"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, June 25, 2010

Esther & Vashti -- Two Queens Who Rocked Their World

"The Jews believe [Esther] was not created to embody the fashion of her times, but to reflect the majesty and providence of a God moving unseen through the world, even the forgotten world of women." (pg. 274)

While growing up and attending Sunday school, the story of the Jewish-orphan-girl-turned-Persian-
queen-and-Jewish-savior (so to speak) Esther was a favorite Old Testament tale! It demonstrated how God worked behind the scenes to bring people to certain places in their lives so He could accomplish a greater purpose. Indeed cousin Mordecai's words --

"And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14)

are so, so something. I just like 'em.

Maybe he sensed that God gave Esther this favor before the Persian king in order to accomplish more than being a mere beauty queen/trophy wife. Perhaps Mordecai sensed a higher purpose for her being favored in the eyes of this Gentile ruler. Or maybe he was just desperate enough to play the "God card" (even though God wasn't mentioned in the whole book!) since the Jews were facing extinction in the land.

Evil Haman wanted to rid the land of the Jewish people, yet in a dramatic twist he ended up ...well, you really need to read the story for yourself. Let's just say: genocide didn't happen! Any wonder why Hitler hated the Jewish festival of Purim since it celebrates the Jewish people's deliverance from someone who wanted to exterminate them?

So, I was recently reading the Quran as you all know and for "light reading" I picked up Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by Ginger Garrett at the library. It was based on the biblical story only "fleshed out" a bit more by making it seem as if Esther journaled about her life as a Jewish orphan growing up in Persia and later being chosen as part of a harem of women prepared for the king's pleasure. And possible queenship if the king were really really pleased!

There were a few quotes about women in that society that took my attention. Nothing life-altering or new, but they did pique my interest enough that I went back and reread the first chapter of Esther which I'll share below as well. I want you to take particular note of Queen Vashti's scandalous behavior! And how it made the men fear. :)

First from the book...

Esther speaking of the world in which she was born -- "Passion and pleasure, like freedom, were the domain of men, and even young girls knew the wishes of their hearts would always be subject to a man's desire for wealth. ... Our role was clear: We were to be objects of passion, to receive a man's attention mutely, and to respond only with children for the estate." (pg. 21)


After Queen Vashti defied her husband: "By proclamation of the king, let it be known that Queen Vashti has been banished from her throne, and from the King's presence, for her rebellion. A new queen will be found, one who knows her place and gives honor to the King. Let it also be known that in every house, every man is to be the master, and his word shall be law for those living under his roof." (pg. 37)

This really made me roll my eyes, yet it's what prompted me to reread Esther 1 (below). The audacity of men. *shaking my head*

"'The only God in Persia is pleasure, pleasure that is often at the expense of women.'" (pg. 39) -- Mordecai's words to Esther re: Vashti's banishment

True even now perhaps?

On friends in the market who would carry their gods in their pockets, Esther admitted, "It would make G-d seem nearer if I could but touch and feel Him. Mordecai says this is the meaning of faith: to see without sight, to believe against reason that G-d is near, and that He rules in the affairs of men.And orphans." (pg. 39)

I just liked this. I guess this is why people often had carvings of gods? It's easier to live by what we can see than what we must trust without clearly seeing.

The lesson of Esther's imperfections: "When we risk letting down our guard and taking off our masks, when we let others see our weaknesses and faults, we draw them to us. We send out a quiet signal that it's safe to be real with us. Her power, and ours, does not grow by comparing our beauty to another's, or by insisting our strength is superior, but by setting all claims aside." (pg. 278)

Just liked this one,too, because it reminded me it's OK to be less than perfect. God uses imperfect people. What else is out there?

If you don't know the story of Vashti's rebellion and how it made the men angry (she might start a trend!), read it here. If you want to cut to the chase, start reading around verse 10 until the end. I'll even highlight a few things for those who merely want to skim.

Esther 1

Queen Vashti Deposed
1 This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush : 2 At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, 3 and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.

4 For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. 5 When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king's palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest, who were in the citadel of Susa. 6 The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones. 7 Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king's liberality. 8 By the king's command each guest was allowed to drink in his own way, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.

9 Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.

10 On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carcas- 11 to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. 12 But when the attendants delivered the king's command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.

13 Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times 14 and were closest to the king—Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memucan, the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom.

15 "According to law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?" he asked. "She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her."

16 Then Memucan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, "Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. 17 For the queen's conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, 'King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.' 18 This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen's conduct will respond to all the king's nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.

19 "Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. 20 Then when the king's edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest."

21 The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memucan proposed. 22 He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language, proclaiming in each people's tongue that every man should be ruler over his own household.

Now I want to hear YOUR thoughts! Notice how Vashti refused to show off her beauty to the drunk king and his friends? Maybe women respect themselves by not parading around in attire seeking to please men. What did you take from this passage and/or this post and quotes from the book? Anything?

Note: I read this post to my husband last night and in mock horror he exclaimed, "Oh no, another man-hater book...and this one is from the Bible!" Hehehehe. :-D Really, I don't hate men. I happen to love them very much. I just don't care for men who mistreat women. Or women who mistreat men. Let's just all love and respect each other. Do that whole "in honor prefer one another" and "love your neighbor as you love yourself" and "do unto others as you would have them to do unto you [or your mom or sister]." You get the idea! :)


Unknown said...

It does sound like a very feminist-y book. Not quite man-hating, but I think definitely with a little annoyance, which I think just makes sense. I can't read Esther without being really upset by Vashti's part of the story, especially since the king is after that portrayed as sympathetic and kind. Wow... So I think if you're a woman and you're going to be writing about Esther, you're going to be upset by the obvious oppression in it. But I don't think people of the time would even have thought to mention it. Esther's and Mordecai's comments sound like mourning her sudden loss of freedom, as if women anywhere had equal rights and status at the time.

I like the story of Esther in general because I've been told(I haven't looked it up to be certain) God is not mentioned in it once, but it's included because God is acting throughout if you can read between the lines and see how everything comes together. It also sort of reminds me of a girl version of Joseph's story, except in Joseph's God is mentioned...but the whole underlying plan still isn't connected with God till the end and it's a cool effect. I think it's a good picture of what Jewish/Christian/Muslim faith is, because like you say, they don't carry images of their God around and have to look a little deeper to see God in everyday life.

Oh, and a frustrating side note. I've been told by a pastor before that Vashti sinned because the king's word is law and if he commanded her to do something, even something we would see as immoral and something that completely degraded her and made her subhuman, she was supposed to obey. So basically she deserved her punishment. GRRRR. I just couldn't even believe I was hearing that. The sexism in the book of Esther is irritating but understandable in the time. Trying to justify the violence and oppression in the Bible today is pretty messed up. Can't we just mourn for the people who suffered and not try to say they deserved it? Reminds me of the earthquake comments all over again. But absolutely, I would say he was wrong about that and women should resist being seen as objects to please men. I don't think that's a comment about clothing, necessarily, if someone dresses that way for themselves. But to be expected to dress a certain way, either to please men or to avoid tempting men, is a problem.

truerivers said...

Throughly enjoyed this!
I was wondering if you could tell me time frame when this took place.Possibly in the BC range?

How a woman has to fight her way thru' is still is a challenge in today's world.

Susanne said...

Lat, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks much for taking time to read and reply to it. Indeed it seems women are still fighting. Thankfully we've made some progress!

Not too long ago I was frustrated at the oppression of women in this world (I think after reading something on Suroor's blog), and a male friend told me that Satan hated women because Jesus came from a woman. Of course Jason and I being Christians believe this means God incarnate came from a woman *without the need for* a man. So Jason thought this was one reason women were especially oppressed. He thought it was a work of Satan taking out his anger on women. I'd never thought of it before, but it made me feel a little more special for some reason. :-D

The book I read took place during the time some of the Jews had already returned to their homeland under the kindness of the Persian ruler, Cyrus. Some of the Jews stayed behind and Esther was among them. The time for the Esther story was likely in the late 400s BC.

Again, thanks for your comment!

Susanne said...

Sanil, thanks for your comment. I always enjoy your thought-out replies. Yeah, Andrew likes to exaggerate a bit. Hehehehe.Well, he has good reason for fearing "man-hating" books since I have railed against some of the books I've read and he's been on the receiving end of hearing me complain about them. He's a good guy. :)

I agree the Vashti part of the story is upsetting. That's basically the point of my sharing chapter 1. It's annoying how first he demanded she parade around in front of his drunk friends and later banished her for having the nerve to defy him. And that whole men rule their own households....ha! Yeah, I know it's nothing for that time. Even in many parts of the world today -- even in some families within the US -- it would be acceptable, I'm sure. I never had people tell me Vashti was wrong for disobeying. I always got the impression from those who told me this story that she was right to not show off her beauty in front of drunks as I grew up in a place where modesty was good and drunkenness was not. :)

You're right...God is not mentioned in this book. I've heard people say although God's name is not mentioned, His fingerprints are all over it. Interestingly enough Esther was the only OT book NOT found among the Dead Sea scrolls. Still it has great significance to the Jews since they celebrate the festival of Purim as they have for centuries. And I just love the lessons of the story.

" I think it's a good picture of what Jewish/Christian/Muslim faith is, because like you say, they don't carry images of their God around and have to look a little deeper to see God in everyday life. "

Really loved this! What a wonderful way to look at it!

"Trying to justify the violence and oppression in the Bible today is pretty messed up. Can't we just mourn for the people who suffered and not try to say they deserved it? Reminds me of the earthquake comments all over again. But absolutely, I would say he was wrong about that and women should resist being seen as objects to please men. I don't think that's a comment about clothing, necessarily, if someone dresses that way for themselves. But to be expected to dress a certain way, either to please men or to avoid tempting men, is a problem."

Excellent points! Thanks for sharing your wonderful comments. I'm so glad you were around to reply! :-)