Jimmy Nzioki

Lessons from Vashti

Hmm….Who’s Vashti? Do you recall someone by the name of Esther from the Bible? I’m quite certain that you do. Well, Vashti was her immediate predecessor. What’s there to learn from a deposed and disposed queen? Why not lessons from Esther? I reasoned that there’s already a whole book on her with ten chapters so you could spend some time and find plenty of personalized lessons.

I believe that we stand to learn from both the heroes and the villains otherwise history would be incomplete. I once read somewhere that only a fool insists on learning from their own mistakes. I wouldn’t want to be termed as such. There are at least four lessons that I picked up from her rather brief story viz.: Beauty, Submission, Assertiveness and Honor and Respect in marriage.

The story as given to us by the author of the book of Esther is at a time when the Persians were the ruling world power and a king by the name Ahasuerus or Xerxes (as identified by secular historians) had been hosting a very pompous banquet for the elite especially those in his government. This banquet was held in one of his five palaces-the one in Susa. This celebration had been going on for a whole six months. To crown it all he decided to host the locals or what we Kenyans would call the common mwananchi. This was supposed to last for a week and every hue and sundry was allowed around the palace with lavish wine being offered.

As regards to beauty, we are told that she was ‘fair to look at’ or ‘lovely to look at’. In short she was the pristine candidate for being free eye-candy to the inebriated men that surrounded the king. Queen Vashti actually lived up to her name as her name means ‘beautiful woman’.

It’s suggested that the reason why Ahasuerus held such a celebration was not only to display his wealth but also to rally support from his nobles to wage war against their rival- the Greeks. We get this from Daniel’s prophecy in Daniel 11:2 of a fourth Persian king who was going to be the most powerful in terms of wealth and military might. He was going to seek to wage war against the Greek ruler who history tells us is Alexander the Great.

Thus, towards the end of the celebration a whole week was set apart to accommodate everyone and what better moment to show off his one precious jewel that walked on two feet and was interesting to gaze at-his wife. However, the queen didn’t think so. So this sets the premise for the short story of Vashti and the long wonderful story of Esther.

As regards to beauty, we are told that she was ‘fair to look at’ or ‘lovely to look at’. In short she was the pristine candidate for being free eye-candy to the inebriated men that surrounded the king. Queen Vashti actually lived up to her name as her name means ‘beautiful woman’. The fact that the king wanted to show her off gave credence to the fact that she was of unmatched beauty.

After her denial of the king’s command the proposal that was arrived at was that her royal position be given to another who was better than her. This gives us the first lesson on beauty. That however beautiful one is there will always be someone somewhere who is more beautiful. Solomon would say that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Does beauty have its place? Yes, but it’s not meant to sustain in the long-term.

The seven eunuchs come hurtling toward Vashti with the news that she’s supposed to come with her royal crown before the king to wow the guests with her physique and anything that could serve to accentuate her natural endowment. I can almost imagine the queen leaving her female guests to meet the eunuchs and telling them blatantly that she wasn’t going to show herself off like some merchandise or a piece   of art on display. I believe that Vasthi-drunk or not for they were also engaged with the same- knew her self-worth and was all aware of the probable consequences of failing to abide by the King’s orders even though she was his wife. She paid heavily for it but her personal dignity remained intact.

Thus we ought to let our No be No and our Yes be Yes even if the consequences will be severe. Both men and women can learn to be assertive irrespective of how we’ll be reprimanded by our fellow colleagues or the society as a whole. This takes courage.

The next thing that I see in Vashti’s story is how her actions were construed by the king and his advisers. It’s said that Persian men were known for deliberating on matters while they were drunk over a bottle of wine or whatever it is that they used to contain their drinks on those days. It’s much the same way we Kenyans have the habit of having discussions or meetings over a cup of tea. So the queen’s action is viewed as a gross breach of honor and respect for not only her husband but to the state as well. Their line of reasoning was this: prominent people set precedents easily. Thus if her actions would be heard by fellow women in the kingdom they would follow the negative precedent and this would lead to wives dishonoring their better halves.

It should be noted that the edict that was arrived at was based purely on an Eastern, chauvinistic culture and not God’s word. For them they had to maintain the status quo at all costs and that’s how Vasthi got banned from ever seeing the king again. But should honor and respect be demanded? I don’t think so but it should be earned and flow as a two-way traffic.

Marriage counselors usually identify respect and honor as one of the primary needs of a man in any given relationship and thus from a neutral observational point of view one could almost understand why they took Vashti’s actions as an attack on men’s honor cum a deprivation of respect for both her king and husband.

The last lesson from Vashti’s account is on the place of submission in marriage. This may seem as a stretch in regards to this story but I base this on the fact that while Esther became queen she didn’t do anything to indicate that she wasn’t submissive to her husband. You may argue that queen Esther kind of broke the Medo-Persian protocol for visiting the king without being summoned but a careful read would show that she did this with the motive of exposing Haman and his ploy to exterminate the Jews.

It’s God who instituted the principle of submission of wives to their husbands while meting out the punishments after the fall of man in the garden. Many centuries later Paul would reiterate God’s charge by saying that wives should submit in everything to their husbands (Eph. 5:24).

I know this might be a bitter pill to swallow for the feminist who views submission as servitude-which is not at all what Paul intended.

With all the above; I think you can agree with me that we can always learn something from not only the heroes of old but also the villains.

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