It’s been a while since I read Esther so the first chapter I’m looking at with new eyes.
At a quick read through, I see the players:
Ahasuerus (Hebrew for Xerxes), infamous King of old. He’s relatively new as King, having taken over from his father just 3 years prior. The reason for the 6 month long pride filled self promotion party is not given in this first chapter.
Vashti – the Queen. It doesn’t say how long she has been married to Ahasuerus. It doesn’t say how old she is. Only that she is entertaining the women which means the celebrations were gender separate. They could be newly-weds at this point. Not sure if she knows the “ropes” or not. Not sure if she is a “modest” country girl who may be embarrassed easily or a spoiled girl from a rich family who is just dissing her husband.
The Princes – wise men who understood the law, 7 princes of Persia and Media. Counselors to the King.
Eunuchs – 7 eunuchs who served the King. Nothing else is said about them except that they delivered the Kings commands/messages and provided escort/protection services to Queen Vashti.
So I see a 6 month long celebration of a narcissistic nature as Chapter 1 begins. So, that left me wondering who Ahasuerus was as a person. So I looked up what is known of his history and you can see it here if you want
Not too much is known about him personally but it seems that from the start of his reign, he had to deal with a lot of rebellions and uprisings. Not too much respect for a new pride filled young King (as he was only in his 30’s they think when he came to power). His “Kingship” was divinely appointed so basically he was looked at as a God and raised that way to fill those shoes from his own father. This may explain in part why he reacted so strongly to Vashti’s disobedience. It was just another rebellion for him to have to deal with but this time, in his own house, in front of those whose respect he needed most.
Verses 6-8 go into great depth illustrating the opulent and showy wealth of Ahasuerus which is in contrast to the more subdued rule of his father (see the history).
Ahasuerus was involved in several major war events eventually having to come home a failure with his tail tucked between his legs. I am guessing this 6 month boastful celebration is held prior to the wars. Ahasuerus is shown in Chap. 1 as God/King, benevolent by allowing his subjects to celebrate as they saw fit, narcissistic as all get out with the celebration lasting 6 months all to show off his majesty and glory and riches.
Ahasuerus was a young man with a lot to prove and a lot of people to impress and eventually swing over with support for the war efforts to expand his kingdom.
I think that is why Vashti’s disobedience was such a disturbance. Too many of the “right” people surrounding the King for him to NOT make a big deal about it.
As for Vashti’s reasoning for disobeying… we can speculate a lot. She may have been shy. She may have been modest. She may have hated her “King/Husband”. She may have been scared. With a 6 month long drunken, boastful celebration of the King showing off his “things” perhaps Vashti was terrified it wouldn’t just be a “show and tell” but more of a “touch and share” type of thing. It could be Vashti’s own pride and vanity wouldn’t allow her to submit to being objectified. We just don’t know.
Taking a look at how Royalty was thought of… A king and queen were servants to their kingdom, to their people. It was their responsibility to BE the example for everyone. It was more than just a title but an ideal and office, bigger than one person.
But we also have to remember that in Persia and Media, we’re talking about the middle east. Ancient times to modern times, women were possessions without much say. Vashti would have found herself subject not only to her husband, but to every man with influence over her husband. The fact of the separate celebrations based on gender confirm much of the culture. For Vashti to disobey, she had to have known that she could have been killed. And in fact, we don’t know that she wasn’t.
It says that she was never to come before the King again. This might mean divorce or it might not. I’m not sure how many wives it was lawful for the King to have. It might mean she was banished to the harem, never to entertain him again. It might mean she was cast out, back to her own family who may have killed her for the dishonor brought to them. I assume from this that Vashti reasons were deeply rooted within her because she had to have full knowledge that it could have been (or was) the last decision she ever made.
I think what stands out the most for me in this chapter is probably the element we know the least about, Vashti herself. One the one hand she could have been the young scared bride of a powerful boastful King. On the other hand, she could have been a spoiled rich girl rebelling against a simple request of her Husband. Or she could have been a very moral, upright person with other reasons for not obeying. So many unknowns.
They say Vashti was beautiful but beautiful does not equate to being an exhibitionist. Many beautiful women are painfully shy or fully modest.
While I may never know exactly why Vashti disobeyed her King, her husband, the fact that she did it, back in a time of no choices for women, speaks volumes.
Even in ancient times, when women had no say at all, there were women willing to take a chance and stand up for their rights (whether these rights were imagined or not) no matter what the consequences. Obviously, Ahasuerus was not being an ideal husband (nevermind King), but in this example we see a woman standing firm and basically saying, “What you command of me is not right and I will not do it.”
The king sent the message that because of her disobedience she was cast aside and that women everywhere should obey their husbands or face similar punishment. The message that speaks to me is that the men of that time were scared of their women. Scared perhaps because if the Queen (a possession) could suddenly rebel for her own reasons, then their own wives (possessions) might suddenly rebel on them. Wives know too much maybe? Again, total speculation on my part. Obedience was and in part of the culture.
Anyway, Vashti’s action really spoke volumes to me. I’ve been following the Facebook page My Stealthy Freedom
- showcasing the women of Iran taking pictures and videos of themselves without their head coverings in public. It’s just a collection of moments for these women but they represent so much oppression, so many chains. These women could be arrested or beaten for simply uncovering their hair. They are so brave!
Right or wrong is not for me to say. All I know is that what she did took guts. She broke one of the chains holding her down by her actions. She may have gained a whole bunch more chains as a result but for one moment she was free.
I remember times in my own past when one act of rebellion was totally worth whatever happened as a result. Only Vashti can weigh the pro’s and con’s of her own decision.
But maybe that’s the point of the chapter. To show that we absolutely cannot judge someone else’s situation because we simply do not know all the facts. It doesn’t matter what happens as a result of certain actions, we still cannot know all the facts pertaining to the main event. I look at all the “maybe’s” and “perhaps” and “speculations” I’ve used while thinking about this chapter and I can speculate until the cows come home. It won’t answer my questions because it’s not my situation to know.
Maybe God uses this chapter to illustrate how some people might judge others harshly based on very little evidence, like I judged Ahasuerus. Maybe God uses this to show how we should not “add” things to Scripture, (assuming facts not in evidence).
I don’t know enough about the culture during this timeframe to come to any concrete opinions of this situation, especially given the lack of details here.