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.)