Studies in Esther Part 3

INTRODUCTION

In the verses previous to those of our present text, the extravagance and indulgence of Ahasuerus is manifested. His excessive feasting speaks much about his true character. Just as we might find glimpses of our own true character if we examine the areas of excess and indulgence in our life. In the verses now before us, we shall see the consummation of the grand feasts.


“On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, To bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to shew the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on.”
(Esther 1:10-11)


This takes place on the seventh day, the last day of the feasting. This was a time when the drunkenness was at its height. I imagine as the time wore on, all of the peoples’ inhibitions were lost and they became more liberal in partaking of food, drink and partying.

On this last day, Ahasuerus sends for the queen. The record does not say why he was calling her. He had been showing all his glory and the greatness of his kingdom and apparently, his wife, the queen, was one that he prized greatly because of her physical beauty. He felt she was his prized possession and cherished trophy. Since he had been displaying everything else in his kingdom, he was going to display her also.

He sends for her and makes it something of a procession. He sends all the chamberlains after her to bring her. He seems to be making a parade, continuing with the pomp and circumstance that marked these feasts. He wanted her decked out in royal apparel and the crown on her head. We recall here that the feasting was done in separate places. One was for the men and one for the women. He sends for her to come into the place where the men have been feasting and partying.


“But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him”
(Esther 1:12)


Vashti flatly refuses the king’s command. It does not seem that she sends back a message and tries to be excused from doing this or even tries to negotiate. She says, “No!” Josephus reported that the king kept on sending to Vashti for to come. We can only speculate on the different reasons why she did not want to comply with the king’s request. Was this something common with her? Would she ordinarily refuse the king’s wishes? It seems that it was a little unusual for her to refuse the king’s command, even though the king’s command at this time was definitely unreasonable and distasteful.

Many women would applaud Vashti for making this choice and standing up for her “rights.” She was not going to come to be put on display and made a show of for her husband and his friends. Most would say that it was an awful thing for the king to ask, and I certainly agree it was. However, those that would applaud are not likely applauding her virtue or modesty as much as her descent from her husband’s authority.

Ironically, many who congratulate her virtue have no problem displaying their own bodies in sinful ways. Many love to keep up with the modern fashions, as if a consensus is all that is needed to deviate from Scripture. Most of today’s clothing and fashion is designed to show off the body and to accentuate certain areas. In keeping with modern fashion, many women are guilty of doing what the queen was here refusing to do.

God, in His Word says, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works” (1 Timothy 2:9-10). For women to adorn themselves with good works seems to be the thrust of what the Apostle Paul is here saying. Shamefacedness is something that we do not see a lot of in the world today. As time goes on, people are wearing less and less in public places. The question is, What are we trying to accomplish with the things we are wearing and the way we are conducting ourselves? Are we displaying or making an advertisement of ourselves, or do we want to dress as to exude holiness? Vashti here at least refused to come and display herself. We oftentimes want for such modesty today.

The record indicates that Ahasuerus was not so pleased with her modesty. “Therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.” He was upset that she would refuse to do this thing. This strong statement signifies that he was full of wrath and hot headed. He was not merely annoyed or irritated. “His anger burned in him.” We could not expect less than that one so ruled by his passions would react passionately to any challenge or descent from his commands.


“Then the king said to the wise men, which knew the times, (for so was the king’s manner toward all that knew law and judgment: And the next unto him was Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, which saw the king’s face and which sat the first in the kingdom;). What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, because she hath not performed the commandment of the king Ahasuerus by the chamberlains?”
(Esther 1:13-15)


The king now turns to his counselors for advice. His heart was before merry with wine, but now he is enraged that the queen did not honor his command. However, instead of just doing something off the cuff, he seeks counsel from his counselors. He spoke “to the wise men” who were some of the Magi that “knew the times.” He seems to possess some wisdom in this, for when a man is in a fit of temper, he least likely to seek or even accept wise counsel.

He also shows wisdom in making his appeal to the law. When he questioned the wise men he asked, “What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, because she hath not performed the commandment of the king Ahasuerus by the chamberlains?” As an absolute monarch, it was within his power to do whatever he wanted to do; however, he stops and seeks counsel from his wise men about the legal course.

It is a sign of woe to any nation when they are ruled by the whim, fancy, mood and temper of their absolute monarch. If you are governed by fixed laws, even if those laws are not good, you at least know what to expect and what is expected of you. However, if you are governed by the caprice of some man that could be in any mood, life can be miserable. We see this style of government in many different countries of the world.

We also encounter this flaw in businessmen. Sometimes the top man will run the business according to his mood or temper not necessarily according to a fixed standard. His employees do not know from one day to the next how they will find him. He will make promises to reward them if the company does well. Unfortunately, the success that is spoken of is undefined and rests on his opinion at any given time. Usually in this system, the employees never see the promised reward because it is based more on the mood of the employer than the performance of the company. This sort of uncertainty makes for a miserable work experience.

Sometimes fathers are guilty of this unstable rule in their own homes among their families. They will deal with their families according to their mood or temper. If Dad has a bad day at work, he comes home in a fit and the family walks around anxiously trying to avoid him. These fathers at times deal harshly with their wife and children. This is contrary to the Scripture admonition, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). These fathers are not governing by a fixed standard and it makes for a miserable home life.

Ahasuerus was at least deferring to a fixed standard, though it was the corrupt laws of mortal man. You might ask, “What is the fixed standard by which we ought to be governing our homes and ourselves?” Our fixed standard is the Word of God. If we would meditate in this word “day and night,” it would impart wisdom to us. “Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee?” (Proverbs 22:20-21). Here is our certainty and our unchanging standard. God’s laws have never needed revision, nor has any change ever attended Jehovah’s will. Man’s laws are fickle and quickly pass out of relevance. However, God’s Word is an unchanging standard to which we must resort. I wish that we would be as devoted to God’s law as Ahasuerus was to the laws of the Persian kingdom.


“And Memucan answered before the king and the princes, Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the people that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus. For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes, when it shall be reported, The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not. Likewise shall the ladies of Persia and Media say this day unto all the king’s princes, which have heard of the deed of the queen. Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath”
(Esther 1:16-18)


Now Memucan speaks up and reasons with the king. He puts the whole situation in perspective for the king. He says it is not only a wrong to the king, “but also to all the princes, and all the people that in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus.” He is saying, “If you let this go, it is going to grow to proportions where all of the women of the kingdom are going to dishonor their husbands and refuse to be in subjection.” There is some truth to his reasoning, not that all the women would become rebellious but in the fact that this is the queen and her actions would influence others. She is the highest-ranking woman in all of the one hundred twenty-seven provinces of the Persian kingdom. She cannot act in isolation. Her acts will be seen and imitated.

The old saying is, “A great man cannot commit a small sin.” Many times our actions are somewhat relative to the position that we hold. The queen cannot act just any way she wants and think that she is not affecting others. However, this is what is taught in our society today. We are taught for everyone to do what feels good or is right for them, but we are to be governed by the fixed standard of God’s Word and must also realize that we do have an affect on others.

People will watch you. If you claim to be a Baptist, you are a little peculiar. If you claim to be a Sovereign Grace, Landmark Baptist, you are very peculiar. When you make those kinds of claims, the world will expect something from you. Paul touched on this in his epistles to the Corinthians. He said, “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more” (1 Corinthians 9:19). He said, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Paul lived to a higher standard denying himself some things that were lawful but “not expedient.” He did not want to allow any occasion to bring reproach upon Christ.

Memucan is saying that the queen must be a model wife and mother. She is in a high position where many women are looking up to her and she must be exemplary. He feels that the queen’s present actions are going to cause a great chaos.


“If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she. And when the king’s decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his empire (for it is great,) all the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small”
(Esther 1:19-20)


He puts everything in perspective for the king. He proposed that the king divorce the queen, put her out of her royal estate and give it to another. He suggests that one be sought that is better than Vashti. They need a queen that is going to live up and honor the position that she has and will not bring reproach to the king or to the others of the kingdom.

He is taking a risk in offering this advice. This seems an extreme measure to take. The king’s first request was unreasonable. Vashti was unreasonable in refusing his command. Now, Memucan is further being unreasonable in taking things to this extreme extent. He is taking a risk by suggesting to the king that he divorce and expel the wife for which he has much affection.


“And the saying pleased the king and the princes; and the king did according to the word of Memucan: For he sent letters into all the king’s provinces, into every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language, that every man should bear rule in his own house, and that it should be published according to the language of every people”
(Esther 1:21-22)


The king found some satisfaction in this course of action. The king had two problems to face. First, his pride had been hurt and he is determined to make a show. Second, he has risen to a very hot temper and there must be some release of that temper. Memucan’s recommendation seems to satisfy both of those problems.

The king’s pride would be redeemed. He is enabled to say, “You can’t do that to me. I’ll divorce you and put you out on the street.” He gets revenge. His temper is satisfied with some sort of retaliation.

He sent this letter all over the kingdom and made sure everyone could understand what had happened. He does this to save face to all ends of the kingdom. He makes a great show of his power and therefore feels he has gained the respect, or at least the fear, of his people.

CONCLUSION

I wish to mark three notable providential events in our text. The first is the king’s notion to display the queen before the princes and nobles. The thought that came to the king and the timing are very interesting. Why did the king think of such a thing at this time? He was no doubt emboldened by the strong drink of this excessive feast. Seeing his glory on such display and hearing the flattery of the attendants served to make him feel near invincible. He felt he could make any command and none would dare refuse.

It is likely that the women were as well drunk as the men. Vashti would also feel bolder to refuse the king. Solomon wrote, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging” (Proverbs 20:1). Outside of that influence, she may not have refused the king’s request even though she disagreed with it. The circumstance that facilitated Ahasuerus’ bold request was the same circumstance that facilitated Vashti’s refusal.

Additionally, had this been a smaller affair it may not have been quite as great of an insult. However, they had been feasting for 187 days. All the important people were there and even the common people were present these last seven days. For her to refuse his command at this time was a great insult.

The second notable event is Vashti’s refusal to follow the command of an absolute monarch. Here is a man that rules the kingdom. He can cast into prison with a single word. He can execute at will. He certainly has the power to reduce her from riches to rags. Why would she refuse at this particular time?

Her virtue is unknown, but her bold refusal does not seem to be in her best self-interest. Think of all the things the king could do to her. Most usually, people are motivated by fear. She could have gone along with the request, even though she did not agree, just to keep the peace and keep her riches. She chose to refuse at a time when it would cause the greatest insult to the king.

The third event is the counselors that counsel the king to divorce the queen and banish her out of his palace. The counselors run the real risk of incurring the king’s displeasure. The king is enraged and very upset, but also it is apparent that the king has a great affection for his queen. Even though he might be very upset, their advice could backfire on them. They could incur the king’s wrath.

Counselors of imminent positions like these are usually worm-tongued flatterers. They stick their fingers in the air trying to see which way the wind is blowing and that is the way they advise the king. The only principle they know to act from is the principle of “the survival of the fittest” or maybe “every man for himself.” They are certainly not going to do anything that will put them in jeopardy. If they make this suggestion to the king and he is offended at the very thought, he might banish or execute them. In reality, the counselors act contrary to the nature of normal counselors in this situation. They have a peculiar bold streak.

All of these things have happened together and effected the removal of the queen. We see here God’s hand ruling, governing, restraining and overruling to bring about His purposes, because His people are in great danger and He is going to bring them out and deliver them through the means of Esther. In order for her to do so, she has to be advanced to the position of queen. This meant that the queen Vashti had to be removed. This train of providential events led to that very removal that opened up the position for Esther to be advanced. This is wonderful evidence of the providence of God working in the affairs of the world.

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