The Fall of VashtiSermon passage: (Esther 1:1-22) Spoken on: January 11, 2010
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Pastor Wilson Tan For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Esther
Sermon on Esther 1:1-22
The Book of Esther tells of how a beautiful Jewish girl became the queen of Persia and saved her people from a plot to destroy all the Jews, during the reign of King Ahasuerus (485-464 B.C.). It is also the first time in the Bible where the word “Jews” was first used to describe this nation of God’s children. Esther was an orphan and was raised by her cousin and guardian, Mordecai.
The story of Esther begins with a scene of a banquet. The King gave two banquets: one lasting 180 days for the nobles and officials, the second lasting seven days for the people of his capital. Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women. She was influential and powerful in her own rights. The motif of the “banquet” runs repeatedly throughout the story in Esther. It refers to eating and drinking on special occasions. The word “banquet” occurs 20 times in the book of Esther alone, and only 24 times in the rest of the OT. The dominant motif of the banquet is especially apt, since the Esther story explains the origin of Purim. Purim is often celebrated with much drinking and feasting, even today. Although it explains the history and significance of the Jewish festival, Purim, but Purim is not the theme of the book.
1. Understanding the book of Esther
The theme of the book is about the reversal of destiny, a deliverance from death. The book of Esther is about God’s providence. It is a book which celebrates the persistent preservation of a nation. It is read and remembered whenever the survival of the Jewish nation is compromised. Like in the story of Esther, the Jews were facing death, but at the end of the day, God will deliver them. God prevails; the nation of Israel lives on by the grace and providence of God. For this reason, they celebrate Purim. 
This reversal of destiny is also known as peripety. The term “peripety” was first used by Aristotle to refer to a sudden turn of events that reverses the expected outcome of a story. A turning point, winds of change, often seen in a drama or tragedy. In modern Greek, it refers to adventure. Indeed, we have a great adventure ahead!
How are we to read this book of Esther? It is important that we do not develop a message based just on a specific reading of any chapter in the book, but every message must be seen in the context of the entire book. The message of Esther must be understood as a whole unit, because it is one lengthy parable. There should only be one single theme which runs throughout the whole book. And this theme is God’s providence. Each chapter must be seen in relation to this theme. This makes it difficult as we try to prepare a sermon series on this book. Nevertheless, our task is to explore how the theme of God’s providence is revealed in the chapters. Do keep this thought in mind.
What kind of story is the book of Esther? It is known as historical fiction. It is basically history written in a story form, with characters which are possibly actual characters but the details of the story are often fictionally dramatized. The best example of this is the Romance of Three Kingdoms. The characters and major events are likely to be historically true, but not every conversation or details are necessarily accurate. Even though it is historical fiction, we must not discount its reliability. We cannot compare it with our modern way of recording history. Our way of recording history as factual data, simply does not exist in those days. Historical fiction has its place in history as the ancient way of story-telling. Before we look into the significance of Esther 1, let’s understand the historical background of how the Jews came under Persian rule.
It all started when the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar sacked the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in 586 B.C. The Jews were forced to leave their homeland and were dispersed in different lands, living in exile. God restored Israel 47 years later, through a pagan Persian king, Cyrus II (the Great) who conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. Cyrus issued a decree for the Jews to be allowed to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple, using the resources of Persia. The prophets Ezra and Nehemiah were chosen to bring the Jews back and to rebuild the temple. Many Jews returned to Jerusalem, but many chose to stay behind as Diaspora Jews (“a scattering of seeds”, those living away from Jerusalem) and some were serving in the Persia empire, like Esther and Mordecai. The book of Esther is a story about these Diaspora Jews who, about 50 years after Cyrus’ decree, apparently had chosen to stay behind in Persia and not return to their homeland. Today, there are millions of Jews who lived outside of Israel.
The Persian empire maintained its powerful hold over ancient east for two hundred years, beginning with Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C. and ended when Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 330 B.C. at the battle of Issus. After the death of Cyrus, the next Persian king in command was Darius I (the Great) who is the father of king Ahasuerus. King Ahasuerus and King Xerxes are the same person, the former being the Hebrew name while the latter his Greek name. King Xerxes ruled Persia from 485 to 464 B.C. During this period, the great Chinese philosopher Confucius was born in the Far East (551-479 B.C). During the same period, Greece was reaching its Golden Age, with the birth of Greek philosophy and thinkers.
1. Significance of Esther 1:1-22
The world was changing, and it was at this turning point in history where the story of Esther is related to us. This is the world stage then, where the drama unfolds, and the mastermind behind all of history is God pulling the strings behind the curtains in silence. In fact, in the entire book, God is never mentioned. There is nothing religious in the book either, excepting for a three-day fast as ordered by Queen Esther. Even though the main characters in the book are Esther and Mordecai, strangely the story did not start with either of them, but with Queen Vashti. Why is the opening scene about King Xerxes and Queen Vashti? Let’s find out!
According to the Midrash (Jewish interpretation use for preaching), Queen Vashti was the great-granddaughter of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Midrash also holds that she had a tail. When the king, in his drunkenness, asked for Queen Vashti to display her beauty to the people and the nobles, it is believed that she was asked to appear naked, wearing only her crown. This would go against Persian laws which deny women of royalty to even show their face to public, what more for her to display her nakedness. We can only conclude that Queen Vashti is a beautiful and brave woman who refused to be used by her king. However, the Hebrew text does not tell us why exactly Vashti refused Xerxes’ orders.
If Esther 1:1-22 is not seen within the context of the entire book, it would be easy to misinterpret its significance. The feminists compare the moral virtues between these two beautiful women, Vashti and Esther. They praised and honored Vashti because she stood up for her rights as a female and refused to be used as a sexual object. On the other hand, Esther had pre-marital sexual relations with the king and had used her beauty and sexuality to exchange for power and status. She did not assert herself against male dominance. The feminists condemned her actions as a betrayal to her own body; she is no different from one who sells her body for money. But the truth is, Vashti having lost her status as queen, lost also her influence among her people. The feminists failed to see this downside of her actions.
Another way to misread the story is to preach against the evils of alcohol and to preach against rebellious wives. We must not be drunk like King Xerxes for we may end up making silly decrees. Wives are also not to be rebellious like Queen Vashti. Some even went as far as to quote from Eph. 5:22-23 to back up such a claim: “22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” This is again misleading for it would be to read into the passage using our modern viewpoint. They were never mentioned as husband and wife in the story. Even if Vashti is taken as an example of a rebellious wife, Eph. 5:22 would not necessarily condemn her. Christian interpreters would agree that if an ungodly husband makes unholy demands of his wife, the wife can justifiably disobey them. Given that the king was drunk and irrational, Vashti have done the right thing. The author of Esther is neither concerned about Xerxes’ alcoholism nor Vashti’s rebellious nature, not even them as a married couple, even less so, concerned with modern feminist issues.
The story began with Queen Vashti’s disposal because it wants to paint to us what kind of man is king Xerxes. He is powerful, ruler of many provinces, wealthy and generous to his people, openly giving banquets for his subjects. So generous was he that he wants to share his queen with them! To Xerxes, Vashti’s disobedience was more than just an insult to his ego. It was about power and politics. How could he continue to be a man of power and influence when even his own queen does not obey him? He could not even settle his own domestic disputes but needed a council of seven wise men to advise him. From a single act of disobedience, they extrapolate it to every wife in Persia, including their own. Maybe they had unsettled domestic disputes too? What better way to solve this problem once and for all than to give a universal decree! “All the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.” Husbands in those days needed a decree to gain respect from their wives. Tsk! Tsk! Do not laugh. Do not think we are so different. I have seen many Christians using the Ephesians passage in the same manner.
King Xerxes is a rash and dangerous man, irrational at times. The author wants to prelude us what Esther and Mordecai is up against. King Xerxes could easily have thrown out anyone who stood in his way, even his own queen! If Esther had any chance to save her people, she needed more than just her beauty or sexuality (for Vashti was equally beautiful and she was in bed with the king before Esther). Esther and Mordecai needed wit to work around this king.
Contemporary Significance: God is ever present even when He seems absent
The message of Esther is to tell us that God is ever present even when He seems absent. Even though God is never mentioned once in the entire story, the Jews are sure that God is on their side. Christian theology is concerned with the character of the unseen God, who manifests himself in the events of human history. The Esther story is one such example of how God kept to his covenant promises, not through miraculous intervention, but through completely ordinary events. Once this is understood, it is clear why God is not mentioned in this book. The contemporary significance of this book is precisely this: God is ever present in our lives even though He seems to be silent or absent most of the time.
John Calvin never preached from the book of Esther, nor written commentaries on it. Martin Luther denounced it and wished that it had not come to him, for it has too many heathen unnaturalities. On the other hand, some Jewish rabbis have held the book in high esteem. Among them, Moses Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish philosopher, ranked it equal to the Pentateuch: “When Messiah comes, the other books [of the Hebrew Bible] may pass away, but the Torah and Esther will abide forever.” Just as God’s law (i.e. Torah) stands forever, God’s promise to deliver his people, illustrated so powerfully by the story of Esther, is everlasting.
Christ does not decree for us to submit to him. Instead he gives his life for us by dying on the cross for our sins. In a way, he has “earned” our utmost respect for him. He loves us so much that we are compelled to love him in return. If Christ commanded our obedience without his self-sacrificial love on the cross, our submission and respect would not be different from those practiced by the Persians then.
From the story of Vashti and Xerxes, let us reflect also on our own power and influence. Let us not build little kingdoms within our control, be it at home or in church, at work or in our own personal lives. Let us earn respect and submit to authority not through a decree but by our own sacrificial love for others.
Let us pray.
 The event commemorated by Purim is a peripety, a reversal of destiny, one of victory over oppressors of the Jewish people. Purim is also sometimes known as the Day of the Lots. According to the story, Haman cast lots to determine the day upon which to exterminate the Jews. But God delivered them through Queen Esther and Mordecai’s intervention. The book of Esther is still treasured today and read annually in the synagogues on Purim because they find in it a reassurance that they will survive as a people against powers that want to destroy them. Its contemporary significance for the Jewish people is captured in the words of Robert Gordis,
Anti-Semites have always hated the book, and the Nazis forbade its reading in crematoria and the concentration camps. In the dark days before their deaths, Jewish inmates of Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka, and Bergen-Belsen wrote the book of Esther from memory and read it in secret on Purim. Both they and their brutal foes understood its message. This unforgettable book teaches that Jewish resistance to annihilation, then as now, represents the service of God and devotion to His cause. In every age, martyrs and heroes, as well as ordinary men and women, have seen in it not merely a record of past deliverance but a prophecy of future salvation.
This 2,500 year-old story is still very relevant to modern Jews. Amy Kramer explains, "The story of Purim presents the eternal story of the Jew threatened in a strange land. For this reason we are commanded to read the Book of Esther. Still in exile, Purim is a reminder that we, as Jews, must resist becoming too complacent in our lives. "
 While Ezra and Nehemiah were busy rebuilding Jerusalem, Pericles (ca. 495-429 B.C) was shaping a political system in Athens that would become the basis of modern democracy today. At the same time, Pythagoras developed his theorem (a2 + b2 = c2) which is still one of the first equations learned by students of algebra and geometry today. During the same century Esther lived, Socrates was born (ca. 470 B.C.). Many would know him as the Father of Western Philosophy and teacher of Plato. Sophocles the playwright wrote Oedipus Rex which is still considered a masterpiece today. Herodotus the historian wrote about the Greco-Persian wars in The Histories. Even though his information may not be very accurate, he was the first to collect historical data systematically and hence was considered the “Father of History” in Western culture. It is in his work which many historians today continue to analyze the biblical story in Esther with political history. In his research, he covered the periods of four Persian kings: Cyrus, Darius, Cambyses and Xerxes.