Queen Vashti is one biblical woman who always seems to get a bad rap. This is mostly based on a surface reading of Esther that highlights two things:
1. She was punished for disobedient, even rebellious, actions.
2. She was replaced by the more favorable Queen Esther, the hero of the book, and the one responsible for averting the Israelite genocide.
But this article isn’t about Esther. It’s about Queen Vashti. If we take a closer look at the circumstances of Queen Vashti’s disobedience, it is clear that she was completely justified in her actions, and is a role model for women today.
In chapter one of Esther, King Ahasuerus (also known as King Xerxes in some translations) threw a six-month feast to display all of his wealth and power. At the end of six-month event, the king threw an even more ostentatious seven-day feast for all of the men.
Whether they were important people in the town or not, they all met in the walled garden of the royal palace. Esther 1:5 [CEB]
Queen Vashti did the same for the women.
Take note of what is said about the King’s feast in verse 8: “The rule about the drinks was ‘No limits!’ The king had ordered everyone serving wine in the palace to offer as much as each guest wanted.”
So we can assume that many, if not all, of these men were drunk. On the last day of the feast, likely in a drunken state, King Ahasuerus sent an order to Queen Vashti demanding that she come to the men’s banquet to display her beauty.
Well, she refused; saying, “No!” Do you blame her? I certainly would not want to show off my appearance to a bunch of drunken men. For this simple act of rightful disobedience, Queen Vashti was punished, stripped of her title and position, and removed from the King’s presence forever.
In Esther 1, we observe that Vashti’s value to the king, and to the men at the banquet, was in her body, not in her identity as a thinking, feeling human being. Vashti was valuable to the men because she was beautiful. As soon as she made a decision for herself that did not line up with the king’s will, she was thrown away.
Vashti was reduced to an object, used to satisfy her husband’s desires without question. But she was bold enough to subvert the objectification of her body. Queen Vashti valued herself as more than just a pretty face. She clearly believed that her dignity was worth protecting.
One of the King’s eunuchs advised him to enforce a hierarchical view of marriage across the kingdom.
This is the reason: News of what the queen did will reach all women, making them look down on their husbands… This very day, the important women of Persia and Media who hear about the queen will tell the royal officials the same thing. There will be no end of put-downs and arguments. Now, if the king wishes, let him send out a royal order and have it written into the laws of Persia and Media, laws no one can ever change… When the order becomes public through the whole empire, vast as it is, all women will treat their husbands properly. The rule should touch everyone, whether from an important family or not. Esther 1:17-20
When King Ahasuerus sought a new woman for his queen, the primary requirement was beauty in both face and body:
‘Let the king have a search made for beautiful young women who haven’t yet married… so that he might provide beauty treatments for them. Let the young woman who pleases you the most take Vashti’s place as queen.’ Esther 2:2-4
These women’s beautiful bodies were acclaimed over their gifts, ideas, or personalities. They were even given resources to become still more beautiful. “There was no course in ‘Queen’ or ‘How to Run A Country 101’”1 because these women were not expected to make decisions or wield power wisely.
They were reduced to their beautiful bodies, to being physically pleasing to the king and a symbol for the kingdom.
Later on in the book, Esther risks her life to alert the king of a massacre against her people. She exercises her agency, albeit differently than Vashti, in defying the king and subverting power.
Matthew 10:28-31 states, “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already. Even the hairs of your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.”
Both Esther and Vashti valued their personhood, their souls, over their bodies despite extreme social pressure. They each took stock in something deeper than physical appearance.
1. “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.” Disney Movies. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.
Read Part 2 of this article, More Than A Beautiful Body: Star Wars, Beauty Standards, and the Imago Dei