Carousing in the Palace
The first chapter of Esther is introductory and sets the stage for Mordecai’s great work of delivering the Jews from a bloody massacre planned by a high Persian official. This chapter tells of the carousing which occurred in the royal Persian palace in Shushan which resulted in the dethronement of the Persian queen. This dethronement opened the door for Esther, Mordecai’s cousin, to become queen; and that provided the circumstances for Mordecai’s great work of saving his fellow Jews.
Carousing was a problem in the Persian government as it is in most governments. This first chapter of Esther shows a really bad case of this drunken reveling, and later we will see it again in several other chapters of Esther. That drinking was a large part of the scene here is evident in "royal wine in abundance" (v. 7) and "the heart of the king was merry [drunk] with wine" (v. 10). Also, while the meaning of Hebrew word translated "feast" (Esther 1:3,5,9) here does not necessarily indicate carousing, it does involve drinking; for the word means "a feast [and] drinking" (Wilson). This word appears twenty times in Esther where it is translated "feast," "feasting," and "banquet." The context determines the character and extent of the "feast."
This introductory chapter of the book of Esther not only shows the great depravity of man (in the carousing), but it also shows how God began working to counteract the opposition to His people even before that opposition began. Thus it shows the omniscience of God Who knows all things even before they happen, and it also shows the omnipotence of God Who so controls matters that He can make even "the wrath of man" to praise Him (Psalm 76:10). Though "the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed . . . [yet] He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh" (Psalm 2:2,4). No one outmaneuvers God.
To study this account of the carousing in the royal Persian palace which set the stage for Mordecai’s great deliverance of the Jewish people, we will consider the promoter of the carousing (vv. 1, 2), the place of the carousing (v. 2), the purpose of the carousing (vv. 3, 4), the profligacy in the carousing (vv. 5–10), and the provocation from the carousing (vv. 10–22).
A. THE PROMOTER OF THE CAROUSING
Ahasuerus the king of Persia was the promoter of all the carousing in the palace in Shushan that is recorded in this first chapter of Esther. This king was the king who was very involved in Mordecai’s life. He would eventually appoint Mordecai to a very high position in the Persian government, would owe his life to Mordecai, would marry Mordecai’s cousin Esther and make her queen of Persia, and would play an important roll in helping Mordecai preserve the Jews from the evil attack upon them. To help understand better Ahasuerus’ part in the story of Mordecai as recorded in the book of Esther, we will look at his dynasty, dominion, dynamic, depravity, and duration.
1. His Dynasty
"This is [the] Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia" (v. 1). Ahasuerus is known in history as Xerxes (Ahasuerus is the Hebrew rendering of the Greek Xerxes). He was a member of a very famous and powerful dynasty which was begun by his grandfather Cyrus. This dynasty ruled Persia during the two centuries of its power and glory before Greece, under its famous leader Alexander the Great, overthrew it. Of particular interest and importance to us and the Bible is the fact that this dynasty of which Ahasuerus was a member was in a special way tied in with Jewish prophecy and the protection and well-being of the Jewish people. Cyrus, the first king of this dynasty, was mentioned by name in prophecy by Isaiah (Isaiah 44:28, 45:1,13) a century or so before Cyrus was even born. Isaiah prophesied about "Cyrus . . . saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid" (Isaiah 44:28). Jeremiah also prophesied of this work of Cyrus regarding the return of the Jews from captivity to Jerusalem though, unlike Isaiah, he did not mention Cyrus by name (Jeremiah 25:12; 29:10; cp. 2 Chronicles 36:22,23; Ezra 1:1–4). Darius I, the father of Ahasuerus, was the man of this dynasty who led the Persian armies that conquered Babylon the night Belshazzar held the profane banquet (Daniel 5). As a result of conquering Babylon, Darius I became acquainted with godly Daniel. He appointed Daniel to high office in the government and was involved in Daniel’s stay in the lions’ den (Daniel 6). Ahasuerus was the third king of this dynasty to be very involved with the Jews as we will see in our study of the life of Mordecai. And Artaxerxes I, the son of Ahasuerus, was another member of this famous dynasty who was very involved with the Jews. Artaxerxes I was the king of Persia who had Nehemiah as his cupbearer and who appointed Nehemiah governor of Judah and gave him the authority to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. So Mordecai’s involvement with Ahasuerus was an involvement with a very famous and powerful dynasty which had much to do with the preservation of the Jews.
2. His Dominion
"Ahasuerus . . . reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces" (v. 1). The dominion of this crown covered a large area and many nations. Ahasuerus’ father (Darius I) and Ahasuerus himself both tried to add Greece to their dominion, but both failed. However, even without Greece this dominion was very great. It was divided into 127 provinces (of which Judah was one). The rulers of these 127 provinces comprised a prominent part of the crowd of carousers spoken of in this first chapter of Esther. Unfortunately, though Ahasuerus had rule over 127 provinces, he did not have rule over his passions. Instead, as we will note later, his passions controlled him. But as with most rulers, he was more interested and impressed with ruling people than his passions. Scripture, however, says, "He that ruleth his spirit [is better] than he that taketh a city [or ruleth a city]" (Proverbs 16:32). The dominion of Ahasuerus’ crown included hundreds of cities, but sadly it did not include his character.
3. His Dynamic
Here we note the great power of King Ahasuerus. He inherited a crown that had many years earlier conquered the powerful Babylonian empire. Persia continued to be a mighty force for several centuries. But though Ahasuerus inherited a powerful dynasty when he became king, the erosion of the power of the dynasty was evident during his reign as king. Secular history informs us that in the early days of his reign Ahasuerus did gain some glory in quelling uprisings in Egypt and Babylon, but this glory was short-lived, for it was followed by Ahasuerus’ stunning defeat at the hand of Greece a few years later when he fought against them to avenge the defeat they had inflicted on his father Darius I. Ahasuerus flush from victory over the Egyptians and Babylonians went against Greece in 480 b.c. even though he was advised by some not to war against Greece. The loss to Greece by both his father and himself showed the weakening of the Persian empire that one day would be conquered by Greece under Alexander the Great.
4. His Depravity
Ahasuerus, as noted already, was very depraved in his conduct. We note here four areas of his depravity which are seen in this first chapter of Esther and also throughout the book of Esther. They concern adultery, alcohol, anger, and arrogance.
Adultery. Ahasuerus could not control his passions in regard to women. Even Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, speaks about Ahasuerus’ sensualness. Ahasuerus had a large harem and kept adding to it. His relationship with Esther was adulterous though people in his day would not think so. But ditching your wife and taking another is adultery! God says so. While Esther would face pressure, she is not without guilt. She could have refused. Vashti did! So did Joseph! We do not like to think of Esther in such an evil relationship, but facts are facts.
Alcohol. Ahasuerus had trouble with wine. He liked to drink (Esther 3:15) and he drank too much. As we will see later, it was "when the heart of the king was merry with wine [translate that drunk with wine]" (v. 10) that he made the immoral demand of his wife Queen Vashti to parade her beauty in front of a great crowd of drinking, lusting men. His fondness for wine will also be seen in the disclosure that royal wine was in abundance (v. 7) at the royal palace and that Ahasuerus encouraged others to drink all they wanted to drink (v. 8).
Anger. The fury of Ahasuerus could become very great very quickly when things did not go his way. This was evident in his wrathful reaction to the refusal of Vashti to obey his order to parade herself in front of the drunken men (v. 12). It was also evident when, as secular history reports, Ahasuerus in his uncontrollable anger "put to death the engineers of his bridge because their work was injured by a storm" (Thomson). As we noted just earlier, though Ahasuerus ruled a multitude of people and provinces, he had no rule over his passions. In terms of character, this made him a great failure in God’s sight. Holding a high ranking office in the world does not do anything to make you great with God, but ruling your passions does.
Arrogance. Ahasuerus was a very proud man. As we study our text, we will see that pride was in the carousing; for it was done to show off his great wealth (v. 4); and pride was evident in his desire to show off the beauty of his wife Vashti before the drunken crowd of officials (v. 11). Some inscriptions found by archeologists give more evidence of Ahasuerus’ pride in that some of these inscriptions say Ahasuerus referred to himself by such titles of great pride as "the great King" and "the King of kings." Secular history indicates that pride was a big factor in his defeat by Greece. "Ostentation was a main feature in the character of Xerxes. The huge army with which he invaded Greece was more for display than for service. Vain parade is apparent at every step of his expedition" (Rawlinson from Herodotus). Ahasuerus did what so many high rulers and officials do, in pride he often used his office to promote himself rather than help the people over whom he ruled.
5. His Duration
Ahasuerus came to the throne around 486 b.c. and reigned for some 21 years till 465 b.c. In the book of Esther which records the story of Mordecai, three different time references are made to Ahasuerus’ reign as king. They are the "third year" (Esther 1:3), "the seventh year" (Esther 2:16), "the twelfth year" (Esther 3:7). We have to go to secular history to find out how his crown ended. Secular history states it ended when he was assassinated in 465 b.c. by an high official named Artabanus who after the assassination placed Ahasuerus’ son Artaxerxes I (the Persian king of Nehemiah’s day) on the throne. Ahasuerus’ life almost came to a bloody end many years earlier, but Mordecai exposed the assassination plot and saved the king’s life. One can understand why assassination attempts would be plotted against Ahasuerus, for his great selfishness and arrogance would alienate him from many of those around him.
B. THE PLACE OF THE CAROUSING
"When the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the palace . . . he made a feast . . . in the court of the garden of the king’s palace" (Esther 2,3,5). Here we note some particulars about the city of Shushan and the castle (palace) in Shushan where all the carousing which is recorded in chapter one of the book of Esther took place.
1. The City
The city of Shushan (better known in secular history as Susa) where the royal palace was located "is one of the most ancient cities in the world . . . [and] was principle residence of the Persian court" (Rawlinson). The city "had a beautiful situation surrounded by high mountains, traversed by streams and abounding in luxurious vegetation" (Gaebelein). It was also one of the world’s most significant cities at the time of Mordecai. It was located 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf, 250 miles east of ancient Babylon (which Persia conquered around 539 b.c.), and 275 miles southeast of modern Baghdad of Iraq. Some think that Shushan was only the winter residence of the king of Persia because it was very hot there during the summer. But whatever the temperature, it was a famous city in its day. Today, however, it is mostly covered by sand mounds which is a testimony to the vanity of worldly fame and importance. God buries both.
2. The Castle
The castle of Shushan in the city of Shushan was a very famous structure of antiquity. Some of its ruins are visible today thanks to the work of archeologists. This palace was built by King Darius I, the father of Ahasuerus. It was a huge building, a colossal castle (it can also be called a fortress or citadel, for in ancient times such palaces were always fortified), which had a great central hall that is reported to be nearly 350 feet long and about 250 feet wide—making it longer than a football field and nearly twice as wide. At this great and famous palace of antiquity, many significant events recorded in the book of Esther took place besides the carousing. Also other significant Biblical events took place here such as Daniel’s vision in which he saw the ram with two horns (Daniel 8:2) and some events in the book of Nehemiah. The great leader Nehemiah worked in this palace before he became governor of Judah and moved to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Though this castle was one of splendor and magnificence and in it some very notable and honorable events occurred, it was also the scene of much iniquity—the carousing that took place there in the early years of the reign of Ahasuerus which is described here in the first chapter of Esther is an example of that fact. And this vile carousing debunks the idea that the better the earthly environment, the better man will behave. The Persian king lived in great luxury, yet he instigated and provided for the great carousing in the palace. "He had everything that heart could wish . . . yet his life was marked by dissipation and debauchery of an extreme degree" (Joseph Parker). Philosophers and politicians today are so enamored with the vain idea that poverty produces poor behavior and prosperity produces good behavior. But "we must beware of the sophism in both sides of a [this] very popular argument, namely, that if men had enough they would be good, and because men have not enough what can they be but bad. Character is not in circumstances . . . There are kings who are paupers; there are paupers who are kings" (Ibid.). Welfare people are welfare people because they have a welfare heart. Give welfare people money and put them in a luxurious house and they will quickly make it a skid row house because they have skid row characters. Ahasuerus’ corrupt character made the palace in Shushan a drunken bar room. Poverty hurts character far less than prosperity, but the wiseacres of our day have not caught on to this vital truth yet; so they plunder blindly and futilely into more government handout programs paid for by taxes of the hard working, non-welfare people.
C. THE PURPOSE OF THE CAROUSING
There were at least two significant purposes for all carousing in the palace at Shushan. They are the expedition against Greece and the exhibition of riches. The first purpose we learn from secular history; the second purpose we learn from the Scripture text for this chapter of our book.
1. The Expedition Against Greece
One of the main purposes for assembling all the government officials in Shushan and entertaining them with a great feast at this time "seems to have been . . . to advise upon the projected expedition against Greece" (Rawlinson). Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, mentions in his seventh book a great gathering of officials in Shushan in the year 483 b.c. to consider the war against Greece. This time corresponds to the time given in Scripture for the feast recorded in this first chapter of Esther. There is no good reason for making the gathering Herodotus refers to a separate meeting from the one reported in the first chapter of Esther. The proposed campaign against Greece was in need of much support from the rulers of the provinces of Persia, for it was not a popular one (as an example, Artabanus, an uncle of Ahasuerus, had strongly advised against the campaign—Greece had soundly defeated the Persians at Marathon in 490 b.c. when Darius I, Ahasuerus’ father attacked them, and Darius had died several years later when preparing to return to Greece to get revenge for the loss). To help gain the support of the rulers of the various provinces, Ahasuerus wined and dined these officials with much feasting to break down any resistance they had to his wishes. "Regal hospitality may mask the designs of wicked ambition. Xerxes had a purpose in bringing his lords and satraps to Susa; he was contemplating a military expedition in which myriads should be slain, and the complete success of which could only issue in his own aggrandizement and glory. Let the people beware of the selfish and sanguinary schemes of the great of this world" (Thomson). A typical tactic of evil is to use prosperity, luxury, and especially wine to soften one up to doing evil as Ahasuerus did here, hence the justification for the warning of such entertainment. A similar warning is found in Proverbs which says, "When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee; and put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties; for they are deceitful meat" (Proverbs 23:1–3). Beware of the sumptuous entertainment of this world.
2. The Exhibition of Riches
"When he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honor of his excellent majesty many days, even an hundred and fourscore days" (v. 4). Earlier we noted that one of the character problems of Ahasuerus was his pride. Our text here makes it plain that all of this expensive banqueting ordered by Ahasuerus was great evidence of his pride, for he used the expensive entertainment (which led to all the carousing) not only to seduce the officials into supporting his war plans against Greece but also to show off his wealth and honor and power. He is like most wealthy people who like to show off their wealth in an ostentatious show of such things as expensive cars, clothes, and houses. He is like those in the military who love to wear their dress uniform with all the ribbons and medals and other decorations and strut in view of as many people as possible. He is also like those who must constantly brag of all their achievements and glory. He is like those who use their power not for the good of others but for the glory of themselves. They give orders not for wise and practical reasons but simply to show that they have power to give orders.
D. THE PROFLIGACY IN THE CAROUSING
Here we note some details of the carousing in the palace in Shushan which especially emphasizes the profligacy of it. These details include the duration for the carousing, the decor at the carousing, and the drinking of the carousing.
1. The Duration
The carousing reported in the first chapter of Esther consumed a total of 187 days. There was the first "hundred and fourscore days" (v. 4) of carousing after which there was an added "seven days" (v. 5) of carousing. In this added seven days of carousing, the invitation for the carousing was extended to "all the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both unto the great and small" (Ibid.). Some think there were two different banquets in the first chapter of Esther—the 180 days’ banquet then the seven days’ banquet. However, others believe the seven days were simply added to the 180 days as a climax to the half year of carousing. Whither it was two banquets or one does not make any difference in regard to manifesting the profligacy of the carousing here. Either way the duration was evidence of profligacy. Anybody who carouses for this length of time is very profligate when it comes to the appetites of the flesh. The more people give themselves to banquetings and partying, the worse their character is and becomes. The more that government officials engage in these vile things, the worse in character governments are and become (witness the downfall of Babylon reported in Daniel 5 which came after an orgy of banqueting). The same is true in churches though few seem to discern this truth. When a church features more and more church suppers, you can put it down that it is a church that is declining spiritually. The shift in emphasis from spiritual food (preaching and teaching the Word of God) to physical food (church suppers and parties) in the church is often subtle, but it is very revealing about the spiritual character of the church. Many church members like Ahasuerus are more interested in the physical appetite than the spiritual appetite. Ahasuerus loved to party. He loved to indulge in the appetites of the flesh. Hence, the extremely long time of banqueting which emphasized the great profligacy of the carousing and of Ahasuerus himself.
2. The Decor
Extravagant decorations which showed the profligacy of this carousing were especially seen during the last week of the carousing. The decorations "in the court of the garden of the king’s palace" (v. 5) for that last week are described as "white, green, and blue, hangings [awnings], fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble; the beds [couches upon which people sat or reclined to drink] were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black marble" (v. 6). Added to the extravagance of the decorations were expensive drinking vessels. "And they gave them drink in vessels of gold, (the vessels being diverse one from another)" (v. 7). Ahasuerus withheld no expense for this carousing. "Doubtless there was poverty and wretchedness and suffering enough in his vast dominions, and to have used his abundant resources to alleviate these evils would have reflected immortal glory upon his name; but he preferred to squander his substance in riotous revelry, a proceeding which must soon have necessitated the levying of fresh imposts [taxes], in order to replenish his impoverished exchequer" (Rowlands). Typical of governments in every age, people can be suffering throughout the nation, but government officials will spend lavishly for banquetings and parties in order to indulge in physical appetites and to impress those who attend the licentious affairs.
3. The Drinking
"They gave them drink . . . and the drinking was according to law; none did compel; for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man’s pleasure" (vv. 7, 8). The profligacy of the carousing is most evident in the drinking. We note this in the plentifulness of the drink, the precept about the drinking, and the permissiveness in drinking.
The plentifulness of the drink. At the seven day finale of all the carousing, it is particularly stated that there was "royal wine in abundance" (v. 7). This wine would be in abundance throughout the entire time of carousing, too. There were some shortages in the palace at Shushan, but they were in the area of character. Wine was not in shortage. Booze seems never to be in shortage in the dwellings of high government officials—which helps us better understand why so many governments make such a mess of things in the world. It is to the eternal condemnation of officials in high places that they see to it that their wine cellars and beer kegs are always full even if legitimate needs are lacking. Often during wars, high ranking officers will go to great trouble to make sure they have plenty of liquor, whisky, and wine in their personal quarters while the troops under their command may lack adequate ammunition, food, clothes, and medical supplies. The priorities of these officers are corrupt because their character is corrupt. The plentifulness of the booze reveals bad character at any time, but during a time of scarcity of good things it reveals an even greater deficiency in character. This is not only seen in high officials, but it is the case with welfare people, too. Though these folk lack adequate clothes, food, furniture, and transportation, they will always have plenty of booze. Their children may be in rags, but these welfare parents will still have their refrigerators stocked full of beer.
The precept about the drinking. "The drinking was according to the law; none did compel; for so the king had appointed to all the officers" (v. 8). The precept given here about the drinking was a crafty precept and a condemning precept.
First, a crafty precept. Do not be deceived by this "none did compel" precept and think kindly of Ahasuerus for it. The precept does not compliment anyone. It comes from a hypocritical heart just as do the slogans and advice of caution given by beer companies and sellers of intoxicating beverages. With a show of piety they warn folk not to drink and drive and to have a designated driver at their parties. That warning is not one of character, however; for it does not condemn drinking. It sounds pious and many folk think nicely of those who make these statements. But it is only subtle whitewash to cover up the vile character of the makers and sellers of the cursed drink. If these people had any decent character they would warn you to never drink whether you drive or not. They would warn you that if you want a good marriage and a good character, and want to use your money wisely, then you should never drink! Just telling you not to drink if you drive is a sham. That is not the only situation in which you ought not to drink! Not compelling others to drink was not a statement of merit here but a subtle sanction of drinking disguised in pious talk to make Ahasuerus look like a lot better man than he really was.
Second, a condemning precept. The fact that king had to make this law is certainly condemning. The precept would not have been necessary if it were not for the fact that many folk try to compel others to behave wickedly. Evil is aggressive and endeavors to force people to sin. Evil wants to make sinning mandatory! Through custom and tradition and even legislation, evil people make acts of sin so compelling to do that if you refuse to do these evils you will be considered ungrateful, discourteous, and rude. If you turn down a social drink or a toast at some dinner or celebration, you will be considered very rude and unkind. And today if you condemn homosexual behavior, you are considered very evil by society. How the devil likes to mess up our sense of right and wrong.
The permissiveness in the drinking. Ahasuerus also ordered that the drinking be "according to every man’s pleasure" (v. 8). His statement here is like the saying in our day which says, "If it feels good do it." Thus Ahasuerus encouraged the people to drink as much as they wanted to drink. It was a terrible encouragement. There were no restrictions whatever about how much one could drink at this party in the king’s palace. This certainly shows the utter profligacy of the carousing in the palace at Shushan. Ahasuerus was certainly no hindrance to doing evil here. Neither are governments who make it legal to drink, to manufacture booze, to gamble, and to abort babies. They may put artificial restrictions around these activities like Ahasuerus did when he said one could not be compelled to drink; but the toleration of evil, yea the encouragement of evil, abounds in government circles. The government will restrict the observance of religion, but they are very permissive when it comes to doing evil. But so are most people. How very tolerant people are of sin, but how quick they are to complain and protest about any extra spiritual emphasis.
E. THE PROVOCATION FROM THE CAROUSING
All of this carousing in the palace in Shushan ended in a very bitter way. It ended with King Ahasuerus being very provoked with his wife Queen Vashti. He was "very wroth, and his anger burned in him" (v. 12) about Vashti. For Ahasuerus this provocation had to be a very embarrassing end to the half year of carousing with the officials of his kingdom. But wisdom knows it was certainly not a surprising end. After you spend as much time carousing as Ahasuerus did, the end of it all will never be honorable and pretty. It will be shameful and ugly instead.
To further examine this provocation which came at the end of the carousing, we will note the cause of the provocation and the counsel about the provocation. This provocation climaxes Esther 1, the introductory chapter in the Bible of Mordecai’s story; and this provocation was the providence that especially opened the way for Mordecai to come on the stage and do his great work of delivering the Jews from a vicious attack.
1. The Cause of the Provocation
The cause of the provocation was at least threefold. The three factors which helped bring about the provocation were the drinking of Ahasuerus, the demand by Ahasuerus, and the denial for Ahasuerus. The cause of the provocation was more than just the refusal by Queen Vashti to obey Ahasuerus’ order to show off her beauty before the drunken, lusting men at his feast. That was part of the cause, but not all the cause as we will see in studying the other two factors which also played a major role in causing the provocation.
The drinking of Ahasuerus. "On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded . . . the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to show the people and the princes her beauty; for she was fair [beautiful] to look on" (vv. 10, 11). That which started the situation that resulted in the great provocation at the end of the carousing was the drunkenness of Ahasuerus, for it was when he was "merry with wine" (which means when he was drunk) that he ordered Vashti to do the vile deed of showing off her beauty to some drunken men. Drink caused Ahasuerus to grossly mistreat his wife. Oh, how many wives have been mistreated and abused because of booze. It is an age-old problem.
Drink not only causes husbands to mistreat their wives, but it is also an instigator of a multitude of other evils. "When a man’s heart is merry with wine, all that is most sacred in humanity goes out of him" (Parker). One does not have to read far in the Bible before he learns that drink causes problems, for early in the Bible we are told of Noah’s drunken behavior which led to his son Ham behaving improperly and as a result bringing a curse upon his family (Genesis 9:21–25). Scripture gives many other illustrations and warnings about the curse of booze. As an example, it tells of Elah, a king of the northern kingdom of Israel, who was killed when he was "drinking himself drunk" (1 Kings 16:9). In another example, Scripture tells of Ben-hadad, king of Syria who "was drinking himself drunk" (1 Kings 20:16) during a time of war and as a result lost the war. And Scripture also tells us, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging; and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise" (Proverbs 20:1). Drink is still instigating much evil in our day. One sees this on every hand in our society. But those who heed the Scripture warning and abstain from booze will keep themselves from many troubles.
The demand by Ahasuerus. "The king . . . commanded . . . to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to show the people and the princes her beauty" (vv. 10 11). Another cause of the provocation at the end of the partying in the palace in Shushan was a very evil demand made by Ahasuerus. In examining the evil of the demand and why it helped bring the provocation, we will note that propriety was ignored, purity was insulted, and pride was involved in the demand.
First, propriety was ignored. In those days it was the practice of society that men and women did not usually banquet together. Rather they had their separate places for banqueting. Therefore, when Ahasuerus was entertaining the men, "Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal house which belonged to king Ahasuerus" (v. 9). The demand of Ahasuerus violated this practice of society. While practices of society are not always worth honoring, this one was. Separating men and women in these events helped to promote better behavior than if the sexes were mixed at such occasions. Ahasuerus ignored this important fact in demanding Vashti to come to his party to show off her beauty.
Second, purity was insulted. Ahasuerus wanted Vashti to show off her beautiful body to the lustful, drunken men at his feast. That insulted purity. Some Jewish scholars believe the text of Scripture recording Ahasuerus’ demand meant that Vashti was to come nude with only her royal crown on her. This seems quite extreme, but such a request from drunken men should not surprise us, for today we have "topless" bars. Ahasuerus was no less degraded than the men in our bars today; and with him having the authority of a king and also being drunk, such a demand could be expected. But nude or not, the request was an insult to moral purity. You cannot disrespect purity without stirring up a lot of provocation in society.
Third, pride was involved. Requiring Vashti to show off her beauty in front of these men reflected in a great way the pride of Ahasuerus in that he would take great pride in showing that his wife was so beautiful. But pride provokes. "He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife" (Proverbs 28:25) and "By pride cometh contention" (Proverbs 13:10). Provocation, not peace, is the product of pride. And being full of pride, it is not surprising that Ahasuerus caused provocation here.
The denial for Ahasuerus. "But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by his chamberlains" (v. 12). Vashti did not like the king’s demand, so she refused to come to Ahasuerus’ party. She denied Ahasuerus his desire to show her off to the men at his drinking party. While this denial for Ahasuerus by Vashti was a big factor in the provocation, it was not a bad deed. To emphasize this fact, we note the correctness of the denial and the courage of the denial.
First, the correctness of the denial. We have already noted that the demand Ahasuerus made of Vashti was very evil; therefore, to refuse the demand was most justified. This refusal by Vashti to obey Ahasuerus’ demand indicates that at least someone in all of this carousing was behaving with some degree of decency. Though Vashti was correct in refusing to do evil when her husband made such a demand, there are some, however, who think Vashti was wrong here because she disobeyed her husband in refusing to obey his demand. We have some in our day who are teaching that the Divinely ordered obedience of children to parents and of wives to husbands must be absolute obedience regardless of the situation. But that is stupid! Never does God give us commands which necessitate our doing evil. That would make God contradict Himself. Children are to obey their parents but not when their parents order them to do evil—such as to lie, cheat, steal, or other evils. Wives also are to obey their husbands, but not when their husbands order them to do evil such as be immodest or immoral. In the chain of command in the military, you are required to obey the orders of all those who are higher in rank than you are. However, if a person of higher rank than you gives a command that is in disagreement with the orders of a person higher in command than the one giving you a command, then you are to obey the orders of the one highest in command. Thus it is in all areas of life. God is the Highest Ranking Officer. Normally we should obey the commands of those of higher rank in the family and in society; but if those commands are contrary to God’s commands, we should not obey them; for then we would be disobeying God. As the Apostle Peter said many years later, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Vashti was most correct in refusing to come as Ahasuerus demanded, for his demand was a very unholy demand.
Second, the courage of the denial. It took a great deal of courage for Vashti to refuse the vile demand of Ahasuerus. Vashti knew that the consequences for disobeying a king, especially when the king was a selfish, arrogant, lustful, short tempered man like Ahasuerus, could be very great and unfair. And they were. As we will see later, she was dethroned from being queen and made a great disgrace to society. Truth was distorted to make Vashti look evil and the king good.
It is a sad but a true fact that many professing Christians do not have as much courage to do right as the heathen Vashti did. Christians too often lack the needed courage to suffer the loss of friends, popularity, jobs, money, and other things of the world in order to do right. It takes great courage to do right. It is not easy living according to God’s Word, but it is always best!
2. The Counsel About the Provocation
When Queen Vashti refused to do as Ahasuerus demanded, he sought out his "wise men" (v. 13) for counsel to advise him on what to do with Vashti. This cabinet of council was seven in number. Though they "knew the times" [laws and customs of society] which would help them give good advice, they basically were "yes men" who flattered the king and said what he wanted to be said. After all, disagreeable counsel could cost them their jobs; and these men were more interested in having their jobs in the royal court than in having character. This fact is evident by the counsel they gave Ahasuerus about Vashti’s disobeying his orders. To examine this counsel, we note the concern for the counsel, the condemnation in the counsel, and the command from the counsel.
The concern for the counsel. "The king said to the wise men, which knew the times . . . What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, because she hath not performed the commandment of the king Ahasuerus?" (Esther1:13,15). Ahasuerus called for the counsel from his "wise men" because he was concerned about two things. He was concerned about judgment and about justice.
First, he was concerned about judgment. "What shall we do unto queen Vashti . . . because she hath not performed the commandment of the king Ahasuerus?" Ahasuerus was certainly a messed up man in his concern about how to treat his wife. Here he is concerned about bringing punishment upon her. He should have been concerned about treating her with respect when he rudely and immorally demanded she come and show off her beauty to the drinking party. But that concern did not cross his vile mind. The concern that does claim his mind here is how to punish Vashti. This perverted concern is often seen in marriage problems. Neither the husbands nor wives of troubled marriages seem very concerned about respecting their mate, but they are chiefly concerned about rebuking their mate. They do not spend much time thinking about how to honor their mate but rather how to hurt their mate.
Second, he was concerned about justice. "What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law." Ahasuerus was so hypocritical here when he voiced his concern that the judgment be just, that is, "according to law." He should have been concerned about this before. He certainly did not treat Vashti justly when he demanded she come and show off her beauty before the drunken men. He voices concern here that she have the protection of the law regarding her judgment so she would not be punished in an unlawful manner. But where was his concern about all the laws of decency, morality, custom, character, and respect when he demanded she come and show off her beauty at the drinking party? Ahasuerus is like so many evil people and groups who run rough shod over the law and then at a convenient time and in a way that will make them look good give a speech about the importance of being law abiding citizens. This vile bunch, which includes most politicians, is not interested in submitting to the law but only in using the law. Those people like this who are in our churches (and there are many of this kind in our churches) scorn and ignore Biblical behavior until it is to their advantage to speak up for Biblical behavior to give weight to their position when they oppose some person or program at church they do not like. At such times their talk slobbers out Bible verses and principles as though they were of all church members the most spiritual.
The condemnation in the counsel. "Memucan answered before the king and the princes, Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the people that are in all the provinces of the king of Ahasuerus. For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands . . . Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath" (Esther1:16,18). Memucan was obviously the main spokesman for this seven man cabinet of counsel for King Ahasuerus. Quickly discerning the king’s interests, Memucan curries favor and approval of the king by amplifying Vashti’s alleged evil. Ahasuerus had spoken of Vashti’s refusal only as that of doing wrong to the king. Memucan, however, made this refusal as also doing wrong to all the people in the kingdom. He not only made Vashti’s rejection of the king’s command as a subject disobeying the king but as a wife disobeying her husband. He says it was not only insubordination of the king, but it was also an evil influence upon the women of the land—an evil influence that will cause "too much contempt and wrath" (v. 18) in the land. But what a farce was this concern about "contempt and wrath" from Vashti's’ conduct. Her conduct would not promote contempt and wrath. It was Ahasuerus’ conduct that would breed contempt and wrath; but nothing was said, of course, about the king’s wicked and immoral demand of Vashti and that such a demand could influence husbands in the kingdom to make evil demands of their wives.
Vashti was the one that behaved properly in this situation, but her conduct is here maligned into being bad conduct. Some people are so perverted in their character that they can see all sorts of evil in good conduct. These are the kind who saw evil in Jesus Christ Who never did one single evil thing. These are the kind at church who see evil in their godly pastor when he preaches against sin. These are the kind who see evil in disciplining children (they call it child abuse). These are the kind who see evil in having prayer and the Bible in the public school. These are the kind who saw all sorts of evil in Prohibition when our nation took a stand against booze some years ago. Such people do not help society become strong in character, but they only encourage the ruin of society.
The command from the counsel. "If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she" (v. 19). We note the punishment in the command, the perverseness of the command, the publishing of the command, and the providence in the command.
First, the punishment in the command. "That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she." The command orders the removal of Vashti from her position of queen. This is a very unjust and cruel punishment. It rewards good with evil. But Vashti is not the only one to be demoted because of excellent conduct. Many centuries earlier, Joseph was put in prison because he refused to do gross evil (Genesis 39). The prophet Jeremiah was put in prison and then in a dungeon because he refused to say anything but the truth (Jeremiah 37). John the Baptist was put in prison and eventually beheaded because of his good stand against divorce (Mark 6:17,18). Good conduct is not always rewarded with bouquets on this earth but rather with brickbats. However, we must live righteously whether the world honors us or not.
Second, the perverseness of the command. This command was another attempt of evil to disguise itself in robes of righteous causes and so distort the facts that good appeared evil. This command spoke out strongly against insubordination of the king and against disrespect of the husbands by their wives. Thus good people would not argue against the principles involved in this command. We should be law abiding citizens and wives are to submit to their husbands. But the command so distorted the situation that it made it appear that Vashti’s demotion was a result of her disrespect of the king and disrespect for her husband when in truth Vashti was being demoted because of the drunkenness of the king, her husband, and of his disrespect for her decent behavior. Evil is very clever. We get a heavy dose of this clever distorting of evil from our news media everyday. They make the bad people look good and the good people look bad by the way they report the news.
Third, the publishing of the command. "The king’s decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his empire" (v. 20). It was bad enough for Ahasuerus and the counsellors to condemn Vashti so unjustly, but they make it worse by publishing the lies for all the empire to know. Evil seems never to lack the means to quickly circulate their lies and filth. Evil books and magazines abound while good books and magazines are hard to find. But though evil controls the news media and government dispatches and most of the printing presses, God’s people can take courage in that evil words shall pass away; but God’s Word shall never pass away (Mark 13:31).
Fourth, the providence in the command Though this command (which cruelly put Vashti out of office because of her good character) looked like evil was in charge and that God had been removed from the throne, it instead emphasized that God was very much in control of matters; for this command was the very providence which gave Mordecai the opportunity to help protect the Jews from their destruction. In putting Vashti out of the office of queen, this command made possible the putting of Esther, Mordecai’s cousin, in as queen which gave Mordecai access to the king to order the stopping of the plans to exterminate the Jews. Esther would be sympathetic to the Jews, for she was a Jew. But Vashti would be a different story.
It is most encouraging to see God work in spite of man’s evil connivings. When we look out upon the world’s scene, it is seldom encouraging. Wickedness seems to ever be in control, and we wonder how righteousness will ever again have much influence upon society. But we need not fret. God is still running the show, and what evil is doing which looks like the finish of God’s program will in the long run actually be used of God to bring about the fulfillment of God’s program. Evil does not out wit God! Never! Rather, it is just the opposite. God makes a fool of evil action again and again as is evident in the story of Mordecai. No wonder there is laughing in heaven (Psalm 2:4) when evil rulers or others "take counsel together against the Lord" (Psalm 2:2) and seem to have the upper hand.