This well known passage marks the beginning of the Book of Esther and the first of a series of events used by Yahweh to prevent Satan from exterminating the Jewish people. Many people and many threads of divine intervention combine to unfold a story which even today children and adults alike still find gripping - a story which is remembered by most Jews and Messianics each year at Purim.
"Queen Vashti also made a feast for the women in the royal palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus.
On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him.
Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times (for this was the king's manner toward all who knew law and justice, those closest to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who had access to the king's presence, and who ranked highest in the kingdom): 'What shall we do to Queen Vashti, according to law, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus brought to her by the eunuchs?' And Memucan answered before the king and the princes: 'Queen Vashti has not only wronged the king, but also all the princes, and all the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen's behaviour will become known to all women, so that they will despise their husbands in their eyes, when they report, 'King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in before him, but she did not come.' "This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media will say to all the king's officials that they have heard of the behaviour of the queen. Thus there will be excessive contempt and wrath. If it pleases the king, let a royal decree go out from him, and let it be recorded in the laws of the Persians and the Medes, so that it will not be altered, that Vashti shall come no more before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she'" (Esther 1:9-20, NKJV).
My interest in this story, however, concerns what I call the 'principle of hierarchies'. Ask any number of believers how they view the passage I have selected above and you may get some very interesting answers and enough material to make for some very interesting and possibly emotive discussion. The events herein recorded concern a pagan queen and a pagan king who got a little tipsy and who wanted to show off his queen to his officials. Her refusal to be obedient led to her dismissal as queen and to paving the way for Esther to assume the throne in her place.
In spite of this being a pagan setting and not even involving the heroes of the story - Mordecai and Esther - it does contain some very important Torah principles from which we can learn much, especially within the context of a Christian/Messianic patriarchal family. No doubt we can all read this story and find fault on the part of the chief actors - a slightly drunk king and a rebellious and disobedient wife. We can also question the king's motives for wanting to 'show off' his wife. I've heard people say that he wanted to parade her as a woman might be paraded in a striptease show but this is hardly fair or accurate. The text tells us that he wanted to show off his very beautiful wife, not to degrade her, but to honour her because of her beauty.
We are not told why Vashti refused the king's command, only that she did, as presumably the grounds were unimportant. Some may argue that this incident is irrelevent in terms of teaching us a moral and that it is merely a leader to the main plot, but I disagree. I believe its inclusion has much of a moral nature to teach us, particularly in the New Covenant.
Let us move on a few centuries to the Apostle Peter who uses a Torah precept to illustrate the right relationship between husbands and wives, and especially when a believing wife who has converted to the Gospel finds herself married to a pagan husband who has not converted. He writes:
Yes, this is a well-quoted passage and one which may well perhaps elicit some groans from our readers. However my purpose in quoting it is not to rub in the fact that wives are supposed to be submissive to their husbands (for you should all know this by now) but to apply it to the context of Queen Vashti and into situations where conflicts may arise in marriage because of a misunderstanding of the 'hierarchy of principles'.
"Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your adornment be merely outward -- arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel -- rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in Elohim (God) also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord (master), whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.
"Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:1-7, NKJV)
The first thing we need to observe about the Vashti incident is that her stubborn refusal to be obedient cost her nearly everything. Should the king have turned a blind eye to her insubordination? Would it have been the loving thing for him to be 'corrected' (assuming he had done something wrong, and there is no evidence that he did)? Were the feelings of the Queen (whether right or wrong) more important than the principle of obedience? Was the king unloving, or was the queen unloving? Is the question of 'love' even an issue here?
The passage written by Peter illustrates the 'hierarchy of principles' in a case study, as it were, of a Christian/Messianic woman and pagan husband trying to live together under what must have been difficult circumstances spiritually. Let us suppose that the husband and wife got into a disagreement, the husband asking the wife to do something she did not want to do. And let us, for the sake of argument, suppose that what he asked her to do involved no violation of any of Yahweh's commandments.
Let's imagine a scenario. The husband is about to entertain some guests who are due to arrive within the hour. As he goes about inspecting his home to make sure that everything is in order, he discovers that his children have dismantled part of an old garden wall due to be demolished and rebuilt in order to make a make-believe ship to have some fun. Upon entering the garden the first thing the guests will see is this ship which in the husband's view makes his home look shoddy and which he considers will make an unfavourable impression on his guests. So he asks his wife if she will take the boys and move the stones back to the wall and to be as quick as she can before the guests arrive. Now, in the light of what Peter wrote, consider whether the husband or wife is right in this imaginary scene.
The wife is not pleased by her husband's request. She considers that the stone ship is not that much of an eyesore and that it can be removed in a few days' time when the builders come, and explains that she ensured that the children did not make a complete mess of the place. The husband, however, does not agree and asks her firmly to remove the stones and place them back in the wall as he wishes the garden to be as it was. Considering herself to be justified, she refuses and a row ensues. Her husband is by this time very angry and demands that the task is executed at once. She yields unwillingly, does the job, and later - after the guests have been and returned home - chides her husband for being unloving, and calls him a tyrant for not respecting her feelings. He maintains his original position, saying that it was his wish that he be obeyed in the matter and that there is nothing more to discuss. He expects her, quite simply, to yield.
Now in this scenario it is possible to focus in on any number of different principles. One could point to the imperfections of the husband. What if he were a Christian/Messianic and not a pagan? Should his behaviour have been any different? Would the principles involved be any different? Should we, in this case, support the wife and not the husband? And why?
For Peter and the Torah the primary principle - the principle at the top of the list of importance - is whether a wife is properly yielded or not. Was the wife in the story above treating her husband as a lord/master? Assuming the husband was wrong (and who is to say), do you think that the conduct of the wife had the potential to win him over to her point-of-view? What is the principle Peter is teaching here regarding authority structures and the different ways men and women are supposed to be and love? Is love simply a function of one's feelings at any one moment of time or is love actually defined relative to Yahweh's Torah?
Let us suppose the husband is, after all, Christian/Messianic. Afterwards the wife chides him because he was harsh to her and did not show her the love she expected, and said she felt she could not trust him because in that moment when there was much to do quickly he did not stop in his tracks and have a long discussion about it. Is 'love' - rightly or wrongly perceived here - the primary principle at the top of the 'hierarchy of principles'? Or was, in fact, the primary principle one of truth - the truth of the wife's obligation to be obedient in a situation where she was not required to disobey Yahweh?
I think everyone reading this article knows what my answer is going to be. As I have taught elsewhere, the primary principle of the Gospel is Truth because not only does the truth set you free from bondage but the truth defines what true love is. Love is not some abstract feeling of the heart. I am sure Peter, who penned these words, thought he was being loving by attempting to stop Yah'shua (Jesus) from going up to Jerusalem to be put to death. He was wrong, and got the severest rebuke imaginable from the Master. Whatever warmth and affection he felt in his heart was devilish because they were supporting a lie.
I am actually not too concerned as to whether the husband was right or wrong regarding the ship matter - who knows whether it could have remained there or not. Either could have been right, just as two sister-wives in a polygamous marriage could be right in a situation where one insists they have beans for dinner and the other carrots. If the husband decides the matter by choosing 'beans' instead of carrots, the issue is not whether he is right or wrong as to the selection of a vegetable but whether or not his decision is accepted because he has the legal authority and right from Yahweh to make such a decision. Were the wife advocating carrots to protest and accuse him of being unloving because she had gone out into the garden and just picked some is entirely besides the point because she would be challenging her husband's headship and authority. And even though to a woman, who is more feeling-based than a man, the sense of being rejected or unloved is the primary issue, it isn't - the primary issue for her is whether she is obedient or not.
On a secondary level the husband may have made the wrong choice. Perhaps, if he had been more attentive, choosing carrots would have been better and maybe the other wife wouldn't have minded. In that case, choosing carrots might have been the better choice. However, whether the choice was made rightly or wrongly, the more grievous sin is the undermining of the husband's headship because in revolting the wife is sinning against Torah and therefore Yahweh.
At this point it may well be tempting - because of the triggers set off in many people - to cry angrily back that there are unrighteoues males who are indeed tyrants when it comes to marriage. They may mentally, emotionally, and even physically abuse their wives. Such a husband, of course, would be acting out of harmony with Torah. And yet you will always find people who will find any excuse to cry 'abuse' when there is none. For some, 'abuse' is simply not to agree to what a woman wants. In short, we can make 'tyrants' of whom we will if it suits us, and particularly if it suits a rebellious heart.
I think everybody knows that I am no apologist for maccho ultrapatriarchs who in my book are abusers of the first order - who beat their wives and never allow their wives to voice an opinion or speak openly about anything, who treat their women like chattels and want meek slave-girls like those who buy into the Domination/submission culture subscribe to. What concerns me is the opposite extreme where weak men allow their women to manipulate them by accusing them of being 'unloving' or 'tyrannical' because their husband sometimes makes decisions they do not like. When women start being pushy or dominating in any way, they enter a spirit which is contrary to the order established by Yahweh, who has authoritatively declared that the Holy Spirit will cause them to be possessed of "the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit". A woman who is asked to do a simple task which does not involve the violation of Torah but which she may not agree and subsequently refuses to do, or reacts angrily to, is not possessed of a "gentle and quiet" spirit but is adversarial (satanic - 'satan' means 'adversary')) and responsible for overturning the authority of her husband which Yahweh has placed into his hand.
The obligations of a husband, it is true, are likewise similarly set forth plainly in scripture. But the obedience by one party is not conditional upon the obedience of the other. It is not a quid pro quo arrangement. A wife cannot say that she will not obey her husband until he honours her as the weaker vessel, or loves her a Christ loved the Messianic Community (Church) sacrificially. And a husband cannot say that he will love his wife in this manner until she is obedient to him. The commands given to both are independent of one another even through when they are operating simultaneously they make for paradise in marriage. And yes, it is true, the husband does have the responsibility to take the initiative. Nevertheless, husband and wife will be judged in terms of what they have done and not what their partners have, or have not, done.
As a husband I will not suffer my authority at home to be undermined - not because I am a megalomaniac but because this is the first principle in the 'hierarchy of priciples' that Yahweh has established in the home and which, incidentally, reflects (as we should expect it to) on every other kind of activity between human beings. It is a matter of personal choice and will. Let me illustrate.
The law in my country punishes those who steal and get caught and there are few people who would oppose such a law. Christians/Messianics certainly shouldn't. But what if a person is desperately poor and pleads poverty or diminished responsibility when he steals from his neighbour? Does his heart-felt need to feed a hungry child take precendence over the law of the land and the rights of the one stolen from? Should the judge dismiss the case because his children are starving? Of course not, because two wrongs do not make a right. The nation may be at fault in other respects for not alleviating poverty but this does not justify thieving from your neighbour.
We all know how Yahweh permitted Job to suffer for a purpose that this gallant patriarch did not understand and which was never explained to him. His wife urged him to curse Elohim (God) and die (Job 2:9). I am sure she was broken-hearted seeing her husband suffer so and after having lost so much. Her gut reaction was, we may be led to suppose, based on love and compassion. But was it? In counselling her husbanmd to curse Yahweh she was instructing him to disobey the First Commandment! She placed herself as his instructor! Now that place is not given to a woman - she is told to be instructed by her husband at home, as both Paul and Torah remind us (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). A good many women accuse Paul of being misogynist - a woman-hater - but forget that when they accuse him they are attacking Torah too and thus attacking Yahweh! Paul was only citing Torah just as I am today, and which Yah'shua (Jesus) uphelt to the very letter (Matthew 5:17-20).
Another accusation that is sometimes made by women against men is that men like to hide behind scripture in order to dominate their women whilst not being accountable themselves. And that is perfectly true. There are unrighteous men who do that. The problem comes when men do not place themselves under Torah and refuse to be accountable to other Christian/Messianic Elders. There is a hierarchy again - not established by man but by Yahweh. There are hierarchies of accountability also.
Vashti rebelled against a principle hierarchical truth-value which in this particular case - even though she and her husband were pagans - exactly matched those of Torah. The King's wise men were perfectly correct in pointing out that if Vashti were allowed to get away with her rebellion that it would have the effect of undermining the authority of all husbands throughout the land. The bad example of one head - the queen - if left unpunished - would have a dominoes effect throughout the whole land.
When a husband's authority and headship are challenged by a rebellious wife the whole relationship is upset and dangerous instabilities are introduced. Children watching a disobedient mother will cease respecting and possibly obeying their fathers. One sister-wife rebelling will affect the others. And one patriarchal family where women rebel and attempt to rule, even in a few comparitively small matters, will set into a motion a process of erosion with wider consequences amongst the polygamous community. That is why obedience and authority are primary principles in the 'hierarchy of princples'. No amount of sweet-naturedness, kindness, or warmth can ever substitute for the overturning of a principle which lies above it, just as one very wise man once said that no success in life can ever compensate for failure in the home. The moment we compromise Torah, we are on the slippery slope to anarchy.
Now I delibetately gave an innocuous example today because the bigger rebellions in family life often find their roots in small things such as the stone ship. And the reason it does so is because the spirit of rebellion multiplies like a cancer once it takes root and it is not long before demons enter through the crack in a relationship thus damaged.
Vashti was wrong - simple as that - and her punishment perfectly justified given her station as the mother of the nation. And as we well know in the history of Israel, when kings rebell against Yahweh, He deposes them but only after the people have been infected. The family is a miniature nation like Israel, and every husband is a king and every wife a queen. Now I am not saying husbands should put away their wives if they are disobeyed since that is in any case forbidden, but discipline them they must, the extreme situation being to send them away until they have repended. He should, of course, try to reason with them in love and not act like a tinpot dictator but if they will not yield to sound instruction he may have no choice but to take drastic measures. Vashti was not divorced, incidentally, but was merely removed from her position of honour and responsibility as queen. She was removed from his sight.
For many people these sayings may sound draconian, harsh, unloving, and cruel - and no doubt the occasional feminist will throw in a few expletives like 'cultist'. But serious disobedience does require drastic action sometimes. Knowing the seriousness of rebellion ought to be enough to bring most disobedient souls to repentance, for it is compared with the sin of witchcraft by Yahweh in scripture. That's how terrible it is. However, our society has downgraded the seriousness of this sin and indeed practically dismissed it by actively promoting and justifying revolution against authority ... when it suits it.
There are, as I have said, boundaries. There are times when we ought to obey Elohim (God) rather than men which would perhaps place us in the unenviable position of being a seditionist or a revolutionary (Acts 5:29). But before we start invoking 'God' we had better be pretty sure we know what we are doing because the burden of responsibility in such a situation is indeed great and should never be entered into lightly without considerable wrestling of soul. There are times, indeed, when wives who are the victims of bona fide tyrants should and must flee for their lives and for the lives of their children. But fomenting rebellion on the basis of a stone ship is foolishness in the extreme and leads only, in the end - if unrepented - to the Sin of Vashti.
Be wise. Don't, because of vanity or pride, go and throw everything away.