The Queen’s Refusal
King Ahasuerus (Greek name – King Xerxes) had just finished a six-month open house, showing off the riches of his kingdom to all the 127 province leaders, army officers, and other nobility. He then threw a one-week party for those in the palace. As per Persian custom, the king hosted the men in the palace courtyard, while the queen hosted the ladies in another banquet room inside.
On the last day of the week-long party, the king sent his servants to ask the queen to join him in the courtyard, to honor her. Verse 10 says the king was in a festive mood (he was “merry with wine” – mildly intoxicated, not falling down drunk). The king asked her to put on her best outfit, including her crown. From all indications, the king was not trying to make a spectacle of his wife, but was rather intent on honoring her before the other men.
Upon hearing the king’s request, Queen Vashti refused to get dressed up and join the king. This was not a single request; in fact, verse 10 says that the king sent his request seven times (one for each of the eunuchs mentioned). Still, the queen refused him.
At this point, the week-long party was officially over. Sensing the elephant-sized tension on the air, everyone likely grabbed one last morsel of food from the banquet table, then went back to their rooms and laid low until the issue was resolved.
Was the king wrong for asking his wife to join him? The king’s request certainly broke standard social protocol of the day, but the king’s request was not not meant to dishonor her. It was likely awkward for the queen to receive the request, and had the king been completely sober, he would likely not have put her in this situation.
Was it wrong for the queen to refuse the king’s request? While the queen could certainly remind the king that his request was out of the norm of social protocol for a head of state, her outright refusal to respect his repeated requests to publicly honor her disrespected him and set up a precedent for anyone else to ignore the requests and commands of the king.
The king was very angry at the queen for publicly embarrassing him by refusing to join him. While he may have been mildly intoxicated, he had enough sense to call together his trusted advisers and figure out what to do next.
As much as the queen’s actions grieved the king, the king’s advisers recommended that the king essentially divorce the queen, and depose her from from her position as queen. The king did not have her put to death (which was totally in his power to do, from later dialogue in the story), but instead, had her removed from office and stripped of all her title, privilege, and honor.
The king then sent out a letter to all the province officials, to be proclaimed throughout the Persian kingdom, that the man was to be the head of the household, from the greatest (highest official) to the smallest (lowest slave).
There are so many lessons to be learned here, but a few really stand out:
- The king’s pride, more than his intoxication, got him into this situation where it became a showdown with the queen.
- King Ahasuerus did not follow or honor the God of the Jews, so he had no basis to make wise decisions. His decision-making was based on the social norms of the day, and on remaining in control.
Thankfully, as followers of Christ, we are called to live differently, and have God’s wisdom in His Word and the direction of His Holy Spirit living in us, to guide us and show us how to live. We are called to live in a new way, not according to the old way of trying to control everyone and everything around us. We acknowledge and honor God, whom has ultimate control in the universe, and whom we choose to serve above all else.
However, the choice is still ours… may we be like Joshua:
“but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)