“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pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes” (Esther 1:19, New International Version.) For those unfamiliar with the book of Esther, this verse records a conversation between King Xerxes and one of his officials. After literal weeks of feasting with his friends, “drinking with no restrictions” and gorging himself on whatever forms of leisure and entertainment he deemed relaxing, King Xerxes asked his wife, Queen Vashti, for one more favor. I can only imagine that this was likely the request which broke the straw on the camel’s back.
Picture one’s husband inviting his bros over for a football-watching party, not unlike a typical Superbowl bash. He informs you that there will be lots of soda, chips, yelling, and maybe a little rough housing. Most wives aren’t opposed to their man having a few friends over; however, what if he asked to have hundreds of friends over for multiple months, just to party it up? I’d like to meet the wife who would agree to this, ask her what is wrong with her, and then beg that she not subject herself to such juvenile carryings on. Realistically, Vashti probably didn’t have a choice about whether her husband could take over their palace with a myriad of friends to do as he pleased, but I assume that she had a few opinions on the whole ordeal. It seems natural, then, that when King Xerxes issued a formal request for her to come “wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles,” that she scoffed and refused to be paraded around like a trophy wife. Right on, sister! You’re a literal queen, and you shouldn’t stoop to becoming mere eye candy for a bunch of drunken lads.
As a child and an adolescent, when we went over this story in a church or small group setting, there was a popular and understood consensus: Vashti was a bad wife for refusing her husband’s request. She, as Xerxes’ officials also claimed, set a bad example for women everywhere and caused “no end of disrespect and discord.”
I’ll be honest with you: I think that outlook is missing the whole point.
You see, Xerxes, at that time and in that state of mind, was not being a good husband. Scripture clearly states that he was drunk beyond reason and had been in that state for some time. The Bible asks us to be sober-minded and watchful in all that we do; considering that the king was quite the opposite of sober-minded, it stands to reason that the requests he was issuing weren’t good ones. However, that’s not even the worst part.
It becomes particularly infuriating a few verses later when he banishes Vashti, the queen and his wife, from ever stepping foot in his presence. It is never fully explained if they obtained a complete divorce, but either way, Xerxes immediately started looking for a new wife. He held a nation-wide beauty contest to find the prettiest replacement because who cares about Vashti, right?
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like one of the worst forms of human rejection one could possibly receive.
As I read this passage a few days ago, a new thought occurred to me. Keep in mind that, up until this point, the only sermon I’ve ever heard regarding Esther chapter one was in agreement with drunken Xerxes: “Bad Vashti. Bad example. Don’t be like her. Comply!”
The thought that came to me was this: God would never treat us like Xerxes treated Vashti. The king made an unholy request of his queen while he wasn’t thinking clearly. Not only that, he didn’t so much as offer her a second chance. In his rage, he dismissed her forever and went on a quest to find someone better.
Although God may make difficult and unforeseen requests of us, He does not ask us to do anything wrong. Don’t mistake me, Christianity is uncomfortable. If we’re walking as Jesus did, we will likely be urged out of our comfort zone constantly. The most peaceful part is this: when we don’t follow His commands, either knowingly or unknowingly, God does not reject us in return. As Martin Luther said, we can “sin boldly,” not because we are banking on forgiveness, but because we know we don’t have to walk in shame because of one, one hundred, or one million mistakes. Our God is the King, but He isn’t at all like King Xerxes. Like Vashti was to her husband, we are His bride, made to serve Him in holiness, rest in His protection, and delight in His grace.
Written by Karoline