CLAIM: The book of Esther records, “So the king’s scribes were called… and it was written according to all that Mordecai commanded to the Jews, the satraps, the governors and the princes of the provinces… He wrote in the name of King [Xerxes], and sealed it with the king’s signet ring, and sent letters by couriers on horses, riding on steeds sired by the royal stud. 11 In them the king granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill and to annihilate the entire army of any people or province which might attack them, including children and women, and to plunder their spoil” (Esther 8:9-11). Does this mean that God commanded genocide?
RESPONSE: A number of observations can be made:
First, Xerxes command couldn’t be revoked. In the ancient Persian culture, the king was viewed as a god, and he needed to be viewed as infallible. Therefore, Mordecai inaugurated another decree (as the king’s right hand man) in order to protect the Jewish people. Remember the original command from Haman was “to destroy, to kill and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, women and children, in one day” (Esther 3:13).
Second, this was an edict for self-defense. Esther records, “The king granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives” (Esther 8:11). In a “kill or be killed” scenario like this, Mordecai (under the authority of Xerxes) ordered the people to defend themselves. The text never states that the Jewish people hunted down Agagites. Instead, this only describes self-defense on this day.
Third, the Agagites had been trying genocide for years. The Agagites were a people from the Amalekite ethnic group (1 Sam. 15:8), and the Amalekites (Agagites) had been trying to commit genocide on the Jewish people for a millennium (Ex. 17). Haman was an Agagite (Esther 3:1), and if they weren’t rebutted, the Jewish people would’ve been exterminated.
Fourth, this decree was allowed for one day—not ongoing war. Mordecai’s decree was only “on one day in all the provinces of King [Xerxes]” (Esther 8:12). This shows that Mordecai was trying to give the people the power for self-defense on the day of Haman’s former edict. This would prevent an ongoing “Hatfield and McCoy” type blood feud that would last for centuries.
Fifth, there is no record of actually harming women and children. While Mordecai’s decree did include “women and children,” there is no record of this actually being carried out. No historical record in the book of Esther demonstrates that women and children were harmed. Most likely, this caveat was made because it mirrored Haman’s original decree, and allowed for self-defense—even in this odd circumstance.
Sixth, the Jewish people didn’t plunder the people. This battle wasn’t about money or greed—just self-defense, as we have been arguing throughout. Esther records, “They did not lay their hands on the plunder” (Esther 9:10).
Thus for these reasons, to call this event “genocide” could not be further from the truth. This was an act of self-defense in the midst of fallen circumstances.