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Lessons from Vashti

September 25, 2012

Last week I did a post about Queen Esther from the Bible and I want to thank those of you who spoke to me, or e-mailed me, about it.  It certainly appears that this woman is becoming something of a celebrity among Biblical characters of late.  But I wanted to write today about her predecessor, Queen Vashti.  As you will recall Vashti was deposed as queen for her failure to “display her beauty” before the king’s guests at a seven day drinking binge.

Oddly enough, Vashti, about whom we know next to nothing, has become every bit as controversial a figure as Esther.  Is she an example of what happens to a woman when she fails to show wifely obedience to her husband?  Or is she a courageous woman who refuses to degrade herself before a bunch of drunken louts just because her husband told her to?  It seems that, between these two poles, a debate rages about the character, motives and intent of this woman.

Let me first say that this seems to be an example where the Bible, as it often does, records actions of individuals without commenting on whether the action  is approved or not.  The text shows the King’s displeasure clearly but makes no direct comment on Vashti’s actions.  If her disobedience was sinful it is interesting to note that later in the book Mordecai disobeys the king’s edict as well and nobody thinks that is sinful.  Our tendency to approve or disapprove of what Vashti did says more about us than it does about her.  I am content to leave this a grey area where I can have an opinion, which I do, but need to respect the opinions of others.  Frankly, I think we are told the entire Vashti story simply to set the stage for Esther.

But the most interesting part of this tale, to me at least, is the solution to the problem of Vashti’s disobedience proposed by Memucan, one of the king’s advisors.  He suggests that the right response to Vashti’s action, or lack thereof, is to depose her and start the search for a replacement that eventually brings Esther into the picture.  But it is his reasoning that intrigues me.

He first declares that Vashti “has done wrong” but ups the ante and says this wrong is “against all the nobles and peoples of all the provinces.”  Wow.  Talk about making a huge leap!  It turns out he feels this marital dispute has impacted everyone single home across one of the largest empires the world has ever known.  And all this before Facebook and Twitter.  He fears that all the women across all the provinces will hear of this and stop obeying their husbands.  The result will be “no end of disrespect and discord.”  World peace and stability hangs in the balance. 

But never fear, Xerxes sobers up and sends riders to the four corners of the kingdom with a royal proclamation that “every man should be ruler in his own household.”  I can’t help but picture some guy in a remote corner of the empire seeing a rider thunder up, hearing this proclamation and responding “Huh?”  In any event this triggers the start of a very busy time for royal dispatch riders that follows throughout the book of Esther.

Why this intrigues me is not because it is one of the most absurd over-reactions in history, although it might be, but because it sounds so familiar.  This is one of the earliest recorded examples of the slippery slope theory that says if this seemingly minor thing happens catastrophic consequences are sure to follow.  If Obama is re-elected religious freedom in America will be snuffed out and a totalitarian socialist state will be in place by 2016.  If Romney wins all advances in freedom will be rolled back and women will lose all rights while blacks, to quote VP Biden, will be “in chains.”  It almost makes me feel that Memucan is alive and well, or perhaps has been cloned, and is running superPACs across America.

Vashti is an intriguing woman who surfaces briefly in a cultural setting we can hardly understand, let alone correctly analyze.  But Memucan seems to still be with us.  If only we can find the wisdom to say to his many slippery-slope descendents something akin to what Xerxes should have said to him – “Don’t be an idiot.  I’m just going to work through this with her myself.”


From → Christianity

  1. jessop permalink

    The Spirit of God is amazing, never eases to surprise! I read this one of yours last night then this morning my wife was in the supermarket and when I found her there she was in conversation with a packer at the till talking about — Esther! Out of the blue the packer had asked her “Was Esther married to the king?” With what you had written fresh in mind, I was able to answer her questions. Praise God who always meets our needs. We were not previously acquainted with the woman.

  2. Sometimes God puts things together in is plan that astounds us. On the morning I wrote this piece I commented to my wife “I don’t know why, but I really feel I need to write something about Vashti. It was, it seems, partly because He had a divine appointment for you and your wife.

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