Saul 2.0

Pieter Lasman, “The Triumph of Mordechai”
(1624; Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1 Sam 15:3, Samuel commands Saul, the son of Kish, “Go, and strike Amalek, and devote to destruction everything that is his. Do not take pity on him, but kill man and woman, child and infant, ox and lamb, camel and donkey” (לך והכיתה את־עמלק והחרמתם את־כל־אשר־לו ולא תחמל עליו והמתה מאיש עד־אשה מעלל ועד־יונק משור ועד־שה מגמל ועד־חמור).‭[1]‬ Unfortunately, Saul’s subsequent engagement with the Amalekites heeded only Samuel’s order to “go and strike Amalek” (לך והכיתה את־עמלק).‭[2]‬ Saul “did devote to destruction” (החרים) the Amalekite people but captured alive Agag, the king.[3] Indeed, “Saul and the people had pity on Agag and on the best of the flock and the herd and their choice offspring, on the lambs, and on everything good, and they did not accept devoting them to destruction, but every despised and weak thing they devoted to destruction” (ויחמל שאול והעם על־אגג ועל־מיטב הצאן והבקר והמשנים ועל־הכרים ועל־כל־הטוב ולא אבו החרימם וכל־המלאכה נמבזה ונמס אתה החרימו).‭[4]‬ Thus, Saul becomes the object of Samuel’s ire and forfeits the continuation of his kingdom.[5]

The task of Agag’s execution then fell to Samuel to perform.[6] Yet, not even in this case was the army’s previously defective destruction of the Amalekites completed.[7] Rather, the people found themselves continuing to reap the fruits of this disobedience when “King Ahasuerus exalted Haman, son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, and he lifted him up, and he set him on his throne over all the officials who were with him” (גדל המלך אחשורוש את־המן בן־המדתא האגגי וינשאהו וישם את־כסאו מעל כל־השרים אשר אתו).‭[8]‬ Here too there was a descendant of Kish—Mordecai, by name—to oppose the Agagite.[9] Yet, in this case, the son of Kish does not fail to fulfill his charge thoroughly.[10]

After Esther exposes Haman’s plot to Ahasuerus, the king has Haman executed and commissions Mordecai to write as he pleases in behalf of the Jews defense on the still fixed day of destruction Haman had arranged.[11] Mordecai’s decree against the Jews’ attackers is similarly thorough to Haman’s against the Jews, permitting the Jews “to destroy and to kill and to exterminate any force of a people or province that oppressed them—small children and women—and to plunder their goods” (להשמיד ולהרג ולאבד את־כל־חיל עם ומדינה הצרים אתם טף ונשים ושללם לבוז).‭[12]‬ Carrying out Mordecai’s decree in the king’s name on Adar 13–14, the Jews decisively defeat those who assault them.[13] In contrast with the decree’s permission “to plunder” (לבוז),‭[14]‬ however, the mt three times directly denies that the Jews engaged in plunder.[15] This avoidance of plunder is consistent both in Susa itself[16] and “in the king’s provinces” (במדינות המלך).‭[17]‬ This consistency suggests that Mordecai’s message, circulated both in Susa and in the provinces, lies behind the Jews’ practice in this regard.[18] Hence, the various activities prescribed in Esth 8:11b would be subordinate to Mordecai’s primary instructions for the Jews “to assemble and to make a stand for their lives” (להקהל ולעמד על־נפשם).‭[19]‬ Because the Jews successfully repelled their attackers, there was no defensive value in the activity of plunder.[20]

In its three-fold affirmation that the Jews avoided plunder, the mt draws still a further contrast between Mordecai and Saul, who had found occasion to engage in plunder contrary to Samuel’s command.[21] Even so does the final “savior and constant benefactor” (σωτὴρ καὶ διὰ παντὸς εὐεργέτης)[22] obtain vindication for himself and his people over those who stand against them.[23] Nor yet does he himself even gather plunder but rather consistently commends “godliness with contentment” (ἡ εὐσέβεια μετὰ αὐταρκείας).[24]


[1] Jobes, “Esther 1,” 165; Phillips, “Mordecai,” 477; see also Exod 17:8–16; Deut 25:17–19; 1 Sam 9:1–2.

[2] 1 Sam 15:3; cf. Jobes, “Esther 1,” 165.

[3] 1 Sam 15:8; cf. ibid.; Phillips, “Mordecai,” 477.

[4] 1 Sam 15:9; cf. Jobes, “Esther 1,” 165; Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon, s.v. משנה, ‭§2‬.

[5] 1 Sam 15:10–31; Jobes, “Esther 1,” 165.

[6] 1 Sam 15:32–33.

[7] Cf. Phillips, “Mordecai,” 477.

[8] Esth 3:1; cf. Anderson, Old Testament, 505, 507; Childs, Old Testament as Scripture, 605; Jobes, “Esther 1,” 165; Phillips, “Mordecai,” 477; Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Old Testament, 486; see also Esth 3:10; 8:3, 5; 9:24.

[9] Esth 2:5; Anderson, Old Testament, 505; Childs, Old Testament as Scripture, 605; Jobes, “Esther 1,” 165; Keil, “Esther,” 208; Phillips, “Mordecai,” 477; Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Old Testament, 486.

[10] Jobes, “Esther 1,” 165.

[11] Esth 6:14–8:8; Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Old Testament, 490.

[12] Esth 8:11b; cf. Esth 3:13; Keil, “Esther,” 234; Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, Old Testament, 490. On the phrase “small children and women” (טף ונשים) here, see Phillips, “Mordecai,” 480.

[13] Esth 8:8; 9:1–19.

[14] Esth 8:11.

[15] Esth 9:10, 15–16; Jobes, “Esther 1,” 165; Phillips, “Mordecai,” 480. The Greek versions, by contrast, tend to agree with the mt in the latter two cases (Esth 9:15–16) and to describe the Jews as engaging in plunder in the first instance (Esth 9:10). The Lucianic recension appears to recount a consistent engagement in plundering, and 108 suggests plundering at least in Esth 9:16. The Hexaplaric tradition omits any reference to plundering in Esth 9:16, whether affirmative or negative, and agrees with the mt in portraying the Jews as refraining from plunder in Esth 9:10, 15 (Hanhart et al., Septuaginta). For discussion of Esther’s Greek versions, see Jobes, “Esther 5.”

[16] Esth 9:6–10, 15.

[17] Esth 9:16.

[18] Cf. Jobes, “Esther 1,” 165.

[19] Esth 8:11a; cf. Phillips, “Mordecai,” 480.

[20] Keil, “Esther,” 234; cf. Phillips, “Mordecai,” 480.

[21] 1 Sam 15:9.

[22] Add Esth E:13.

[23] Cf. 1 Cor 15:20–28Col 2:8–15Rev 19:11–16; Aphrahat, Dem., 21.20 (Schaff and Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 13:400); Jobes, “Esther 1,” 166, 168–69; see also Eissfeldt, Old Testament, 592; Jobes, “Esther 4,” 183.

[24] 1 Tim 6:6–10; cf. Matt 6:9–13Luke 11:2–412:13–21Heb 10:32–39.

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