Many books and movies have been made on the story of Esther. Their treatment of Vashti varies from that of an insolent, self-possessed woman to a highly pious and modest woman who simply does not wish to be made the object of men’s lust. The Bible only records her actions, not her motives and attitudes, so what exactly are we to learn from her? Well, in an effort to discern our lesson for today, I have written my own version of her narrative.
There was a man named Ahasuerus [a-hazh-you-WEAR-us], who reigned over a hundred twenty-seven provinces from India to Ethiopia. In the third year of his reign, he made a feast for all his princes and servants. For a hundred eighty days he showed them the riches of his glorious kingdom, after which he made a sumptuous feast for all the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both great and small, seven days, in the court of the garden, and they drank royal wine in abundance from vessels of gold. While the men feasted with the king, Queen Vashti made a feast for the women in the royal house which belonged to King Ahasuerus.
On the seventh day, when king’s heart was merry with wine, he commanded his seven chamberlains to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to show the people and the princes her great beauty. But Queen Vashti refused to come. The king’s pride was wounded. Enraged, he said to the wise men, “What shall we do to Queen Vashti because she has not performed the commandment of King Ahasuerus by the chamberlains?”
Memucan, one of the chamberlains, devised a plan. He said, “Vashti the queen has not done wrong to the king only, but to all the princes, and to all the people that are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes, when it shall be reported, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not.’ Likewise shall the ladies of Persia and Media say this day unto all the king’s princes, which have heard of the deed of the queen. Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath. If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, that Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she. And when the king’s decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his empire, (for it is great,) all the wives shall give to their husbands honor, both to great and small.”
What Memucan said pleased the king and the princes, and the king promptly sent letters into all his provinces, to every people in their native language, that every man should bear rule in his own house.
After these things, when the wrath of king Ahasuerus was abated, he remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her. I’d like to think he was grieved by what he had said and done in his drunken rage, but there was no way to reverse the law of the Medes and Persians. What was done was done. Then one of the king’s servants offered a solution: “Let there be beautiful young virgins sought out for the king, and let the maiden who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” And the thing pleased the king, and he did so.
(from Esther 1:1-2:4)
A Closer Look
King Ahasuerus was very wealthy, very powerful, and very vain. He was also very drunk when he called his wife the queen to come to the feast. And he was in the wrong. It was not customary for the wife to be seen at parties with her husband, whether royalty or not. He may have a concubine or harlot with him, but never his wife. For that reason, she had every right to refuse his command.
Vashti showed both courage and humility by refusing to come. She showed courage because she knew that to disobey the king would surely mean a loss of the crown, if not her life. But she also demonstrated humility because she passed up an opportunity to flaunt her natural beauty. How many women today go out in public dressed provocatively, desiring men to notice them? Let’s bring it home. How many of us do that, in the name of wanting to look our best? Vashti was just the opposite. Not that she was frumpy or dowdy, but she was modest and discreet. She knew her husband and the other men were drunk and that he would not have asked this of her if he had been sober. Rather than yield to the lusts of those who had lost control of their senses, she chose to set an example of piety for her own dinner guests. Remember that she too was hosting a party for the women. When the chamberlain said that the women would all hear about it, he was right, for they were with Queen Vashti in the other room. They already knew about it. But would they be inclined to stand up to their husbands in defiance? I doubt it. They would only wish to show their husbands respect, like Vashti. To answer the call of a drunken man is not showing him respect, for he would have lost her respect had she gone there and exposed herself to the men. She actually did him a huge favor by refusing to come, for she spared him the embarrassment of exposing his wife to his subjects. It’s just too bad that he didn’t see it that way.
One more thing about modesty. I know this isn’t going to be popular, but I’d like to put it out there anyway. In this day when revealing necklines and split skirts or short hemlines are all the rage, why not try something really daring and wear a dress that leaves something to the imagination? I have heard men say that they find women who are modestly clothed to be more sexy than those who let it all show. Why? Because they leave so much more for the imagination. Men love a good mystery. They love to try to figure a woman out. Sure, cleavage has some attraction, but how much better when a woman’s attire tells a man, “I respect both myself and you. I’m not easy, but I’m worth the effort.”
Vashti taught us some hard lessons about making hard choices. The right choice is not always the easy choice, but God always rewards us and gives us courage to do what is right. Be mindful that others are watching. What kind of example will you be?
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Photo taken in Milton, Florida, 2017
Next week: Esther