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
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
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
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