King Xerxes can’t sleep after the first banquet, so he asks his servant to read to him from the chronicles of his reign. (LOL!) The servant reads the story about Mordecai exposing the assassination plot, which jogs the king’s memory about not rewarding Mordecai for that. In the morning, Haman arrives, prepared to ask the king to approve impaling Mordecai on the 75 foot pole that he has miraculously erected overnight! What happens next is a farce in the best tradition of comedy routines; make sure to read it (v 5-12). So…… was it just luck that Xerxes just happened to read that particular passage from his diary? Or are we supposed to imply some divine intervention here?
The king hosts the second banquet. Here, Esther finally pleads for her life and her people. And the king, acting like he has never heard of the decree to kill the Jews (drunk? stupid? disingenuous?), asks her who would order such a thing. She points directly to Haman. The chapter ends in poetic justice for Haman, but I’ll let you read it the details.
The king gives Haman’s property to Esther, and makes Mordecai a top official. Too bad the story doesn’t end there, because then it takes a dark turn. Esther asks Xerxes to reverse the order to exterminate the Jews, and rather than just rescind it, he issues a new decree that “gave the Jews in every city authority to unite to defend their lives. They are allowed to kill, slaughter, and annihilate anyone of any nationality or province who might attack them or their children and wives, and to take the property of their enemies” (v 11). And just exactly how are the Jews supposed to know who MIGHT attack them? Are they going to start a mass slaughter based on hearsay, just as bad as the one they were trying to prevent? Predictably, “many of the people of the land became Jews themselves, for they feared what the Jews might do to them” (v 17). Convert or be killed? Last I heard, two wrongs still don’t make a right.
Chapters 9 and 10
On the appointed day when the Jews were to have been killed, they turn the tables and attack instead. “No one could make a stand against them, for everyone was afraid of them” (v 2). They “struck down their enemies with the sword. They killed and annihilated their enemies and did as they pleased with those who hated them” (v 5). There’s no mention of an actual battle – it seems more like a one-sided slaughter. Wow. And they aren’t done; Esther wants the bodies of Haman’s sons impaled on a pole. Still the killing continues, and the death toll rises to 75,000.
When it’s finally over, they take a day off to celebrate. We now call this the Festival of Purim, and it’s a fair bet that most Jewish kids today know little of the original bloodthirsty massacre. Purim’s main four main observances now are: Listening to the public reading of the book of Esther; sending food gifts to friends; giving charity to the poor; and eating a festive meal. But partying and costumes are also a big part of it – kind of like Mardi Gras.