Lessons 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 1:10-22 (NLT)

 

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 1:8…

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…
 

  • Half in the bag

  • Kentucky fried

  • Three sheets to the wind

  • Spanking his liver

  • Dancing with pink elephants

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 drunk…

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 alternative…

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 good time.”
~ 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 with anger.

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 be dead.”
~ 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 you.

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 we do.

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.

 

3. Sometimes 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 like that.

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 it…

“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.

 

4. Whatever 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 masterpiece.

 

Application Questions:

  1. What motivated 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?

  2. When has it cost you to do the right thing? How did you feel at the time? How do you feel now looking back?

  3. Can you think of examples of God taking a painful time in your life and bringing good out of it?

  4. Memorize Romans 8:28. How can this verse help you next time you endure a painful experience?

 

[Some of this message was adapted from material by Denn Guptill]

 

 

 

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