By Katie Kafka
Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.Esther 9:1
This week in our Esther study, we are talking about chapter 9 where the main theme of the text is holy warfare. Does God ordain violence and destruction? It seems strange that a loving God would work in this way. Holy warfare is a complicated theme that you see all over the Bible, and we see it in Esther 9. When God seeks to deliver his covenant people from sin, it always comes at a cost.
Human conflict occurs throughout the Bible from Genesis 3 to Revelation 20. From this, we can see and understand that wars in the Bible are more than isolated events. Holy warfare is not just physical, human fighting or a sociological category describing historical events. Instead, holy warfare provides a unified yet varied story that connects us to the larger story of the Bible: creation, sin, redemption, and resurrection.
The author of our study book, Lydia Brownback, defines holy war in the Old Testament as a work in which “God set apart and purified a certain people – the Jews – for himself. He commanded that unholy people who threaten to destroy God‘s relationship with his special people had to be wiped out. That’s what we mean by holy war.” I would take this definition a little further and say that holy war is also a strange work in which God judges evil. The main purpose is to eradicate the evil of the times and punish sin. I don’t know that the human mind or heart is meant to fully understand. We know that God has a part. His covenant people are meant to obey when he leads.
God’s role and man’s role in holy warfare is consistent throughout the Old Testament. There are common components in each battle that create a unified process to each moment. We see these components in the storyline of Esther and the battle fought in this book.
- God reveals to his covenant people who and when to fight.
- There is sacredness around the warfare. It is surrounded by rituals and usually preceded by sacrifice.
- Israel is commonly the underdog in which they are always at a disadvantage. They do not rely on a large army or powerful weapons. They have no official military or troops.
- Fighting at a disadvantage shows that victory results only from God’s power and will.
- Plunder and spoils belong to Yahweh.
Ultimately, all holy warfare fought in the Old Testament was pointing God‘s people toward the coming of Christ. They longed for a Savior. They needed a Savior.
Jesus, we know now, is the Savior sent by God to deliver God’s people from evil, sin, and destruction. He is the turning point of what holy warfare looks like in redemptive history. Jesus won the greatest battle of all, not by killing but by dying. Do you see the reversal there? It is an example to us, all those living in the new covenant, that we too fight not by killing but by laying down our lives when necessary. We fight not with sword, spear, and shield but with spiritual weapons such as faith, righteousness, and the word of God. Ephesians 6:10-18 says it best.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…
For God’s people today, we are in the in-between. We fight holy warfare against the powers and principalities while knowing that victory has been won on the cross. Similar to Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews of ancient Persia, we look forward to and long for our deliverance day. That glorious day will see the culmination of human conflict in Christ’s return. Christ come quickly. Halleluiah, Amen.