Saturday, June 21, 2014

Forgotten Queen

Where To Find Queen Vashti's Story

In the book of Esther, Queen Vashti, was the queen Esther replaced.  When her story begins, Queen Vashti is entertaining women of the royal court.  She is commanded by the king to appear before the men so he can display her beauty.  Because she has no voice in the Bible we are not told why she refused his command, hence, many speculations.   "For instance, the Targum (the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible) informs the reader that the king wished Vashti to appear naked before the company and that out of modesty she refused."  (The Women's Bible Commentary, P. 127)  Her story can be found in Esther 1:1-2:1

Queen Vashti Tells Her Story

"NO!" Vashti's declaration to the eunuchs who informed her the king had commanded her presence.

I knew the consequence could be sever if I refused, but he had been drinking for seven days.  His officers, ministers, nobles and governors were all there and just as drunk as he was.  When the eunuchs came to tell me I was to appear before the King wearing my crown, I knew it was only my crown he wanted me to wear.  I refused to go.  He said he wanted to, "Display my beauty."  As if my beauty belonged to him.  A room full of drunken, powerful men is no place for a woman, naked or not. 
He was furious!  They were all furious!  So the king asked his lawyers, "What does the law say should be done to Queen Vashti for disobeying my order?"
They were in a panic!  There was no law that dictated what was to be done to a woman who dared to speak up for herself.  "She didn't just wrong you" they shouted "she has wronged all the men in the empire.  If the women hear that the queen disobeyed the order of the king they will think they can disobey their husbands.  They will have contempt for us and will rebel against our rule over them.  You must issue an irrevocable royal decree.  You must forbid Queen Vashti form ever coming into your presence again.  The law must declare that the king can give the honor of the queen to someone more worthy.  When the women hear these laws, they will have to honor their husbands.  The law must demand that men are the lords of their homes.  
He made a law, an irrevocable law that I could never be summoned into his presences again.  I refused to appear at his command and now he can never command me to appear.  What a happy consequence!

Observations on Queen Vashti's Story

How do our attitudes about biblical women influence our understanding of the atrocities experienced by women today?  Vashti's story is clearly a story of male dominance.  She is commanded to expose herself for the pleasure of her husband's friends.  If we believe she got what she deserved, that is being expelled from the court, as some commentators have said, then we probably believe women should be under the control of the men in their lives.  If we see her act of defiance as self protection we see a strong woman unwilling to be dominated.
When I first read this story I was surprised that such a shocking story of male dominance has remained in the Bible.  Obviously, the male translators and commentators saw nothing wrong with a husband demanding that a wife appear before his drunken friends.  Nothing wrong with all the men of the empire being afraid their wives might say, "no." Nothing wrong with the queen being deposed for standing up for herself.  Nothing wrong with laws being passed to insure woman would treat their husbands like lords.
The men knew their wives were unhappy and would rebel.  They knew their wives held them in contempt.  Rather than changing the way they treated their wives, they passed laws so the women could not act on their contempt.