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This book opens with the mother of all parties.
If you lived in 483 B.C, this is the party you’d want to be invited to.
Meet the guy hosting it; His name is Xerxes and he has a penchant for the extravagant. He also happens to be king of the vast and wealthy Persian Empire. Incase you’re wondering, yes, this Xerxes is the Hispanic-Michael-Jordan-looking-dude portrayed as king Xerxes in the movie, 300.
Incidentally, the events of Esther chapter one can be dated to the third year of Xerxes’ reign, which would have been shortly before he led his army on a military campaign to conquer Greece (albeit, a failed attempt).
That information will come in handy later, for now, let’s head back inside his expensive shindig.
Not only is the party itself lit, but his guest list is impressive and includes the who’s-who of Persia (celebrities, military and political figures). What raises an eyebrow, however, is its duration. Ready for it? According to verse 4, “The celebration lasted 180 days—a tremendous display of the opulent wealth of his empire and the pomp and splendor of his majesty.”
Did you catch that?
This party lasted 6 months! I’ve been to parties that lasted a whole day, and in college during orientation week, we pretty much partied the whole week, but 6 months? Wow!
Believe it or not, the party doesn’t end there. After partying it up in the palace with the princes, nobles, and celebrities of Persia, Xerxes throws open his gates for the local townsfolk in the capital city of Susa for another party that lasts a week! This second group are the average folks who have not only shown up to get in on the excitement, but have also shown up with their smart phones to take pictures of opulence and lavishness like they’ve never seen. They’re also the ones who let us regular folks learn on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram how the rich and famous live. And for that, we say thank you!
This after-party was no less extravagant, though. Forget putting up tents and plastic folding chairs, verse 5-8 says this second gig had "marble pillars", "purple curtains" (most expensive cloth), "couches made of pure gold and silver" (yes, you read that right), and "mother of pearl" (I don’t even know what mother of pearl is. I’ve only heard of regular pearl, so I’m guessing its mother is even more fabulous!).
It's helpful to keep in mind here that this party may have been Xerxes' way of building support for his invasion of Greece (remember that plan?). What better way to impress your generals and key influential leaders (and garner support) than by displaying your wealth and showing them a great time?
Speaking of having a "great time", did you catch the detail about the amount of alcohol that was served? Ready for it?
Verse 7 says, “Drinks were served in gold goblets of many designs, and there was an abundance of royal wine, reflecting the king’s generosity. By edict of the king, no limits were placed on the drinking, for the king had instructed all his palace officials to serve each man as much as he wanted. At the same time, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.”
I think we can accurately surmise that wherever there's this much alcohol flowing with a bunch of dudes trying to out-impress each other, there’s bound to be disaster (picture a bunch of frat guys partying it up). Needless to say, by day seven, things head downhill pretty quickly.
Xerxes wants to flaunt his male prowess, so he comes up with what he thinks is a great idea that will impress his drunk buddies, verse 10, “On the seventh day of the feast, when King Xerxes was in high spirits because of the wine, he told the seven eunuchs who attended him …11 to bring Queen Vashti to him with the royal crown on her head. He wanted the nobles and all the other men to gaze on her beauty, for she was a very beautiful woman.”
Xerxes is clearly drunk and isn’t thinking clearly. In light of what I proposed was his true motive in hosting this party, however, this may have been a calculated move on his part to demonstrate to his subjects that he was truly the big dawg! Remember, this six-month-and-one-week shindig is a calculated move to boost national morale and garner support for his coming invasion of Greece. So, the queen’s submission to his request would further indicate to his guests that he could truly deliver on whatever he was promising.
Now is a good to introduce you to Queen Vashti.
The little we know about her tells us she is a strong-minded, independent thinking, self-assured, stunningly beautifully woman (and royalty) who fully knows her worth. Yes. I got all that from verse 11-12! It is an important detail to point out early in this story because her deep convictions will ultimately set the stage for the entrance of the main character in this series, Esther.
But for now, let’s stay with Vashti. Possibly not wanting to engage in the overindulgent revelry of all the men, she’s chosen to host her own special feast for the women of nobility. This group possibly included the wives, sisters, and mothers of all the men of influence and power in Susa (who were probably all in attendance at Xerxes' party).
Imagine the dignity and elegance of Vashi's party compared to the excess of the men’s festivities. Then picture the party being interrupted by Xerxes’ men (seven eunuchs) with what was no doubt a completely outrageous request.
Scholars more versed than I in Biblical history have wrestled with the true meaning of the king’s command in verse 11. Some have suggested that in asking Vashti to come with “her royal crown” to be paraded in front of his guests, Xerxes was really asking her to come do a strip tease for him/them. Others play it a little safer by suggesting that her mere appearance there would have involved lewd behavior considering how drunk all the men gathered would have been. Whatever Xerxes’ true motives were, one thing is certain, Vashti was being commanded to act in a manner she was convinced was beneath her position as queen! Her “royal crown” was a symbol of her high status and the king’s summons would have denied her that status.
In a culture where subjects, even the queen, are expected to obey the king absolutely, Vashti proves to be cut from a completely different cloth than the prevailing culture. Her integrity is at stake here. How she responds will determine how the king will treat her in years to come. Further more, based on the conversation among the men in verse 17, if she yields to this unreasonable request, she could very well also be setting a standard for how ALL the wives in Persia will be treated (many of whom were present with her at her own palace party). There is only one reasonable response, because as far as Vashti is concerned, her beauty and her body was her own, only to be shared with her husband (and not his drunk buddies!).
So we savor every word in verse 12 when queen Vashti straight up says, “NO!” to the king’s ridiculous request. This is her “STRAIGHT OUTTA PERSIA” moment!
But make no mistake about what just happened here. While we admire her for standing her ground, sticking to her convictions will come at a great cost.
Xerxes, clearly still in a drunken state, is furious. He has just been embarrassed in the presence of all his royal guests and must take decisive action to prove he is still in control. So, he consults his inner circle of advisers and one very insecure not-so-gentleman makes his debut into the narrative.
His name is Memucan and he undoubtedly has some unresolved marital issues in his own house. He suggests to the king that Vashti needs to be dethroned and replaced, and that it be done publicly (pronounced as a royal ruling). It’s a harsh response at first glance, but Memucan actually reveals what his true motive is. Listen to him explain himself in verse 16 and see if you can pick up on his self-serving agenda. “It’s not only the king Queen Vashti has insulted, it’s all of us, leaders and people alike in every last one of King Xerxes’ provinces. The word’s going to get out: ‘Did you hear the latest about Queen Vashti? King Xerxes ordered her to be brought before him and she wouldn’t do it!’ When the women hear it, they’ll start treating their husbands with contempt. The day the wives of the Persian and Mede officials get wind of the queen’s insolence, they’ll be out of control. Is that what we want, a country of angry women who don’t know their place? ... (20) … When the king’s ruling becomes public knowledge throughout the kingdom, extensive as it is, every woman, regardless of her social position, will show proper respect to her husband.”
You can pick your jaw off the ground now.
You know what’s even more disturbing and disheartening about this counsel? The fact that the king and his princes actually thought that it was a great idea, and passed a new policy to put it into action!
Vashti has very possibly lost every luxury she’s been accustomed to over the years, but she’s still walking away a winner because she has not violated her conscience. She has courageously stood up to the most powerful man in the world and we applaud her for it.
Vashti, out! Esther, in!
It’s important at this juncture to remind you that this study is about Esther (not Vashti).
I point that out because unbeknownst to Esther (wherever she is at the time of all these happenings), God has just orchestrated events in the royal palace that will forever change her life. In the following chapters, (spoiler alert) Esther is going to ascend the very throne Vashti has just been forced to vacate, yet she (Esther) has no idea what’s about to hit her soon-to-be-royal tooshie!
We'll come back to Esther in part two. In the mean time though, this all makes me wonder where in our life is God orchestrating events behind the scenes that will turn out for our awesome-good and His greater glory?
There are several life lessons to be learned from this first chapter of our 9-part series. Hopefully some of it jumped out at you as you read along, but if it didn’t, here are two that were most meaningful to me.
LESSON 1: DO NOT COMPROMISE YOUR VALUES FOR THE SAKE OF WINNING ANYONE’S APPROVAL.
Like Vashti, standing by your convictions may very well come at a cost. You might lose a job. You might lose a friend. You might lose money. The guy or girl of your dreams may even walk away from you because of your convictions. But remember, it is better to please and honor God than to win the approval of man. Proverbs 16:8 says, “Better to have little, with godliness, than to be rich and dishonest.”
The mindset you will need to adopt to get you through some of the losses you may suffer will require a “pay-the-price-now, receive-my-reward-later” kind of thinking. Colossians 3:23-24 and Galatians 6:9 remind us “[not to] get tired of doing what is good. [For] at just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up.”
“Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil.” (Proverbs 15:16)
LESSON 2: GOD IS ALWAYS AT WORK, EVEN IN YOUR PAINFUL SILENCE.
Though this chapter mostly focused on Vashti, this book is ultimately about another leading lady named, Esther. In the coming weeks, you’ll discover that God was not only paving the path for Esther to ascend the Persian throne, but he was also readying her to serve in a role as rescuer of the Jews nationwide (all without her knowing!).
God tends to do that in our lives. We may wake up one morning and by the end of the day, we find that:
- We’ve been offered the job we’ve always dreamed of
- We’ve met the man/woman of our dreams
- We’ve experienced a financial breakthrough
- We’ve been healed from a sickness we’ve long struggled with.
It’s called, the "suddenness" of God’s blessing. From our vantage point, it may appear sudden (sort of like the day Esther was suddenly drafted into the beauty pageant that resulted in her being queen of Persia), but in God’s master plan, He has been long at work behind the scenes in our lives. It was true of Esther, and it most certainly will be true for you as a follower of Jesus Christ. The book of Esther never really mentions God’s name, yet we see God’s hands orchestrating events behind the scenes for a grander purpose!
Join me in the coming weeks and we uncover that grand plan!
Husband. Dad. Pastor. Nigerian American. Storyteller. Aspiring Prayer Warrior. Steak Lover. Follower of Jesus Christ reminding you that God the Father still loves you.