On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs. At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him.
Then the king said to the wise men who knew the times (for this was the king’s procedure toward all who were versed in law and judgment, the men next to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who saw the king’s face, and sat first in the kingdom): “According to the law, what is to be done to Queen Vashti, because she has not performed the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?” – Esther 1:10-15 ESV
A mere 187 days into his non-stop partying, we are told the not-so-surprising news that the “heart of the king was merry with wine.” By this time, he had to have been virtually toxic from all the alcohol he had consumed over the last six months. As a result, his ability to think clearly was virtually non-existent. He allowed his vanity and pride to get the best of him and, in an attempt to further flaunt his wealth and power, he demanded that his queen in all her royal finery in order to show her off. And rather than make the request personally, he sent his seven eunuchs. This was not to be seen as a request, but a royal dictate, a command from the king himself. He wanted to put her on display so that everyone could get a glimpse of her great beauty.
But the queen was far from flattered when the seven eunuchs showed up in her royal chambers. She knew exactly what the king was up to and why he was demanding her presence. She was to be nothing more than another example of his greatness. She was simply a trophy to be displayed to boost his royal ego and solidify his reputation as the luckiest man in the world. But Queen Vashti flat-out refused the king’s command. She was not going to allow herself to be put on public display and paraded around like a nothing more than one of the king’s possessions.
But Xerxes was not used to being refused. After all, he was the king. He tended to get what he wanted. His word was law. His commands were non-optional. And so, when Vashti refused to show up, he blew up. He lost it. He “became enraged, and his anger burned within him” (Esther 1:12b ESV). But rather than take up this matter with his wife, he called in his wise men. He sought the advice of his counselors. What should have been nothing more than a domestic dispute quickly escalated into a national affair. King Xerxes would have never dreamed his 187-day feast would end this way. Queen Vashti could have never anticipated the reaction her refusal was going to create. This whole thing should have never happened, but it did. Why?
This is another point at which the author is attempting to reveal the hidden hand of God, working behind the scenes in ways that no one could have anticipated or planned. Everything in the story has a purpose and a place. Nothing happens by happenstance or chance. The 180-plus days of feasting, the over-the-top opulence, the vain displays of wealth and power – all of it has a divine influence about it. The foundation is being laid for the rest of the story’s unfolding. A variety of people are going to become actors in God’s sovereign plan. Xerxes, the all-powerful, pride-filled king will be have a major role to play. Queen Vashti, though somewhat a bit player who enjoys little in the way of real stage-time, will prove a key character in the plot. Her refusal to appear before the king sets up all that is to come. Had she simply showed up as commanded, this story wouldn’t be a story at all. Had the king personally requested her presence, this might have all been avoidable. If the king had not sought out legal counsel, this whole affair could have ended much differently. But all that happens in this story happens for a reason. There is a reason behind the madness.
This story almost begs to be read with a sense of incredulity. It is as if we need to add in the phrase, “It just so happened…” before every event.
“It just so happened that the king decided to throw a great feast.”
“It just so happened that the king commanded the queen to appear.”
“It just so happened that the queen was in no mood to be put on display.”
“It just so happened that the king got angry and blew it all out of proportion.”
“It just so happened that the king called in his royal counselors.”
All these seemingly disparate decisions were inseparably linked together, creating an unbroken chain of events that would result in an unforeseen outcome that no one could have ever imagined. God was at work. He was behind the scenes orchestrating events and individuals in such a way that they were oblivious, like passive pawns in a divine game of chess. Each was free to act according to their will, but only according to the greater will of God. What might appear as luck or fate is actually the sovereign hand of God. This will become increasingly clear as the story unfolds. Though the name of God is never mentioned, His presence will be repeatedly sensed. He is invisible, but not absent. He remains unseen, but not uninvolved. The chapter opens up with King Xerxes’ sovereignty on display. He is powerful and influential. His realm extends over 127 provinces on several continents, from India to Ethiopia. And yet God, the one true King, is not even mentioned by name. He chooses to display His power in more subtle, yet significant ways. Throughout the story, He will remain in the background, operating incognito and invisible to the naked eye. But He is there. He is always there.
I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!
He will not let you stumble;
the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
never slumbers or sleeps.
The Lord himself watches over you!
The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon at night.
The Lord keeps you from all harm
and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
both now and forever. – Psalm 124