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Vignettes of Women of the Bible


  Hello, my name is Vashti and mine is a sad story with a happy ending -- for someone else.  I was once one of the most beautiful women in the world.  My father was King of Lydia, and I was the wife of one of the most powerful Kings in the ancient Middle East.  This man was the ruler of over one hundred and twenty provinces, and I was his queen.   Have you ever heard of Artexerxes?  Of Persia?  Well, that man was my husband.  He was young, strong, and handsome;  and by ancient Persian standards, he had good heart.   When he made a decree, he was determined to do what was right, to follow through.   Sometimes he was a little careless about details.  He depended upon his advisors a bit too much, especially that Haman, but, forgive me, I'm rambling. 

The marriages of kings and queens are not like those of other people, and in Persia, the king does not see his queen unless he sends for her.  In fact, if anyone enters the king's presence uninvited, his life was forfeit unless the king extended his scepter to the intruder in forgiveness of the imposition.   Artexerxes was usually tied up with the affairs of state, or out in battle, claiming new territory.  When the king was at home and entertaining, I was present; unless it was with a group of men and the wine flowed freely.  Concubines were the choice of companionship for those occasions.  (You know the kind of entertaining to which I'm referring.)  At those times I was to stay in my own apartments.  This was done out of respect, for far eastern women lived in seclusion.  Then came that perfectly dreadful celebration he had for some visiting dignitaries.  Please, allow me tell you about it.

 The palace was full of kings, princes, advisors and all manner of representatives from other countries.  They'd completed whatever negotiations, trades and so forth that had brought them together, and they were all relaxing before traveling back home.  Travel was very difficult in those days.   Camels are hard animals to control, especially if they think that they've been overloaded, and they will fight with other camels in a caravan.  They're like some people in that respect, they will like and dislike others.  And, with an entourage the size of a small city, much planning and packing was necessary.  So, among the preparations, the camels, and the heat, it was not easy getting from place to place.   But again, I'm wandering from the story. 

Artexerxes had taken all of these visitors on the grand tour of the palace and had shown off all of his wealth and possessions with pride.  He then gave them all a celebration they were never to forget!  All the men were at the palace with him and all the women were in the queen's palace with me.   After about the third or fourth day of this party, the entertainment was apparently on the wane. The king had gotten really drunk, and had taken the notion to show off his most prized possession, which he thought was me.  I can't imagine how he could have forgotten himself like that.  What possessed the man to think of such a thing?   Why, that was as unthinkable as a modern wife being asked by her husband to appear unclothed at a party for men in their own home!  It wasn't done!  It just wasn't.

 I received the summons, as I have said, and I was shocked, no, horrified!  I was simply not able to overcome my sense of decency, my modesty, my dignity, my character and my training to be paraded before something that could have been a drunken brawl.  Clearly, it was unthinkable!  How could I allow myself to be degraded like that?  What kind of precedent would that be?   What would my father say?  What would my father do?  Would this be an introduction for things to come with women throughout the kingdom?  Thoughts and emotions raced through my head and all tumbled over each other, each one trying to be identified first.  Confusion, fear, pain, embarrassment, and yes, even panic made themselves known to me in those few short moments as I tried to compose myself to give a response worthy of a queen.  Word of the summons quickly buzzed throughout the room, until all of the women had heard and understood what was taking place.  Wives, sisters and daughters of our guests were watching me in complete silence.  They were as shaken as I was.  What was I to do?  What was I to say?

I did the only thing that decency and my position allowed.  Come what may, I would not be subjected to such an insulting indignity.  I could not!  I expressed to the messenger as calmly and clearly as I was able, that I would not be able to comply with Artexerxes' request, and why;   although he knew perfectly well what the reasons were.  How it was delivered to the king, I will never know.  I did not know if that decision would cost me my position . . . or my life.  I did know, however, that no matter how many times the summons might come, I could not honor it; and the very idea that it should have occurred to my husband to make such an outrageous request broke my heart. 

The rest, you already know.  I suppose that if he had been given an acceptable way out, Artexerxes might have forgiven me; but in Persia, once the king had made a decree, it was irreversible.  I had disobeyed a direct summons which had embarrassed him before a host of guests.  In the face of his anger at having been embarrassed in front of so many important people, in the agony of a hangover that felt like death, and through the expressions of his advisors, he really had no other choice but to do what he did.  My decision had to be seen as outright defiance instead of the protection of my personal dignity and office that it really was.   I'm sure that, when he had given it some thought later, he  had some regrets.   But then, he had his reputation to uphold as well, and what was done, was done. 

All things considered, everything turned out for the best.  However, I'm still astounded at how it all came about, that the little Hebrew girl became the queen.  It was traditional that the rulers came only from one of seven Persian families, and it was illegal for a Hebrew to hold any office in Persia.   In spite of these things, or because of them, Artexerxes was delivered from a purely evil man and the child's people were saved from extinction.  Ironic, isn't it, how one little twist of fate, one small chance decision, can change history.  It's simply amazing how things work out.  

Do I miss it?  Oh, the life of being a queen.  Yes, I suppose I do, but entertaining strangers could be such a bore at times.  I really never had any time to myself, with that and servants and such in and out at all hours.  But you know, that's why I was born, that was what my family trained me for, it was to have been my life.  Now, I have all the time I want.   I do know, however, that if I ever had to make that choice again, I would do the very same thing.  I would have to make the same decision as before. 

Oh, one more thing.  I do miss Artexerxes.   He was a good man.

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