Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Queen Vashti, by Micah Hayns
On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded [the seven chamberlains] to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to shew the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on. But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king's commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.
— Esther 1:10-12
The Book of Esther is a wonderful story, full of intrigue and heroism. It tells of how Esther, a Hebrew woman thrust into the position of queen of Persia is able, from her privileged position, to thwart a genocide of her people. It is commonly considered pure fiction, an historical novella, written to explain the origin of the Jewish holiday of Purim.1
The story starts though with another woman, Vashti, whose refusal to join the king at his banquet sets off the chain of events that leads to Esther becoming the new queen and saving Israel from extermination. Vashti then is another in the select group of gentile women whose actions, knowingly or unknowingly, have rescued Israel.2
Vashti is having her own party with the women of the court in another part of the house. When the king sends for her, essentially that he may parade her in robes and crown to show off her beauty to his guests, she refuses to obey. We don't know why, but it is suggested that she believes herself more worthy than to be the king's plaything, an ornament to show off. At that particular moment she is engaged with her own friends and not willing to drop everything because her husband demands it. She takes a stand. Not only does this embarrass the king, but his close confidents are struck with terror that their own wives may choose to follow Vashti's stance and disobey their husbands too, For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes... Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath.3 There is a potential women's liberation movement afoot, and the king and courtiers act swiftly to quell it.
Of course, with Vashti banished the king has no queen, so the women of the kingdom, Esther among them, are invited to display their wares. Clearly the king has learned nothing about the dignity of women, but I like to believe he was at least a little shaken. Our protest actions don't necessarily have an impact immediately, but that shouldn't prevent us acting. Accumulated over time each one of those small acts of integrity count for something, and one day the collection of isolated moments becomes a movement.