We have here a decisive battle fought between the Jews and their enemies, in which the Jews were victorious. Neither side was surprised; for both had notice of it long enough before, so that it was a fair trial of skill between them. Nor could either side call the other rebels, for they were both supported by the royal authority.
I. The enemies of the Jews were the aggressors. They hoped, notwithstanding the latter edict, to have power over them, by virtue of the former (Est. 9:1), and made assaults upon them accordingly; they formed themselves into bodies, and joined in confederacy against them, to seek their hurt, Est. 9:2. The Chaldee paraphrase says that none appeared against the Jews but Amalekites only, who were infatuated, and had their hearts hardened, as Pharaoh’s against Israel, to take up arms to their own destruction. Some had such an inveterate implacable malice against the Jews that Haman’s fall and Mordecai’s advancement, instead of convincing them, did but exasperate them, and make them the more outrageous and resolute to cut all their throats. The sons of Haman, particularly, vowed to avenge their father’s death, and pursue his designs, which they call noble and brave, whatever hazards they run; and a strong party they had formed both in Shushan and in the provinces in order hereunto. Fight they would, though they plainly saw Providence fight against them; and thus they were infatuated to their own destruction. If they would have sat still, and attempted nothing against the people of God, not a hair of their head would have fallen to the ground: but they cannot persuade themselves to do that; they must be meddling, though it prove to their own ruin, and roll a burdensome stone, which will return upon them.
II. But the Jews were the conquerors. That very day when the king’s decree for their destruction was to be put in execution, and which the enemies thought would have been their day, proved God’s day, Ps. 37:13. It was turned to the contrary of what was expected, and the Jews had rule over those that hated them, Est. 9:1. We are here told,
1. What the Jews did for themselves (Est. 9:2): They gathered themselves together in their cities, embodied, and stood upon their defence, offering violence to none, but bidding defiance to all. If they had not had an edict to warrant them, they durst not have done it, but, being so supported, they strove lawfully. Had they acted separately, each family apart, they would have been an easy prey to their enemies; but acting in concert, and gathering together in their cities, they strengthened one another, and durst face their enemies. Vis unita fortior—forces act most powerfully when combined. Those that write of the state of the Jews at this day give this as a reason why, though they are very numerous in many parts, and very rich, they are yet so despicable, because they are generally so selfish that they cannot incorporate, and, being under the curse of dispersion, they cannot unite, nor (as here) gather together, for, if they could, they might with their numbers and wealth threaten the most potent states.
2. What the rulers of the provinces did for them, under the influence of Mordecai. All the officers of the king, who, by the bloody edict, were ordered to help forward their destruction (Est. 3:12, 13), conformed to the latter edict (which, being an estopel against an estopel, had set the matter at large, and left them at liberty to observe which they pleased) and helped the Jews, which turned the scale on their side, Est. 9:3. The provinces would generally do as the rulers of the provinces inclined, and therefore their favouring the Jews would greatly further them. But why did they help them? Not because they had any kindness for them, but because the fear of Mordecai fell upon them, he having manifestly the countenance both of God and the king. They all saw it their interest to help Mordecai’s friends because he was not only great in the king’s house, and caressed by the courtiers (as many are who have no intrinsic worth to support their reputation), but his fame for wisdom and virtue went out thence throughout all the provinces: in all places he was extolled as a great man. He was looked upon also as a thriving man, and one that waxed greater and greater (Est. 9:4), and therefore for fear of him all the king’s officers helped the Jews. Great men may, by their influence, do a great deal of good; many that fear not God will stand in awe of them.
3. What God did for them: he struck all people with a fear of them Est. 9:2), as the Canaanites were made afraid of Israel (Josh. 2:9; 5:1), so that, though they had so much hardiness as to assault them, yet they had not courage to prosecute the assault. Their hearts failed them when they came to engage, and none of the men of might could find their hands.
4. What execution they did hereupon: No man could withstand them (Est. 9:2), but they did what they would to those that hated them, Est. 9:5. So strangely were the Jews strengthened and animated, and their enemies weakened and dispirited, that none of those who had marked themselves for their destruction escaped, but they smote them with the stroke of the sword. Particularly, (1.) On the thirteenth day of the month Adar they slew in the city Shushan 500 men (Est. 9:6) and the ten sons of Haman, Est. 9:10. The Jews, when on the feast of Purim they read this book of Esther, oblige themselves to read the names of Haman’s ten sons all in one breath, without any pause, because they say that they were all killed together, and all gave up the ghost just in the same moment.—Buxt. Synag. Jud. c. 24. The Chaldee paraphrase says that, when these ten were slain, Zeresh, with seventy more of his children, escaped, and afterwards begged their bread from door to door. (2.) On the fourteenth day they slew in Shushan 300 more, who had escaped the sword on the former day of execution, Est. 9:15. This Esther obtained leave of the king for them to do, for the greater terror of their enemies, and the utter crushing of that malignant party of men. The king had taken account of the numbers that were put to the sword the first day (Est. 9:11), and told Esther (Est. 9:12), and asked her what more she desired. “Nothing,” says she, “but commission to do such another day’s work.” Esther surely was none of the blood-thirsty, none of those that delight in slaughter, but she had some very good reasons that moved her to make this request. She also desired that the dead bodies of Haman’s ten sons might be hanged up on the gallows on which their father was hanged, for the greater disgrace of the family and terror of the party (Est. 9:13), and it was done accordingly, Est. 9:14. It is supposed that they were hanged in chains and left hanging for some time. (3.) The Jews in the country kept to their orders, and slew no more of their enemies than what were slain the thirteenth day, which were in all, among all the provinces, 75,000, Est. 9:16. If all these were Amalekites (as the Jews say), surely now it was that the remembrance of Amalek was utterly put out, Exod. 17:14. However, that which justifies them in the execution of so many is that they did it in their own just and necessary defence; they stood for their lives, authorized to do so by the law of self-preservation, as well as by the king’s decree. (4.) In these several executions it is taken notice of that on the prey they laid not their hand, Est. 9:10, 15, 16. The king’s commission had warranted them to take the spoil of their enemies for a prey (Est. 8:11), and a fair opportunity they had of enriching themselves with it; if Haman’s party had prevailed, no doubt, they would have made use of their authority to seize the goods and estates of the Jews, Est. 3:13. But the Jews would not do so by them, [1.] That they might, to the honour of their religion, evidence a holy and generous contempt of worldly wealth, in imitation of their father Abraham, who scorned to enrich himself with the spoils of Sodom. [2.] That they might make it appear that they aimed at nothing but their own preservation, and used their interest at court for the saving of their lives, not for the raising of their estates. [3.] Their commission empowered them to destroy the families of their enemies, even the little ones and the women, Est. 8:11. But their humanity forbade them to do that, though that was designed against them. They slew none but those they found in arms; and therefore they did not take the spoil, but left it to the women and little ones, whom they spared, for their subsistence; otherwise as good slay them as starve them, take away their lives as take away their livelihoods. Herein they acted with a consideration and compassion well worthy of imitation.
5. What a satisfaction they had in their deliverance. The Jews in the country cleared themselves of their enemies on the thirteenth day of the month, and they rested on the fourteenth day (Est. 9:17), and made that a thanksgiving day, Est. 9:19. The Jews in Shushan, the royal city, took two days for their military execution, so that they rested on the fifteenth day, and made that their thanksgiving-day, Est. 9:18. Both of them celebrated their festival the very day after they had finished their work and gained their point. When we have received signal mercies from God we ought to be quick and speedy in making our thankful returns to him, while the mercy is fresh and the impressions of it are most sensible.