The Me’am Loez writes that the people of Shushan were confused about Haman’s new promotion from lowly barber to the point where he had the power to order the annihilation of an entire people.
Still going according to his theory, the Malbim says the confusion stemmed from nobody knowing the content of the letters.
R’ Mendel Weinbach adds that, since nobody knew which group was being wiped out on the thirteenth of the following Adar, each ethnic group in Achashverosh’s 127 states was worried that they were the intended target.
However, the Yerushalmi writes that the confusion of Shushan stemmed from the polar opposite reactions to this decree (which the Yerushalmi clearly presumes everybody knew). The Jews in the city were scared and simultaneously anti-Semites in the city were overjoyed.
The Talmud (Makkos 12a-b) discusses a case in which a tree is planted on the border of the city of refuge to which a person who committed negligent homicide must flee, and asks if such a killer would be allowed to safely stay under this tree. After all, while he is in the city of refuge, the “go’el hadam” (“blood avenger”) cannot kill the negligent killer (Bamidbar 35:19). The Talmud answers that we follow the lenient opinion, but the lenient opinion for whom – the go’el hadam or the accidental murderer? Just like the news in Shushan about the impending annihilation of the Jews, it is a question of perspective.
Similarly, the Vilna Gaon writes that the gentiles did not know for what they needed to be prepared, while according to Rashi, the Jews were confused because they were pondering the age-old question of why the Jews are so hated.
The Yalkut Shimoni and the Alshich comment that this confusion came from seemingly random accidents occurring throughout the city as the city became suddenly accident-prone.
R’ Dovid Feinstein suggests that the gentiles were concerned about the economic effects of the upcoming massacre. When the Jews are in trouble, commerce is affected. As it says in Mishlei (29:2) “When evil rules, the nation sighs.” In other words, everybody loses when wicked are in charge; even the wicked leader’s allies cannot sleep securely.
R’ Shlomo Kluger writes that the people were worried because Achashverosh had just drunk. With a history of abhorrent behavior when imbibing (see 2:1 above), the people were scared about what he may do next.
The Maharal has the exact opposite opinion. According to him, the two sat down to drink in order to calm the populace. They were sending the message, “We are not doing anything to serious. Look, we are just sitting down for casual drinks.” Perhaps the order of these last two verses are testifying to the fact that this plan failed miserably, as the entire city was lost in confusion.
Ultimately, regardless of the reason for the city’s confusion, Rav Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume II, 404) writes that Achashverosh’s drinking at this historical crux shows he was “aloof from his subjects in unapproachable majesty.”
R’ Yehonasan Eibshutz quotes Yosipon as saying that, in the ancient world, making a decree and then drinking means agreeing with the decree, and that it cannot be rescinded. However, making a decree after drinking means the decree is not legitimate, and can therefore be rescinded. Later in the story (Esther 8:8), when Achashverosh allows Mordechai and Esther to uproot this decree, he was implying that they drank first, which is clearly a lie. The city was confused because they did not know the order in this case. This is a powerful contrast from the Jewish G-d, the King of Kings, who, as we shall see in the coming chapters, cares intimately about His people, and has orchestrated these events in a way that will ultimately lead to the Jews’ salvation, it should come soon. Amen.