Hello, and welcome to the show today. We have been studying the book of Esther, last week talking about the rise of Xerxes and the war that he was engaged in with Greece, the next major world empire. And this helps us to understand this feast in our passage today in Esther chapter 1; how it was one that was meant to display Xerxes’ greatness and ability not just to rule well, but to be strong enough to lead his army into victory in this war against the Greeks. It says in verses 5-8…
Esther 1:5-8 (ESV)— 5 And when these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in Susa the citadel, ([Susa the citadel refers to the fortified palace complex.]) both great and small, a feast lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king's palace (Now this was [An enclosed courtyard for entertaining in the summer months (see 7:7).]). 6 There were white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and precious stones. 7 Drinks were served in golden vessels, vessels of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. 8 And drinking was according to this edict: “There is no compulsion.” For the king had given orders to all the staff of his palace to do as each man desired.
No Compulsion— Now what this “no compulsion” meant was that [King Ahasuerus set aside the custom that everyone had to drink whenever the king drank.] Guests could drink whenever they wanted; as much as they wanted. And in addition to drinking for fun and leisure, [The Greek historian Herodotus explained that the Persians drank as they deliberated matters of state (cf. 3:15 ), believing that intoxication put them in closer touch with the spiritual world.] And so you have this prolonged, drunken, pervasively worldly and pagan feast going on in Susa. And on top of this feast, you also have another feast for the women. It says in verse 9…
Esther 1:9 (ESV)— 9 Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women in the palace that belonged to King Ahasuerus.
A book of feasts— So you have feast after feast. And in fact the book of Esther is filled with feasts. [The word mishteh, “banquet, feast(ing),” occurs fifty-five times in the Old Testament, twenty of which are in Esther,] [In fact, there are nine of them (or ten if one splits the ninth into two feasts)] [seven of Esther’s ten chapters refer to somebody throwing a party.] In fact the purpose of the whole book of Esther is to show how one major feast Jews celebrate even to today came into being; the feast of Purim. And we’ll talk more about that in upcoming weeks. But for now, keep this feast theme in the back of your mind.
Esther 1:10-11 (ESV)— Queen Vashti's Refusal— 10 On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, 11 to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown,[b] in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at.
Ahasuerus Objectifies Vashti-- Now imagine this. Your husband invites you to come out in front of a bunch of his guests (who are slobbering drunk, by the way) so they can stare at you and see what a trophy your husband has. Yet what gets me is here King Ahasuerus is inviting his men to lust after his wife and devour her with their drunken eyes. Now what is disgusting to me (and should be disgusting to you too) is that he is treating her like an object; he is objectifying her. And he’s inviting all his friends to do the same. And to engage in this kind of behavior is absolutely wrong. Remember Jesus says in Matthew 5 (in the Sermon on the Mount)…
Matthew 5:27-28 (ESV)— 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Anything that objectifies a woman is wrong; when you use a woman for your own selfish pleasure (degrading her), you are in sin. Jesus doesn’t want us to have any part of that. And guess what; Queen Vashti doesn’t want any part of that either. Verse 12 says…
Esther 1:12a (ESV)— 12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command delivered by the eunuchs.
Why Vashti Refuses-- Now we are not told why Vashti refuses to come. Some have suggested that perhaps she refused because lewd behavior was expected. Some have suggested that the command for her to wear her crown was really a command to come wearing only her crown. And that might be the case. However, it is interesting to note that, from what we know from history, she actually is seen to give birth to Ahasuerus’ third son, Artaxerxes in c. 483 B.C. So it is very possible that she is pregnant during this time.
Pregnancy and Culture-- Now in our culture we have made pregnancy a very public thing. But in ancient culture you would often go into seclusion. It was an embarrassing, sometimes shameful thing to be seen when you were pregnant. And it is possible that this is why Vashti is so resistant. And even the fact that he tells her to do this shows a lack of care for her. He is very much focused on himself; and therefore when he hears about Vashti’s refusal, the text says…
Esther 1:12b (ESV)— Queen Vashti's Refusal— At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him.
The Anger of Ahasuerus— Now one thing you are going to see (not only here, but throughout this book) is that Ahasuerus has a very hot and violent temper. And if you know anyone who is prone to anger, you will know that they are in bondage to that anger. It controls them. In fact, a year after this, when Ahasuerus eventually marches against Greece, he has to cross the Hellespont, a narrow body of water that lies between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. So he orders bridges to be built. And so they were built. But before his troops could use them, a storm destroys them. And Ahasuerus is so enraged, he gathers all the engineers together who designed the bridges and has them beheaded. Then he turns in his rage to the water that had swallowed his bridges. History tells us he sent some of his soldiers into water with whips, telling them to lash the water 300 times as punishment for swallowing his bridges. So they lash the waves with those whips 300 times. Then he has his soldiers throw shackles into the water to bind the water and even has them take red-hot irons and stab the waves with them. Now imagine having a ruler like that. Or even worse, imagine having a husband like that! Some of you may have grown up in a home where you saw that kind of anger often; maybe on an even daily basis. I have counseled people who have been in those kinds of situations. And let me tell you, Jesus doesn’t want there to be any room for this kind of anger in our lives…
Colossians 3:8a (NIV)— 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice,…
Don’t Be Slaves to Anger-- Jesus doesn’t want anger to control our lives. Anger destroys relationships and it ultimately destroys ourselves. And someone who has rage as a part of their life is a slave to that anger. There is righteous anger that moves us to act in accordance with God’s will and then there is selfish anger and rage that is destructive rather than constructive. And it is that kind of anger that is sin. And we see that Ahasuerus (at least at this point in his life) is a slave to his anger. Now it says in…
Esther 1:13-22 (ESV)— 13 Then the king said to the wise men who knew the times (for this was the king's procedure toward all who were versed in law and judgment, 14 the men next to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who saw the king's face, and sat first in the kingdom): 15 “According to the law, what is to be done to Queen Vashti, because she has not performed the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?” 16 Then Memucan said in the presence of the king and the officials, “Not only against the king has Queen Vashti done wrong, but also against all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 17 For the queen's behavior will be made known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ 18 This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen's behavior will say the same to all the king's officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty. [You see, they are afraid that Vashti’s disobedience will spark a women’s liberation movement. So they say…] 19 If it please the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus. And let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. 20 So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, for it is vast, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.” 21 This advice pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed. 22 He sent letters to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, that every man be master in his own household and speak according to the language of his people.
Vashti De-Throned-- Now here Ahasuerus is told not just to command that Vashti be de-throned, but that he do it in such a way so as to make it impossible for anyone (including himself) to repeal that command. And so he does. He de-thrones her for her disobedience. He is so concerned about how she made him look that he never stopped to consider how he made her look. But you know what?; I think Ahasuerus regretted his mistake. Why? Because it says in…
Esther 2:1 (ESV)-- 1 After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her.
He regrets his actions-- You see, he regrets his actions. And ultimately that is where anger leads us; regret. He drives his wife away. And when he comes to his senses, it is too late. And what bothers me about this situation is that their relationship could have been restored in the first place if only he had been willing to acknowledge he had made a mistake and sought to treat his wife more fairly. But he doesn’t. Instead he does what is in his own self-interest and what is in the interest of those around him; not what is in the best interest of his wife.
He treats Esther differently-- But you know, I think he may have had a change of heart after this. And the reason I tend to think this way is because we see in and throughout this story that he treats Esther differently. There is no evidence that he objectified her in the same way he did Vashti. And when she appears to model the same kind of defiance when she later approaches the king uninvited, he shows mercy where he could have shown anger. I think her marriage to him may have affected his demeanor in a positive way. There was something special about Esther. And next week we will begin to explore what that was.
But there are some key lessons we can learn from Ahasuerus. This book opens up with a sense of lostness and brokenness; lostness and brokenness that is the natural result of pride and anger. Ahasuerus sent into exile the very person he cared about. And maybe sin in your life has cost you something. Maybe it is already hurting your marriage or your relationships. It might be anger; it might be lust; maybe it’s putting your own needs ahead of someone else’s. Jesus wants us to be willing to surrender our pride; to admit when we are wrong; and to help us to treat those we claim to love lovingly; even as He first loved us. Let us commit to do so. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.