of Courage from the Old Testament 4
Standing Up for What's Right
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
July 24, 2005
Main Passage: Esther
She was an Israelite who
became Queen of Persia. Sounds like quite a story, and for the past few
weeks I have expected to talk about her this morning. After all, she is
one of one two women to have a book of the Bible named after her, her
name appears in Scripture more than any other woman including Sarah and
Mary, and she courageously saved the entire Israelite race from certain
genocide. So if I’m preaching from the book of Esther, it makes sense
that I talk about Esther.
But as I as preparing this message and doing some reading, another name
caught my attention… a woman who is usually forgotten. Vashti. Vashti
was the Queen before Esther, and was married to King Xerxes who reigned
over the Persian Empire.
So we’re going to talk about Vashti this morning, and in particular
we’re going to talk about an incident that occurred during the third
year of the reign of King Xerxes. It was during that year he decided to
hold a small party for some of his closest friends. Well, maybe it
wasn’t such a small party. Actually, it was a great big blow out for
everybody who was anybody. The celebration went for six months and was
capped off by a week-long party at the palace itself. And by the way he
partied, he must have been a rock star at heart.
We’re given a bit of insight into the kind of party is was in Esther
Esther 1:8 (NLT)
The only restriction on the drinking was
that no one should be compelled to take more than he wanted. But those
who wished could have as much as they pleased, for the king had
instructed his staff to let everyone decide this matter for himself.
Well, that may not mean much to us today, but you have to understand
the culture. Under Persian law, guests of the King could only drink
when he drank. But for this gathering, that restriction was lifted and
people could drink as much as their little hearts desired.
But from what I can see, the King still set the pace. In the New Living
Translation it says…
Esther 1:10 (NLT)
“…Xerxes was half drunk with wine…”
In the New International Version it says,
“…King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine…”
And the King James Version says,
“The heart of the king was merry with wine.”
Those are just polite ways to say the guy was…
However you want to say
it, he was downright drunk. There’s no getting around that.
Now, let me just take a minute to step on a few toes. As many of you
know, in the Wesleyan Church, one of our membership commitments is
total abstinence from alcohol. That includes social drinking. We don’t
call it a sin, we don’t claim that there’s any specific verse in the
Bible that condemns social drinking; we just see it as a wise standard.
You can attend and drink, but you can’t be a member and drink. Because
you’re flirting with something that’s destructive power is well
documented. And besides, at what point does the alcohol begin to affect
your judgment and cognitive ability? Do you really know? Can you really
identify the point when you become drunk? And the Bible may not
specifically forbid social drinking, it is quite clear about getting
Romans 13:12-14 (CEV)
We must stop behaving as people do in the
dark… So behave properly, as people do in the day. Don't go to wild
parties or get drunk or be vulgar or indecent… Let the Lord Jesus
Christ be as near to you as the clothes you wear. Then you won't try to
satisfy your selfish desires.
1 Corinthians 5:11-12 (NLT)
…You are not to associate with anyone who
claims to be a Christian yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or
worships idols, or is abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Don't even
eat with such people.
It isn't my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your
job to judge those inside the church who are sinning in these ways.
So getting drunk is identified as one sin in a list of sins. And then
in Ephesians it tells us not to get drunk, and also offers an
Ephesians 5:18 (NLT)
Don't be drunk with wine, because that will
ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you.
Proverbs 20:1 (NLT)
Wine produces mockers; liquor leads to
brawls. Whoever is led astray by drink cannot be wise.
You cannot be drunk and also be wise. So on the flip side, we see it as
a wise and prudent decision to abstain from alcohol altogether. I
personally have never had a drink of alcohol, and I don’t feel like I’m
missing a thing. I think the misuse of alcohol has led to immeasurable
pain, heartbreak and suffering, and the negative impact of drinking far
outweighs the positive.
It was Lady Nancy Astor who said…
“One reason I don't drink is that I want to know when I am having a
~ Lady Nancy Astor
Well, that’s enough of that. We now return you to our regularly
scheduled program already in progress.
So King Xerxes was drunk. Had he not been drunk, it wouldn’t have
happened. What wouldn’t have happened? We’ll get to that in a minute.
First, a little background. Xerxes became king of Persia at the death
of his father Darius the Great in 485 BC.
[PowerPoint] Now, the Persian Empire was centralized in this area we
know as Iran, but under Darius it was able to overthrow the Babylonian
Empire centralized in modern day Iraq. So the conflict between these
two nations goes back over 2500 years. And then, under Xerxes’ rule, it
expanded until it stretched from India to Ethiopia. So all of this was
under Persian control. Pretty Impressive.
Persia had three capital cities… the official capital was Persepolis
[PowerPoint], but during the summer the center of power was Ecbatana
[PowerPoint], and during the winter the power was based in in the
fortress of Susa [PowerPoint], which was a luxurious palace built as a
winter residence by Darius when he was king. And that’s where our story
today takes place.
Now let’s talk about Vashti. Vashti was not just the king’s wife; she
was his queen. He had all kinds of wives, but only one queen. Her name
literally means, “Beautiful Woman” in the Persian language, and it was
an appropriate name because beautiful is just what she was. According
to tradition, Vashti was born to Babylonian royalty. Her
great-grandfather was Nebuchadnezzar, who we referred to a couple weeks
ago when we talked about Daniel. He was the one who brought the
Israelites to the Babylonian Empire as captives. Her grandfather was
Belshazzar, the last in a line of great Babylonian kings, who’s also
talked about in the Book of Daniel.
So the stage is set. Now, what was it that happened that wouldn’t have
happened if the King hadn’t been drunk? Let’s read about it… the King
is throwing that party we talked about, the Queen is entertaining some
other guests in another location, and then we read…
Esther 1:10-12 (NLT)
On the seventh day of the feast, when King
Xerxes was half drunk with wine, he told… the seven eunuchs who
attended him, to bring Queen Vashti to him with the royal crown on her
head. He wanted all the men to gaze on her beauty, for she was a very
beautiful woman. But when they conveyed the king’s order to Queen
Vashti, she refused to come. This made the king furious, and he burned
So what’s up with that? How could the King issue an order like that,
putting his wife on display? The truth is, he never would have given
that order if he had been sober. I’ll explain why later on. But what
we’re going to do this morning, as we walk our way through this story,
is identify four facts for right living… Four things you should know
about doing the right thing. The first is…
Four Facts for Right Living:
1. Some things
are beyond your control.
Have you ever been to a
party where the men end up in one location and the ladies end up in
another? I mean, here at Sunrise it seems like the guys always end up
standing around a BBQ while the ladies are… we’ll I’m not a lady, I
don’t know where you are!
But that type of thing happens at a lot of gatherings. Here in this
passage, it was a little more formal. We are told the King is doing the
king thing, entertaining the Lords and officials of his kingdom. And
the Queen is doing the Queen thing, entertaining their wives in another
part of the palace. Vashti is simply doing what she is supposed to be
doing. At this point she hasn’t done anything for the king to call her
to come, other then being beautiful.
But the King, in his gravity-challenged condition, tells his guests;
“You oughta see my Queen. She’s a knock out! Guys, go get Vashti, put
the crown on her head, and trot her out here for us to ogle. I wanna
show here to the fellas.”
Remember, Vashti hadn’t done anything wrong. She didn’t do anything to
be treated like a piece of meat. But she was treated that way anyway.
Let me tell you, there will be times in your life that you will be
minding your own business and you be thrust into a situation over which
you have little or no control. That is unfortunately just a part of
life. Stuff happens, even to good people. Life would be so much easier
if it was fair… if disease and accidents and tragedy only visited nasty
evil people. But as Johnny Carson said…
“If life was fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would
~ Johnny Carson
Life is not always fair. Now, sometimes things happen and we are to
blame. You cheat on your spouse and they leave you, you cheat your boss
and he fires you, you cheat the government and you go to jail. You
smoke like a chimney and you get lung cancer. You drive too fast and
get in an accident. You sleep around and get AIDS. We bring those
things on ourselves.
On the other hand, sometimes your spouse leaves, or you get fired or
end up in jail and you didn’t do anything wrong. You get lung cancer
and never smoked, you were driving along listening to a praise and
worship CD when a drunk driver slammed into you. You’ve always been a
faithful partner but your spouse wasn’t and now you are HIV positive.
You try to help someone out, and they take advantage of you.
Just because bad things happen to you doesn’t make you a bad person.
Life isn’t fair. Whoever said it was? Sometimes things just happen that
are out of your control.
The second fact we learn from this story is…
2. What’s right
is right, regardless of the situation.
You may be wondering,
why did Vashti refuse to appear before the King and his pals? What was
the big deal? The short answer is, we don’t know. Here’s the long
answer: Historically the Jewish Rabbis have taught that when Xerxes
commanded Vashti to appear before all the men wearing her crown, all
she was supposed to be wearing was her crown. Now, we don’t know that;
it’s pure speculation. But it would certainly explain why the queen
refused to obey a relatively simple command. The King was drunk and
demanded something that he would never have thought of had he been
sober. He was ready to debase the woman he loved and show her off like
a piece of livestock.
But even if she wasn’t supposed to appear starkers, there was still a
problem. In his book of Jewish Antiquities, the historian Josephus
wrote that strangers were not allowed to look at the beauty of Persian
wives. And so many commentators see Vashti's defiance as a modest and
totally justifiable refusal to appear, even fully clothed, before a
group of drunken men. It just wasn’t right. And she wasn’t going to do
it. And who can blame her?
Proverbs 11:22 (NLT)
A woman who is beautiful but lacks
discretion is like a gold ring in a pig's snout.
But Vashti showed discretion.
As a believer, there will be times in your life that you will be
presented with choices that violate your Christian principles. It might
be as simple as the movies you watch or the music your listen to. Or it
might be more complex then that. Will you lie, cheat or steal? Will you
betray your marriage vow? Will you deny your God? Will you use language
that you know is not glorifying to God just to fit in? There are
choices that you will have to make, and nobody else can make them for
A lot of people will tell you that the ends justify the means. That is,
if you can accomplish a desired result, then whatever path you take to
get there is validated. I mean, isn’t that the argument with stem-cell
research? Everyone wants medical advancement, organs available for
transplants, and diseases cured. But are those results worth crossing
some ethical boundaries?
Or how about abortion? Nobody wants to turn a young woman’s future
upside-down, but at the cost of another human life? What’s right is
right, regardless of the circumstances.
There are those who will do the right thing when it’s convenient and
when it feels good or there’s some kind of reward, but who will
sacrifice their integrity whenever the “right thing” becomes
uncomfortable or unpopular. There are casual Christians who will live
for God when it favours them, and turn their backs on Him when it
doesn’t. But integrity is an all or nothing proposition. Integrity
means there’s a consistency in what we do, what we say, and what we say
Proverbs 10:9 (NLT)
People with integrity have firm footing, but
those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.
Proverbs 11:20 (NLT)
The LORD hates people with twisted hearts,
but he delights in those who have integrity.
Right is right, regardless of the situation or the pressures you may be
under. And if you are going to be a person of integrity who pleases
God, you will be true to what is right, come what may.
doing the right thing will cost you.
In a perfect world,
Vashti would have been vindicated for her decision. People would have
looked up to her and talked about what a virtuous woman she was. But we
don’t live in a perfect world; we live in the real world. And in the
real world, sometimes people are punished for doing the right thing.
Case in point: Jesus Christ. Jesus was completely perfect and without
sin, but yet He was mocked and beaten and hung on a cross to die. I
wish I could tell you that if you always do the right thing you will
always be rewarded. But I’m not going to stand up here and lie to you
So the King orders Vashti to appear before him and all his pals, she
refuses and he flips out. He calls his closest advisors, who were no
doubt at the party, and explains the situation to them. And this is
what they say… insert drunken slur here…
Esther 1:16-19 (NLT)
“Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king
but also every official and citizen throughout your empire. Women
everywhere will begin to despise their husbands when they learn that
Queen Vashti has refused to appear before the king. Before this day is
out, the wife of every one of us, your officials throughout the empire,
will hear what the queen did and will start talking to their husbands
the same way. There will be no end to the contempt and anger throughout
your realm. So if it please the king, we suggest that you issue a
written decree, a law of the Persians and Medes that cannot be revoked.
It should order that Queen Vashti be forever banished from your
presence and that you choose another queen more worthy than she.”
So following the advice of his advisors, King Xerxes punishes Queen
Vashti by issuing an irrevocable decree that she be banished from his
presence and a new Queen be selected.
As kind of a footnote here, listen to the rest of the story…
Esther 1:22 (NLT)
[Xerxes] sent letters to all parts of the
empire, to each province in its own script and language, proclaiming
that every man should be the ruler of his home.
Now, I have to be careful here. My wife is here today. Actually, that’s
just what the letter said. And I don’t believe the spirit of that
letter is the spirit of Scripture. I like how Chuck Swindoll explains
“Queen Vashti represents a good example of the limits of a wife’s
submission. The command for a wife to submit to her husband is clear in
Scripture (Eph. 5:22-24). But it is not absolute and without limits.
The woman does not give up her dignity as a human being when she
becomes a wife. Neither should she allow her principles to be trodden
underfoot by an unprincipled husband. Marriage does not give the
husband license to pursue his basest sexual fantasies, and neither does
it enslave the wife to fulfill them.”
~ Charles Swindoll, in Esther, p. 14
Well, let’s back up. You can almost understand the King getting a
little upset over Vashti not doing what he wanted, even if it was
wrong. And you can understand him removing her as Queen if he was that
upset. But to put into play the entire communication system of the
Persian Empire over this incident seems a little much. But then,
drunken men aren’t known for their reasoning capacity.
And after he sobered up a bit, I think he regretted what he had done.
Check out how chapter two begins…
Esther 2:1 (NLT)
But after Xerxes’ anger had cooled, he began
thinking about Vashti and what she had done and the decree he had made.
But he had issued an irrevocable decree. Not even the King could
rescind it. Vashti had done nothing wrong… in fact, she had done the
right thing… and it cost her.
happens, God can use it for good.
We don’t actually know
what became of Vashti after she was exiled. But we do know what
happened in the Empire. Think about it… It was because Vashti had been
banished that a new Queen was selected. Her name was Esther, and she
was a Jewish girl… although the King didn’t know that at the time.
Actually the entire procedure was kind of bizarre and I don’t have time
to get into it this morning, but it was like the ultimate reality show.
Really, it was. Kind of like a royal version of The Bachelor. If you’ve
never read the book of Esther, then when you get home today grab your
Bible and read it. It’s only about six pages long, and an easy read.
Anyway, because Vashti is exiled, Esther becomes Queen. And eventually
she is able to unfoil a plot to kill all the Jews who lived in Persia.
She saved the entire race from extermination. Now, did God have Vashti
humiliated and banished so that Esther could become Queen? No, I don’t
think so. But did God use those events for a good outcome? Yes, He did.
Read this with me…
Romans 8:28 (NLT)
And we know that God causes everything to
work together for the good of those who love God and are called
according to his purpose for them.
You know, God’s name is never used in the book of Esther. Nobody sends
up a prayer, no one offers any worship… God is like an invisible
participant in this book. And I’m not sure that at any point in the
book you can point to the page and declare “God’s at work here.” At
least, not until the final act was played out. But that doesn’t mean
that God wasn’t at work. When you look at the book as a whole, you can
see God’s fingerprints all over it. He was at work orchestrating
everything to save His chosen people.
In our lives we sometimes can’t understand what is happening. We can’t
see what God is doing. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t at work. Have
you ever watched someone working on a painting or a carving, and you
think, “that doesn’t look like much to me?” But when it’s finished,
it’s beautiful. Sometimes our lives are like that… we see little pieces
and we’re not impressed. But when we see the complete tapestry, it’s a
Xerxes to issue such an inappropriate demand? Was it lust, pride,
insecurity…? Are there attitudes, desires or habits in your own life
that impair your judgment?
When has it cost you
to do the right thing? How did you feel at the time? How do you feel
now looking back?
Can you think of
examples of God taking a painful time in your life and bringing good
out of it?
8:28. How can this verse help you next time you endure a painful
of this message was adapted from material by Denn Guptill]