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Vashti

Esther 1:8-9:
Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired. Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.

In modern terms the king and his followers were "partying". The king even ordered his people to do whatever they wanted. At the same time, Vashti provided food and entertainment (though less "exuberant" than the men's) for the women of the court.

Esther 1:10-12:

On the seventh day, when the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who attended him, to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing the royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the officials her beauty; for she was fair to behold. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command conveyed by the eunuchs. At this the king was enraged, and his anger burned within him.

Many have criticized Vashti for refusing to appear at her husband's command. However, consider the scene: Not only have the king and his cronies been partying for days, drinking large quantities of wine, but they had also been doing "as each one desired". We can imagine men passed out on the floor, others laying in drunk sprawl in the arms of palace courtesans. In his stupor, the king calls for the presence of his queen. He wants to parade her before his followers, to display her beauty.

Vashti was a queen in a society that prized modesty in a woman above all else. At the command of her husband to parade before the drunken crowed, she refuses. Far from action of a rebellious woman, this was the action of a regal queen, refusing to display herself and her position to shame.

Esther 1:13-18:

Then the king consulted the sages who knew the laws (for this was the king's procedure toward all who were versed in law and custom, and those next to him were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven officials of Persia and Media, who had access to the king, and sat first in the kingdom):'According to the law, what is to be done to Queen Vashti because she has not performed the command of King Ahasuerus conveyed by the eunuchs?'Then Memucan said in the presence of the king and the officials, 'Not only has Queen Vashti done wrong to the king, but also to all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands, since they will say, 'King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.'This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen's behavior will rebel against the king's officials, and there will be no end of contempt and wrath!

The king has become "enraged" at Vashti's refusal. Instead of addresses the issue with his wife, he turns to his lawyers. The lawyers decide that Vashti's actions might go beyond the simple marital problems of the king, but might become a true national disaster! If Vashti does not obey her husband, other women might not obey their husband's. They might, in fact, "look with contempt on their husbands". Clearly the Bible is ridiculing the over-reaction of these men who fear that "this day" the noblewomen who heard of Vashti's refusal will suddenly rebel, not just against their husband's but against the state. A small issues between a husband and wife grew to threaten the relationship of other husbands and wives, to a threat to the security of the nation.

Esther 1:18-20:

'If it pleases the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be altered, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, vast as it is, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.'

In response to their perceived threat, the lawyers devise new laws. First, Vashti is "never again to come before" the king. Notice, unlike many accounts she isn't removed from the Palace or sent home or thrown into the streets. Instead she merely loses the "privilege" of entering the king's presence and her title. The first is a dubious punishment, while the second probably did diminish her place in the king's household.

Yet there is a second part to the decree: all women are to give honor to their husbands. A pagan king, advised by pagan lawyers made this decree, yet some now share these same concerns in Christian marriages.

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"The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A, and are used by permission. All rights reserved."
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