“So if it please the king, we suggest that you issue a written decree, a law of the Persians and Medes that cannot be revoked. It should order that Queen Vashti be forever banished from the presence of King Xerxes, and that the king should choose another queen more worthy than she. When this decree is published throughout the king’s vast empire, husbands everywhere, whatever their rank, will receive proper respect from their wives!”
Esther 1:19-20 New Living Translation
It’s easy to get caught up in the romanticism of the story of Esther and lose sight of the context in which the story is told. The story of an orphaned young lady from a foreign nation drawing the attention of the king and becoming queen sounds like a storyline for an animated film by Disney. The context of the story is much darker than this, though, and represents the darker side of fallen human nature. It begins with the story of a woman who lost her honored place in society because she stood for her own dignity and refused to be treated as property to be put on display. The entire incident falls way short of God’s intended design for the relationship between a husband and wife.
There are a number of different explanations for why Queen Vashti refused to be put on display before the male guests at King Xerxes’s party. Some have speculated that she may have been pregnant with Antexerxes (the eventual heir) at the time. Others have pointed out that the drunkenness of the guests would have put Vashti in a vulnerable situation. Some also point out that being put on display like this was something done to concubines and not the Queen. Whatever the circumstance, Vashti took a stand for her own dignity by disobeying the order of the king, an order that he would later acknowledge as foolish.
The nobles of Persia feared that as news of this event spread throughout the whole empire, their own wives might be emboldened to defy their orders when they felt their dignity was at stake. To prevent this from happening, the nobles encouraged Xerxes to make an example out of Vashti and permanently strip her of the title of Queen and banish her from the king’s presence forever. When the king had second thoughts about his treatment of Vashti, his attendants suggested that they gather more young women to become the king’s concubines until he found one that pleased him enough to replace Vashti. In contemporary terms, the entire process of finding a replacement for Vashti would be seen as a government-sanctioned sex trafficking operation in which young women were taken from their homes and became the property of the king to be used for his pleasure whenever he called for them. It is in this context that Esther is eventually chosen as the new queen.
In spite of the ugliness of the circumstances, God uses the events at that time for the eventual salvation of the Jewish nation from a planned genocide. God did not approve of the circumstance under which Esther became a queen. Still, He used those circumstances to place Esther in a role that would preserve His people and His purposes. We can take comfort that even when God does not sanction some of the circumstances in our lives, He is still able to help us rise above those circumstances for the purpose of doing something good that may even affect the lives of others.
God, thank You that You can even work in the midst of circumstances that are not according to Your plan or design for the world. Help us to trust You to still be at work, even when our culture has gone far away from you.