“For such a time as this” is the most quoted line from this little Old Testament book. As I picked it up tonight, after exfoliating and moisturising my face and scrutinising my flaws in the mirror, I wondered what a story about a beauty pageant winner might have to tell me.
Reading the story from Peterson’s The Message translation (is that the right word for it?) certainly helps with the flow of this little récit about a shaky moment in Israel’s history. I had never realised before that King Xerxes’s reason (or rather that fed to him and enflamed by his advisors) for banishing and essentially divorcing his wife Queen Vashti were so sexist.
After days of revelry and drunkenness, Xerxes decides he’d like to show off his beautiful trophy-wife in front of all his mates. She refuses. We could elegise Vashti and say it was because she did not want to demean herself or whatever, but I’d say it could equally be because she was concerned with her own girly party and was looking worse for wear, or couldn’t be bothered getting changed…! But anyway. Her refusal is seen as an affront to Xerxes’ authority and ownership of her – the King can’t control his own wife?!? The men (some probably trying not to snigger behind their hands) terrify the King that the whole land of women will be in uproar and will be disobeying their husbands right left and centre!
So Queen Vashti is punished – they make an example of her in order to keep the whole nation of women subordinate to their husbands.
Suddenly this ‘story about a beauty pageant’ got more interesting to me…
Its nearly bedtime so I’m not gonna spend ages pontificating about this, but here is what struck me… Firstly I can almost smell the boorishness of Xerxes and his buddies – not an unfamiliar scent even today. Secondly, Xerxes’ wife was the least of his problems – it was the power his reputation in the eyes of his male friends had over him that would worry me! Third, the desire for control, absolute control, over people (in this case women in particular) and their behaviour in relation to one’s own desired state of affairs. And four – the role of ‘fearful what-ifs’ in making a complete shambles of a situation.
Fast forward to Esther’s reign as queen. It seems to me that her power and influence grows stronger – she seems to have been given a place in decisions that matter. Is it that Xerxes was madly in love with her? Was he under her power because of her beauty? Or was it that she had proved herself as capable and righteous because of her petition on behalf of her people? Did he have more respect for her character and goodness? Was he listening less to those eejits he’d had around him before? Who knows.
I like that Esther had more influence and that she is hailed for her courage and faithfulness in ‘such a time as this’ is good and right. But I can’t help but notice that there’s a rather bloody end to this tale…
Once the order to exterminate the Jews was revoked, the King had granted them the right to arm and defend themselves should anyone have missed or disobeyed the revoke. Fair enough… But suddenly the land becomes a blood bath! The Jews kill 75,000 people! Rather than it being a defensive “this-guy-came-to-my-house-to-kill-my-children-so-i-clunked-him-one”, it became a “I’m-a-Jew-yeoo-I-will-kill-you-because-you-hate-me-grrrr”. The cull might have been half that number, but Esther asks the King to allow the killing to go on for another day. What the flip??!!
I can’t help but notice that before this request to the King, there is no three days of fasting and prayer.
So, as I head off to get my beauty sleep… What have I learned from this story? It could take a while to refine, but it seems to me that given a little bit of power, men and women can be complete idiots.
Thank God for grace.