I’ve been reading in Esther this week (along with most of the teen girls in my church), it’s one of my
Go To books when I’m in between where to read. I love Esther.
- She was wise.
- She was submissive.
- She was humble.
- She was sacrificial.
But today’s post isn’t about Esther at all. It’s about her predecessor, Queen Vashti.
This is a woman who was queen of Persia, her husband being a very proud, arrogant and violent conquerer and ruler.
This story begins with a description of King Ahasuerus’s wide reign and power. In the 3rd year of his reign he decides he wants to show off his riches and glory to all the world! Now, he doesn’t just decide to hold a banquet, or even a festival. He holds a 180 celebration! 6 MONTHS!!
At the end of his Big Display, he decides that a week long banquet will be held, get this, FOR ALL THE PEOPLE in the capital city of Susa. This is not just for the royalty or nobility, this was for the entire city. He goes all-out with the decor (putting Martha Stewart to shame) and the festivities.
Right along with this, Vashti holds her own banquet for all the women in the palace. I’m not completely sure who this entailed, but I’m sure that she was wanting to be as generous and opulent as the King in her own party.
At the end of the 7 days, when the King is feeling “merry” after drinking all this time, he calls his wife in to display her beauty with her royal crown to all the “people and princes”.
But she refused.
There is a lot of speculation here. Some say she was actually commanded to come NAKED except for her crown and she, in modesty and purity, refused. I never thought that the text upheld that view and here is a quote from the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary:
“Though it was common in the culture for dancers to entertain the king’s guests, this interpretation is inconsistent with Persian customs that “the queen, even more than the wives of other men, was secluded from the public gaze”.
Now, I never quite got her response. She knew what her husband was like. She knew the absolute despot that he was. She knew the law that she couldn’t even come into his presence without being summoned for fear of death! WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?? We will never know. But we know how he responded.
The thing that I always found absolutely fascinating in this whole story is the REASON given for removing Vashti.
“Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also all the princes and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus.“For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women causing them to look with contempt on their husbands by saying, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in to his presence, but she did not come.’ “This day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s conduct will speak in the same way to all the king’s princes, and there will be plenty of contempt and anger.” Esther 1:16b-18
“When the king’s edict which he will make is heard throughout all his kingdom, great as it is, then all women will give honor to their husbands, great and small.” verse 20
“So he sent letters to all the king’s provinces, to each province according to its script and to every people according to their language, that every man should be the master in his own house and the one who speaks in the language of his own people. ” verse 22
Vashti didn’t just disrespect her husband. She didn’t just disrespect the King. She disrespected ALL the husbands in the realm. She was teaching, by her example, that all the wives in the kingdom should disrespect their husbands. Remember, this wasn’t a quiet family party, this was a celebration where the entire capital city was invited! This was the end of a 6 month Open House displaying the King’s power, might and wealth. You can be sure that the gossip vine was alive and well in Susa and by morning every single woman would have heard what Vashti did.
But they would now also hear what the King’s response was. With the moral of this story to the women in that kingdom being: don’t diss your husbands!
How can WE learn from Vashti’s choice? We each have spheres of influence that we don’t even see. Ways we touch people’s lives that we don’t know about. How does the way WE treat our husbands affect those in our unseen influence? What message do we send as women making a claim to godliness? Do we live a life of respect and honor toward our husbands? Or do we show disdain for their authority?
Let’s take some time today and examine our hearts, our actions and our speech – in light of how we are INFLUENCING others around us in their respect for the authorities in their lives.
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Excellent post Kate! Really fine points to consider.
I personally felt “King Headache’s” declaration and that of the Princes was a little overkill. I would like to ask WHY did they think that ALL the women would disrespect their husbands because Vashti did so. Did she really have this much influence in the country or where these men just that arrogant.
At any rate, I agree with your moral of the story…Don’t Diss your husband. I might… perhaps on occasion…maybe be less than respectful to his face. There are times when the flesh is hot and the tongue has to be bitten. But from the first days of our marriage, we pledged that we could never tear each other down in public, to family members, friends or coworkers. We love each other more for having battled through dramas and crisis together rather than inviting all of the community to weigh in.
Keeping your issues between yourselves protects you from being in “King Headache’s” dilemma. He ran off at the mouth, and cashed that check that his heart did not want to pay.
Tina, you are quite likely right that the response was out of proportion. I don’t know what the culture was of the day and I wasn’t really studying Ahasuerus. But it does say something about how much influence they THOUGHT she had, that’s for sure.
Wise, wise, wise commitment to one another in your marriage! I wish more couples would consider this. Thanks so much for sharing it!!
I’m with Tina – the moral you’ve derived is great: don’t diss! But really? Ahasuerus gets drunk and disrespects his wife so utterly; in front of tens of thousands. Profoundly disrespects his wife. And for maintaining her modesty, and every value she has been raised with, she is set aside.
How could her choice be disrespectful (*her* choice?!) and imprudent? She maintained the decorum and values of the royal house, while her husband disregarded every value her community held dear.
The message to other wives could only be – your honour is worth nothing; if your husband seeks to degrade and abuse you, then you shall take it and say narry a peep. If you husband seeks to parade you before other men; you shall go along with it. If this message was *not* received by the women of Persia, then how could that be a bad thing? Indeed, if the message they received was that it is worth maintaining your values and beliefs at an enormous personal cost – then surely this is a powerful message for women everywhere. For their husbands too; that they have women of virtue and integrity. There is space for submission without requiring women to sacrifice the most basic of dignities.
But yes. I agree with don’t diss. PROFOUNDLY agree!! 🙂 But I’m… almost disturbed that you’d think that Vashti’s actions were disrespectful. Surely if one of your daughters ended up married to the President , and drew the line at public degradation and humiliation at her husbands hand, you would not suggest her actions were disrespectful, even if by doing so she sent a message to all women in the US! I think it begs the question – at what point can be say: no; I am *not* doing that? Indeed, where sits the line between submission and abuse?
Wow, Caroline. Please realize I DO NOT buy the view that he was commanding her to come into his presence naked except for her crown.
While I’m not commenting specifically on the king’s behavior, I don’t see that calling his wife to come to the last day of his banquet was necessarily something I see as “profound disrespect” or “degrading or abusing” or “public degradation and humiliation”. Using your example of the President, I see it as the President having a state dinner with many dignitaries while the First Lady is entertaining the women in another room. And the President requests that his wife come into the dinner and be presented to his guests.
I really don’t see the degradation and humiliation in that. I do not know the Persian culture of that time very well – and I have read several conflicting commentaries. Some historical articles I’ve read say that the queens had great powerful places in the government, alongside their husbands even. These did not give ANY indication that coming into a banquet would have been at all a degradation against her moral conscience.
If I felt that what was being asked was a moral compromise, I would have written a very different post.
Kate – from what I know of the Persian culture at the time, women were very secluded (see –> women eating separately from men). Even in contemporary Iranian culture, you wouldn’t ask your wife to join you in front on several of your close friends, let alone thousands of people. So I suppose – I see if from the context of a divided culture. Where a woman’s value was (and still is!) predicated on her seclusion. Poor women, who can’t afford to not go out, were less respected those wealthy women who kept in perda or seclusion for their whole lives. If Queens usually did promenade in front of men, then you’re right -there is something else going on there that’s problematic. But…. if they didn’t? Then I’m going to go with my initial appraisal and say – nope, Vashti did the right thing. Absolutely, entirely, completely.
Sorry Kate, I know I’m speaking strongly here. But it bothers me deeply: when we posit that there is a hierarchy between men and women – and particularly if a cultural or religious belief keeps women secluded, without property or income, and predicates the value of women on how well they cover themselves – then we MUST respect women’s decision to adhere to these values. If we value women of modesty and integrity – then how can we say she must submit to her husband going against every aspect of that system that so benefits him by “showing her off”, displaying her before his friends or subordinates?
I don’t mean here the wife that insists on covering her head against her husbands wishes. That’s where submission IS necessary. I would suggest it’s more like the women who has always covered her head, and her husbands has desired this – then one day he goes and gets drunk and asks her to uncover before his friends. This is just… so disrespectful. And I would be aghast if it was expected that a woman should uncover.
but yeah. I’m sorry! I don’t mean to be so sharp about it! It’s (can you tell? 🙂 ) something I feel very, very strongly about. And you’re totally right: it * entirely* depends on the history and cultural context. Which I need to spend some more time exploring. So my apologies for the strength of the response, Kate. And I’ll go have a better look into the history; maybe I’m misremembering, or thinking of a different time period (eg post – alexander or something..) love you!
Not a problem, Caroline. My view of her disrespecting her husband was predicated on the understanding that this was pre-islamic Persia and that they didn’t have the separated culture as much as the later Islamic tradition. The fact that later in the book Esther was able (without anyone seeming to think it unusual or unlawful) to have her own banquet for the King and Haman. This seems to follow that it was NOT a separated culture — even when the King left Haman and Esther alone for a short time.
Love you too.
Vashti gets a bad rap. Unfortunately, she has become the poster child that many use to encourage wives to submit to sin, foolishness, or destructive behavior. They place all of the responsibility to submit on the wife’s shoulders. Yet, they place little to no responsibility on the husband to
(1) submit to God
(2) love his wife like Christ loved the church and died for it.
The idea of a wife submitting to her husband was not a new one. It had been taught from Genesis throughout the Bible. When Paul taught about a wife’s duty to submit to her husband, he was merely recapping an age old teaching. However, he had to spell it out for husbands. (Ephesians 5:25-32) This was a revolutionary concept for husbands. It had never been taught like that before. Some might say “love your neighbor as yourself” had been taught before (Luke 10:27). But that was the problem. Husbands were expressing love for their neighbors outside of the home, while regarding their wives as mere maids and sex objects.
The king did this to Vashti. She refused to submit to his foolish and drunken request.
Jewish tradition says that he instructed her to appear nude. We can’t be sure whether he requested her nude or not. Either way, asking her to flaunt her beauty in the presence of other drunken men was not modest(Matt 5:28, Ex 20:17, Deut 5:21)wise or safe. She valued modesty and didn’t promote lustfulness. The king’s self serving friends were angered by her refusal and encouraged him to exile her, and he did.
This is a prime example of how many husbands use their position of power to abuse defenseless wives. It’s also an example of how many husbands express love for their neighbors and friends outside the home, while treating their wives with utter cruelty. This is a perfect example of why Paul needed to spell out (Ephesians 5:25-32) for husbands.
Bathsheba – another woman who had been the victim of a king’s abuse of power – gave Solomon this wise advice:
It is not for kings, O Lemuel, to guzzle wine. Rulers should not crave alcohol. For if they drink, they may forget the law and not give justice to the oppressed (Pro 31:4-5).
That’s exactly what happened between Vashti and the King. He got drunk and forgot his duty to love, honor, and protect his wife.
As a result of Vashti’s refusal, she was banished. Sometimes, bad things happen when you take a stand. Vashti’s hardship is similar to that of Uriah. Uriah was a loyal military man. He refused to go home and sleep with his wife because of his commitment to his army. Uriah was actually more committed at that time than David because David took a day off to commit adultery. Although Uriah took an honorable stand, he was still killed. Although Uriah was killed, God still used the incident for his glory. Solomon became one of the wisest kings to ever live. This is no different from how the book of Esther unfolds. God uses an unfortunate tragedy to accomplish his plans.
Like David, Ashasuerus had some redemptive qualities. That’s why God used him and gave him a second chance. He was remorseful for the way he had treated Vashti. He learned from his mistakes and treated Esther better than he treated Vashti. He also made a decree with Haman to kill the Jews. When he realized how egregious that decree was, he rectified it. He did in that situation what he had failed to do concerning Vashti. This is an admirable quality. Ashasuerus learned from his past mistakes.
There are some many other relevant themes within this text that many commentators fail to deal with like alcoholism, substance abuse and/or sexual immorality within marriage. Unfortunately, far too many women are married to alcoholic, drug addicted or porn addicted husbands. What happened between Vashti and the King could easily be used to try to convince wives to enable, support and/or excuse their husband’s addiction. Far too many lives, families and marriages have been destroyed as a result of addiction.
KM, I really appreciate your thoughts. And you are so right, there are very many issues in the book of Esther that would be worthwhile to study out. One of them is to focus on the cruelty and immorality of Ahasuerus.
God has a lot to say about oppressive leaders and the judgment they will face. If I was talking to a husband who used this story to justify his abusive behavior, I would focus on the that aspect of the passage.
It is clear from the rest of the book that Ahasuerus saw his wives as little more than property. But, neither did he fear Jehovah, so I wouldn’t expect it to happen. I do not necessarily see any redemptive qualities in Ahasuerus in this text. He was used by God for GOD’S glory and purpose, not for any honorable qualities he may or may not have displayed.
Two points I’d like to make, though.
1) I see nothing from the text that indicates that Vashti was a woman of modesty and purity. If it did, then my post would have been very different. There really is nothing in the text that indicated she refused her husband’s call because of her demure and chaste attitude. It just says she refused. And I still don’t buy the idea (even though it is Jewish tradition) that she was called to appear naked.
2) The Hebrew word for “merry with wine” is “in a good mood, pleasant, agreeable.” One thing I know about this king is that he was a very violent and cruel king when sober and it sounds like the wine had mellowed him before his guests on the last night of a huge 6 month celebration of all that he valued. One of those things was his wife’s beauty.
My point is that each of us have a sphere of influence – seen or unseen. Each of us, by our actions, affect the lives and beliefs of others. And it was very clear by the text that both the king and his advisers (regardless of whether they were right or wrong) saw the influence of the Queen having very far-reaching repercussions. They saw her disobedience, in a sense, unraveling the framework of family life throughout the nation.
My goal was for each of us to examine our own lives and look at how the things we do and say affect those who watch us – even if we don’t see them watching us. Are we walking a life of faith and trust in God and being women of integrity, having a godly affect on those who look to us.
Thanks again. I appreciate the dialogue.
I truly thank you for encouraging healthy dialogue, even when it differs from your own!!! It’s very important for women to hear and evaluate different perspectives. There is more that I could say about Vashti, but I won’t.
Esther is used as the symbol for the ultimate submissive/virtuous wife, and Vashti is usually used to symbolize the disrespectful wife. However, there is another very relevant example for wives in the Book of Esther who usually gets omitted: Zeresh – Haman’s wife. Zeresh definitely believes in supporting her husband’s every whim, even when it’s self destructive and dangerous. When Haman tells her about his hatred for Mordecai, she joined right in with Haman’s friends and suggested that he has some gallows built and ask the king to hang Mordecai. She didn’t pray for Haman that God would give him proper direction or change his mind. She didn’t have any WISE words for her husband. She just joined his band wagon. After the king promoted Mordecai, Haman told Zaresh about it, and she tried to clean up her advice to him, but it was already too late. Haman was killed on the same gallows Zaresh encouraged him to prepare for Mordecai. His sons were killed too. Although, Zeresh SUPPORTED her husband’s whims and leadership, she failed to be the EZER – helper God designed her to be. Not only did she fail to be a helper to husband, but she failed to be a helper in her community to Haman’s sons. Zeresh was a foolish wife. Zeresh’s example is very powerful. She teaches wives what not to do. However, most commentaries about the Book of Esther tend to omit her example and it’s implications because it contradicts popular teachings that suggest that a “virtuous” wife must always go along with and encourage what the husband wants or thinks is best.
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