Monday, February 20, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 3, Queen Vashti Deposed

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 3
Queen Vashti Deposed

Yesterday King Xerxes asked his wife, Queen Vashti, to appear before the drunken men at his party so they could see how beautiful she was. She refused and now he is angry and embarrassed. 

Xerxes is not an especially nice man but still managed to find himself a queen of good character, although he doesn't appreciate her. Any man ought to be thankful for a modest wife who isn't interested in dressing or behaving in ways that provoke sexual responses from other men. A woman who dresses provocatively in public is likely not doing so to attract the attention of her own husband, but to cause other men to stare at her. Vashti is not that kind of girl.

Because he's so embarrassed in front of his party guests, Xerxes decides to punish the queen. "Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times and were closest to the king---Karshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memukan, the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom." (Esther 1:13-14) He speaks with the men who "understood the times"; in other words, they are current on all the laws of the land. He wants to know his legal rights in this matter. What exactly can he do to the queen in return for what he considers disrespect and treachery? 

"'According to the law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?' he asked. 'She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her.'" (Esther 1:15) Though the Bible places the husband as head of the household, we must assume a wife is excepted from obedience when to obey her husband would be to sin against God. Vashti's gods would have been pagan gods, but the same principle remains. She felt her husband was asking her to do something that violated her morals and her sense of self-worth and self-respect. The Scriptures command the husband to love his wife in the way that the Lord loves the church, but we do not find Xerxes loving Vashti in this way. To him she's nothing but a trophy wife. She's just one more accomplishment he can brag about. She means no more to him than the rich food and the wine he's been serving to his guests. Vashti may not be able to prevent her husband viewing her with disrespect, but she can prevent doing something that will make her disrespect herself, so she remains in the women's quarters with her friends. Xerxes can't see the situation from her perspective and probably doesn't even try; his pride won't allow him to stop and consider the matter from other angles. All he knows is that men of the nation are laughing at him behind his back for not being able to control his own household, so he is going to make a public example of Vashti to salve his pride and gain back the admiration of his men.

"Then Memukan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, 'Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. For the queen's conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, 'King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.' This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen's conduct will respond to all the king's nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.'" (Esther 1:16-18) I have a sneaking suspicion that Memukan is not nearly as worried about all the wives of the land as he is about his own wife. In his mind he pictures giving his wife an order only to have her reply, "If Queen Vashti doesn't have to obey King Xerxes, I don't have to obey you!" So Memukan interprets the problem of Queen Vashti as one of national security. He makes Xerxes feel he will be doing a disservice to all men if he does not punish the queen appropriately.

Memukan continues, "Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. Then when the king's edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest." (Esther 1:19-20) 

The Jewish Midrash states Xerxes had Vashti executed, although the original text suggests only banishment. I think Xerxes may have done something similar to that which David did when he realized he and his first wife Michal would never have a meeting of the minds or have anything in common spiritually. We find the story in 2 Samuel 6, when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem and David danced in praise before the Lord. The Bible tells us, "Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart." (2 Samuel 6:16) She verbally attacked him when he returned to the house, accusing him of displaying himself in a vulgar manner, having no understanding of the joy David felt in the Holy Spirit when the ark came into the city. She despised David, she despised his faith, and she quite possibly despised the Lord. Verse 23 concludes the matter between Michal and David by saying, "And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death." Some scholars interpret this as "she lived as a widow til the day of her death". This would mean that, although David didn't divorce her, he didn't maintain a husband/wife relationship with her. He would have provided for her just as he provided for all his other wives and concubines, but would have had no further contact with her. She lost her position as his first wife and queen, suffering what to Jewish women of her day was the greatest humiliation of all: never becoming a mother of children. This may be the way Xerxes dealt with Vashti. I certainly hope so. I like to think she lived out the rest of her days in the women's quarters in peace, never having to deal with Xerxes and his bad temper again. 

Xerxes thinks Memukan's advice is good. "The king and his nobles were pleased with his advice, so the king did as Memukan proposed. He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household, using his own native tongue." (Esther 1:21-22) Xerxes extended this right not only to the men of Media and Persia, but to all the other men dwelling in the territories the Medo-Persian Empire controlled. He says something like, "Don't let your women get out of hand! You are the king of your castle. I didn't let the queen get away with her behavior; don't let your wives get away with it either. If they disobey you, just remind them what happened to Vashti and that your authority over your household is now the law of the land."

Xerxes is a man luckier in love than he ever deserved to be. The Lord provided him with a queen of good character and high morals, but he didn't appreciate her. He could have learned some valuable things from Vashti's example. He could have looked at the situation from her perspective and realized he was wrong, going to her with an apology and then apologizing to his guests for setting such a poor example of how a husband should behave toward his wife. We've all heard the saying, "Behind every successful man there is a woman," and Vashti could have helped Xerxes be a better man and a better king if only he had allowed her to be more of an equal partner and helpmate in their marriage. 

Xerxes may never have appreciated the noble character of his wife, but the Lord appreciated it. Vashti was a woman the Lord could use as a part of His plan to save the Jewish people from a terrible time of trouble soon to come. If Vashti had been the type of woman who enjoyed flaunting herself in front of other men, she could have remained Queen of Persia for the rest of her life. Instead, the Lord used her modesty to create a vacancy in the role of queen, a vacancy that Esther will later fill. 

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