Reading is my favorite because no two people ever read a story in the exact, same way. The way my brain interprets something might be very different from the way you read something. We’ve all got a different movie playing in our head. This is why I like discussing books after I’ve read them because I like to hear what nuggets other people got that I may have missed.
This is the same reason why I love the Bible. It’s the same Bible it has always been, but there is always a new lesson or message waiting to be unfolded. (Side note: I really wanted to say “unfeld” right there. #ipromiseimateacher)
I first paid attention to this character about four years ago. I was teaching a girl’s youth class on Proverbs 31 and part of my lesson talked about the book of Esther. When I think about Esther I think about how she sought counsel and heeded her cousin’s advice and because of her obedience she was able to save the Jewish people from perishing at the hands of Haman. She was a woman of great faith and courage and virtue.
All of these are wonderful things and the book of Esther is named after her for a reason. She’s the main character. However, when reading, you always have to pay attention to those extra side characters that seem to be part of the details or scenery. They are important.
The only reason that Esther ever became queen was because there was an unexpected opening for that position. (God’s in the door opening business y’all… even when the position seems real filled. He can make a way. I could go on…) King Xerxes (some versions of the Bible refer to him as Ahasuerus but we’ll stick with Xerxes for my brain’s sake) had a wife before Esther came into the picture and her name was Vashti.
Now you may or may not have ever given Vashti a second thought. She is only mentioned in the first two chapters of Esther, but I haven’t stopped thinking about her for the past four years. I really do think about her all the time and you know God is speaking when He doesn’t let something file away into your brain. He’s really kept it at the forefront for me and now I can share with you.
This is the story of Vashti. In my head I heard “This is the story of a girl named Lucky.” Not now, Britney Spears… I’m trying to talk about the Word of God!
King Xerxes ruled over 127 provinces that stretched from India to Cush. In the third year of his reign, King Xerxes gives a huge banquet to “display the vast wealth of his kingdom.” (Esther 1:4) The nobility, officials, and military leaders from all 127 provinces were invited and this lasted 180 days. When it finished, Xerxes threw another banquet. This banquet would last seven days and it was for all the people in the citadel of Susa, where he reigned. The Bible goes on to describe the decor in the garden where the banquet was held in great detail but just imagine super, mega, ultra amazing. And “by the king’s command each [man] was allowed to drink with no restrictions.” (Esther 1:8) So food and wine are flowing in the garden.
Meanwhile, Queen Vashti is throwing a banquet in the palace for all the women of Susa.
In verse 10, the Bible says that “on the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine” (read: drunk) he tells his servants to bring Queen Vashti “wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles.” (11) Many sources interpret this to mean he’s summoning Vashti to come in the garden wearing only her crown and others think he was just asking her to come in to be looked at. Either way the request was a disgrace. Historically, it was common for the King to have dancers to entertain his guests but Eastern women lived in seclusion and the queen, even more so than the wives of other men, was kept from the public eye. So it really was a terrible, drunken call on the part of Xerxes.
Queen Vashti refused to come and Xerxes was enraged.
At that time the king would seek counsel in matters of law, so he asked the nobles what should happen to Vashti for disobeying him. In summary this was their response: Queen Vashti didn’t only do wrong to you, but to every man in all the provinces in the land. The women are bound to find out what she did and then they too will disobey their husbands. “There will be no end of disrespect and discord.” (Esther 1:18) So you should issue a royal decree that cannot be repealed writing that “Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes.” (19)
This not only meant that she no longer held the title of queen but that the life and luxury she was accustomed to was taken from her. And just like she was banished from King Xerxes, she disappears in history after this as well, never to be written of again. Trust me. I searched. You can’t find anything about her. No one really knows if had to give her life for her disobedience or if she was exiled or lived in obscurity we just know she’s no longer the queen.
This is worth mentioning though, in chapter 2 of Esther when King Xerxes has gotten over his anger, he feels remorse for what he had done to Vashti albeit fleeting.
This is where we go back to what I said earlier about reading. Everyone interprets things differently. And you can read Esther chapter one yourself to get the unabridged version and decide how you feel about it.
This is what I believe. Yes, we can look at Vashti as an independent woman who stood up for herself and women everywhere. It’s a popular opinion. Even Harriet Beecher Stowe called this “the first stand for women’s rights.” But what I really feel is that Vashti is a great example of self-respect for a person. It doesn’t have to be about men versus women, although that’s clearly a major part of it.
I think that anyone, man or woman, can learn from Vashti.
Think about this, Vashti had everything to lose and yet she still said no and left it all. It would have been so easy just to follow through, ignore the customs and laws that were already in place, all because the King told her to.
In what areas are we just doing what everyone else does and trying not to make waves? Are there relationships we hold on to while knowing that they don’t agree with our Christian walk? Is there a supervisor or coworker who does things we aren’t ok with but for fear of losing a job we stay quiet? Is there a friendship that puts pressure on us to do things we know are wrong? Mainly, are there situations in our lives that we are uncomfortable with but we allow because of fear of repercussions?
God doesn’t call us to that kind of life. God doesn’t call us to just go with the flow and do what everyone else does. In Romans 12:2 it says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Matthew 5:14 says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill…” Light drives out darkness and that’s what God wants us to do. He wants us to stand up for what’s right, when it’s right, because it’s right. Sometimes that means standing alone. Sometimes that means walking away from jobs, friends, even family. Sometimes we have to lose everything we thought we wanted to see what God has in store for us. We cannot live lukewarm, flip-flopping, back and forth lives and expect blessing. We can’t sit in church on Sunday and live like the world all week long. God calls us to stand up and stand out and that may require us to defy a rule or a norm that would be easy to follow. We have to be secure in knowing that God will always have a better plan for us than we could ever have for ourselves.
I admire Vashti because she stood up for herself and for what was right. She didn’t conform. This isn’t my call to people to go and disrespect their spouses but to respect themselves as well. She is a perfect representation of self respect. Though the book of Esther is about a woman who was obedient and heroic, Vashti and her courageous disobedience will always be one of my favorite unsung stories of the Bible.