Devotional: Esther Chapter 1- Called to do the Impossible

This Esther series is from a women’s Bible study I have led multiple times, the first time being in 2008 and the second time was in 2017. I wrote this study using various commentaries, including the The New American Commentary vol 10 by Breneman, but my views don’t follow this or another other commentary exactly. Also, these devotionals are worded for adult women, but the lessons in these devotions can be applied to all Christians of any age or gender.

1) This is what happened during the time of Xerxes,

Xerxes was born to Darius I and Atossa (daughter of Cyrus the Great) 518–465 BC). Called Xerxes the Great, he was the fourth king of kings of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia. The Jewish people had already been conquered and in exile from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, though this happened in multiple waves. Cyrus had allowed some of the Jews to go home, but many of the prophets lived around the time of these kings. Xerxes became king at 36 years old with no conflict even though he was not the oldest son. He was co-ruler with his father for many years before this because of Darius’s failing health. Xerxes put down a rebellion in Egypt and Babylon. He ruled from 486 BC until his assassination in 465 BC at the hands of Artabanus, the commander of the royal bodyguard. He was not Jewish in belief, but Zoroastrian, which means he did believe in one god. He is most famous for his loss against the 300 Spartans depicted in the movie 300.

the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush:

Under the campaigns of Cyrus the Great (who conquered Babylon and acquired all the Jewish captives and the land of Israel that Nebuchadnezzar took) and Darius the Great (who threw Daniel in the lion’s den), Xerxes ruled the first global power up to that time. The Persian Empire represented the world’s first global superpower and was based on a model of tolerance and respect for other cultures and religions that few powers have matched. The Silk Road, connecting Persia with China, was significant not only for the development and flowering of the great civilizations of China, ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, and Rome but also helped lay the foundations of the modern world.

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 

When he was 39 years old, and before he went to war against the Greeks, he gave all his nobles and officials a banquet. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.

This was the first banquet. It was probably part of the build-up and morale-boosting before Xerxes’s military campaign. This celebration was to increase loyalty and confidence throughout his empire. It may have included thousands of officials.

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

The palace’s wealth was on display for six months, perhaps even open public tours of the court. All of this was done to secure the image of power and prosperity to all the kingdom. If everyone believes this image, then fewer revolts happen, less warfare, and more peace.

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.

Susa was first settled over 6000 years ago. This is the location of the winter palace. His other palace was in Persepolis. The citadel was built 72 feet above the rest of the city on a mound and was surrounded by a wall 2.5 miles long. The city itself was 37 acres. For an ancient city, that is pretty big, but not as big as Ninevah.

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 with no restrictions, 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.

This shows that Queen Vashti had more power and decision-making authority than most women of that time. Women were often seen as property to their husbands and fathers and had to stay hidden and submissive. Not Vashti. Her entire limited appearance is that of a strong-willed, independent woman of power. Some cultures even required men and women to eat separately, but this wasn’t the rule for Persians. Some suggest that Vashti was already being disagreeable by having her own party rather than being at her husband’s party.

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, Bigha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas—

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.

The King was drunk and had a spur-of-the-moment idea that Vashti should stop what she is doing, leave her guests, get all fixed up in her jewels, just to parade around for thousands of drunk people to look at. Some commentators think she was to come only in her crown (as in naked), but this is unnecessary. For everyone to see her, she would have to come unveiled, which was a violation of custom.

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—Karshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memukan, 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 Memukan 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 Memukan proposed.

22) He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household, using his native tongue.

Queen Vashti is presented as a foil for Esther. Vashti is the ungodly selfish woman, while Esther is the virtuous woman. I relate to Vashti, though, because she was asked to be publicly embarrassed and shamed. She is what this world depicts as the ideal woman. She was beautiful, rich, independently minded, and self-confident. Still, her actions had far-reaching effects that could have undermined what her husband was trying to do and destabilize the entire kingdom. She publicly embarrassed her husband undermined his image publicly rather than embarrass herself. She threatened to destroy the impression he was trying to build for six months. She was in an impossible situation. Was there really anything else she could have done?

Vashti was also inconvenienced by her husband’s demand. She was busy, and he was being selfish and drunk. It isn’t hard to relate. People often demand us to drop everything to meet their needs. We get tired. We get irritated. Sometimes we just can’t do anymore. I understand Vashti. Sometimes we use our words and attitudes to control our lives when we feel stuck and out of control. Vashti may have been raised a princess or aristocrat, but in the ancient world, women were the property of their fathers and husbands. Even so, back then and today, woman use their words and actions to put down their husbands, children, other women who are competition, or anyone who is a threat. This way, they can raise themselves up and have control over those around them. This is what a foolish woman in Proverbs does.

Proverbs 14:1 – Every wise woman builds her household,

but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.

Vashti publicly embarrassed her husband and undermined his image publicly. People will see our husband and children the way we portray them. Woman, throughout history and even with limited freedom, hold great power in our words and actions.

Proverbs 31

Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character

10) A wife of noble character who can find?

She is worth far more than rubies.

11) Her husband has full confidence in her

and lacks nothing of value.

12) She brings him good, not harm,

all the days of her life.

13) She selects wool and flax

and works with eager hands.

14) She is like the merchant ships,

bringing her food from afar.

15) She gets up while it is still night;

she provides food for her family

and portions for her female servants.

16) She considers a field and buys it;

out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

17) She sets about her work vigorously;

her arms are strong for her tasks.

18) She sees that her trading is profitable,

and her lamp does not go out at night.

19) In her hand she holds the distaff

and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

20) She opens her arms to the poor

and extends her hands to the needy.

21) When it snows, she has no fear for her household;

for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

22) She makes coverings for her bed;

she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

23) Her husband is respected at the city gate,

where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

24) She makes linen garments and sells them,

and supplies the merchants with sashes.

25) She is clothed with strength and dignity;

she can laugh at the days to come.

26) She speaks with wisdom,

and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

27) She watches over the affairs of her household

and does not eat the bread of idleness.

28) Her children arise and call her blessed;

her husband also, and he praises her:

29) “Many women do noble things,

but you surpass them all.”

30) Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;

but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

31) Honor her for all that her hands have done,

and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

I have heard pastors say that this image of the ideal woman is impossible- that no one woman could do all of this. It must be instead many women. How many of us, though, feel called on to do all of this in our own lives on a regular basis? What impossible tasks are you asked to do? 

Vashti’s actions destabilized the entire kingdom and required extreme action by her husband to fix it. She was asked to figure out an impossible situation with no clear answer and failed. Do you face an impossible situation today with no clear solutions?

But wisdom is also depicted as a woman in the book of Proverbs.

Proverbs 9:1-6

1) Wisdom has built her house;

 she has carved out its seven pillars.

 2) She has prepared her meat, she has mixed her wine;

 she also has arranged her table.

 3) She has sent out her female servants;

 she calls out on the highest places of the city.

 4) “Whoever is naive, let him turn in here,”

 she says to those who lack understanding.

 5) “Come, eat some of my food,

 and drink some of the wine I have mixed.

 6) Abandon your foolish ways so that you may live,

 and proceed in the way of understanding.”

If we are building up those around us in humbleness and service, we create a fortress of security for ourselves and others. As we will see in the rest of Esther, it is in love and self-sacrifice that we actually benefit the most. We will learn in this study, as Esther does, how to depend on God for our strength and wisdom. This is entirely contrary to the popular culture of what a strong woman looks like. It takes more strength to serve than to say no. It takes more effort to help others and say kind words than just to say the harsh truth. It is exhausting to have patience with the flaws and weaknesses around us. We are often required to carry so much without being seen, without being praised or rewarded, but this is precisely what Christ did and does. At those times, we lean on Christ the most and have the closest relationship with God. It takes a considerable effort that we can’t do alone.

 Mathew 17:20 – He told them, “It was because of your little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you.”

We can apply this lesson to our husbands and family, but even more so, we can apply this as the bride of Christ. Jesus will never ask us to do something terrible, but he may ask us to humble ourselves, to sacrifice our pride. He is not a drunk king but a loving shepherd who has humbled himself first. He has done all of this first and is there to help us do the impossible. If we, the church, are the bride, how do our words and action reflect on Christ’s image to the world?

Women’s ministry is foundational in the church. We are often the emotional and spiritual gauge for the health of the rest of the congregation. Our actions influence those around us. We can build people up with prayer, love, and support. We can also tear them down with our attitude, criticism, and judgments. It is the prayers of mothers and grandmothers and pillars in the church that we often hear about being the factor that brings people in. We set the tone for the health of the church. We are the mothers of the church, but again, we can’t do this alone. What sorts of things can we do to build up this church?

So what could have Vashti done instead? She could have come to God for the impossible solution and wisdom, as Esther does later. But God has a plan. He was orchestrating events without any help from Esther or anyone else to provide for his people’s salvation. He knew the future, and he knew who needed to be Queen to obey Him. God will always use both our successes and our human failures to bring glory to His name. It is better to be on God’s side, and we will learn from Esther how to do that!