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Queen Vashti—Virtuous or Rebellious?

Esther 1:10-12

10 On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, 11 to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold. 12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him. NKJV

More to the story?

On the face of it this event looks like a rebellious wife who refuses the order of her husband/king. Is there more to the story? Yes, I believe there is.

The Woman’s Study Bible notes that Persian monarchs insisted on deference. “Not even the queen was allowed into the throne room unless summoned.” So for Vashti to refuse such an order was the height of disrespect and rebellion. She had to know that. Commentators have puzzled over her actions. Was she pregnant? Did she fear being ogled by a group of men? Was she a woman of nobility and character who refused an unjust command from her husband?

Historians note the reason for the 180-day spectacle mentioned in Esther 1 was for Xerxes to impress his officials and servants of his kingdom, and to present his grandiose plan to invade and conquer Greece. The culminating banquet featured “royal wine in abundance, according to the generosity of the king” (Esther 1:7-8). When Xerxes called for his wife to appear, several sources offer the possibility that he wanted to display Vashti as a trophy (my words), one of his most beautiful crowning possessions.

“Persian feasts were famous for their magnificence. Esther 1 gives a glimpse of the opulence of these feasts. It describes the common Persian manner of eating by reclining on couches or beds (vs 6), and it states that all drinking utensils were made of gold, no two being alike (vs 7). The Greek historian Xenophon said the Persians prided themselves on their number of drinking vessels. When the Greeks destroyed the Persian Empire, a part of their spoil consisted of golden drinking horns and cups” (Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, Nelson, 1980, p. 157).

I found the following comment insightful: “The refusal of Vashti to obey an order which required her to make an indecent exposure of herself before a company of drunken revellers [sic] was becoming both to the modesty of her sex and her rank as queen; because, according to Persian customs, the queen, even more than the wives of other men, was secluded from the public gaze: and had not the king’s blood been heated with wine, or his reason overpowered by force of offended pride, he would have perceived that his own honour as well as hers was consulted by her dignified conduct” (from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1997, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

McClintock and Strong’s Encyclopedia (article “Vashti”), citing Plutarch, says “that the kings of Persia have their legitimate wives to sit at table with them at their banquets; but that, when they choose to riot and drink, they send their wives away and call in the concubines and singing-girls. Hence, when the heart of Ahasuerus ‘was merry with wine,’ he sent for Vashti, looking upon her only as a concubine… .” (Biblesoft, Inc.)

There are more justifications put forth for her actions in other sources, but these seem enough to present her refusal to appear in a more complete context. Josephus writes that Xerxes later regretted his actions, but the laws of his empire did not accommodate a change of mind.

English: Queen Vashti Refuses to Obey Ahasueru...

English: Queen Vashti Refuses to Obey Ahasuerus’ Command (Est. 1:10-22) Русский: Царица Астинь не захотела придти по приказу царя Артаксеркса (Есф. 1:10-22) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About womenfromthebook

Mine is a life-long interest in the women of the Bible, and I enjoy exploring the world in which they lived, and discovering the challenges that they faced. I have enough curiosity about them to last the rest of my life.

12 responses

  1. Ask Abigail about drunken husbands.

  2. Great points! Abraham did have consequences for lying. God stepped in to protect the woman. There are a number of practices that God did not approve of, including polygamy. I think some people have the idea that just because it’s in the Bible, God approved or accepted it. God never accepted the devaluing of women; He repeatedly broke customs and rules to show she had value; especially when He was here on earth.

    In John 4, the woman at the well, for example; it specifically says that the disciples were surprised that He was talking to a woman. There was definitely a devaluing of women in the general mindset, but that’s not what happened to Vashti.

  3. Your husband being a drunk doesn’t mean you get to disrespect him. Apparently, even the world knows this God-given truth because she lost her throne for disrespect.

  4. Yikes!! Where does it ever say that?

  5. Well done…. it’s very hard for most people to read any of the Bible in proper context, and especially for the modern western era, to not read it in light of a) modern feminism (“my body my choice”) and b) with an ironic helping hand from hundreds of years of anti-sex, ascetic Catholic Christianity. The sexual mores of the Biblical world were prescribed by the Torah (for Israel anyway), but even then they are nothing like what we take for granted in western evangelical Christianity. The fact that we can read right over some of the stories involving Abraham and Sara and not be shocked by the different worldviews that must necessarily prevail is proof enough (Abraham requests that Sarah call him – “in all the places they come to” – her “brother” even though he knows full well she’ll be picked up in a harem; Sarah later comes up with the idea that Abraham sleep with her handmaid in order to produce offspring). If that’s not enough to explode assumptions, nothing will, and there’s plenty more where that comes from… women belonged to men as a possession, God seems to take this as normative (along with a lot of other things, e.g. polygamy), and this idea continued into the NT (God is the head of man, man is the head of woman).
    Today’s western woman is independent and autonomous; Vashti’s rebellion is a “virtue”. “I’ll submit to my husband but I’ll obey God first” = “I stand in judgment over anything my husband thinks and will reach my own mind about things”. Somehow I don’t think this is the biblical design….

  6. you invented that? where is it written that she would have been naked?

  7. The position of a heathen queen must be taken in context. Heathen queens were all about attention and sensuality; their looks were the main reason they were chosen. They connived, betrayed, backstabbed, and did whatever they could to become queen. The whole point of a queen was to be put on display.

    Also keep in mind that Vashti was having a party with her homegirls, as well. Let’s not forget that she was drunk also. The idea that a drunk, ungodly, sexualized, woman of power suddenly decided to have morals, is not at all likely. She was with her girlfriends, and she was gonna show who’s boss. This is evident in the counsel offered and the letters sent; which also went to the common people. Repeatedly, the issue is mentioned in Scripture that the result would be wives having contempt for their husbands; that’s what the problem was.

    These people were not godly, and did not live by God’s ways. However, even if she was moral, and her husband immoral; that doesn’t excuse her blatant disrespect. Wives are called to submit to their husbands in everything; that means that unless you’re being told to directly violate Scripture, you obey. Standing in front of people isn’t against Scripture.

  8. Hello and thank you for your comment. He must have been “indisposed” on a number of occasions :).

  9. The king was a drunk.

  10. Esther is a fascinating woman, and there seems to always be more that one can learn about her. I have an open Esther file ready to receive more information that helps flesh her out for me as a modern reader. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Thank you for doing such a good job in revealing insights into the life and times of the book of Esther. I am looking forward to learning more.

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