Esther 1:1-22 – Obedience and responsibility!
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 7, 2013 AM
The Book of Esther is entitled by the Jews, “the volume of Esther,” or simply “the volume.” In ancient times, it was always written on a separate roll, which was read entirely at the Feast of Purim. The Greek translators retained only “Esther,” which became the ordinary title with Christians. There is much controversy concerning the date of “Esther.” The extreme minuteness of the details and vividness of the portraits in “Esther” suggest it was written by the hand of a contemporary rather than someone who lived long after the events commemorated. The entire tone of the book is in accord with the history, which it narrates, and is not unlike that of Zechariah. Therefore, overall, there is no sufficient ground for placing the composition of Esther later than that of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah.
Esther is the only book of the Bible in which the name of God is not mentioned. The New Testament does not quote from the Book of Esther, nor have copies of it been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Law is never mentioned in the book nor is sacrifices or offerings mentioned. Prayer while possibly inferred is never specifically mentioned in the book either, though fasting is. Both Esther and Mordecai seem to have lacked spiritual awareness except in their assurance that God would protect His people. Esther was written to encourage the returned Jewish exiles by reminding them of the faithfulness of God who would keep His promises to the nation. The author instructs us how the Feast of Purim began. It also teaches us about obedience and responsibility in trusting God no matter what the circumstance.
Obedience and responsibility are twin pillars of a strong faith. This first chapter in Esther graphically exposes the contrast between King Xerxes who ruled by royal writ and Mordecai who was wise by faith and especially between Queen Vashti who was self-centered and the commoner Esther who we discover is self-sacrificing. Let’s look at the role of…
I. Obedience! (Vv. 1-12)
1. The author gives us a very personal account of what occurs within the confines of the royal court of the time of the Medes and Persians. “This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.” This special occasion was held by the mightiest king of the time. King Xerxes ruled the Persian Empire for 21 years from 485 to 465 BC. He held absolute sway in all things and his orders were to be carried out immediately. This banquet lasted “For a full 180 days” where “he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty.” It was a political show for those who were part of his inner circle. However, we discover that “When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king’s palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest, who were in the citadel of Susa.” No one was left out in order for the King to show off his prowess. The party took place in a beautifully decorated garden, with an abundance of the King’s best wine served in goblets of gold! This was a men’s only event, however, we find that “Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.” And, “On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him… to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at.” The King wanted to use his wife as a trophy, as one of his things to be shown off when he desired. He was not used to being ignored or refused. “But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.” It should not have mattered to Vashti why the King called her; she was to be obedient to the King. When the King calls, you obey!
EXAMPLE: My father expected to be obeyed immediately when he asked us to do something for him. There were no other options. However, we are such ornery people and so obedience comes hard for us. I remember thinking, after my father had asked us to weed the flowerbeds, “He can’t make me!” Of course, he not only could, he did. When King Xerxes gave a command, whether others felt it was justified or not, even if it was for his personal pleasure in order to show off his trophy wife, he expected obedience. Vashti was asked to show up “o’ natural”, so-to-speak, and she was miffed. She refused to obey, forgetting that when the King ordered, he expected obedience. The same is true for our lives in Christ. We may not want to do what He asks of us or we may not desire to do what He asks, but when the king of Kings asks, we are to be obedient.
What we can fail to realize is that respect flows from our willingness to be obedient. When we are obedient, we show that we respect the one who asked us. The contrast could not be more surprising between Vashti and Esther and I believe this is why the author wrote about it. We discover that we should not only be obedient but also…
II. Responsible! (Vv. 13-22)
1. The crime the queen had committed was that she disobeyed a command of the king. Obviously, the king and queen did not share an emotionally intimate relationship based on mutual respect. It did not matter, with position comes responsibility. Xerxes was not foolish; he seeks advice on how to handle the situation with his queen. He could have had her forcefully dragged from her chambers, but he did not. “Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times.” These men were “the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom.” Xerxes wants to know what is to be done and is told, “Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes.” Herein is our clue. If Vashti could get away with refusing her responsibilities, then maybe other women and then others would dare to do so as well! “For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.’ 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.” Now whether we agree with it or not, there are roles within society that keep society functioning the way it should. Christianity has brought about the “liberation” of not only slaves but of women as well. And, rightly so, however, there was concern Vashti’s arrogance and disrespect would spread dissent. Others would emulate her, so it was decided, “Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she.” It was hoped that, “when the king’s edict [was] proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women [would] respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.” So the King “sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language, proclaiming in each people’s tongue that every man should be ruler over his own household.” Vashti learns that position carries with it responsibility.
EXAMPLE: We live in a day and age whereby we arrogantly declare, “It’s my life, and I can do what I want.” And then we are shocked when others do that very thing to innocent people by murdering them in droves. We try to solve our societal problem of irresponsibility by making those who are responsible suffer by taking away their constitutional rights. Or we try to redefine irresponsibility to make it sound acceptable; such as in the redefinition of marriage or what constitutes a family. In our sin sick society, there are those who would see Vashti as a heroine. She is just as arrogant as King Xerxes was. You can rest assured that this was probably not the first time Vashti had been asked to present herself. Vashti is not someone to emulate. She blithely tosses aside her position by arrogantly rejecting her responsibility as queen.
Today we learned about being obedient and being responsible.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.