Monday, September 7, 2009

Xerxes & Vashti

King Xerxes and Queen Vashti were the royal couple of the land that stretched from India to Ethiopia (486-465 BC). He was king and military leader.  For a wife he had the most beautiful girl in the land. Vashti herself was of royal descent, being the daughter of Belchazzar, the last king of Babylon.  She was a young princess when Darius captured her during the Persians and Mede invasion of Babylon.  Darius later presented her to Xerxes, his son, to marry.
Excessive Wealth and Generosity  His empire was undoubtedly wealthy, or perhaps, doubtfully wealthy, since he felt the need to show off.  It took him about six months.  This must be a stressful exercise, always on display, knowing that there is always a chance for guests to see something that needs improvement.  Xerxes was probably extremely insecure, since it seems he had to prove his greatness.  

 "For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty.  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.  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. 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. 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."

After a long display of his wealth and glory, Xerxes opened a  week-long banguet in the garden.  This was not the time to go on a diet!  Every guest was allowed to have what ever he desired.  At the end of this period of royal partying, Xerxes decided to surprise his guests with his grand finale.  Vashti, his beautiful wife, was not in the mood to cooperate with him.  It was a humilition that Xerxes was not going to bear.

"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- 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.  But when the attendants delivered the king's command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger."

Vashti refused the king of the land, her husband. Kings ought to be honored by their subjects and husbands by their spouses. Vashi is doubly guilty.  No one knows the reason for Vashti's refusal to obey Xerxes. There is only speculation.  The Veggie Tales movie, "Esther, the Girl Who Became Queen,"  indicates that he asked her to make a sandwich in the middle of the night.  The movie, "One Night with the King" suggest that she is anti-war and he is pro-war.  What was the real reason?  Could it be that Vashti has always been an arrogant and strong-willed girl? Since this is happening during the third year of his reign as king, they must have been married about five to seven years.  If Xerxes has managed to survive living with her all those years then something changed. Could it also be that Xerxes has always been an unreasonable husband?  If so then Vashti must have been a patient and devoted wife.  But why did she ignore his order now?  Or, if Xerxes was a good husband and king, why did he make an unexpectedly unreasonable order this time? 

Vashti: Wife  From a marital point of view, she should have obeyed him and went out to present herself to the most enthusiastic and intoxicated audience. Wives are admonished to submit to their husbands out of respect.

 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24)

What went wrong?  Vashti, being a king's daughter, is no doubt educated and proper.  It would be right to assume that her choices were carefully considered before she would make them public.  She would know not to publicly show any hint of disrespect to Xerxes.

Xerxes: Husband  Along with his guests, he was in high spirits - in other words, severely drunk.  Some scholars think that he actually asked Vashti to come out with nothing but the royal crown!  Surely, he was the head of the marriage but such action do not show love.  Husbands are called to love the wife as they love themselves and to present their wives without imperfection and shame.  If the speculation is accurate, then Xerxes can take the blame for his wife's refusal. 

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." (Ephesians 5:25-28)

The Real Authority 

Vashti, just like Esther, was faced with a decision to follow the exception.  They both had to face the consequences of such decision. Queen Vashti’s story was not as fortunate as Esther’s but I believe that both stories were part of God's plan.  
Xerxes was the authority that was placed above Vashti.  He was also the one who should love and lay his own life for her welfare.  There is an authority that rules above and beyond the authority of a husband or king--the King of Kings, who rules with love and justice. When forced to choose--when authorities are in conflict--we are called to choose and respond so that the name of this Great King will not be stained. 

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