31 Days of Women from Scripture
Lessons from Vashti
Today’s woman can be found in Esther 1 – 2:4.
The story begins in Susa, a citadel of the Persian empire under King Ahasuerus. In the third year of his reign, King Ahasuerus made a show of his wealth to all who were present, for 180 days. At the end of this time, he provided a seven-day banquet for all the people who were in the citadel, from the greatest to the least. The banquet was lavish and drink was plentiful. “The drinking was done according to the law, there was no compulsion, for so the king had given orders to each official of his household that he should do according to the desires of each person” (Esther 1:8). Meanwhile, Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women.
On the seventh day of this banquet, after all of this free drinking and celebrating of his own wealth and power, King Ahasuerus commanded the seven eunuchs who served him to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown “in order to display her beauty to the people and the princes, for she was beautiful” (Esther 1:11). Queen Vashti refused.
There are many views about Vashti’s response. One is that the King was asking her to appear ONLY with her crown on, and that this would be degrading and immoral to her. Another is that Persian traditions held that the head Queen would be MORE secluded than any other woman in the court, because of her value and stature. To parade her before others might have been so unheard of and unexpected that she would not have complied. You can search the internet, bible dictionaries, or almanacs for “Vashti in the book of Esther” and see what they say. But – what MATTERS is what the BIBLE says. If it is not explained, we do not need to know (Deut. 29:29). What we DO know in regards to Vashti is that she refused to obey the King’s command.
The king was “very angry and his wrath burned within him” (Esther 1:12). King Ahasuerus turns to his wise men and asks them, “According to the law, what is to be done with Queen Vashti…” One of the wise men, Memucan, responds, in the presence of the kings and the princes, that Queen Vashti has wronged ALL the men in 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 saying, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in to his presence, but she did not come” (Esther 1:17). He says there will be an epidemic of women refusing the commands of their husbands, “there will be plenty of contempt and anger.” Memucan suggests that the king write a NEW edict removing Vashti from the presence of the king and to give her royal position to one who is more worthy. He is certain that this edict will be heard throughout kingdom, “great as it is”, then all women will give honor to their husbands, great and small (Esther 1:18-20). This idea pleased the king and the princes, so the king wrote a new law instead of following existing law. He sent letters saying that “every man should be master in his own house” (Esther 1:22).
But we see in Esther 2:1, “After these things when the anger of the King Ahasuerus had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her.” I believe this shows he is sorry about what happened because in the next verse his attendants seek to please him by saying young women should be sought for the king. It was four years before Esther was made queen in Vashti’s place (Esther 2:16-17).
Vasthi’s story is short. This is a continuance of the thread where God brings about His will no matter the behavior of others. We are not told why Vashti refused – just that she refused. We are told, however, a great deal about why the king asked for her.
This king, in his arrogance, determined to show off the “riches of his royal glory” and the “splendor of his great majesty”. He was not satisfied with inviting all of the princes of the land and having a single banquet. These people had to travel far – so they needed to be treated well for several days, no question. King Ahasuerus made this show of his glory and majesty for 180 days! That is SIX months by our modern calendar. To top it off, when the show was over he gave a banquet that lasted for SEVEN days. So for all those who were still at the citadel, there was much food and a LOT of drinking. No one was ordered to drink, but each was given to drink as much, or as little I suppose, as he chose.
The scriptures tell us that the king’s heart was merry with wine when he made his command for Vashti to come. His mind was influenced by seven days of drinking. Maybe his mother did not tell him what King Lemuel’s mother told him in Proverbs 31:3-5, “Do not give your strength to women, or your ways to that which destroys kings. It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, for they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” He did not call her because it was the pre-arranged time for his Queen to bid all of his guests farewell or for some similar event. He called her “in order to display her beauty to the people and the princes, for she was beautiful.”
Add to this the fact that King Ahasuerus has just spent six months telling others, and no doubt having them agree with him, how wonderful and great are he and his kingdom. Psalm 49:5-13 expresses how trusting in wealth is foolishness and those who “approve their words” are included. Proverb 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” King Ahasuerus’ pride caused him to stumble.
In response to Vashti’s refusal, the king became “very angry and his wrath burned within him” (Esther 1:12). His anger getting the better of him, he turns to his wise men and asks what can be done by the law to Vashti. Certainly what she has done must be against the law! The wise men give the king what he wants at that moment, a way to deal with Vashti – but they take it a step further and placate his vanity by making it an even larger scope. Her behavior against the king will influence ALL women to disrespect their husbands. So they make this a moral decision for the betterment of all the people. Esther 1:21 says, “This word pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed.” All of the men sitting there together were pleased by this idea. A room full of bruised male ego seeking to make themselves feel better maybe? I do not know. The result was that it was decreed, and could not be undone (Esther 1:19).
After all the decrees go out in every language of the people, which would have taken time – the writing and translating of such – the king’s anger is gone. He remembers Vashti, what she did, and what had been done to her. He seems to be unhappy in the remembering and possibly wishing he had not turned away his queen, because those around him seek to solve his problem by the getting of a new queen. Thus sets the scene for Esther and all that happens with her.
In my classes I teach that the big take away from Vashti’s story is two things: the consequences of drinking and seeing the warning signs of someone who is arrogant and self-important. If the circumstances had not been as they were, the king reveling in his own majesty and then having been drinking for seven days, Vashti likely would not have had this command to refuse. So as a young woman dating, consider the behavior of the young man you date. Is he full of himself, always showing off? Does he have you around as another reason to brag? These are warning signs that a man does not have your best interests in mind. Add alcohol to the mix and you have trouble! Proverbs 23:29-35 describes the realities of what drinking will bring one to. God says to stay away from it (1 Pet. 4:3-4; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:18), so it is wise to stay away from those who make use of it (1 Cor. 15:33-34; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Prov. 13:20).
We need to remember that King Ahasuerus was not a godly man. God was using his nation to bring Judah to repentance so the remnant could return. While God used this ungodly man, and possibly Vashti’s disrespectful behavior, to meet His ends for the plan – it does not make the king or Vashti righteous. We can learn from the realities of their story – one behavior leading to another – and avoid those troubles in our own lives.
Tomorrow we will study the bright side of this story – ESTHER!