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Esther 9, 10

Lesson audio

“… with liberty and justice for all.” So ends the Pledge of Allegiance in America. It is a reflection of the fact that this nation was founded on God’s own principles, as best understood by the Founding Fathers. The Revolutionary War was fought over such issues. I propose to examine the question of justice in government in this lesson, taking as example the closing chapters of Esther:

Now in the twelfth month (that is, the month Adar), on the thirteenth day when the king's command and edict were about to be executed, on the day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, it was turned to the contrary so that the Jews themselves gained the mastery over those who hated them. The Jews assembled in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm; and no one could stand before them, for the dread of them had fallen on all the peoples. Even all the princes of the provinces, the satraps, the governors and those who were doing the king's business assisted the Jews, because the dread of Mordecai had fallen on them. Indeed, Mordecai was great in the king's house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces; for the man Mordecai became greater and greater. Thus the Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying; and they did what they pleased to those who hated them. At the citadel in Susa the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men, and Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai and Vaizatha, the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Jews' enemy; but they did not lay their hands on the plunder. On that day the number of those who were killed at the citadel in Susa was reported to the king. The king said to Queen Esther, "The Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men and the ten sons of Haman at the citadel in Susa. What then have they done in the rest of the king's provinces! Now what is your petition? It shall even be granted you. And what is your further request? It shall also be done." Then said Esther, "If it pleases the king, let tomorrow also be granted to the Jews who are in Susa to do according to the edict of today; and let Haman's ten sons be hanged on the gallows." So the king commanded that it should be done so; and an edict was issued in Susa, and Haman's ten sons were hanged. The Jews who were in Susa assembled also on the fourteenth day of the month Adar and killed three hundred men in Susa, but they did not lay their hands on the plunder. Now the rest of the Jews who were in the king's provinces assembled, to defend their lives and rid themselves of their enemies, and kill 75,000 of those who hated them; but they did not lay their hands on the plunder. This was done on the thirteenth day of the month Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made it a day of feasting and rejoicing. But the Jews who were in Susa assembled on the thirteenth and the fourteenth of the same month, and they rested on the fifteenth day and made it a day of feasting and rejoicing. Therefore the Jews of the rural areas, who live in the rural towns, make the fourteenth day of the month Adar a holiday for rejoicing and feasting and sending portions of food to one another. Then Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, obliging them to celebrate the fourteenth day of the month Adar, and the fifteenth day of the same month, annually, because on those days the Jews rid themselves of their enemies, and it was a month which was turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and rejoicing and sending portions of food to one another and gifts to the poor. Thus the Jews undertook what they had started to do, and what Mordecai had written to them. For Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the adversary of all the Jews, had schemed against the Jews to destroy them and had cast Pur, that is the lot, to disturb them and destroy them. But when it came to the king's attention, he commanded by letter that his wicked scheme which he had devised against the Jews, should return on his own head and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore they called these days Purim after the name of Pur. And because of the instructions in this letter, both what they had seen in this regard and what had happened to them, the Jews established and made a custom for themselves and for their descendants and for all those who allied themselves with them, so that they would not fail to celebrate these two days according to their regulation and according to their appointed time annually. So these days were to be remembered and celebrated throughout every generation, every family, every province and every city; and these days of Purim were not to fail from among the Jews, or their memory fade from their descendants. Then Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter about Purim. He sent letters to all the Jews, to the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, namely, words of peace and truth, to establish these days of Purim at their appointed times, just as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had established for them, and just as they had established for themselves and for their descendants with instructions for their times of fasting and their lamentations. The command of Esther established these customs for Purim, and it was written in the book.

(Est 9:1-32 NASB)

Now King Ahasuerus laid a tribute on the land and on the coastlands of the sea. And all the accomplishments of his authority and strength, and the full account of the greatness of Mordecai to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was second only to King Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews and in favor with his many kinsmen, one who sought the good of his people and one who spoke for the welfare of his whole nation.

(Est 10:1-3 NASB)

The Problem

The king has a problem: there is a clear injustice pending in his kingdom, and the facilities of law do not immediately offer an easy solution. The problem is not altogether unknown to our time; someone wants to kill all the Jews.

Historians of the time bring out a fact which is not mentioned in the Bible. Haman was a member of the tribe of Amalek, one also forcibly displaced to Babylon. There was an ancient feud between the Jews and the Amelekites.[1] The ancient Jewish commentators assure us that the “enemies of the Jews” were the Amalekites; these would have been the enemy.

That was then; how about now? In our time we see the Jews blamed for everything that’s wrong in the Middle East. It’s by no means a new idea. Consider this order given by a major general in the United States Army:

“The Jews as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby to be expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.”[2] Wondering what bureaucrat in uniform did this? Ulysses S. Grant.

The injustice here comes from the falseness of the charge, then as now. But there is another point of injustice: this is justice against a tribe or class. Is man capable of rendering justice to a tribe or class? Against individuals, perhaps. But against a class or tribe?

A classic instance of this occurred in World War II. The United States “interned” Japanese Americans in California. But not in Hawaii. It’s been a sore spot since. The injustice is now recognized. But it still stands as a bad example.

The law of the Medes and the Persians, which altereth not

The problem has its roots in a technicality of Persian law: once a decree is made, it cannot be altered. This is wise.[3] Indeed, we may take from the preamble to our Constitution some of the reasons why:

  • Domestic tranquility. If the rules don’t change, I can continue to earn my daily bread without providing for governmental changes on a whim.
  • Establish justice. In America a man cannot be tried for a crime which is not known to the law. This serves a similar purpose.
  • A more perfect union. When the rules don’t change, and they’re the same for everybody, trade between tribes increases, and people are drawn together.

So, how is the king going to get out of this trap?

Solution: Self-Defense

The solution is quite, well, kingly. The new decree is itself established in justice. How so?

  • It invokes the universal conception of self defense. If their enemies can band together to attack, they can band together for defense. The rest of the empire likely saw it as perfectly justified.
  • It is limited to the same day as was given their enemies. No permanent power is given; just enough to meet the case.
  • Most important: it gives clear warning to those in authority (and the Amelekites) just which way the wind is blowing. Fair notice served.

Justice – intended, done, and seen

If justice is to prevail in the nation, then I submit it cannot be left to chance or leftovers from something “more important.”

Justice intended

Justice is not a “bolt-on”; it’s part of the original equipment – or it isn’t there at all. It cannot be an afterthought. Therefore it must be included from the beginning.

  • There must be a passion for justice in the founders of the nation. Its great value must be seen as something essential.
  • There must be planning for justice as well. Wishful thinking must be replaced by careful planning of the system – keeping that which is good, fixing that which is not. (Corporate management types might consider that this applies to them, too.)
  • There must be a love for justice. It’s something you do – and praise when others do it too.

God is a God of Justice[4] - imitate Him.

Justice Done

Noble words mean nothing without the deeds to match. This has its difficulties and warnings:

  • Justice is often blessed by those who receive it – but the givers of justice often are not blessed. The poor have only their prayers for this.
  • Justice perverted does not last forever – the stench of it may be buried, but it comes back again and again, each time worse.
  • Giving justice is often expensive. The Christian is taught never to expect it, but always to give it. That cannot be inexpensive.

It’s a fallen world; we must do the best we can with it.

Justice Seen

It is essential that not only is justice done, but that it be seen to be done.

  • This business of hanging in chains is likely most effective for the blue collar fool. It’s the kind of thing that mothers would bring their children to, and then say, “See? If you don’t eat your spinach, that’s where you’ll wind up.”
  • Does it deter the white collar fool? We really don’t know; nobody has good numbers concerning those who would have turned criminal. But I suspect it doesn’t hurt.

Considerations in a democracy

All this is fine, and applies to all forms of government. But there are specific requirements for the citizens of a democracy; we are to “establish justice.” How?

“Render unto Caesar”
  • First, if you’re called as a juror, serve. When you serve, take it seriously. Justice is placed in your hands.
  • Next, you’re a taxpayer. When the facilities of justice are in need of repair, do you begrudge the next dollar? Or do you see such spending to be as necessary as a hospital?
  • Finally, you are a voter. Do the candidates for whom you vote bring justice forward, or let it languish?

There is much in that last question. If one might put it colloquially, the Republicans are the party of greed, and the Democrats the party of envy. We need to be the party of justice.

The power of service

Justice is not just a matter for the courts. Indeed, justice should prevent most matters from appearing before a court. For example: an immigrant farm worker dies in 100° heat in our Central Valley. Perhaps his kin will find a lawyer who will work on commission; but in the meanwhile is it not a matter of justice that such things should not happen? Should we not compel the employer to provide shade and water, regular breaks and first aid supplies?

Often such justice is delivered in an organized way by the church. Is it just that children who have lost their parents should be obliged to wander the streets as beggars – until they are old enough to be prostitutes? What then is an orphanage built by Christian hands?

Often such action is individual. You see someone suffering unfairly, and you help them directly. This too is justice – often unseen by all but God.

The power of suffering

The Christian has a weapon for justice that accords great strength. It is the willingness of the Christian to suffer. It is the willingness to walk away from a job that you wanted to keep – because they want you to deceive the customer. It is the willingness to go to jail so that others might see the pain of abortion which is so conveniently swept under the rug of our consciences. It is the willingness to reproach evil, knowing fully well that you will suffer for it.

Justice – neither cheap nor easy. But if a man’s principles don’t cost him anything, they’re not worth much, are they?

[1] See, for example Deuteronomy 25:17-18, for the beginning of this. Trace the word Amalek through the Scriptures and you will see that they were completely destroyed.

[2] Catton, This Hallowed Ground, Doubleday, NY, 1956 p220.

[3] Proverbs 24:21 – Bet you didn’t know this was in the Bible.

[4] Isaiah 30:18

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