The banquet scene escalates as King Xerxes summons his wife, Vashti, into the hall so that he could show her off. Vashti refuses, and for good reason. This type of showing off was for concubines or prostitutes – not for women of honor, and certainly not for a queen.
Xerxes is infuriated. He gathers noblemen and lawmakers to decide what to do. The commentator, Frederic Bush, words it perfectly: “not knowing how to handle his recalcitrant wife, the king turns the affair into a matter of state.” Rather than respecting his wife enough to talk with her, he transforms an incident based on pride into a full-fledged crisis of the kingdom.
The king and his men decide to issue an edict, or an official order, that women must respect their husbands. Along with this, Vashti is banished from the king’s presence.
Why did all this have to happen, and how does it lead to the story of Esther? As we will see, Vashti’s role as queen needed to be fulfilled by someone. But aside from that, this scene plays the important role of setting the tone and temper for the rest of the story.
It’s important to understand the type of story Esther is. While most of our modern retellings characterize Esther as a drama, the truth is that Esther is much closer to what the ancient world called comedy.
When we think of comedy we think of silliness, laughter and satire. But there are also other elements present that we don’t always pay attention to like irony, reversal and exaggeration.
Esther is not a light, funny story; but it is an ironic one. The book of Esther wants us to realize how ridiculous the Persians are. It wants us to feel fear and anger when the bad guys are ahead, and hopeful that a reversal will make the world right again.
Esther is an emotional and complicated story that requires us not only to understand what is happening, but how it is being communicated.
This method of study can also help us become better Christians. When we take events at face value or react to circumstances without diving a little deeper, we usually miss what God may be trying to teach us.
Xerxes did not take the time to understand why his wife did not want to come. All he could think about was that she disrespected him when in fact, he was the one disrespecting her. In the same way, careful study of our lives will often lead to drastically different, and better, results.
Takeaway: As we observe what is happening in our lives, it’s important that we also learn to ask the why and how behind it.
Prayer: Lord, teach me to be a person of depth. Even though I will never understand everything, guide me to be patient and attentive in every situation.