Esther is a pretty difficult book to preach. It’s set in an obscure time in history; it doesn’t mention God; it’s largely narrative with little theological reflection; and the story takes a while to get going. And on top of that, its first chapter records some pretty negative treatment of women: Queen Vashti is to be paraded like a possession and her refusal to be part of that not only sees her deposed but gives cause for the men in the story to issue an edict to all the women in the kingdom.
Peter Adam tackled this passage in chapel today and among other things, he helped me to see that though the men in the story may be concerned with putting women in their place, that is not to their credit.
I’d always read the banquet, etc to be a sign of Xerxes’ wealth and power but Peter suggested that it’s actually a sign of the king’s inadequacy. People who actually are strong or respected don’t have to flaunt it; it’s the weak and the insecure who feel the need to sure up their status. Think tiny Lord Farquaad and his massive castle.
Xerxes is compensating for something with all this feasting! I’d always read Queen Vashti’s disobedience as an indictment on her but Peter suggested that she’s just treating him the way he deserves. Any man who needs a woman to bolster his image isn’t worth it.
This reading of Xerxes is totally supported by his own reaction to Vashti. His fury at the Queen and the ridiculous overreaction of making a kingdom wide edict just shows how insecure he is. His own behaviour betrays his insufficiency. This supposedly great king is a laughing stock. Women who are concerned that the Bible supports the subjection of women to less than worthy men need to know that this passage doesn’t encourage that. Rather, it caricatures it.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.