Holy War

“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” (Est. 9:1).  

- Esther 9–10

Esther has achieved Haman’s defeat (Est. 4–7), but something must be done about the royal decree to destroy the Jews in Persia. Since this edict cannot be revoked, Ahasuerus gives Esther permission to make another decree in the king’s name allowing the Jews to “annihilate” any who might attack them (8:1–14). Esther even gets permission for a second day of fighting, and tens of thousands of her Persian enemies end up dead (8:15–9:19).

Such violence seems excessive to us, especially since the Lord does not give the new covenant church the right to conquer with the sword. But this does not mean the Jews sinned in this case. We read that the Jews laid “no hands on the plunder” that could have been theirs after they slaughtered the Persians (9:4–10, 15–16). This tells us the Jews engaged in holy war against the Lord’s enemies since His servants were not allowed to profit from such conflicts (Josh. 6–7). 

We fight God’s holy war today with prayer and evangelism to make His enemies obey His rule willingly (2 Cor. 10:4; Eph. 6:10–20). Our battle is not wholly different from old covenant holy war. Even then, foes like Rahab could be conquered spiritually and join our Father’s army as soldiers (Josh. 2; 6:22–25). Moreover, physical battles will not always be absent from our warfare like they are presently, for the Lord’s forces will cast His enemies forcibly into hell at His return (Matt. 13:36–43). Still, in this era of abounding grace in Christ, God sends us forth with the Gospel, not the sword.

By birth, God’s enemies are not found only outside of the covenant community, for our Creator has warred against all mankind since Adam’s fall (Rom. 5:12). Even old covenant saints deserved the death they brought to His Canaanite foes. Yet in love, the Lord rescued those whom He chose by grace, accepting the death of a spotless animal as a substitute for theirs (Gen. 22:1–19; Lev. 4:1–5:13).

As sinners, our deserved fate is as conquered foes whom God rightly destroys. But thankfully, Christ took upon Himself the loss God’s people deserved so that we could also share the Lord’s eternal victory over all who hate Him (2 Tim. 2:11–13).

Coram Deo

All sorts of wild theories about spiritual warfare abound in the church today. Nevertheless, there is a real war going on every time the Gospel is preached. All people are inclined from birth to reject Jesus and will only trust Him if the Holy Spirit conquers their hearts and enables them to trust in the Lord. One of our chief weapons in this battle is prayer, and we must fight for God’s kingdom by loving our enemies and praying for the conversion of others.

Passages for Further Study

Ex. 15:3
Isa. 42:13
1 Tim. 6:12
Rev. 17:1–14

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