Esther and Mercy

We have already looked at the way that Esther didn’t speak up in Haman’s defence despite his pleading with her for his life (Esth 7:7). At least some form of justice was served, even if he was executed on a false charge. But we have a second example of lack of mercy in Esth 9:13, where Esther asks for a second day of slaughter. Clearly she is determined that the task be completely finished, understanding this as a holy war (hence the refusal to take plunder, despite the edict allowing it).

Spiritual Warfare – No Mercy

The New Testament makes it clear that there is to be no more physical fighting against people, but there is a spiritual war to be fought, which is just as real. Holy war is in effect spiritualised.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Eph 6:12

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Cor 10:3-5

As with holy war, in this spiritual battle, there is to be no mercy. No truce can be made in the battle against sin. The Puritan John Owen recognised this when he said, “be killing sin or it will be killing you”. We have an enemy who is out to destroy us, and therefore to adopt a pacifist stance is tantamount to suicide.

Show Mercy

However, when we consider the New Testament picture on how we are to treat our human enemies, a very different picture emerges. We are called to love our enemies, not destroy them (Luke 6:27-28). And in particular, mercy is held out as a virtue that should characterise the followers of Jesus.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matt 5:7)

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)

One question that emerges is whether there is ever a time that mercy should be withheld? Do we always have to let people off the hook, or is there a time for justice to run its course? In 2 Pet 3:9, we are told that God will reach a time where he will execute judgment, but he prefers to show mercy, which explains why there is a delay in the return of Christ. He would prefer people to receive his grace and forgiveness than his wrath and judgment.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Pet 3:9

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