My Favorite Bedtime Story

Salma Gundi's picture

I took my first health care job in a pediatric facility over twenty years ago. The new job came with plenty of stress. They expected the doctors to use heavy sedative doses to get children to cooperate so they could crank out procedures and turn big profits.

            On my last day at work before leaving for a planned vacation, I poured the properly measured sedative liquid for a child, and left it on the counter for the assistant to give to the patient. I came back into the room and saw the assistant pouring additional sedative liquid into the cup for my patient. I confronted her, reminded her she does not have the authority to dispense narcotics, and that my patient could have died from an overdose. I reported it to my supervisor.

            When I returned to town, I found a certified letter waiting for me. They had fired me—no reason given. I had only worked there three months. How could this happen to a hard-working ethical person?   

            Have you ever felt this way? Disposable? Because you made the right decision? The world tries to convince us that our value comes from what people think of us.           

            For example, Indian women will bleach their skin because Indian society has convinced them that light-skinned women surpass dark-skinned women in beauty. The women who put this harsh chemical on their skin believe the lie that more beauty gives them more value.    

            Esther Chapters 1 and 2 tell the story of how Queen Vashti’s refusal to come into the king’s presence caused the king to divorce her and replace her with a new queen.              

            Ahasuerus is the Hebrew name of the Persian King known by his Greek name Xerxes. Think of the tallest most handsome man you’ve ever seen. That’s him. The spoiled privileged king had the richest empire on earth at the time. But he also had some vices: arrogance, excessive drinking, a scary temper, and lust for women.

           In 483 B.C. the king threw a huge banquet that lasted 180 days. Why would a man throw a party for six whole months? Perhaps to show off the vastness of his kingdom.    

            To picture Queen Vashti think of the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen. The Bible doesn’t say much about her, but we know this great beauty came from a royal bloodline.

           Queen Vashti held her own banquet for the women when the king sent his eunuchs to fetch her; the king still had one trophy to put on display at his lavish party. Scripture does not state why Vashti refused the king’s command. We can only guess. 

            Most women would keep distance from a room with hundreds of drunk men. So perhaps she refused because she wanted to avoid the ogling from these drunken fools. Some commentaries say the king wanted her to appear wearing only her turban and nothing else, and that she would not allow her husband to put her on display as a trophy for the viewing pleasure of men. Besides, the laws of the Persians expected the queen to remain hidden from public view. Also her son was born the year of this great banquet. So maybe she was pregnant. Or maybe she disliked her husband—the arrogant insecure drunk. We don’t know. But we can guess that Vashti knew her value went beyond her pretty face.

             After Vashti’s refusal, the king asked his “wise” men for advice—drunkwise men. The king’s advisers feared Vashti’s refusal would cause a rebellion amongst the wives. So they counseled him to divorce Vashti. And by decree, Vashti could never again enter the king’s presence.   

            A man who demands respect from his wife does so because he fears she does not respect him. A man who wants his wife to respect him should behave in a respectful manner.  Jesus doesn’t demand respect and honor from us. He commands it by his gentleness—his kindness—his patience.

             My apologies for the digression. By Chapter 2 the King had second thoughts about getting rid of Vashti. He felt sad and regretted the severity of her punishment. Too late—he had already banished her, and Persian laws could not be undone.

             At least the king had a harem of women and the power to have any woman in the kingdom. The problem: he didn’t want just any woman to spend the night with. He wanted a wife.

           So the king’s attendants advised the king to find a new and better queen. And by better they didn’t mean a woman who could beat him at chess, knit him a sweater, and sing orphans to sleep. The requirements for the new queen? A young virgin with a pretty face. That’s it. Sounds like a good way to pick a wife.

             So they arranged a beauty contest—a search for a new queen. The king’s men seized teenage girls for the harem. The already beautiful virgins then received six to twelve months of beauty treatments in preparation for their one night with the king. The king would sleep with a different virgin each night. (Charming.) The girl who pleased the king would replace Vashti as queen. What does this tell us about a woman’s value at that time? The original Hebrew translations describe both Vashti and Esther as very beautiful. Women had only one purpose in the king’s eyes. Vashti came from a royal bloodline. But that culture still saw her as just a woman—disposable and replaceable.    

            Now many will read Esther Chapter 1 and assume Vashti deserved what she got. She disobeyed her husband. Some Christians use this story as a lesson on the consequences of a wife not submitting to her husband. By the way, if my husband asks me to do something stupid, I will refuse. My husband does not have the authority to ask me to violate God’s commands. My husband cannot expect me to comply with a request to do something indecent.

             But many claim that sweet quiet Esther exemplified godly womanhood better than Vashti did. Did she? 

            Both Vashti and Esther defied the king. Esther just took a more humble approach. And Esther defied the prophets’ command to return to Palestine. She cooperated in practices that defied Jewish Law: she slept with a pagan, King Ahasuerus, before marriage. She ate unclean foods in the palace. Had Esther obeyed the Mosaic Law, the Persians would have uncovered her Jewish identity.  

             Four months ago a state licensing board investigated the death of a four-year-old boy following a procedure at a health care facility. The child stopped breathing after two doses of sedatives. He died the next day. The child’s procedure took place with the same company that fired me over twenty years ago. Because I didn’t go along with their unethical practices, they got rid of me. But God protected me and my career by getting me out of there—a blessing I could not see at the time.   

           Some believe that Vashti does not matter in the big picture, and that Queen Esther deserves the spotlight. But if Vashti had not refused the King’s order, Esther would not have replaced her. Do we see God’s sovereignty in this story?           

            We can shift nations if we use our strength and abilities for God’s glory. So let’s not call strength a bad female trait. We don’t help women when we do this. Maybe God is up to something profound in your life, or you would not be here for such a time as this.

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