"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pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes.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 1:16-20
For context, read Esther 1
Who was Queen Vashti? She was married to the Persian King Xerxes. In Hebrew, his name was King Ahasuerus. His father was Darius I and his grandfather was Cyrus the Great. Biblical scholars do not completely agree on Vashti’s family of origin. Greek historical documents identify her as Queen Amestris. If that is the case, Vashti was an evil queen who buried children alive as offerings to her god. Some Jewish traditions maintain that she was the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar’s granddaughter. Regardless, she was likely a woman of royal background and was given in marriage to King Xerxes for political benefit. She wasn’t a nobody from a cultural standpoint. And yet from this account, we will quickly learn that in the eyes of this culture she was replaceable.
The book of Esther opens with King Xerxes throwing a party for his nobles and military officials. It’s possible that he was trying to impress his nobility with his wealth and power so that they would have confidence in his decision to invade Greece. For about 6 months, King Xerxes entertained government dignitaries and officials. Then, he hosted a week-long garden party where the wine flowed freely. In fact, the guests were not restricted in their alcoholic intake at all. Simultaneously, Queen Vahshti was giving a banquet for the women at the palace.
On the seventh day, King Xerxes decided to summon Queen Vashti. He wanted to parade her around in front of all the men because she was beautiful. The Bible clearly states in Esther 1:10
, that Xerxes was “in high spirits from the wine”. Essentially, he was drunk and it’s likely the men at this seven day drinking banquet were also quite drunk. He was asking her to come show off her beauty to a party of drunk men so that they could ogle her. And she said, no.
There are varying theories for why she said no. There is some evidence that she may have been pregnant. Regardless, she did not obey her husband who was also her king. At this point, King Xerxes consulted with his “wise men” and they advised him to depose her. After all, what if word got out that she didn’t obey her husband? Then all women everywhere would feel free to disobey their husbands. Their advice was that she was to be removed from her position and replaced.
Queen Vashti was being treated as the king’s possession. Yes, women are to respect and obey their husbands just as husbands are to love and honor their wives. But King Xerxes was not honoring his wife. He did not care about her dignity, but he was willing to exploit her looks for his gain. His royal decree that all women respect their husbands was encouraging all men to demand the respect of their wives instead of encouraging the men to be respectable husbands. These drunk men were trying to legislate respect for husbands by authorizing cruel control over their wives. Not the best approach. Still, they had the authority. So Queen Vashti was rejected, removed, and replaced. The irony is that by deposing Vashti, the men thought they were putting women in their place. But in reality, they were clearing a path for God to work through another woman who would also defy King Xerxes.
The WORD about women in the story of Queen Vashti is that while some view women as replaceable objects to be exploited and thrown away, God does not. His providential hand can be traced throughout the story of Esther turning the tables and reversing the status quo. One woman was brought low but another would soon be elevated, not for man’s purposes but for God’s.ReflectHow does the world still exploit women? How has the treatment of women improved? In what ways has the Gospel message freed women from this type of bondage? PrayFather, I am thankful that You do not see women the way the world sometimes does. In You, there is neither male nor female but we are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). I praise You because in You, I have value and worth. Amen.