I recently read through the book of Esther and made several observations. One thing I was struck by was the comparison between Esther and Vashti. Here are some of my observations on these two like-positioned women. Both defied King Xerxes, but one was deposed and banished to a life of humiliation and shame, and the other saved her people from a holocaust and has been exalted throughout the ages. What does the Bible tell us about the differences in these women?
Xerxes sent 7 men to get Vashti. Did he anticipate her reaction? Testing her? Belligerent (half-drunk)? Not thinking clearly?
At the pinnacle of a 6-month party, Vashti defies Xerxes. Very embarrassing.
Imagine Xerxes’ humiliation! Surrounded by his friends and observed by all the leaders of his kingdom, his wife committed great insubordination. What might have been forgiven behind closed doors had now been aired for all to see and carried profound political and social consequences.
Vashti’s conduct challenged all relationships of husbands and wives – Xerxes had to issue a law decreeing that all men are rulers of their home (God’s law says the same thing — Ephesians 5:23).
If Xerxes couldn’t rule his own home, then he could not rule his kingdom.
Xerxes request was humiliating for Vashti too. She was entertaining all the women at that time. Was she emboldened by the women around her?
Vashti was banished for not respecting her husband. It was announced to the entire known world why Vashti was deposed.
Rabbinic commentaries note that Vashti was a descendant of King Nebuchadnezzar and was infamous for lording her nobility over the people of the palace, including Xerxes.
Vashti: a hostess, looks out for women, strong, discerning, iron leader, beautiful, risk taker, bold, motivated by peers. Banished. Lifetime humiliation.
She was defiant: good reason? or busy at the time? or despised Xerxes? or filled with contempt and anger?
Had power to influence all women by her behavior.
An orphan daughter of the tribe of Benjamin, who had spent her life among the Jewish exiles in Persia. Stark contrast to Vashti’s background.
Imagine how intimidating it was for Esther to enter the palace environment after Vashti had been deposed.
Esther met Xerxes 4 years after Vashti had been deposed.
Esther 4:14: She had been placed in the position of queen for such a time as this (a pending holocaust)
Esther approaches Xerxes as queen; not as victim or appellant.
Esther outs herself as a Jew, confronts her enemy, breaks the law (capital offense), and protests Xerxes’ decree all in 2 days (wow!)
Esther’s crime was more egregious than Vashti’s: the penalty for Esther’s crime was commonly known, but Xerxes advisers had to scramble to explain why Vasthi’s act was a crime and how it should be punished.
Esther becomes increasingly quicker and less apologetic in asking Xerxes for things – history affects our relationships.
Xerxes offered Esther up to half his kingdom 5 times.
Esther is beautiful, lovely, and young.
Moredecai called Esther on the selfishness underlying her fear in asking Xerxes to spare the Jews. Esther recognized what Mordecai was saying, and she changed. She is a selfless, sacrificial person.
Esther was admired: for her natural beauty? for her self discipline?
A faithful woman.
Not coy — she tells Xerxes straight up that she will tell him what she is upset about at dinner the next night.
Esther is obedient to Mordecai – her adoptive father. She is respectful and submitted.
Refusal to be like others, and to act wisely earns Esther admiration, which comes in handy later.
Esther knew her place – she was humble, gentle, quiet. But bolder than Vashti. A different approach.
Ingratiates herself to her husband with dinners.
Esther sat in prayer and fasting with other believers for 3 days.
At the end of the book, the concluding paragraph focuses on Mordecai and Xerxes. It never even mentions Esther. Why? Because it was never about her. The reason Esther was successful in her appeal to Xerxes was because she was humble and selfless. She was motivated by her love and concern for others rather than for herself. Her story was never about her. [It’s ironic, then, that the book is titled “Esther.” Based on the concluding text, perhaps it should have been titled “Mordecai.”]
And now one of my favorite questions — so what? How do these observations — how does this story — affect you? What part jumped out at you? What do you need to do or change in response?
The point that sticks out to me is that it was never about her. And that she was selfless even in exerting great boldness and strength (she didn’t conduct herself passively or acquiescently). It’s important for me to remember that selflessness is not the same as acquiescence — sometimes I fall into that lie. Moreover, whenever I’m inclined to throw myself a pity party, I need to stop, take those thoughts captive, and instead don an Esther-like attitude.
The other thing I’m holding onto now is a promise to me from God from this text: “Kelly, you have been placed in this position for such a time as this.” This simple word is a life spring of strength, endurance, and encouragement for me. While it means that the work is hard (Esther was facing a pending holocaust), it also means that I am the Lord’s instrument for accomplishing the task, I will be successful if I am faithful, and I am here according to God’s plan. What more do I need than that promise?