Was Vashti Nasty?

woman wearing silver tiara
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You may know her as the cucumber with her hair in rollers who was summoned at 3:00AM to fix the king a sandwich. When she refuses, we see her get the boot with her suitcase not far behind. 

You may know her from your flannel graph days in Sunday school as the queen who didn’t listen to the king so she got kicked out of the castle. Move her flannel figure outside the kingdom please. 

You may condemn her as the epitome of an unsubmissive wife, the female representation of Persian of shame and whose removal were her just deserts. 

You may applaud her courage for rising up, giving it all up and walking away with her dignity intact. 

You may never have heard about her all. So, let’s start there.  

* * * * * * * * * *

Who is Vashti? 

She doesn’t utter one word in the book of Esther and is only mentioned in the first two chapters. It goes something like this: 

She throws a banquet. (Esther 1:9)

She gets summoned by the king. (Esther 1:11)

She refuses to go. (Esther 1:12)

She is discussed and ridiculed with the king, by his council. (Esther 1:15-18)

She (and thus all the women of Persia) is judged, and a new decree is given. (Esther 1:19-20)

She is remembered by her former husband, King Xerxes. (Esther 2:1)

She is replaced. (Esther 2:17) 

Do we scan through Esther 1 and 2 with detachment and apathy or do we see Vashti? Do we take a minute to stop and consider her world? Do we leave her in the shadows, or in our disgust of her unsubmissive behavior? Does she really matter to the story? Isn’t this book all about Esther? 

We miss the whole point of the book of Esther if we see the king as the handsome hero who saves the orphan girl, Esther by choosing her to be the next queen of Persia. Vashti helps us see the real king, so we can see more clearly who Esther is and the courage it takes for her to go to the king with her requests. This, in turn, allows us to better understand who God is. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What does Vashti do to get the boot? 

What does Vashti do that got her dethroned and banished from the kingdom? 

The first few verses of Esther let’s us know the backdrop of the story. King Xerxes invites his nobles, officials, military leaders, princes and nobles of surrounding provinces to a banquet that lasts 180 days. Yes, six months of displaying the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. Look at me and all that I have and all that I am.

It doesn’t stop there. He then invited everyone, from the least in the kingdom to the greatest, to another feast that lasted seven more days. Nothing was spared. One could sit on a couch of gold or silver while drinking the finest wine from a golden goblet, as little or as much as you liked. 

There were thought to be thousands in attendance over the course of those seven days. 

Meanwhile, Queen Vashti is throwing a banquet for the women of the men who were at the king’s party but in a different part of the palace. 

On the seventh day…seven days of drinking as much or as little as you would like…when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. (Esther 1:10-11 NIV)

Scholars have wrestled with the meaning of the king’s command. Some think he meant she simply come unveiled, which would have been scandal enough. Others think he requested she wear only her crown, which would have been a scandal on a whole other level. Remember he has been showing off all that is his…his kingdom, his glory, his majesty, his wealth and now his wife. 

She refused. 

He got angry. 

Scripture tells us the king became furious and burned with anger. (1:12)

Not at himself for having asked his wife to parade in front of a room full of drunken men on a seven-day bender but at her for having refused him. 

He gathers a group of seven princes (not to be confused with the seven eunuchs) and asks their advice. These men were like his cabinet of advisors. What’s to be done? What’s the game plan? What are we supposed to do with this refusal? What if our own wives think they can do the same thing? Dude, you can’t let her get away with this… 

One man, Memucan, replies, Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women and so they will despise their husbands and say ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come. This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord. 

Therefore, if it pleases the king let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king her royal position to someone else who is better than she. Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest. (1:16-20) 

And men say women overreact? 

One resource I read said, “It’s worth noting that Vashti did not break any known law by refusing to be seen. When Xerxes asked his counselors, what should be done to her according to the law, they had to create a new document, a new decree. 

In fact, it may well be that if Vashti had presented herself at the royal kegger, she might have broken a law. Plutarch, in his Advice to the Bride and Groom, wrote this: ‘When Persian kings dine, their legal wives sit beside them and share the feast. But if the men want to amuse themselves or get drunk, they send their wives away, and summon the singing-girls and the concubines. 

Vashti was dethroned because she refused to be seen but it was Xerxes who refused to see her as a person of real value instead of simply an extension of his property or something to show off to the guys. 

When he sobered up and realized what went down, he remembered Vashti and felt her absence, thus the need for a replacement…enter Esther and the rest of her story. 

What can we learn from this account? 

Vashti and Esther lived in the same patriarchal system. Royal status didn’t immune either of them from the constant threat of removal or death. Vashti was defiant but then again so was Esther in a more subtle way. 

If Vashti could defy the king to protect her own dignity, how much more would Esther be inspired to have the courage to save her own people. Vashti set the precedent. Esther improved on it. 

Vashti’s presence in this book is small but vital to the story; with her, we see the impossible odds Esther will face as the next queen because we have seen the impulsive and bad behavior of the king. By the time Esther is crowned, complete wifely compliance has been the law of the land for four years.

God’s sovereignty is at work. Xerxes has billed himself a god, but he will bow to the will of the One true God. 

In our sex-saturated culture, knowing that God honors a woman’s character is indeed freeing. It is never God’s design that a wife submit to her husband’s evil desires. What Xerxes asked Vashti to do was not submission but abuse. 

It wasn’t Vashti who was nasty but the king. Instead of wondering why she didn’t just listen (submit) to the king’s order, maybe we should question how the king could demand such a thing of his wife, the woman he is to love and honor.  Maybe we should call it what it was…abuse of power. That’s not of God. 

No matter how forcefully the leaders of Persian tried to reduce a woman to body parts and brainless obedience, God never fails to value her for her courage and character. Just as Esther, an orphan turned beauty queen, is seen by God as a key instrument for his deliverance and a powerful ally for his people. Vashti is remembered in the first two chapters of the book of Esther, not for her looks, though she was beautiful, but for her courage to stand up for her honor and dignity and say Enough! 

It’s the same today. It takes Vashti sized courage to stand up to powerhouses and speak out against abuse, to walk away from the kingdom but have your dignity and honor. It takes Vashti sized bravado to recognize abuse disguised as submission and call it out.

God sees women as valuable assets to move his kingdom forward. So should every male…husband, leader, pastor and friend. 

He sees you. He sees me. He sees us. 

Let’s be Vashti’s together. 

kw

Other Forgotten Females of the Bible:

The Grit and Grace of Grandma’s

Where’s Huldah?

Where’s Huldah?

Maybe you’ve sat staring, searching, scanning hoping to be the first to spot Waldo in the sea of people. Isn’t it fun? 

He’s the iconic, elusive man in the red and white striped shirt, pommed hat and round wire rimmed glasses. He was first hidden away in 1987 by British illustrator Martin Handford. He got the idea for “Where’s Waldo” after working as a freelance illustrator where he drew crowd scenes for magazines and companies.  “The art director suggested that he make a character to act as a focal point in his pictures of crowds to encourage people to look at the picture more closely.”

I like the art director’s idea of encouraging people to look closer at the crowds of people, trying to spotlight just one. 

There’s a woman in the Old Testament who gets lost, not in a sea of people but in a crowd of commentators who, at the mention of her name, mostly make excuses as to why she, a woman, was used by God when there were male prophets at the ready. 

Photo courtesy of Macey Philips

When my friend texted me and asked if I’d ever heard of her, I had to admit I had not. Neither had she, a 4-year degreed Bible college graduate, and yet had not once heard of Huldah the prophetess taught in all her classes. 

I asked a male pastor friend if he’d heard of Huldah. Nah. Maybe she didn’t get much press for a reason. (hmmm…?!)

I asked my man if he had heard of Huldah. Is that the lady who made those tops that was so popular in the ‘70s? Um. No. That would be halter. Not Huldah. (He does like to try and fire me up!) 

Who is Huldah? 

Her story can be found in 2Kings 22:14-20 and the parallel in 2Chronicles 34:22-28. Although Huldah appears in only fourteen total verses, much greater significance has been placed on those who occupy far less ink on a page. An extreme example of this is Jabez whose name is found in one verse and yet became a household name in 2000, when The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson sold more than nine million copies as a New York Times best seller. 

So, who is she? And what was her role? 

Huldah was a prophetess who lived in the Second District of Jerusalem. Significant, for their location was thought to be near the king and within the walled city. She was married to Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhus, keeper of the wardrobe. They were thought to be makers and menders of the priestly garments and the royal wardrobe. 

What’s the backstory? 

Josiah had become king when he was eight years old. Ten years pass between 2Kings 22:1 and 3. He was a righteous man who chose to follow in the footsteps of King David instead of the two generations of evil kings that led before him. 

He had the temple repaired and in doing so, the book of the law was discovered. This would be like losing your Bible in a church building and not missing it for years. The book of the law was most likely all five books of Moses. King Josiah has the book read aloud to him (most scholars believe it was from Deuteronomy.)

Chapters 4-13 would convict this righteous king about the wicked things the nation had already done. 

Chapters 14-18 would greatly disturb him about what the people had not done. 

Chapters 27-30 would spell out what God would do if the nation did not repent of their sins of both commission and omission. 

Josiah was so deeply torn by the state of his country that he tore his robes and ordered the high priest and several officers to ask the Lord about Judah’s spiritual condition. 

Who Ya Gonna Call? 

At the time there were two well-known prophets in the land, Jeremiah and Zephaniah who was a relative of Josiah. Neither of them were called upon to answer the King’s inquiry. 

Scripture tells us Josiah gave these orders to a committee of royal officials, go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us. (2Kings 22:12-13NIV) 

This royal committee shows up on the doorstep of our girl Huldah the prophetess. There are only a handful of other women who have this same title: Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Naodiah (Nehemiah 6:14), the wife of Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 8:3), Anna (Luke 2:36) and the four daughters of Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8-9). 

The committee of men going to Huldah’s house is significant in the fact that lower ranking people were sent for by a messenger and brought before the committee or even the king. Instead, these royal officials, sought her out, at her house, to get the message to take back to the king. By this we know she was well regarded by King Josiah. 

The Message

Part one of her message: She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on the place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and provoked me to anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’” (2Kings 22:15-17NIV)

Huldah has some hutzpah here. She is not fazed by the fact that she is speaking a message to the king. In fact, in the first part of her message she doesn’t even address him as such, calling him, the man who sent you to me. Her job was to relay the message of the Lord, not coddle the receiver of said message. 

Part two of her message: Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you have heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see the disaster I am going to bring on this place. 

So they took her answer back to the king. (2Kings 22:18-20NIV)

The nation would feel the full cup of God’s wrath, but Josiah would be spared because of his humility and desire to serve the Lord. Huldah doesn’t mince words. She isn’t starry eyed, faint of heart or weak in her delivery. 

In fact, the royal officials take this message back to King Josiah who calls the elders, priests and prophets together and gets the ship turned around. Josiah renews the covenant with the Lord. He cleans up the temple, tears down the shrines, ousts the priests who were up to no good, destroyed altars to idols, and reimplemented the celebration of the feasts. 

Josiah asked Huldah. Huldah answered. Josiah listened. He didn’t delay or seek a second opinion or dismiss the words of a woman.  

Antiquated Answers

As I read through the chapter on Huldah written by Christa L. McKirland, ThM from the book Vindicating the Vixens, imagine my surprise at the rationale of some of the early Christian writers: 

~ One “remarks that God uses women, and Huldah in particular, since ‘it is the rule of Scripture when holy men fail, to praise women to the reproach of men.’” (fourth-century theologian Jerome) (pg 224)

So God can only use women in key roles to shame men? 

Then radio silence on any mention of Huldah…for more than a millennium. 

~ John Calvin pairs together Huldah with Deborah, agreeing with Jerome that God wished to raise them on high to shame the men and obliquely show them their slothfulness. Whatever may be the reason, women have sometimes enjoyed the prophetic gift. (pg. 224)

I’m sure you’re right Mr. Calvin, because women love to give messages of doom and gloom. And only when the men are lazy and don’t feel like messing with being a messenger. 

I can’t help but wonder if these men thought Jeremiah and Zephaniah needed shaming? And if so, why? The fact that they want to add to the story, creating a reasoning that simply isn’t there, tells more about them than it does about the men in Huldah’s day. 

~ Matthew Henry wanted to give all the props to the fact that Huldah was a wife who was speaking under her husband’s authority, revealing his need to justify God’s using a woman. Never mind that her title of prophetess came before her name and the revelation that she was married was listed after. (pg. 224-225)

~ John Wesley suggests that Jeremiah is in some remote part of the kingdom and Zephaniah might not be a prophet at the time of Josiah’s inquiry. Wesley goes beyond the text trying to justify how this can be…God using a woman to speak a message to the king. (pg. 225)

Yep. Because God would have no idea if Jeremiah would be vacationing at the same time Josiah needed a word. Obviously God’s timing on delivering the message was poor…he had to use a woman to do it. 

What about a more modern-day preacher? Surely he would talk more about the message given rather than the messenger giving it. 

~ John McArthur says this, Huldah. This prophetess is otherwise unknown in the OT. She was held in some regard for her prophetic gift, though why she was consulted and not another prophet like Jeremiah or Zephaniah is unexplained. Rarely did God speak to the nation through a woman and never did a woman  have an ongoing prophetic ministry identified in Scripture. No woman was inspired to author any of Scripture’s sixty-six books. (The MacArthur Bible Commentary)

Thanks John. Maybe you think, like you did with Beth Moore, Huldah should have stayed home too? (See what I wrote to Dear Jane when this incident occurred.)

Could it simply be there was no explanation needed? Could it be Josiah preferred to use Huldah as his prophetess. Why does there need to be such speculation? Why can’t we be thankful that Huldah used the gifts God gave her when called upon to do so? 

At the end of the day, does the “why” matter more than the “what”? Is it more important to try and figure out why God would use a woman to deliver the message or the message itself? 

Hunches and hypothesis beyond the text about Jeremiah and Zephaniahs shame or absence or whatever, is futile and distracts from the message. The priests went to speak to the prophetess Huldah (period). If God didn’t see the need to explain why, maybe we shouldn’t make up excuses and just let it be as it is. 

We can exemplify and acknowledge the uniqueness of a female prophet, especially in a male dominant culture, without diminishing the validity of Huldah’s gifts. Ditto for the women of today!

Modern Day Huldah’s

What can we learn from this oft forgotten woman of the Old Testament?

  • Huldah was ready when called upon. They needed a message from the Lord and she delivered. She didn’t ask “why me” or where the other prophets were, she simply did what she was gifted to do. Are you prepared, in season and out, to give a message, to share a word, to teach, rebuke, admonish or offer hope when asked to do so? 
  • Huldah didn’t worry about who her audience was, she was obedient in using her gifts of prophecy no matter the sex, title or status of the receiver of the message. We have a responsibility to use our gifts regardless of our or anyone else’s sex, title, degree, status or station in life. 
  • Huldah was a willing vessel for being used by God. I’m sure, given the status of women in Huldah’s culture it wasn’t easy being a prophetess. It was, in fact, a male dominant space. But she did it….with no apologies. We live in a culture that has turtle crawled toward recognizing women in leadership roles in the male dominant church. Are we willing to keep using our gifts and talents? Are we willing to keep having conversations? 

What a fantastic role model Huldah is for us! Now when someone says, Where’s Huldah?  you’ll be able to find her right away and share the story of how God used this woman to bring a message to the king and help turn a nation back to Himself. 

kw

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The Grit and Grace of Grandma’s

The Grit and Grace of Grandma’s

Here I am holding my first born son, kneeling in front of the 6 of 7 grandmothers (2), great-grandmothers (3) and great-great-grandmother (1). Missing is Great Grandmother Wright who attending her 50th year class reunion!

My grandparents were about the age I am now (double nickels baby!) when they took my older brother (3 years old) and me (18 months old) in to live with them. They moved from our house “in town” to the house in the country with two toddlers in tow. We even helped her pack up and everything! (Every grandmother reading this knows how helpful that kind of help is…) 

We settled in the “country house” quite nicely. There was a garden big enough to feed us through the summer and provide canned goodness all throughout the winter months. My brother and I would play outside for hours. Freeze tag. Basketball. Baton twirling. Jump rope. I would “drive” the tractor and act like I was going to town. We would lay upside down on a small hill and create images out of the clouds…elephants, dinosaurs, faces, dogs, birds. 

My Grandpa worked a swing shift running the burn off at Anchor Hocking. He would take naps at curious times of the day, curious for a young child who did not understand what working a short-change over entailed. But I would be right there beside him…on the wooden floor but always in the sunshine, under the shade of the tulip poplar tree out back and my favorite on the red vinyl recliner in the basement. Nothing felt more like a refuge than falling asleep on your Grandpa’s belly, me trying to match him breath for breath while the Statler Brothers belted out Flowers on the Wall on the vinyl: 

Countin’ flowers on the wall
That don’t bother me at all
Playin’ solitaire till dawn with a deck of fifty-one
Smokin’ cigarettes and watchin’ Captain Kangaroo
Now don’t tell me I’ve nothin’ to do

I mean: Vinyl chairs. Vinyl records. The Statler Brothers. Life was good.

Because of Grandpa’s seven-days-a-week swing shift factory job, I spent the majority of my time with Granny. I learned to cook and bake for which my family is thankful! I learned to love simple things like drinks from a hose, noticing when seeds began to pop up through the soil, the art of make believe, and to never say within earshot that I was bored. I learned to grow things…flowers, corn, tomatoes, peas, strawberries, onions, potatoes and most importantly my faith. 

We grew up going to a little country Methodist church where indoor plumbing was a luxury we didn’t have until well into my elementary school age years. Our church always had the retired guys who still loved to preach but was too old to have a “real” church. Granny took my brother and me every Sunday. No matter what. No matter the weather. No matter the whine. And definitely no matter the attitude.

If we gave her too much grief, she would close her eyes, move her lips in silent prayer after which, we would all climb in the ‘72 Pontiac and head to church. I was never sure if she prayed for wisdom or prayed for the patience to not snatch us bald headed. Either way, when Granny prayed, we listened…out of fear of a lightning bolt from God or a lilac switch from Granny…we behaved ourselves in the pews of that little country church. 

Her faith was lived out in the faithful way she lived. Quietly raising up her second round of kids. No fluff. No fanfare. But a confidence in Christ to see her through with the grit and grace she needed day by day.  

Granny was essential in how I grew in my faith. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

The Grandmother

There’s one little verse that packs a powerful punch for those of us who have entered the delightful role of being a grandparent and in particular a grandmother. 

Paul is writing a letter to Timothy, encouraging him to continue his ministry, letting him know how much he is missed and reminiscing of their last time together. He continues: 

That precious memory triggers another: your honest faith—and what a rich faith it is, handed down from your grandmother Lois to your mother Eunice, and now to you! (2Timothy 1:5MSG) 

We don’t know much about this dynamic mother-daughter duo except that they were steadfast in the raising up of young Timothy in God’s word. Some believe that because Lois was listed first, she was essential in her grandson’s faith.

But as for you (Timothy), continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2Timothy 3:14-15ESV bold is mine)

The Grit

Paul doesn’t mention anything about Timothy’s grandfather, Lois’s husband, so we don’t know if he’s passed away or simply not involved in helping to teach him about God. Perhaps he is an unbeliever like Eunice’s husband is thought to be. (Acts 16:1)

No matter the reason, this Granny didn’t let that stop her from being involved in her grandson’s upbringing in the faith. Here again because the word whom in verse 14 above is plural, it leads one to believe that both Eunice AND Grandma Lois were deeply involved in all things spiritual, taking care that this little boy was acquainted with the sacred writings.  

While we may not look at this as such a big deal today, it took some grit and tenacity to step into those sandals and walk the path of being the spiritual leader to what would become a close associate to the apostle Paul, a giant in the faith. 

I wonder if Lois ever closed her eyes and moved her lips in silent prayer as a young Timothy whined about going to church? Maybe he hopped on in the chariot, not knowing if his Grandmother was praying for wisdom or a whippin’ but knew to not push it when she got to the point of praying! 

The Grace

Lois was Eunice’s mother. Eunice was an adult woman, a wife and a mother herself. The situation had the possibility of not being ideal: they were raising a child who might not have had a grandfather and a dad who was not a believer. Lois could have said she’d raised her family and would rather spend her time doing what SHE wanted to do. 

Yet she chose to give. Of herself. Her time. Her love. Showing, teaching, living her faith before a moldable young grandson who would grow up to love the Lord and serve Him well as a New Testament pastor and Paul’s right-hand man.  

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Nana. Gigi. Mimi. Gogo. Bibi.

Gammy. Memaw. Grandmaw.

Granny. Grandmere. Grandmother. 

Whatever name you go by, know this: you have an important role to play…even still.  There are things to be taught and caught. Taught by the words we say. Caught by the way we live. 

It takes grit because at this point in life you’ve lived through some stuff. Heartaches and headaches. Happiness and hell. You may think you’re too old for this. Gird your loins and pull up your girdle girls, we’ve got some flannel graphs to cut out! 

It takes grace because, boy is life different than when we raised our little ones. But the Good News of God’s Son is the Greatest Story Ever Told and that one never gets old. 

With no fanfare or fluff, Granny’s are tough.

They may no longer be quick, to grab the lilac stick. 

But a greater weapon they say, is to bow our heads and pray. 

Like Lois of old, we too can be bold. 

Teaching our grandkids the faith, day by day with grit and grace. 

kw