These are my musings and observations on my daily life, loves and the laughter that are all a part of my experience of living now in the shires of England.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Vashti – A Strong Woman

Some women (and men) stand up for their convictions whatever the consequences. Thus it was with Vashti.

I believe she may have been the first feminist recorded in the Bible. Vashti was queen, and the story goes that while her husband, King Ahasuerus, was feasting with all his princes and noblemen she was entertaining the visiting women with another feast in the royal house. However, Vashti was not destined to remain as the queen for long because she thought for herself and followed her personal beliefs in a very public manner that came to be viewed as open dissent.

The results of her behaviour were far-reaching. Vashti was eventually replaced as queen by Esther because she refused to appear before the king and all his guests when she was summoned. She knew the consequences of refusal. She paid the price. With her refusal to use her beauty and sexuality as a public commodity Vashti shows dignity and strength of character.

King Ahasuerus did not see her actions in the same light. When Vashti humiliated the king when she declined to obey him, he sought counsel from his courtiers. They recommended that Vashti be dealt with immediately and harshly because they were afraid that all the other women of the kingdom and provinces would follow her lead and be independently-minded in their choices – without regard to the demands of their husbands. This possibility obviously frightened them all. They believed that her actions were in danger of being copied therefore the consequences had to be hard.  King Ahasuerus followed the advice of these men and removed Vashti as queen.

Just to make sure that her actions were not copied the king also sent a command to all parts of his kingdom instructing that all men should ensure they were in complete charge in their own households. Vashti’s influence spread quickly. The king tried to crush it.

Vashti was one of the first of many strong women recorded in the Bible.

Vashti disobeyed a royal command and was punished. Some Jewish literature says that she was asked to appear before nude, wearing only her royal crown, in front of king Ahasuerus and his drunken guests. Other records say that she declined to appear because she had contracted leprosy. Whatever the reason the common thread in all the stories is her refusal to obey the most important man of the known world at that time.

If this happened today, it would be on Twitter and Facebook in seconds. “Queen Vashti refused to attend to King Ahasuerus at royal banquet! He’s well mad now. With his advisors deciding what to do. Not good. Goner.

King Ahasuerus was having none of it. Hence his reaction to punish and banish Queen Vashti. Vashti was dethroned and stripped of all her royal privileges, however, she was not killed because three years later, the king thought about reinstating her as queen. But his advisors suggested that he look for another young queen instead.

King Ahasuerus liked the idea and Vashti was soon replaced by Esther.

Despite her unceremonious departure from the top of the social ladder Vashti’s legacy of strength and heroism lives on. She paid a huge price for her convictions and she left a record of strength for women of all ages to remember.

(I was at church this week and the story of Esther was told with gusto. Vashti was mentioned as a bit-character in the larger story but I thought that without her strong stand Esther would never have had her day in the limelight. I am therefore giving Vashti some well-deserved recognition for her role as a strong and dignified woman, as a feminist.)


moderator said...

I don't really think about Vashti's actions in terms of feminism. I don't think she intended to make a stand for all women at that particular moment. She was in a very difficult situation. She probably feared for her personal safety. Flaunting your beauty in front of several drunk men couldn't have been too safe. I have had alcoholic men in my family, and when they were drunk their behavior was impulsive and destructive.
Vashti did what she thought was right and safe for her at that particular time.

It's sort of strange that when a woman makes a stand it's called or equated to feminism. When a man makes a stand, it's equated to manhood. You believe Vashti was a strong woman, so do I. However, in many Christian circles, she has become the poster child that many folks use to encourage wives to submit to sin, foolishness, or destructive behavior.

moderator said...

The idea of a wife submitting to her husband was not a new one. It had been taught from Genesis throughout the Bible. When Paul taught about a wife’s duty to submit to her husband, he was merely recapping an age old teaching. However, he had to spell it out for husbands. (Ephesians 5:25-32) This was a revolutionary concept for husbands. It had never been taught like that before. Some might say “love your neighbor as yourself” had been taught before (Luke 10:27). But that was the problem. Husbands were expressing love for their neighbors outside of the home, while regarding their wives as mere maids and sex objects.

The king did this to Vashti. She refused to submit to his foolish and drunken request.
Jewish tradition says that he instructed her to appear nude. We can't be sure whether he requested her nude or not. Either way, asking her to flaunt her beauty in the presence of other drunken men was not modest (Matt 5:28, Ex 20:17, Deut 5:21). She valued modesty and would not promote lustfulness. She believed that a wife’s beauty should be reserved for her husband only. The king’s friends were angered by her refusal and encouraged him to exile her, and he did.

This is a prime example of how many husbands use their position of power to abuse defenseless wives. It’s also an example of how many husbands express love for their neighbors and friends outside the home, while treating their wives with utter cruelty. This is a perfect example of why Paul needed to spell out (Ephesians 5:25-32) for husbands.

Bathsheba - another woman who had been the victim of a king's abuse of power - gave Solomon this wise advice:

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, to guzzle wine. Rulers should not crave alcohol. For if they drink, they may forget the law
and not give justice to the oppressed
(Pro 31:4-5).

That's exactly what happened between Vashti and the King. He got drunk and forgot his duty to love, honor, and protect his wife.

As a result of Vashti's refusal, she was banished. Sometimes, bad things happen when you take a stand. Vashti's hardship is similar to that of Uriah. Uriah was a loyal military man. He refused to go home and sleep with his wife because of his commitment to his army. Uriah was actually more committed at that time than David because David took a day off to commit adultery. Although Uriah took an honorable stand, he was still killed. Although Uriah was killed, God still used the incident for his glory. Solomon became one of the wisest kings to ever live. This is no different from how the book of Esther unfolds. God uses an unfortunate tragedy to accomplish his plans.

Like David, Ashasuerus had some redemptive qualities. That's why God used him and gave him a second chance. He was remorseful for the way he had treated Vashti. He learned from his mistakes and treated Esther better than he treated Vashti. He also made a decree with Haman to kill the Jews. When he realized how egregious that decree was, he rectified it. He did in that situation what he had failed to do concerning Vashti. This is an admirable quality. Ashasuerus learned from his past mistakes.

moderator said...

There are some many other relevant themes within this text that many commentators fail to deal with like alcoholism, substance abuse and/or sexual immorality within marriage.
Unfortunately, far too many women are married to alcoholic, drug addicted or porn addicted husbands. What happened between Vashti and the King could easily be used to try to convince wives to enable, support and/or excuse their husband's addiction. Far too many lives, families and marriages have been destroyed as a result of addiction.

Another theme commentators fail to address is outward beauty. We live in a culture much like Vashti's and Esther's. Young girls and women are taught that their only valuable trait is how they look on the outside - how pretty or not pretty they are. While outward beauty is nice, the Bible tells us that it is fleeting (Pro 31:30-31) and that the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit is much more important (1 Pet 3:3-5). As Christians, we must teach our girls/women the importance of this type of beauty. We must teach our boys/men the importance of appreciating inward beauty and not just the outward beauty of their spouse. Else they will do as Vashti's husband did and choose another wife, when the wife they have is no longer pleasing to them.

SORRY FOR BEING SO LONG WINDED, BUT I REALLY ENJOYED YOUR BLOG! It was thought provoking, and I appreciate that.

Marj said...

Hi Moderator,

Thank you for your comments. As much as you enjoyed the blog I have also enjoyed reading your comments.

There is, of course, perfect validity in your point of view about Vashti doing what was "right and safe for her at that particular time". I agree with you on that point.

Although I have not been unfortunate enough to be in close quarters with male alcoholic family members on a regular basis, I have, like most women been in a position where I have feared for my safety as the power held against me has been abused.

I like the parallel you raised between the actions of Vashti and those of Uriah - both honourable and, in their own way, part of God's plans for His glory.

There is a prevailing attitude at the moment forcing early sexualisation on young girls. I abhor this trend. Being seen (by yourself and others) as more than an object of sexual gratification is paramount to the identity and self esteem of girls as they grow up into strong women.

There is a book that refers to this as corporate paedophilia. Too strong? I don't think so. (Reference below: Corporate paedophilia: the sexualisation of children in Australia (2006))

Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment.

Your points made me think deeply as well.

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