“If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, that Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she. And when the king’s decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his empire, (for it is great,) all the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small.” — Esther 1:19-20
Throughout history, hasty or ill-advised decisions by kings, military leaders, and heads of state have led to unimagined consequences. Often, those decisions were the result of poor counsel. Perhaps it is true that leaders are only as good as their advisors!
One wonders who advised the British Parliament of 1774 to pass the laws intended to penalize the Massachusetts colonists for the Boston Tea Party rebellion. Rather than suppressing the rebellion, those laws added to the storm of outrage that ultimately led to the American Revolutionary War and independence for the United States.
During the battle of Gettysburg in 1863, who advocated for the tactical error known as “Pickett’s Charge”? Following orders, about 12,500 Confederate soldiers moved across an open field in the face of heavy artillery fire. That maneuver cost 1,100 lives, and 4,000 more were wounded. That was the turning point of the American Civil War; the Confederacy ultimately surrendered in April of 1865 and the union of the United States was preserved.
An ill-advised decision by Russian Emperor Alexander II resulted in the sale of 586,412 square miles of territory to the United States for a mere two cents an acre. While some would deem this one of the greatest mistakes in all of Soviet history, it was of great benefit to the United States. In just fifty years, the profits from Alaska came to more than one hundred times the amount that had been invested in its purchase.
Countless other examples of faulty advice and the outcomes could be cited, but consider one found in the Book of Esther.
In today’s text, an angry King Ahasuerus asked his advisors what to do when his queen, Vashti, refused to appear at his banquet before him and the nobles of the kingdom. Memucan, one of these supposedly wise men, suggested that the queen’s refusal would incite kingdom-wide insubordination by women who would rise up against their husbands. In order to prevent this imagined scenario, Memucan recommended that the king depose Vashti and put another woman in her royal position. The assumption was that this step would cause all women of the land to honor their husbands.
Neither Ahasuerus nor his advisor could have imagined that heeding Memucan’s advice would ultimately save a people from extermination. But that is exactly what happened! Vashti’s banishment set the stage for the events recorded in the Book of Esther. As a result, the Jewish captives in Babylon were preserved from extinction and the Davidic lineage from which the Messiah would one day come was maintained.
Over 2500 years have gone by since Memucan gave counsel to King Ahasuerus, and the Persian Empire long ago disappeared into the annals of history. However, the account preserved for us in the Book of Esther offers valuable lessons for our day.
First, be careful where you go for advice! There are Memucans in our day as well — individuals who offer advice based on faulty perspectives, unclear thinking, or imagined outcomes. God’s Word, or the godly advice of His representatives, is our best resource when guidance is needed.
Second, be prayerful and cautious when making important decisions. Ahasuerus made a rash and impulsive proclamation, possibly while in an intoxicated condition. God is honored when we ponder our choices and make sure that they align to His instructions and will for us.
Finally, be assured that even when civil laws or governmental authorities seem to be spinning out of control, God is still sovereign. He is working behind what we see going on all around us, and His perfect plan will one day be revealed.
Chapter 1 introduces the first main character of the Book of Esther, and provides the foundation for the rest of the account depicting Divine Providence at work on behalf of the Jews. The events in the text took place in the palace of King Ahasuerus at Shushan during the third year of the king’s reign. This was between the two returns of the Jewish exiles to their native land (as related in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah). Today, the excavated urban and architectural remains of Susa (an alternate name for Shushan) are preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site. They include portions of a palace, which belonged to Artaxerxes I, the successor Ahasuerus.
Verses 1-9 describe a 180-day series of feasts held by King Ahasuerus to display the glory and majesty of his empire. According to verse 1, Ahasuerus ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Ethiopia. Some scholars suggest that the king and his advisors used this time of festivities to strategize regarding future military campaigns; these campaigns were not waged to ensure survival, but rather to acquire more wealth, territory, and power. The display of wealth during the feasts may have been to prove that the king had sufficient material resources to carry out such plans.
Historical sources substantiate the Biblical account concerning Persian customs of this era, including the fact that royal banquets were elaborate affairs. The Greek historian Herodotus explained that the Persians drank as they deliberated matters of state, believing that intoxication put them in closer touch with the spiritual world.
According to Jewish tradition, Ahasuerus’ command for Vashti to be brought before those in attendance (verses 9-11) resulted from an argument among the men at the feast as to which country had the most beautiful women. Ahasuerus seemingly decided to settle the issue by putting his queen on public display. The reason for her refusal is not recorded in Scripture.
The description of the wise men “which knew the times” (verse 13) indicates that these counselors were astrologers who used their observations of the stars to formulate their advice. The fact that the decree was sent throughout the whole kingdom (verse 22) implies that it was considered of great importance.
I. The danger to the Jews
A. The background to the plot
1. The divorce of Vashti (1:1-22)
a. The feasts of Xerxes (1:1-9)
(1) The feast for the nobles (1:1-4)
(2) The feast for the people (1:5-8)
(3) The feast of Vashti’s (1:9)
b. The demise of Vashti (1:10-22)
(1) The refusal of Vashti (1:10-12)
(2) The decree of Xerxes (1:13-22)
Even though God’s people were living in exile, He was working on their behalf, setting in place individuals and orchestrating events that would culminate in their deliverance from the threat of extermination.