Vashti, Shero untold

Vashti, Shero untold March 27, 2024

AI- generated image of Middle Easterm woman
AI generated -Image by Vicki Hamilton from Pixabay

A fresh look at the Feast of Purim and the “other woman” in the story of Esther

Did you ever hear about the “other woman” in the biblical story of Esther? Let’s take a closer look. First, some background information.

What is “Purim”?

The Jewish holiday of Purim is celebrated in late winter/early spring, on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar.

What event does Purim commemorate?

Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from a plan to annihilate them in the ancient Persian empire. The plan was being orchestrated by a man named Haman, the prime minister at the time, who hated the Jews.

 

What does Purim mean?

 

“Purim” means “lots” in Persian, as in “lottery”. (Haman cast lots to determine when he would carry out his scheme).

 

Why did Esther become so famous?

Queen Esther, at the urge of her cousin Mordecai, intervened on behalf of her people, the Jews. She revealed her Jewish identity to the king and told him about Haman’s plot. As a result, the king had Haman hanged and made Mordecai prime minister in his place.

How did Esther, a young Jewish girl become Queen of Persia, in the first place?

Great question! That brings us to Vashti, the untold “shero” in this story! Queen Vashti was married to King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) and Esther became Queen after the king banished Vashti.

 

Why was Vashti banished?

Well, King Xerxes banished Vashti for disregarding his orders. He was angry and felt there needed to be consequences for Vashti’s disobedience. He therefore banished her, and Esther eventually became Queen in her stead.

 

Vashti must have been very bold to say “No” to the king. What exactly was she refusing to do? Was she just being defiant or were her actions justified?

 The way the story is commonly told, Vashti is presented as a defiant, disobedient queen who was punished for not obeying the king’s orders.

The message was clear: Obey those in authority. If you disobey the king, you will be punished.

What is often neglected is a discussion of why Vashti defied the king’s orders and the possibility that her actions may have been justified.

 

The King’s Banquet

 

 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.

  • Esther 1: 4-5 (NIV)

As we read in the passage above, the King was hosting a banquet after a protracted period of showing off his wealth. There was plenty of alcohol at the banquet.

 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 with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.

 

  • Esther 1: 7-8 (NIV)

 

King Xerxes was “high in spirits from wine” (in other words, drunk), when he commanded his servants to bring Queen Vashti out so he could show off her beauty.

 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 Karkas— 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.

  • Esther 1: 10-12 (NIV)

 

Vashti is a role model for  girls and young women  

A closer look at this story reveals a deeper lesson: Vashti was not simply being defiant to a king’s orders.

She should be praised for her courage and her boldness in standing up and refusing to be treated like a specimen in front of a bunch of drunk men, even if it meant standing up to the king and losing her place as Queen. The king wanted to show off her physical beauty and some even believe that he may have been attempting to put her on display like a prostitute. Vashti must have had a healthy sense of self esteem and courage to be able to refuse the king’s request. Another important point to note is that what the king was requesting was against the culture and customs of the land. Women were not supposed to be put on display in front of men. Some scholars even argue that Vashti was protecting the king’s dignity as well as her own by refusing to flaunt her sexuality. She made a wise decision by refusing to obey a drunken order, even when it came from her husband, who happened to be King.  Just as Esther is praised for her courage in risking her life to save the Jews, Vashti should be praised for her boldness and courage in refusing to be objectified.

Young girls should be taught to stand up for themselves and say “No” to exploitation. Vashti was indeed the untold “shero” in the story of Esther.

 

 

 

 

 

About Olapeju Simoyan, MD, MPH
Dr. Olapeju Simoyan is a physician, board certified in family medicine and addiction medicine, with a special interest in the connections between faith and health. She strongly believes that faith and critical thinking are not mutually exclusive. As a female physician, Dr. Simoyan is also interested in women's issues and writes about religious abuse and trauma, with a focus on how misinterpretations of biblical texts have led to the perpetration of abuse within church settings. She has combined her writing and photography in several books, including Living Foolproof, a devotional based on reflections from the book of Proverbs. Her latest book, Transformation and Recovery - Lessons from the Butterfly, is a workbook suitable for people in recovery from addictions and other behavioral disorders. You can read more about the author here.
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