He was half in the bag when it all began. His name was Xerxes, and he was the King of Persia. If we pull up a map here, we discover that Persia is located in this area making it modern day Iran. However, we are told that when this story happened Xerxes’ kingdom stretched from India, which is up here to Ethiopia, which is down here.
We are told that in the third year of his reign the King decided to hold a small party for some of his closest friends. Well, maybe it wasn’t a small party for some of his closest friends. Instead, it was a great big blow out for everybody who was anybody.
The celebration went for six months and was capped off by a week of revelry at the palace itself. It is indicative of what type of party it was by the line in the story that said Esther 1:8 By edict of the king, no limits were placed on the drinking, for the king had instructed all his palace officials to serve each man as much as he wanted.
While that may not mean much to us, you have to understand the culture. Under Persian law guests of the King could only drink when he drank, but for this gathering that restriction was lifted and people could drink as much as their little hearts desired.
Have you ever been to a gathering where the genders kind of divide and the guys end up in one part of the house and the girls end up in another part of the house? As a matter of fact, that happens at a lot of gatherings. Here it was a little more formal. We are told the King was entertaining the men and Queen Vashti was entertaining the women in another part of the palace.
And he was half in the bag when it all began. There are probably politer ways to say it, in the New Living Translation it says, “King Xerxes was in high spirits because of the wine”
.” In the New International version, it says, “When King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine” and the King James Version says, “the heart of the king was merry with wine.”
The truth was the guy was half in the bag. He was three sheets to the wind and polite words don’t disguise the fact that he was drunk. And had he not been drunk; it wouldn’t have happened.
Now here’s the time for personal opinion, If we took all the booze in Canada and dumped it into the ocean, the positive impact would far outweigh the negative impact. And if you missing the occasional glass of wine was the price that had to be paid to rid Canada of all the pain, heartbreak and suffering caused by misuse of alcohol then it would probably be a small price to pay.
But of course that’s just my own opinion. However, the book of Proverbs does say Proverbs 20:1 Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise.
It was Lady Nancy Astor who said “One reason I don’t drink is that I want to know when I am having a good time.”
This summer our series is called “A few of my Favourite Things”, and the staff will be preaching some of their favourite messages. This message was a part of the longest series I ever preached. It was called “People of the Book” and it stretched from September 2003 to September 2005. And during those two years I preached a message from every book of the bible.
This message came from the book of Esther, and it was preached in April 2004. It was one of those messages that ended up completely different from where I thought it would go when I started it. More about that later.
The book of Esther is the 17th book of the Bible. The Author is unknown, however, it is clear from the language and details through the book that whoever wrote it was a devout Jew. It was written in Persia somewhere between 460 and 350 BC. Esther became the queen in 479 B.C.
Why was it written? As a history to record the events that led to the establishment of the Jewish feast Purim. And to assure the Jews of God’s protection.
It was written during the time the Jews were in Exile. You will recall that Jerusalem fell to Babylon around 586 BC and the residents of Jerusalem were taken to Babylon as slaves and how 50 years later Babylon was conquered by Persia. And it was under the rule of the Persians that the Jews were allowed to return home.
Let’s pull up one of our maps again. Here is Israel and here is what was then known as Babylon and here is what then was known as Persia. Iran and Iraq. And here is where our story takes place in the citadel of Susa, which was a luxurious palace built as a winter residence by Darius when he was king.
Esther is a neat book to read, but it has caused all kinds of consternation through the years as well. More than a religious book, Esther has very secular themes. The name of God is never mentioned in the book, and neither are prayer nor corporate worship. It is the only Old Testament book that didn’t have fragments included in the Dead Sea Scrolls and it is never quoted in the New Testament.
Martin Luther, the father of the reformation and the resulting protestant church, disliked the book. He regarded it as too Judaistic and full of “heathen perverseness.” And he was probably right. But through God’s infinite wisdom it has been preserved as a part of our Bible and as such it has lessons that we can learn.
Now when I was getting ready to preach from this book, I was quite confident I was going to preach about Queen Esther and how she came to be queen, and how she was used in that position to save the Jewish people. It really is a great story. But as I was reading through the book, I was struck by the one who is normally forgotten in the story, and that is Queen Vashti, the first queen.
A little character background. Xerxes became king of Persia at the death of his father Darius the Great in 485 BC. Under Xerxes’ rule the Persian empire expanded until we are told that it stretched from India to Ethiopia. Remember our trusty map and how large of an area was under Persian control? That was pretty Impressive. Xerxes died in 465, assassinated probably upon order by one of his sons, Artaxerxes, who succeeded him. You may remember Art from the book of Nehemiah.
Vashti was not just the king’s wife; she was his queen. He had all kinds of wives but only one queen. And her name actually means “Beautiful Woman” in the Persian language. We are told that Vashti was born to Babylonian royalty. Her grandfather was Nebuchadnezzar, who had destroyed Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and drove the Jews into exile. Her father was Belshazzar, the last in a line of great Babylonian kings whose dramatic death is described in the Book of Daniel.
And the stage is set. There is this great party happening the guys are in one area of the palace and the girls are in the other and we read Esther 1:10–12 On the seventh day of the feast, when King Xerxes was in high spirits because of the wine, he told the seven eunuchs who attended him to bring Queen Vashti to him with the royal crown on her head. He wanted the nobles and all the other men to gaze on her beauty, for she was a very beautiful woman. But when they conveyed the king’s order to Queen Vashti, she refused to come. This made the king furious, and he burned with anger.
So, what’s up with that? The first thing we learn from our story is 1) It wasn’t Vashti’s Fault.
Vashti is doing what Vashti is supposed to be doing. The King is doing the king thing, entertaining the Lords and officials of his kingdom and the Queen is doing the Queen thing entertaining their wives.
At this point she hasn’t done anything for the King to call her to come, other than being beautiful, which was really outside of her control. You understand that, don’t you? Pretty people are pretty by chance. They didn’t have anything to do with it, it’s a genetic crap shoot. Well, at least it was back then.
Even today, it’s a reality. Did you ever watch “Extreme Makeover” back in the day? Not the one with the houses, the original one with the people. Three people would be chosen to receive the makeover of a lifetime which might include: plastic surgery, LASIK surgery, cosmetic dentistry, hair, makeup and fitness.
And what I discovered from the show is that they could make people less unattractive and sometimes kind of cute, but they didn’t make people beautiful.
It was Emily Dickinson who said “Beauty is not caused. It is.”
So, the King, half in the bag, says “You ought to see my Queen she is a knockout. Guys go get Vashti, put the crown on her head and trot her out here.”
There will be times in your life that you will be minding your own business and you be thrust into a situation over which you have little or no control. And that unfortunately is a part of life.
Bad stuff happens, even to good people. Life would be so much easier if it were fair. If cancer and accidents and tragedy only visited nasty evil people. But as Johnny Carson said “If life was fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.”
Sometimes things happen and we are to blame. You cheat on your spouse, and they leave you, you cheat your boss, and he fires you, you cheat the government, and you go to jail. You smoke like a chimney, and you get lung cancer. Don’t blame God or the tobacco companies for that matter. You drive too fast and get in an accident. You sleep around and get a STD, don’t blame God.
On the other hand, sometimes your spouse leaves, or you get fired or end up in jail and you didn’t do anything wrong. You get lung cancer and you never smoked. You were driving along listening to a praise and worship music when a drunk driver slammed into you. You’ve always been a faithful partner, but your spouse wasn’t and now you are HIV positive.
When JFK was president, he said “Life is unfair.” Just because bad things happen to you doesn’t make you a bad person.
2) Vashti Did the Right Thing So, here’s the question: Why did Vashti refuse to appear before the King and his pals? Here’s the short answer “We don’t know.” Here’s the long answer. Historically the Jewish Rabbis have taught that when Xerxes commanded Vashti to appear before the gathering wearing her crown, that all she was supposed to be wearing was her crown.
Now we don’t know that for sure, it’s pure speculation, but it would certainly explain why the queen refused to obey a relatively simple command. The King was drunk and demanded something that he would never have thought of had he been sober. He was ready to debase the woman he loved and show her off like a piece of livestock.
Now even if she wasn’t supposed to appear starkers, there was still a problem. In the book of Jewish Antiquities Historian Josephus wrote that strangers were not allowed to look at the beauty of Persian wives. And so many commentators see Vashti’s defiance as a modest and totally justifiable refusal to appear, even fully clad, before a group of drunken men. It just wasn’t right. And she wasn’t going to do it.
As a believer, there will be times in your life that you will be presented with choices that violate your Christian principles.
It might be something as simple as the movies you watch or the music you listen to. It might be more complex than that. Will you lie, cheat or steal? Will you betray your marriage vow, will you deny your God? Will you use language that you know is not glorifying to God just to fit in?
They are choices that you will have to make. Nobody else can make them for you. When you come to those places in your life, you will need to decide what is important to you.
If you are familiar with the Book of Judges, then you understand that the People of Israel were described in a couple of different ways at various times.
It was written that they did what was right in the eyes of the Lord or they did what was right in their own eyes. That is to say, they were either obedient or disobedient. Plain and simple. Integrity is an all-or-nothing proposition. As a Christian it means being obedient to God and you can’t be partly obedient, you either is or you isn’t. It’s kind of like being pregnant, you either is or you isn’t.
Integrity is what we do, what we say, and what we say we do. James 4:17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.
And although James didn’t say it, it is implied that it is a sin to know what you shouldn’t do and then still do it.
3) Vashti Paid the Price. Now in a perfect world Vashti would have been vindicated for her decision. People would have looked up to her and talked about what a virtuous woman she was.
But we don’t live in a perfect world. And sometimes people are punished for doing the right thing.
I wish I could tell you that if you always do the right thing, then you will always be rewarded. But I’m not going to stand up here and lie to you. As one person said, no good deed goes unpunished.
So, the King orders Vashti to appear before him and all his pals. She refuses, and he flips out. He calls his closest advisors, who were no doubt at the party, and explained the situation to them
This is their response, Esther 1:16–18 . . . “Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also every noble and citizen throughout your empire. Women everywhere will begin to despise their husbands when they learn that Queen Vashti has refused to appear before the king. Before this day is out, the wives of all the king’s nobles throughout Persia and Media will hear what the queen did and will start treating their husbands the same way. There will be no end to their contempt and anger.
You know, these guys had to have been drinking with the boss.
Really? “Before the day is out wives everywhere, throughout the empire, will hear about this.”
Remember the map? The empire stretched from India to Ethiopia. They had no email or telephones; they didn’t even have Canada Post. Must be what Seneca meant when he said “Drunkenness is nothing but voluntary madness”
In the end the Queen is banished from the King’s Presence and a new Queen was to be selected.
Kind of a footnote here, listen to the rest of the story Esther 1:21–22 The king and his nobles thought this made good sense, so he followed Memucan’s counsel. He sent letters to all parts of the empire, to each province in its own script and language, proclaiming that every man should be the ruler of his own home and should say whatever he pleases.
I love this statement from The Oxford Bible Commentary “The calm assertion of autonomy by Vashti results in royal rage and then a ridiculous royal decree — that all men should be master in their own homes — which adds a comic touch in that it could hardly be enforced, and indicates that men were not actually dominant in their households.”
My Grandfather used to say, “Never trust a man who says he’s the boss of his home, if he’ll lie about that, he’ll lie about anything.”
Think about it. You can almost understand the King getting a little upset over Vashti not doing what he wanted her to, even if it was wrong. And you can understand him removing her as queen if he was that upset. But to put into play the entire communication system of the Persian Empire for this purpose, that seems a little much. But drunken men aren’t known for their reasoning capacity.
Now, listen to what happens the next morning, Esther 2:1 But after Xerxes’ anger had subsided, he began thinking about Vashti and what she had done and the decree he had made.
I think the long and short of that was that the King sobered up and began to have regrets, but under Persian law, once a royal decree had been announced it couldn’t be changed.
4) God Used it For Good. It was because Vashti had been banished that a new queen was selected. Her name was Esther, and she was a Jewish girl, although the King didn’t know that at the time.
Actually, the entire procedure for selecting a new queen was kind of bizarre. I don’t have time to get into it this morning, but it was like the ultimate reality show. It could have been called To Make a Queen, or the Crown, or something. If you’ve never read the book of Esther, why not? Just kidding, mostly. When you get home, grab your bibles and read the story is only six pages long. Even if you’ve read it before, read it again.
Eventually a plot took shape within the kingdom to kill the Jews who lived in exile in Persia, and it was only through the influence that Esther had over the King that the tragedy was averted.
Did God have Vashti humiliated and banished so that Esther could become Queen? No, I don’t think so. Did God use those events? Yes, I do think so. That’s where Romans 8:28 comes in Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
I’m not sure that at any point in the story that God’s hand would have been seen until the final act was played out. But that doesn’t mean that God wasn’t at work.
In our lives, we sometimes can’t understand what’s is happening, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t at work. Have you ever watched someone working on a painting or a carving and you think “my, doesn’t look like much to me?” But when it’s finished, it’s beautiful. Sometimes our lives are like that, we see little pieces of it long before we see the entire thing.
Is it time for you to make a stand? To say “yes, I will” to some things and “no I won’t” to other things? To do the right thing and not the wrong thing even if you know you will have to pay the price? Let me close with the words of Carey Nieuwhof who recently wrote, “The high road isn’t the easy road, but it’s the best road. You simply never regret taking it.”