Raising the Bar – The Story of Queen Vashti

INTRODUCTION

Dear Black Woman: A Love Letter to You – From The ScriptDear Black Woman: A Love Letter to You – From The Script

The experience of disappointment, failure, and rejection is an universal condition.  Despite our position, privilege, and/or power in life, or lack thereof; EVERYBODY has been rejected and disappointed in something or someone.

Jesus was no exception.  Our Messiah was all too familiar with disappointment and rejection: (from His family – “what is He doing out there?” – (from His disciples – “we don’t understand Him”)- (from His community – “He is too radical and revolutionary”), and (from the Roman Empire -” He is a subversive and needs to be eliminated”).  Jesus was quite familiar with rejection and disappointment.

This is why Jesus warned His disciples about these damaging emotions.  In a great teaching moment, prior to sending out the disciples in pairs (possible male and female pairs**) to bring the good news of the Kingdom to others, Jesus instructed them as follows: – Matthew 10: 11-14

A Noteworthy consideration – **….Jesus’ sending the disciples out ‘two by two’ to preach the kingdom and proclaim its reality by healing and deliverance…is the unusual phrase used “duo duo”…an allusion to the account of the animals entering the ark ‘two by two’ in Genesis 6:19.  The implication would then be that the disciples were sent out not in pairs themselves, but in pairs with female disciples of Jesus, who shared in the ministry of teaching and healing.”  (From the article: “Is there ‘new evidence’ of women in the Jesus movement? – April 9, 2018 by Ian Paul, psephizo.com)

In a brilliant moment of instruction, Jesus gives permission for His followers to build a boundary around those who would not “receive them.”  “Shake the dust from your feet and move on, ” Jesus commands.  Jesus knew that internalizing rejection and disappointment from others was debilitating, so Jesus taught His disciples how to recognize those toxic attitudes, and more importantly, how to set a boundary when the behaviors were encountered.

It is at this intersection that Queen Vashti’s story is illustrative and helpful, as well.  Vashti shows us how to deal with rejection and disappointment. This Queen shows us how to raise the bar, build a boundary, and keep it moving.

And now, THE WORD from Our Sponsor. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Esther: Chapter 1 : 5- 22 (NRSV)

When these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in the citadel of Susa, both great and small, a banquet lasting for seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white cotton curtains and blue hangings tied with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings[b] and marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and colored stones. Drinks were served in golden goblets, goblets of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired. Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.

10 On the seventh day, when the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who attended him, 11 to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing the royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the officials her beauty; for she was fair to behold. 12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command conveyed by the eunuchs. At this the king was enraged, and his anger burned within him.

13 Then the king consulted the sages who knew the laws[c] (for this was the king’s procedure toward all who were versed in law and custom, 14 and those next to him were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven officials of Persia and Media, who had access to the king, and sat first in the kingdom): 15 “According to the law, what is to be done to Queen Vashti because she has not performed the command of King Ahasuerus conveyed by the eunuchs?” 16 Then Memucan said in the presence of the king and the officials, “Not only has Queen Vashti done wrong to the king, but also to all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 17 For this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ 18 This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior and will rebel against[d] the king’s officials, and there will be no end of contempt and wrath! 19 If it pleases the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be altered, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. 20 So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, vast as it is, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.”

21 This advice pleased the king and the officials, and the king did as Memucan proposed; 22 he sent letters to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, declaring that every man should be master in his own house.[e]

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

In the Old Testament, there are a myriad of stories about the lives of queens.  In fact, as you may already know, there is an entire book  in Old Testament scripture devoted to the story of an orphaned Jewish girl, who through a series of events, becomes the queen of Persia. In this book (which is primarily dedicated to the life of Esther), the book begins by chronicling the life of a sovereign preceding Queen Esther whose name is Vashti.  While the details of Vashti’s story are covered in only 2-3 pages, Queen Vashti is as fascinating and as compelling as Queen Esther.

About Queen Vashti:  Her name means “beauty” in Persian.  First wife of Ahasuerus/King Xerxes who ruled from 485 – 465 B.C.E.

Queen Vashti is often called “the First Feminist of Scripture.”  The actions which she so courageously demonstrates in the Esther narrative portrays a woman who refuses to be objectified and defined by the limited vision of her husband.  Vashti shows us, God’s contemporary daughters, how to face rejection and disappointment regally AND keep it moving.

Armed with the empowerment of a strong and steadied self dignity, Vashti refuses to fold into the minimized role which her husband, the king assigned to her, as merely his trophy wife.  Queen Vashti shows us, through her death defying action, that being sovereign is much more than wearing a jeweled crown upon her head and sporting fancy gowns. While Vashti is replaced as Queen, it is her decision to walk away from King Xersus, retaining her self-dignity and worth.  Leaving King Xerxes is a holy act – it is an act of defiance, self-liberation, and sovereignty.

When faced with a life defining decision, as whether to live with humiliation, or walk away from it; displaying the God-given grant of freedom, dignity, and self-respect, Queen Vashti chooses the royal position of self-affirmation and empowerment.

Shocking her drunken husband and dignitaries who were waiting for the “trophy” to entertain them,  Queen Vashti “shakes the dust” of humiliation from her feet, raises the bar, and establishes her boundary.  It will not happen – she will not go in.   Queen Vashti will paid a price because she simply refuses to submit to her husband and the male dignitaries, who have been drinking for seven straight days.

Queen Vashti sets the boundary bar so high that she not only deeply offends her husband; but rattles the cages of all the men of the kingdom of Persia and Mede.  It takes an entire court of men to deal with the courage she displayed, as they struggle to understand a woman who dares defy the most powerful man on the globe.  While they strip her of her royal position, they cannot take her sovereignty.  With her royal dignity intact, Vashti walks away from it all; leaving her former husband and the men of the kingdom awestruck.

Her story connects to Queen Esther’s in more ways than one.  While Vashti has no dialogue in her own story, the message is crystal clear.  The action she takes against the king, who sees her only as his possession, is firmly planted in the Esther narrative: [“If I perish, I perish,”]  but, I will walk away sovereign, owning my royal dignity and destiny for which I was created.”  Queen Vashti, without speaking a word in her story, becomes a role model for us all.  Rejection and disappointment are but temporary emotions.  One of the most important things God grants us, which cannot be taken away unless we release it, is our humanity.

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS:

What did Vashti do to lose her royal position as Queen?   This is a question that is posed in the Talmud,  an ancient Jewish commentary – a companion study book to Old Testament scripture. Some rabbis suppose that the king commanded Vashti to come into the royal male banquet wearing nothing but her crown.  Based upon Queen Vashti’s actions, this observation makes sense.  Why would an established queen risk everything to deliberately disobey her husband and king – one known for making rash and violent decisions?

A feminist read of the story (hermeneutic) suggests that Queen Vashti, when subject to the probability of humiliation and sexual objectification by the king (her husband), and the king’s men, rationally weighs the circumstances.  She was more concerned for losing herself dignity to the humiliation of the drunken crowd, then losing her life.  By her defined actions, she lives out the later articulation of her replacement, Queen Esther:   “and if I perish, I perish.”(4:16)  In her case, Queen Vashti was called to protect and to cherish her own royal purpose.  Again, she embodies, through her actions, what is articulated in Esther’s story by Mordecai : “Who knows?  Perhaps you have come to a royal dignity for a time such as this.” (Esther 4:14)

Who knows?  God knows!  Who knows?  We, as woman of God must know.  Job one is to faithfully and diligently find ourselves – our own identity and our own destiny which God has created for us.  Queen Vashti knew who and whose she was, and she refused to be defined by the distorted vision of anyone else, including the king, her husband.  Her boundary was firmly set and she was in charge of her own life – it was time to move out and move on because she was not received with dignity and respect.

Ultimately, we will all be called upon to make this same decision in life – sometimes more than once.  Rejecting the identities which others attempt to force upon us, is part of what makes us sovereign.  Queen Vashti teaches us that positions and possessions do not make you a queen.  Instead, the most royal position IS TO KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!!!

QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION AND STUDY

Give your impression of King Ahasuerus (King Xerxes).  What type of personality did this king have based upon the descriptions in the text?

Why do you think others, including those who may be in intimate relationship with us, attempt to make us in their own image of what they want us to be?  Why do you think, as women, we often allow this to happen?

What did Queen Vashti give up, when she made her decision and was dethroned?  What did she gain?

Why do you think Queen Vashti is called “the first feminist of the Bible,” by biblical scholars?

What are the contemporary implications of this story for us, as women?  How have attitudes towards women changed?  How have they remained the same?

How can we, like Queen Vashti, leave a different legacy for the young women/ girls who come after us?

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS:

Ain’t I a woman?” – Sojourner Truth

“You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.” – Tony Gaskins

“I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am not your expectation, “No!”I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within.”  India Arie

Our Sending Prayer

Lord, I am only me – a woman desiring to please You.

Your Word tells me You have given everything I need for life and godliness.

I claim this promise NOW!

Make me strong, Oh Lord.

Give me the spirit of power, love, authenticity, and self-discipline.

Enable me, Oh Lord, to do that which seems beyond me.

Guide my steps and bridled my tongue.

Empower me with Your Holy Spirit.

In the name of Jesus – AMEN!

The enclosed materials are the property of Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters Bible Empowerment Series.  They may be used by you with our permission which may be revoked at any time.  All copies of the materials must include the following notice: “This material is Copyright [2015] Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters and is distributed with permission.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: