1-2 King Xerxes of Persia lived in his capital city of Susa and ruled 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. 3During the third year of his rule, Xerxes gave a big dinner for all his officials and officers. The governors and leaders of the provinces were also invited, and even the commanders of the Persian and Median armies came. 4For 180 days he showed off his wealth and spent a lot of money to impress his guests with the greatness of his kingdom.
5At the end of this time, King Xerxes gave another dinner and invited everyone in the city of Susa, no matter who they were. The eating and drinking lasted seven days in the beautiful palace gardens. 6The area was decorated with blue and white cotton curtains tied back with purple linen cords that ran through silver rings fastened to marble columns. Couches of gold and silver rested on pavement that had all kinds of designs made from costly bright-colored stones and marble and mother-of-pearl.
7The guests drank from gold cups, and each cup had a different design. The king was generous 8and said to them, “Drink all you want!” Then he told his servants, “Keep their cups full.”
9While the men were enjoying themselves, Queen Vashti gave the women a big dinner inside the royal palace.
10By the seventh day, King Xerxes was feeling happy because of so much wine. And he asked his seven personal servants, Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carkas, 11to bring Queen Vashti to him. The king wanted her to wear her crown and let his people and his officials see how beautiful she was. 12The king's servants told Queen Vashti what he had said, but she refused to go to him, and this made him terribly angry.
13-14The king called in the seven highest officials of Persia and Media. They were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan. These men were very wise and understood all the laws and customs of the country, and the king always asked them what they thought about such matters.
15The king said to them, “Queen Vashti refused to come to me when I sent my servants for her. What does the law say I should do about that?”
16Then Memucan told the king and the officials:
Your Majesty, Queen Vashti has not only embarrassed you, but she has insulted your officials and everyone else in all the provinces.
17The women in the kingdom will hear about this, and they will refuse to respect their husbands. They will say, “If Queen Vashti doesn't obey her husband, why should we?” 18Before this day is over, the wives of the officials of Persia and Media will find out what Queen Vashti has done, and they will refuse to obey their husbands. They won't respect their husbands, and their husbands will be angry with them.
19Your Majesty, if you agree, you should write for the Medes and Persians a law that can never be changed. This law would keep Queen Vashti from ever seeing you again. Then you could let someone who respects you be queen in her place.
20When the women in your great kingdom hear about this new law, they will respect their husbands, no matter if they are rich or poor.
21King Xerxes and his officials liked what Memucan had said, 22and he sent letters to all of his provinces. Each letter was written in the language of the province to which it was sent, and it said that husbands should be in charge of their wives and children.
From the very start of the Book of Esther, King Xerxes of Persia is introduced as great. He rules from his winter capital city of Susa over a vast land stretching from Northern India to the Upper Nile. His empire is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-faith and his rule is impressive in its organization. He structures his empire into one hundred and twenty seven provinces, held together with a system of governance, law and communication that would be the envy of any nation today.
However, King Xerxes’ character flaws undercut true greatness. He uses his wealth and power to garner the honour and praise he covets for himself and for the greatness of his kingdom. Xerxes is a man of excess, volatile in his emotions, impetuous in his thinking, and often reckless and unwise in his actions.
In the third year of his reign (485-465 BC), King Xerxes hosts two dinner parties. At the second party, Xerxes crosses the line of good sense and good relationships, ordering Queen Vashti away from a banquet she is hosting for women guests to exhibit herself as his beautiful trophy wife in front of his drunken male guests. When Vashti refuses, Xerxes flies into a rage and banishes her forever.
In Xerxes’ hunger for greatness and honour, he disregards wisdom, stomps on relational love and passes laws that destroy peace in his kingdom.
Esther 1 sets up a story involving four key individuals: a king, a Jewish father and adopted daughter, and the king’s highest official who is anti-Jewish. Each one acts from desires that drive them most deeply. Two act from self motivation and two act from godly motivation. All four have an impact on a much larger group of people. Actions, the book of Esther show us, are never individually isolated.
God, I can so easily get caught up in a race towards greatness. Cleanse my longings and open my eyes, that I may perceive rightly true greatness when I run across it. You are great, Lord, and greatly to be praised. Amen.