PROVIDENCE THROUGH WOMEN Based on Esther 1:10-22
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Paul Aurandt tells this fascinating true story that deals with the paradox of positive rebellion. In April of 1847 it looked as if Mexico was ready to make peace with the United States. President James Polk chose Nicholas Trist to go as a peace commissioner. On his way Trist spoke to reporters and told them too much. President Polk was upset, and sent a letter to Trist telling him to return. Trist read the letter and responded by saying he did not want to return. The President was infuriated, and blasted Trist, but he could not stop his negotiations with the Mexicans. Today, of course, this could never happen with our speedy communications, but in 1848 it was a different story. Trist, with no authority to do so, signed a treaty with the Mexicans, and brought it back to the U. S. He was immediately banished from government, and his salary was cut off, and he was forced to go to work for a railroad to feed his family.
The president and congress accepted the treaty he signed, however, for it was too good to refuse. It gave the U. S. what is now all of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California, and part of Wyoming, and Colorado. Not a bad deal for a guy who was actually fired, and not suppose to even be on the job. It cost him dearly, but his rebellion gained for the rest of us a large portion of our nation.
You just never know what blessings are going to come out of what seems to be so negative. Vashti provides us with another example of this in the first chapter of Esther. She rebels against the order of her husband, the king of Persia, the most powerful man on the planet. It cost her dearly to refuse him and rebel, but it was a major step on the road to Israel's being saved as a nation. If she had not rebelled and lost her place as queen, and likely even her life, there would be no way for Esther to come to the throne, where she was the key to her people's deliverance.
Here is a pagan Persian Queen making a drastic decision that will change the course of history for God's people. She, of course, does not even know that she is doing it. Her action has nothing to do with anyone but herself. The question is, why did she do it? The context makes it quite clear that she was a victim of stag party morality. While she and the ladies were having their banquet in a separate place, the king and his leaders were really living it up. Nobody was forced to drink, but verse 10 says the king had his share and was feeling merry with wine. The banquet was in its seventh day, and there was only one thing left to do before it ended. They had seen the glory of all that men can make, but men still loves most of all to see the glory that only God can make-the glory of a beautiful woman.
Vashti the Queen was a beauty to behold, and the king was determined that the climax of his six months and one week of banqueting would be the marching of his lovely wife before this hoard of bleary-eyed, drunken, and lustful men. From his perspective at the time, being full of wine, it sounded like his best idea ever. He later sobered up and regretted his folly, but by then the damage had been done.
The most powerful argument for abstaining from alcoholic beverages is the history of man's fool decisions under its influence. One of the greatest causes of human sorrow in the world is that the leaders of the world tend to mix alcohol and government. Prov. 31:4
says, "It is not for kings...to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink lest they drink
and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. Herodotus,
the Greek historian writes much about the Persians, and tells us that it was their custom to get drunk when they deliberated on weighty matters, but that they then reexamined their decisions the next day when they were sober. Xerxes did not follow this rule in our text,
and many have failed to do so throughout history.
Thank God we do not know how many of the decisions that affect our lives are made by men whose minds are under the control of booze. What we do know from history is frightening enough. One example should be enough to see the potential for the kingdom of darkness. In 1643 Governor Kieft of the New Netherlands had a drunken party with his council. They decided it was time to teach the Indians a lesson. In the dead of night they attacked a sleeping village, and massacred 80 helpless Indians. This lead to a history of sorrow and heartache for both whites and Indians that is beyond calculation. Kieft was the first white man to offer a reward for Indian scalps, and that is why it became so popular among the Indians to take white scalps in revenge. That one drunken party led to hell on earth, and hell forever, for masses of people on both sides.
Satan can offer no better suggestion on how to improve the evils of leadership than by mixing alcohol and decision making. Yet, it has been the way of world all through history. To the shame of Christian nations, the Islamic nations have seen the folly of it, and have forbidden alcoholic beverages. Alcohol reduces inhibitions, and men will do under its influence what they would never allow when sober. Lot was a righteous man, but under the influence of alcohol he became incestuous with both of his daughters. Noah's one day of folly was due to his getting drunk. Add up the foolish acts of otherwise sensible men, and you will discover the great majority of them are made under the influence of alcohol.
Stonewall Jackson was a strict temperance man, and his example cause many of his officers to be the same. He was once out in a drenching rain, and a fellow officer insisted that he take a drink. "No sir, I cannot do it," he replied. "I tell you I am more afraid of King alcohol then of all the bullets of the enemy." If more men feared it, as he did, there would be far fewer tragedies in this life. Yet men have the audacity to blame God for suffering in this world, when a large share of it can be clearly traced to man's choice to drug his brain with alcohol.
I was impressed with the story of a boy in Scotland who was slow, and so he was the butt of many jokes by his village peers. On one occasion they were teasing him, and trying to entice him to drinking. Whereupon, this supposed simpleton responded with true wisdom. He said, "If the Lord Almighty has given few wits to me, He has at least given me enough sense to keep the little I have." Unfortunately, Xerxes was not as wise as this simpleton.
But Vashti was no fool. When she got the order to come over to the men's banquet, she knew she was being used to satisfy the kings lust for a new thrill, and she refused. It was either the kings majesty, or the queens modesty that had to be sacrificed, and so she chose to defy his request, and, thereby, became the first truly noble person in the book of Esther. Some even feel she was more noble than Esther.
Morgan, that prince of expositors, cries out, "Let the name of Vashti be held in everlasting honor for her refusal." The majority of commentators agree, but some feel it was her duty to obey her husband regardless of the circumstances. This view would have some basis if it was an innocent request for her to come and greet his honored guest. But we know too much about Persian history, and human nature, to think that is all it was.
Herodotus tells of how some Greeks made the mistake of bringing some of their wives to a Persian banquet. The Persians kept making sexual advances toward them even while their husbands were there.
Vashti had her banquet for the women in a separate place from the men, not just for lack of space, but because the women knew what the men were like after they had been drinking. Sooner or later, and usually sooner, a group of men would get around to the subject of women, and where alcohol is involved you can count on it, the subject will turn to the immoral. What all this means is that Vashti was to be the frosting on the cake at this stag party. She was to march in, and satisfy the lust of this drunken crowd of men, and she said, "No! I won't do it!" She is the equivalent of the movie star who is offered fame and fortune for becoming a centerfold, and she says, "No!" Vashti was a pagan woman, but let us not forget, even pagans have moral standards, and here is one who lived by hers, even at great cost. She was the wealthiest and most famous woman on earth, but she sacrificed it all, and became a nobody, rather than humiliate herself.
Xerxes and Vashti are prime examples of the fact that riches are not the key to a good marriage. That key is not riches, but respect. Xerxes could sleep in a golden bed, and drink from a golden cup, but that did not make him a good husband. He exhibited the common danger of all who have wealth and power. He treated people like possessions, and this included his wife. The records reveal that many professional men tend to use their wives as show pieces. The wives soon learn they are not loved for themselves, but for the statis they bring to their husbands, and the marriage collapses because women demand to be treated as persons. Thus, we see the paradox of beauty. A beautiful woman is a delight and a danger. She can be a blessing or a burden to herself, and to men. Most, if not all, men, are women watchers, and this is simply a recognition of the handiwork of God. The problem is that it can be excessive, and go from looking and appreciating to lusting and aggression.
Faust sold his soul to the devil for the right to have any wish he desired, and he requested that Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world, be reincarnated so he could see her. His request was granted, and he feasted his eyes on the face that launched a thousand ships. He sold his soul out of lust for beauty. That is excessive. We need to keep a sense of balance, however, lest we knock beauty. Esther became the Queen, and saved her people because she was unusually beautiful. Beauty can be used for the purposes of God and good, as well as for the kingdom of darkness and evil. Beauty is good in itself, but like all good, it can be misused and abused, and become a tool of evil.
Vashti was Queen because of her beauty, but it was also her beauty that led to her downfall, for had she not been so beautiful, she never would have been selected to please the lustful eyes of those drunken men. The burden of beauty is a paradox that many women have had to bear. In our culture the beautiful woman is showered with opportunities. Beauty contests offer them scholarships, great jobs, much wealth. They can go on to movies, the stage, and rise to the top. But, the other side is that they face such pressure to use their beauty for what is immoral. The point is, the story of Vashti is a story that is repeating itself over and over again all through history. Non-Christian women are making choices like she had to everyday. They are choosing self-respect and dignity rather than conformity to the lust of men.
You can respond by saying, "Big deal!" There are for every Vashti who says no, hundreds of others to fill in the gap of their refusal. This is true, but, nevertheless, the refusal of the few can change the course of history. And that was the case with Vashti. The few stubborn women who take their stand against impossible odds are the women who have helped make the women of our day the most free in history. Vashti was alone against a government totally dominated by men. Susan B. Anthony grew up in a society very similar, but she revolted against it, and made a big difference because of the Christian principles that forced men to modify their methods.
She was born in 1820 into a Quaker family where women were treated with respect and equality. Her father went bankrupt, and so she and her sisters became teachers. For 15 years they taught with three dollars a week as their top salary. Men teachers were receiving three times that amount. She decided to draw up a Declaration of Rights for women, and she presented it to the New York legislature. She got the signatures of ten thousand women, but the bill was rejected. She went back to the people and kept gathering signatures, and kept lecturing across the state. She covered 54 out of 60 counties, and every time she went to the legislature she was turned down. Six times she went with her petitions, and six times she was rejected. Finally, after unbelievable personal sacrifice, she returned the seventh time, and in 1860 the New York legislature adopted a bill granting women the right to own property, and the right to the money they earned, plus other rights.
The next battle was women's right to vote. She persuaded 15 other brave women to join her, and they marched into the polling headquarters in Rochester in 1872. She told the election inspectors they were there to vote. They told her it was illegal. She pulled out a copy of the U. S. Constitution and said, "Prove it!" They couldn't, and so she and her three sisters, and other women, voted. The newspapers splashed the incident across their front pages. It was a report of what King Xerxes advisers told him. These women had to be punished, or all women would think they had a right to vote. Had Susan B. Anthony lived in Persia, she would have gotten no further than Vashti, but she lived in America, and had the freedom to express her views. She toured the Midwest and drew large crowds to her lecture which was titled, Is It A Crime For A U. S. Citizen To Vote? We don't have time to look at her spectacular trial, but she won, and went on as president of The National Women Suffrage Association to prepare the way for the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote. By her rebellion she changed the course of history. She did it, because like Vashti, she had the courage to say no, and refused to submit to what was not right.
It is always right for any male or female to resist cooperation with evil, and God can use that resistance for His purpose of overcoming evil. Vashti said no to immorality, and God used that, right along with Mordecai's saying no to idolatry. These two personal responses of saying no, led to the providential yes of redemption. Never say, never say no, for words like refusal and rebellion in the proper context, as we see them in Esther, are not vices, but virtues.
Xerxes, with all his power, found out he could not order his wife to do anything he pleased, and get his way. What an enormous embarrassment. He had just spent 6 months and one week impressing all the leaders of his Empire. He could conquer the Greeks and rule the world, but then his wife says no to him. He can't even conquer one woman. The battle of the sexes is the oldest war on earth, just because it cannot be won. There can be peace and reconciliation, but there can be no total victory in this battle, because both sexes have a higher allegiance than to each other.
Joseph Parker, the great English preacher wrote, "There is a higher law than even the will of a king than a husband-the law that gives a woman the right to guard her own modesty when those who should guard it for her do not. Vashti obeyed that higher law written by the Creator....and we can think nothing but good of her in the matter." William Taylor, author of many books, wrote, "No husband has a right to command his wife to do what is wrong, and liberty of conscience ought to be as sacred in the home as in the state."
This act of rebellion by Vashti was a case of civil disobedience to the government, as well as disobedience to her husband, for he was also the king, and the absolute law of the land. We see here that what is true for the authority of a husband and a government are the same. There authority does not allow them to violate a persons moral dignity. No earthly authority has the right to command what is contrary to a persons religious and moral principles. One is always right to obey God rather than man. This does not mean one will not suffer consequences for their stand. The head of the house, or the head of the state may have power beyond your ability to escape. Such was the case for Vashti, and such is the experience of millions of Christians.
If you have dreamed of being a queen, and feel that is the highest goal of life, you are taking your dreams from fairy tales, and not from history. The average American woman is far more blest, and richer in true values than most of the queens of history. Narah Lofts in her book, Queens Of England writes, "I am sure that if all the Queens the world has ever known would rise from their graves and give a truthful account of their lives, the majority of their stories would be on the sorrowful side." Even Esther had to endure isolation, neglect, and fear for her life. I point this out in order to emphasize the greater power, freedom, and rights that you have as American women, then the royalty of the ages have enjoyed. Most queens would envy you, and gladly traded their castle to have what you have.
The surprising thing is you have what you have because of the providence of God in the lives of women like Vashti. She was used to save Judaism, and this is our heritage as Christians. Before her, God used other pagan women to keep his program alive. Moses was saved by an Egyptian princess. She helped make him the mad God used to change all of history. When we look at the genealogy of Jesus in Matt. 1, it is surprising that Jesus was not a pure Jew. Gentile blood flowed in his veins. This means that the blood he shed for the sins of the world was both Jewish and Gentile blood. Where did it come from? From pagan women God used to change the course of history.
One such woman was Rahab the Caananite, also called the harlot, who aided Israel in taking Jericho. She became a part of the blood line to the Messiah. After her came Ruth the Moabitess. She was another Gentile who came into the blood line, so that two of the four women in the genealogy of Jesus were Gentiles, and one of the two books of the Bible named after women was a Gentile-Ruth. When we come to the New Testament we see Jesus dealing with the Samaritan woman at the well. Samaritans were hated by Jews, but Jesus loved her and won her, and she became His best evangelist, and through her many Samaritans were saved.
Jesus could identify with her, for He too was a mixture of Jewish and Gentile blood, and He was doing in the flesh what He had been doing all through history, using women, be they rich or poor, pagan or Jewish, to accomplish His purpose in the world. What women decide, and what women do, has been, is, and will be, a vital part of human progress, for history keeps on confirming what the Bible clearly reveals: God's providence works through women.