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Vashti was a queen of Persia and the first wife of the Persian King Ahasuerus (Esther 1:9). She was dethroned for her refusal to appear at the king’s banquet to show her beauty (Esther 1:10-21). The king later chose Esther to succeed Queen Vashti (Esther 2:1-18). In the Midrash, Vashti is described as evil and vain. She is portrayed as an independent-minded heroine in feminist interpretations of the Purim story.
The Bible does not state the reason for Queen Vashti’s refusal to appear before King Ahasuerus and his guests. Some have proposed that King Ahasuerus asked for an immodest show of Vashti’s beauty, but the context of Esther chapter one doesn’t indicate that this was his plan.
Jewish targums says that her reason for declining to appear before the king was her wish to avoid such an exhibition. The Jewish historian Josephus attributes her decline to what he, wrongly thought to be a Persian tradition, one that apparently banned married women from mingling with strangers.
The truth is that Ahasuerus’ command that Vashti wear the royal crown (verse 11) reveals that he was addressing her, not merely as a beautiful lady, but also as the first lady of his kingdom. It was customary for Persian women to participate in the royal feasts and meet with strangers. And this is clear from the context of Esther 5:4. For Queen Esther herself said: “If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him.”
The Bible also shows that Chaldean wives and concubines also joined their husbands in banquets. “While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his Father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them” (Daniel 5:2).
And according to Nehemiah 2:1–6, the queen of Ahasuerus’ son and successor, Artaxerxes I, attended her lord at wine. In addition, several Greek writers affirm the attendance of Persian women at feasts. Herodotus, a contemporary of Ahasuerus, speaks of Amestris (Esther 1:9) attending the king’s birthday party (ix. 110).
Thus, there is no sufficient evidence to believe that Persian custom banned women from royal banquets, and that it would therefore have been wrong for Vashti to appear when summoned, in spite of the fact that the men were drinking (Esther 7:7). Also, the fact that Vashti held a banquet for the women of Shushan along with that of Ahasuerus for the men, shows her collaboration with his policy in promoting popular loyalty to the throne. But it is not clear why she declined to obey the king’s command.
In dethroning Queen Vashti and appointing Esther in her place, we see God working behind the scenes to save the Jewish nation from destruction. Esther’s guardian, Mordecai, alluded to that when he said to her: “…who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
Although the book of Esther doesn’t mention God by name, it mentions that Esther prayed and fasted for three days before asking the king to save the Jewish people and she also asked the Jews to also do the same (Esther 4:16). We know that prayer and fasting is certainly a religious act associated with God’s worship.
Clearly, God places people in specific situations at specific times to accomplish His desired will. The book of Esther showed that random circumstances could not just happen. For God in His providence orchestrates His plans to work for the good of His faithful children (Romans 8:28).
In His service,