Because this is a small book packed with so much for women, I’m going to take it slowly and try to keep the length of each post reasonable. That means doing just chapter one today. Here is the link to the chapter if you’ve never read it: Esther 1
Despite that this book is named after her, Esther is not in its first chapter.
Instead, we begin with the king of Persia and his first queen, Vashti, and a huge huge party of epic proportions. The drunken king summons his wife to be looked at for all her beauty by all the people he was partying with. This king may have been Xerxes I or Artaxerxes I, there seems to be some debate, I’ll give you the Wikipedia page for clarification. I’ll just keep calling him the king.
So, first question, why is the king throwing a party and the queen not there in the first place?
She was hosting a separate party for the women in a separate part of the palace while he was entertaining the men. I don’t know why their parties were segregated based on gender, but they apparently were.
Okay, so we know why she had to be summoned and where she was. She was hosting another party and then told to come show off her beauty for his guests. Again, I don’t know why they were segregated but I’m going to guess that if it was for a reason, maybe she wasn’t supposed to be over there. Even if it’s okay, how is a host going to disappear from her own party? There’s also some mention that this may have been a request to show up naked.
She refuses to come see him in his party and he gets very upset. Sure, I get why he was unhappy about it. I don’t like it when I ask my significant other to do something simple that he just outright refuses to do first, BUT
The overreaction is way over on the ridiculous side. I mean, I get what they are doing here, but let me not get ahead of myself. She refuses the eunuch who was sent to retrieve her. There isn’t anything about what exactly was said, and I think most women know that there’s a difference between what they say and what their husband’s hear. Yes, it goes the other way too but we’re talking about Vashti.
To me, it’s not outside the realm of possibility for her to point out that it wouldn’t be decent for her to go into that segregated room because of whatever reason it was segregated for in the first place or that it wouldn’t be right to leave the party that she is hosting. I also saw something about how women aren’t supposed to be in the presence of drunken men and she would certainly not want to make the misstep of being in a room of drunken men if that were the case. Her Wikipedia page is linked above and includes the sentiment that wives were not to be looked upon by other men, which would make his request inappropriate and her refusal the right thing to do, and there being a grievous repercussion possible for following her husband’s order that she knew about and thought she was doing the right thing.
We are given no reason at any point of why she refuses to leave her party and show off her great beauty to the king.
For this, she is severely punished the next day as the king’s advisers remember what a role model the title of queen makes a woman and realize that her behavior may influence that of the other women in the kingdom. Here’s the exact text:
“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. For the queen’s behavior will be made known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt,c since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ 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. 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. 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.”
So, yeah, they go on about exercising their patriarchal control over the lives of all women in the kingdom and deciding how all households should run and make an example of one who dared to not come when bidden even if she may have had a perfectly good reason.
Vashti doesn’t even get a mockery of a trial, let alone an actual one. At no point is it discussed why she didn’t come show herself off for the king and his people. She is silenced about as completely as one can be.
Except she left this legacy for women to find later. She left a historical record that it is not simply that women are a problem but that we can be asked to do dumb things and receive a ridiculously overdone repercussion. I mean, banishment? Divorce? For saying “no” one time to a husband in a group of men? Surely there were more proportional and reasonable repercussions in even a patriarchal society. This is ludicrous.
She also left us an easy example of the lengths that men of the past have gone to subjugate, oppress, subordinate, and silence all women.
The suggested decree goes out and we don’t quite get the rest of Vashti’s story. We don’t know what became of her, only that she was to lose her position as queen and to never be brought in front of the king again. It doesn’t even mention what that entails. Is she sent to the harem and just never seen again or is she sent outside the empire or city?
I also want to take a moment to note this is in the Persian kingdom, the Persian King and Queen who was also likely a Persian. I ask you to remember this because it all sets the stage of things to go on with the Jews but that it should at no point be considered a reflection of the culture or religion of the Jews or Israelites during this or any time. It is simply backstory for why Esther is brought to the palace in the next chapter.