In the third year of King Ahasuerus’ reign, he made a multi-day feast for all his officials where he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of his excellent majesty. And “On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded … to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials… But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command … therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him” (Esther 1:10-12).
Nothing in this record gives a clear reason for Vashti’s refusal to obey the king’s command. Some have suggested that Ahasuerus intended an immodest display of Vashti’s beauty, but the context provides no evidence to that. The Jewish targums assumed that her motive for refusing to appear was her desire to avoid such a display. The historian Josephus said that her refusal was due to a Persian custom that presumably prohibited married women from associating with strangers. Yet there is no evidence of this in Persiam custom. On the contrary, there is a reference that Chaldean wives and concubines appeared with their husbands in the feasts (Daniel 5:2). Also, in Nehemiah 2:1–6 it is recorded that the queen of Ahasuerus’ son and successor, Artaxerxes I, accompanied the king at wine.
There is further proof outside the Bible in the writings of several Greek writers that confirmed the appearance of Persian women at feasts. Herodotus, a contemporary of Ahasuerus, speaks of Amestris at the king’s birthday feast (ix. 110). Thus, we can see that there is no reason for thinking that contemporary Persian custom secluded women, and that it would therefore have been improper for Vashti to appear when summoned, in spite of the fact that the men were drinking (Esther 7:7).
Several other factors dismiss the idea that King Ahasuerus’ command was improper. For example, the fact that king Ahasuerus’ command specified that the queen should wear the royal crown (v. 11) shows that he did not merely treat her as a beautiful woman but also as the first lady of the land. We know that it was not disloyalty to the King that prompted her refusal to appear because Queen Vashti herself made a banquet for the women of Shushan along with that of Ahasuerus for the men (ch. 1:9). This shows a united effort to promote the king’s political cause in Persia which proved her loyalty to the throne. Ruling out the reasons of modesty/propriety and disloyalty, we can never really be sure why Queen Vashti refused to appear when King Ahasuerus called her.
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