Vashti (Esther 1)
The feasting had been going on for days; as had the drinking. King Ahasuerus had been sitting upon the throne of the Persian Empire for three years and in that time his status and power had steadily increased. His army was feared far and wide and the King, sitting upon his throne in the walled metropolis of Susa, ruled with absolute power.
So it was on the occasion of the third anniversary of his ascending to the throne and in celebration of his undisputed might, King Ahasuerus planned a great celebration. Summoning military commanders, provincial governors, and the officials, ministers, and nobles from across his vast empire, the King planned a great banquet. Every aspect of the celebration was meant to impress and intimidate. His wealth and power were on full display as he lavished his guests with sumptuous food and the finest wine for one-hundred eighty days.
As the celebration neared its zenith, the King invited all the inhabitants of the great city of Susa to gather for seven days of feasting. The men of the city were welcomed into the palace confines. There, they enjoyed rare delicacies served on golden platters and fine wine in golden goblets. For seven days the men of the city ate and drank, with the King looking on in satisfaction.
“Surely my position as the greatest King Persia has ever known is now secured,” he thought to himself as he watched the most influential and powerful men in his empire grovel at his feet, their fingers greasy with the delicacies he had provided, their beards dripping with the wine he had offered them. “And after only three years,” he smiled to himself.
As the hour grew late on the final day of the feasting an idea popped into the King’s head. His words slurring drunkenly, he called over the seven eunuchs who attended him and ordered them to bring Queen Vashti before him. “I will display her beauty for all to see!” he shouted drunkenly. A cheer went up from the assembly, “Bring us Vashti!” they cried, their hunger now turning in a new and dark direction.
The seven eunuchs bowed, and turning, made their way hastily to where Queen Vashti was hosting a similar feast for the women of Susa.
As they entered the women’s banquet hall, a hush spread across the room. Queen Vashti sat enthroned at the front of the hall. Her gaze darkened as her husband’s eunuchs made their way through the crowd to dais on which she sat. “What does the fool want now,” she thought.
Vashti had been married to Ahasuerus for only a year. She was the daughter of a Persian nobleman and had been selected to marry the King in order to secure both her father and the King’s power. Hers was a marriage of political expediency, meant to ensure her powerful father would not led a revolt against the young King and that the young King would not attempt to destroy her influential father.
In their short marriage, Vashti had come to disdain the King. He was rash, unbalanced, and vain. Easily swayed by any voice that flattered him, he lacked her keen mind and political prowess. Vashti had been raised in the midst of the intrigues of court, she could smell a plot a mile away and yet, the King saw her as little more than a trophy—a stunning beauty to be displayed and to attest to his own virility.
Vashti fixed her eyes on the eunuchs now approaching her. She saw the leader of the seven, a man named Mehuman, hesitate slightly at her powerful gaze. At last, the seven reached her dais and bowed. Vashti waved her hand and said flatly, “Why do you disturb our peace?”
“My Queen,” Mehuman replied, clearly shaken by the Queen’s iron stare, “King Ahasuerus has requested the Queen join him at his banquet.”
“Oh, he has, has he.” Vashti replied, sinking back deeper into her couch.
“Yes, my Queen, he is anxious for all assembled to see how beautiful her majesty is.” Mehuman said. As soon as the words had escaped his lips he knew he had made a mistake.
“He wants to what?” Vashti fired back, “He wants them to ‘see how beautiful’ I am?”
The assembled women had grown quiet, listening as the Queen and the King’s eunuchs spoke.
“Yes, my Queen,” Mehuman responded shakily, “he has instructed us to bring you before him at once.”
“No.” said Vashti.
“My Queen,” said Biztha, another of the eunuchs and a far bolder man than Mehuman, “it was not a request.”
Vashti directed her withering gaze at Biztha and said, “Do you think I’m a fool? Do you think I don’t know exactly what the King wants and how he asked for it? No, I am no fool. Nor am I a piece of shapely meat to be ogled by a room full of drunken men. My answer remains the same. No.”
“Now get out.” Vashti instructed, signaling for her own guards to escort the eucnuch from the hall.
As they left, one of Vashti’s closest friends, who was seated beside her leaned over, “My Queen, do you know what you’ve just done? The King will have you banished for your defiance, or worse!” she said, her voice tinged with fear for the defiant Vashti.
“Yes,” Vashti responded, “I stood up to a King and I pray whoever follows me as Queen will have the courage to do the same.”
Questions to ponder
What was your favorite part of the story?
Where did you see God in the story?
What is God inviting you to try on today in light of the story?
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