On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them. […] In the citadel of Susa, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men. […] But they did not lay their hands on the plunder.
Esther 9:1, 6, 10b
As we watch an army of conquest work at the difficult task of peacemaking, issues of justice and retribution, the human right to a fair trial, and the duty to minimise ‘collateral damage’ have all occupied the world’s media for some time now. Does it matter if innocent civilians are killed, even on a small scale? Should those responsible for terrorism simply be found and killed, or should they be brought to trial? When does justice become revenge?
Xerxes’ first edict had instructed the people to kill all the Jews, including women and children, and to take all their possessions. Now the second had granted the Jews the right to defend themselves. But as far as we can understand from the text, they only killed the plot leaders, and did not take plunder. Their response was limited and disciplined.
Jesus told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Some Christians have thought that following this command means that we should never be physically violent. But whether that is our position or not, Jesus’ words call us to restraint and discipline when confronted with violent enemies. The God of love is also a God of justice and we are called to be instruments of his love and of his justice. Love and justice seek the truth, listening to all sides, before taking action.
Do we use the democratic processes to let those who represent us know that even in war we expect them to be fair, just, and restrained in their responses? It takes courage to stand up to evil. It takes even more courage to respond with the proper restraint under the pressure of a baying populace or a hostile media.