Esther: The Making of a Queen Day 1: Vashti, The Predecessor
Scripture reading: Esther 1
Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the citadel, in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were before him, while he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days, 180 days. And when these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in Susa the citadel, both great and small, a feast lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. … Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women in the palace that belonged to King Ahasuerus. (Esther 1:1-5,9, ESV)
The story of Esther is familiar to many of us as one of the many iconic Old Testament stories we learned over and over as children. We remember her beauty, her courage and her integrity. However, it is easy to forget that the story of Esther’s rise to royalty begins with the sudden dethroning of her predecessor, Queen Vashti. We are told almost nothing about Vashti; we know only that she was beautiful and that she refused to obey one of the king’s commands. King Ahasuerus commanded his seven eunuchs “to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at” (v11). Queen Vashti defied his command, refusing to come. Verse 13 tells us, “At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him.”
What was it about that one choice Vashti made that instantly made her an unfit queen? As we read this story through modern eyes, perhaps the reaction of King Ahasuerus and his advisors seems exceedingly harsh (vv16-20). We naively imagine that the king could have simply gone and talked to her himself or decided that her presence at his feast was not that important after all. In his culture and in his royal position, however, neither of those options would have entered his mind. To disobey the king’s command at any point was to flatly reject his authority. King Ahasuerus, ruler over the 127 provinces of the vast Persian empire, had held a great feast to show “the riches of his royal glory” and now his queen would not come before him. No reason is given for her refusal but it is clear that she was able and available to come if she had chosen to do so. His outrage and the brutal response of his wise men are to be expected. When pressed, she forsook her king’s authority for the convenience of her own authority.
While studying the biblical account of Esther, I have noticed that much of it centers around the concept of authority. Several key questions emerge: Who has the right to tell us what to do? When a challenge arises, whose will and whose orders take precedence? On what basis should authority be granted and on what basis should that authority be followed, questioned, or rejected? These are all central questions to the narrative but, more importantly, they are central questions for the Lord’s people to be asking today.
While God is not mentioned by name in the book of Esther, His presence, His providence, and His authority are on full display. In order for the Jews in Persia to be saved from impending destruction, Vashti must be removed and replaced by Queen Esther. Mordecai must be positioned in the king’s court. God knew all that needed to take place and arranged the circumstances of their lives in order for His will to be accomplished.
The example of Vashti opens this story by teaching us that the king’s authority must be accepted and honored. The example of Mordecai and Esther will teach us that while the king’s authority must be accepted and honored, God reigns supreme and His authority must be accepted and honored even at great personal cost. When Vashti made the choice to defer to her own will instead of her king’s command, she was illustrating the choice we believers often make when we defer to our own will instead of our heavenly King’s commands. God will not use us for his great purposes when we do not submit to Him, but like Esther, when we surrender our own will for His, He can and will use us in mighty ways. The following prayer of David in Psalm 119 demonstrates the appropriate attitude of God’s people toward the Lord and His commands:
Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word. I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant. … Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.
If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life. (Psalm 119:73-77,92-93, ESV)