The smell of stale popcorn wafted up my nostrils as I retrieved my Bible from my purse, ready to follow along in the text. My Sunday School teacher smiled and took a deep breath. Today’s discussion came from the book of Esther, beginning with the character of Queen Vashti. Hanna-Barbera’s “Stories from the Bible” flashed across my mind—an image of Vashti, a cartoon diva in all of her 1980’s splendor, leaving the palace. All I knew was that Vashti was beautiful, and she was banished.
I opened up to Esther chapter one and began reading. What I read shocked me. Portrayed as the disobedient wife, Vashti was stripped of her crown and sent away. I looked for reasons why she was set up as the bad guy. What I saw was a woman who was asked by her drunk husband to expose and humiliate herself in front of his friends at his crazy, wild party. Vashti had the dignity and courage to say “no.” Because of her refusal to engage in what the Bible would consider “sin,” she was punished.
The social structures of the patriarchal culture of the time engendered pressure on the king to make an example of what happens to disobedient wives. The humiliation of banishment awaits a woman who disobeys. How shameful for a man to not have absolute control over the women in his life. How could he get anything done if he also had to contend with his wife’s dreams, thoughts, giftings, and passions?
The rest of the day I read and re-read this story looking for all the angles. Why is Vashti’s story so frequently passed over, like what happened doesn’t matter? It’s no wonder rape culture has been able to flourish for so long! The very entity that should be at the forefront of the battle has unwittingly used scripture to perpetuate key components of it.
I closed my Bible, quite shaken, as I thought of all the women who were being mocked, abused, raped, possibly trafficked, all in the name of obedience.
Lord, have mercy! This needs to stop.
Obedience is a powerful word that means one surrenders to the wisdom and goodness of another whose trust has been earned and proven. However, it’s a word the enemy derives great pleasure from twisting. Satan loves misdirection; he is, after all, the Great Deceiver, the Prince of Darkness. I can think of little else more deceiving than believing your sexual exploitation is something God is asking of you.
As a woman who is considered by the world’s standards to be “physically attractive,” this portion of scripture is troubling. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have been chided to be thankful for the attention of men. I once had a male classmate in college tell me that I “walk into a room screaming sex.” Am I supposed to be thankful for this comment?
We are to marvel at beauty, not consume it.
Women are made to be valiant and beautiful kingdom builders in tandem with the strong men of courage and heart they walk alongside. We are to cultivate and empower the absolute best in each other. Xerxes did not have Vashti’s best interests at heart. Instead, he had his own interests at the heart of his request. This was not a good man asking his wife to do something that would bring him and God honor.
Recently, my pastor preached on the story of Esther, and in all my years of hearing sermons on this text, this was the first time Vashti’s exit was described as a “stand.” Look what God does with this woman’s courageous stand: he paves the way for an entire nation to be spared of genocide. Taking a stand may isolate you, but nothing is wasted in the hands of God.
What would it look like if little girls were raised to listen to their gut? To attune to the still, small voice inside of them whispering, “This is wrong.” To believe that their beauty and their bodies are sacred? To know the difference between a good man and a bad man?
What if we raised up women who believed their first allegiance is to God?
I look at my daughter and desperately want this for her. I want her to grow up in a world where her gifts and ideas are not dismissed just because she is female. I do not want her to be ashamed of her beauty or believe that it belongs to everyone else except her. I want her to have the courage to speak up and stand firm, just like Queen Vashti.
Kelsi Folsom holds a B.M. in Voice Performance and has traveled all over the world participating in operas, musicals, jazz bands, and choirs. Now a mom to “three under three”, she currently resides inSan Antonio, Texas while her husband attends medical school in Saba, Dutch Caribbean. When she is not putting on her best Cherubino while changing dirty diapers, you can find her perfecting gluten-free recipes, *gasp* reading, enjoying a nap, or trying to make sense of her life over french press. Kelsi writes here.