When we think of the book of Esther, we think of Esther, Mordecai, King Ahasuerus, and the wicked Haman. If you grew up in church, Esther is one of the heroines you have heard about. Everyone loves Esther. I do too. But Queen Vashti, her predecessor deserves a mention. She is a strong woman and doesn’t put up with the king’s nonsense.
The book of Esther is written during the exile. The Jewish people are living under foreign rule. King Ahasuerus rules over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia, the Bible says. He’s important. He’s powerful. He also loves to party, eat food, and get very drunk.
The king decides to throw a feast for one hundred and eighty days. There’s food and drinks for all the men. All of them can drink and eat as much as they want. Queen Vashti, for her part threw a party for the women in the palace also. Things are merry until the seventh day when he decides to ask Queen Vashti to come to the men’s party wearing her royal crown. He wants to show her off. He wants everyone to see how beautiful she is.
Queen Vashti isn’t having it. And when I was growing up, I couldn’t understand why she didn’t want to do this. She should do what she is ordered to do. The king is the king, after all. Doesn’t she want to please him? Doesn’t she know that she could die if she doesn’t obey?
Things change when you read these stories later in life. And when we begin to examine things, we realize why Queen Vashti doesn’t want to go to the party. It’s a party only for the men. There are no women present. They have been drinking alcohol for seven days straight. The king is merry with wine and probably drunk himself. The rest of the men are probably drunk too. The more I think about it, the more it sounds like a seven day long frat party. And Queen Vashti is asked to come and look pretty before all the drunken men. Who would want to do that? Who would want hundreds of drunken men gaping at you and making obscene comments?
No one. Not you. Not me. Not Queen Vashti. She has every reason to refuse. She shows great strength in her refusal. Go Queen Vashti.
As you might imagine, the king doesn’t take her refusal well. Not at all. He becomes paranoid that all women might stand up to their husbands and say no when they want to. And the king can’t risk that. So, Queen Vashti is deposed. She loses the royal title and the search for a new queen begins. Eventually, Esther becomes queen.
We don’t know what happens to Vashti after she loses her title. The Bible doesn’t say. But we do know that she shows strength, courage and self respect. She knows she doesn’t exist just to be pretty and entertain a bunch of drunken men. And for that, she deserves a mention.
When have you had to say no? Is there something you need to refuse to do, whether it’s because you don’t have time or it’s something you don’t feel comfortable doing? Queen Vashti said no to a powerful king. May we say no when we need to.