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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What Good Is a Woman? Lesson 1

Study questions are meant to start you on the trail. (See the What Good Is a Woman? Introduction post if you haven't yet.) My comments appear afterward.

Lesson 1

Read Esther Chapter 1.

Who is Ahasuerus?

What is the extent of his empire? Is he a minor or great figure in the world of his day?

 What is he celebrating?
What is his palace like?
Consider Gen. 1:31 and Ex. 27:9-19. In what ways does Ahasuerus imitate the position and trappings of the Lord?

What do vss. 7 and 8 suggest about the king's generosity and degree of control over his people? Compare to Gen. 2:8, 9 and 3:2.

What request does Ahasuerus make of Vashti the queen?

Does it seem difficult or unfair?

Why is her refusal such a problem for the king?

See Romans 5:12. To whom might we compare Vashti?

Consider: Do we know why Vashti disobeyed her king? Do we know why Adam disobeyed his King? What were their lives like before they disobeyed? Is any reason good enough for such disobedience?

What does v.19 say about the person who will replace Vashti?

       Ahasuerus (or Xerxes) was king over a great empire. Persian rule extended from the Black Sea to Egypt in the west, all the way to India in the east. One might easily see the empire as "the known world." As the Book of Esther opens, Ahasuerus is showing to his minions "the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of his excellent majesty." The celebration takes place in a spectacular setting, adorned with linen, marble, silver and gold.
       The king's satisfaction with his achievement and domain may be compared to God's approval of His creation in Genesis 1:31. His seven-day feast capped with the ultimate celebration echoes the creation week. The lush linens and pillars and precious metals are reminiscent of God's earthly dwelling place as described in Exodus 27:9-19.  Ahasuerus thus imitates the position and trappings of the Lord, even though he is not particularly godly. He turns out to be rather impetuous and shortsighted, but he is the supreme being in this dominion.
        He is also generous (1:7) and not a complete tyrant. He leaves the amount of wine consumption "to each man's pleasure" (1:8). Queen Vashti presides over her own feast until her king makes a fairly simple request, that she should appear in her crown "in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials" (1:11). She disobeys, just as Adam and Eve disobeyed God's simple rule about eating from one tree.
         It is tempting to make excuses for Vashti, and our women's group voiced them. "He was drunk, and probably all the men were. Who would want to walk into a hall full of drunks to be shown off?" We can picture this as an unpleasant scene, yet the text calls Ahasuerus "merry," not cruel or crude. A Jewish tradition says that he ordered Vashti to appear naked, but this is simply not in the text. The reaction of the wise men to her disobedience argues against the request's being anything so outrageous. They fear that Vashti's disobedience will cause other women to "despise their husbands" (1:17). If she refused a degrading and unreasonable request, there is no reason to think this would cause a rash of disobedience. If she refused an appreciative, proud and perfectly legitimate request, then she might indeed corrupt marriages throughout the empire, just as "through [Adam] sin entered the world" (Romans 5:12).
            One old-fashioned and one very modern way of thinking may keep us from wanting to blame Vashti. The first is the notion that women have a natural moral superiority to men, so that no woman could bear to be ogled at a pagan banquet. A quick drive through the "combat zone" of any sizeable city should quash that idea. Then comes the feminist idea that no woman should ever be condemned for her actions because, whatever the crime, surely some stinking man drove her to it. However, if we claim full equality regarding the image of God, we must also admit to bearing the sin of Adam. Even dear ladies of the church have the occasional puff of sin. "Has anyone here ever been pointlessly snotty to her husband?" I asked my study group. A few notebooks rose to cover faces. We quit making excuses for Vashti.
            Adam was king of his world. Vashti was queen of her world. Each lived in a beautiful realm where every necessity was provided. Their masters were rich and generous. Each master asked for obedience in return. Neither Adam nor Vashti had a legitimate reason to disobey. Vashti's fate (1:19) is that she "shall come no more before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she." This is exactly what happened to Adam. He was banished and replaced by One better.

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