“This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.”
King Xerxes, the military leader of the Medes and Persians, tried to fulfill his father’s failed plan to conquer Greece. Darius had been defeated at Marathon in 490 B.C. and had died soon after. Xerxes amassed one of the largest armies ever and marched back toward Greece. His army managed to get around the Spartan forces at Thermopylae but went down outside Athens when the Persian fleet was sunk in the bay of Salamis.
Esther 1 records what may have been Xerxes’ planning meeting for the military campaigns of 482–479 B.C. During this lengthy meeting (lasting 180 days), the men feasted and drank extensively. At one point, Xerxes commanded his wife, Vashti, to appear before the assembled men. We are not told why Vashti refused, but given the circumstances and the rate at which we can assume the men were consuming alcohol, perhaps Vashti was afraid they would ask her to act immodestly—or worse.
Xerxes reacted like a spoiled child. He was furious that his order had not been obeyed. His advisers encouraged the king’s stupidity. They proposed deposing Vashti as queen and banishing her from the presence of the king. Then they planned the first Miss Universe pageant to replace Vashti with someone more beautiful and (hopefully) more compliant.
Enter Mordecai and Esther, two Jews who were still living in Persia. Although Mordecai may have also had a Hebrew name, his Babylonian name may betray the comfort his family had with Babylonian life; it is derived from Marduk, the god Nebuchadnezzar followed and to whom he dedicated Babylon, his capital.
Ultimately, Esther was chosen to be the new queen, placing her in a position to intervene at a time when her people were threatened. Esther and Mordecai were able to save the Jews, but the dire threat made to exterminate them as a people during that time made its mark. Perhaps it was an impetus for Ezra and Nehemiah to go back to Jerusalem to help the Jews there rebuild the city’s walls and reclaim their spiritual foundations.
Within this story, Vashti often goes unrecognized as a heroine. Yet perhaps that should be acknowledged, particularly within the context of marriage. For while Vashti had been obedient to her husband in all things, there came a point when her moral fiber pulled taut and would not allow her to cross a line that required her to do something she knew was wrong.
In our marriages we need mutual submission and respect, as the apostle Paul wrote (see Ephesians 5:21–33). But we also need personal courage to say no to one another when decency is twisted or when obedience to little things would deny obedience to God’s greater ways.