That very day the number of those killed in Susa the citadel was reported to the king. And the king said to Queen Esther, “In Susa the citadel the Jews have killed and destroyed 500 men and also the ten sons of Haman. What then have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces! Now what is your wish? It shall be granted you. And what further is your request? It shall be fulfilled.” And Esther said, “If it please the king, let the Jews who are in Susa be allowed tomorrow also to do according to this day’s edict. And let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows.” So the king commanded this to be done. A decree was issued in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they killed 300 men in Susa, but they laid no hands on the plunder. – Esther 9:11-15 ESV
In reading this particular passage, it would be easy to conclude that Esther was a cruel and vindictive individual. After all, the second edict had been a success and the ten sons of Haman had been executed. But now, when the king asks her if there is anything else she wants, she requests that the edict be extended for a second day in the capital of Susa and for permission to hang the bodies of the tens sons of Haman on spikes for all to see. In other words, she wants to put them on public display. Were the 500 men killed that day not enough? Was the elimination of Haman’s sons as viable threats against the Jews not sufficient payback? Did she really need to publicly humiliate them? Was Esther simply bloodthirsty and out for revenge?
Obviously, there are things going on in the story to which we are not made aware. Esther knows something we don’t know. The first day of the edict it seems that the 500 individuals who died were all in the royal section of the city, known as the citadel (9:6). The majority of the threats the Jews were coming from the powerful and influential. They were the ones who felt the most threatened by Esther, Mordecai and the Jews. But Esther knew that there were still others who had either fled the citadel into other parts of the capital or there were pockets of resistance that needed to be eradicated. So she asked for a second day. The king gave his permission and the second day resulted in an additional 300 individuals losing their lives. But once again, the Jews refused to take their land and goods as plunder. They were not doing this for material reward. This was solely an attempt to prevent Haman’s original intention to eradicate the Jews from taking place. For Esther and the rest of the Jews, it was about self-preservation, not financial remuneration.
The public display of the bodies of Haman’s sons was intended to send a message. The very means by which he had planned to murder Mordecai was used to reveal to the citizens of Susa that his efforts had failed miserably. His hatred for the Jews had resulted in his own death and that of his ten sons. All the way back in chapter five of this story, Haman had returned from the first banquet thrown by Esther, and had been beside himself with joy. He arrived at home, bragging about his unprecedented good fortune. “And Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king” (Esther 5:11 ESV). But now, Haman was dead. His ten sons were as well. His riches belonged to Esther. His former position and the king’s signet ring, symbol of his power, had been given to Mordecai. Haman, the prideful, arrogant, conniving, ruthless, power-hungry enemy of God’s people was gone. His decree had been an abject failure. And all traces of his ever having existed had been eliminated.
Esther’s actions, while somewhat mysterious to us, were not based on a whim. She knew what she was doing. She recognized that the threat to the Jews was not yet over. Susa was still harboring dangerous individuals who were on a mission to destroy Jews and take their possessions and property. The very fact that an additional 300 individuals were killed the next day reveals that this was true. For Esther, this was a matter of eliminating any threat against the Jews once and for all. She wisely used her position as queen and her influence over the king to arrange for a more-than-satisfactory end to this story. But none of this would have been possible without the sovereign, providential hand of God. This story is not about the cunning of Esther or the wisdom of Mordecai. It is not about the bravery of a young girl facing insurmountable odds and an all-powerful enemy. It is a story of the unseen, imperceptible, yet invincible power of God. It is a reminder to all who read it that God may not always be observable, but that doesn’t mean He’s AWOL. He is always there, whether we see Him or not. He is always in control, whether we believe it or not. He is always working His plan, whether we sense it or not.