1 Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, 2 in those days as King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne which was at the citadel in Susa, 3 in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his princes and attendants, the army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles and the princes of his provinces being in his presence. 4 And he displayed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his great majesty for many days, 180 days.
Ahasuerus, King of the Medes and Persians and its 127 provinces (c.f. Daniel 6:1-2) and who had taken over the Babylonian empire, enjoyed the splendor of his royal glory and majesty, and he celebrated a great feast for 180 days with his nobles and princes. This took place in Susa, one of the capitals during the third year of his reign. This party was clearly over-the-top and extravagant, for it lasted nearly half of a year. This was not an occasion to honor the Lord or to come up with ideas so that the rest in the kingdom could also enjoy the splendor and riches of the ruling classes, but it was the richest and most powerful eating, drinking, and being merry, thinking only of themselves and their selfish pleasures. It was a flaunting of power and an indulgence of the flesh and its lusts. Like Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in Daniel 4 or Belshazzar in Daniel 5, this is another instance of a pagan king thinking that the world revolves around him. As the story of Esther works its way out, a different reality becomes clear, a reality in which God is sovereign over the affairs of men regardless of the nation which is in power because He remembers those who belong to Him and He uses them to do great and mighty things. Thus, God always gets the glory, and His children will enjoy His splendor forever in heaven. His banquets and feasts will put these of Persia to shame (Revelation 19:7-10). Plus, children of God don’t need to get drunk or participate in lewd behavior (Isaiah 5:11-12, 1 Peter 4:3) in order to have fullness of joy which they have in Christ (Psalm 16:11).
5 When these days were completed, the king gave a banquet lasting seven days for all the people who were present at the citadel in Susa, from the greatest to the least, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. 6 There were hangings of fine white and violet linen held by cords of fine purple linen on silver rings and marble columns, and couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and precious stones. 7 Drinks were served in golden vessels of various kinds, and the royal wine was plentiful according to the king’s bounty. 8 The drinking was done according to the law, there was no compulsion, for so the king had given orders to each official of his household that he should do according to the desires of each person. 9 Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus.
At the end of the near six month long party for the leaders, the king invited the rest of the people who were present at the citadel in Susa from the least to the greatest to a seven day banquet in the king’s court. The elites had partied it up for 180 days, but a small sampling of the “little people” at least got 7 days of celebration and feasting. The description of just how lavish the amenities of the king’s courts were is astounding with the colors of royalty draped throughout the gardens held up with silver rings and marble columns. Then there was the gold and silver furniture which rested upon a mosaic floor with all kinds of extravagant materials including precious gem stones (still, this is nothing compared to the New Jerusalem for the redeemed in eternity- Revelation 21). Even the drinks were served in golden vessels, and the king had a bounty of special royal wine. The idea of servant leadership and humility (John 13:5-20) does not coincide with the pagan belief of the powerful flaunting their wealth and thinking of themselves above the rest (James 2:1-7). As Luke 22:25-26 says, “And He said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.” The Law of the Medes and Persians was a serious, binding thing, as was the case when Darius signed the law forbidding prayer to God and was bound to cast his friend Daniel into the lion’s den (Daniel 6:8-9). Even the king of Persia could not change the law once it was sealed and official (Daniel 6:17). In this case, there was no law compelling people to drink or not drink, but each person could drink or not drink as he saw fit. Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the palace, which is noted as belonging to the king, not to both king and queen. The queen did not have equal power with the king, but the male dominance of the culture is apparent throughout the Book of Esther.
10 On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, 11 to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown in order to display her beauty to the people and the princes, for she was beautiful. 12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs. Then the king became very angry and his wrath burned within him.
On the last of the seven days of feasting, or the king’s 187th day of feasting, the king was drunk with wine, as he had probably been for most of the partying, something the Bible says is not fit for a king. Proverbs 31:4-5 says, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, It is not for kings to drink wine, Or for rulers to desire strong drink, For they will drink and forget what is decreed, And pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” He commanded seven of his palace leaders who served under him directly to summon the queen to appear before the people and the princes for the purpose of displaying her beauty. The king wanted to show off the physical attractiveness of his wife. However, this doesn’t sound like it was complimentary to her and dignifying, but it seems to carry the idea of forcing her to be somewhat or possibly even significantly inappropriate in how she would flaunt her beauty. In his drunken stupor, the king was looking for more pagan and dehumanizing selfish pleasures to satisfy himself. The queen, perhaps having had enough of this kind of treatment by the king or being pushed beyond her breaking point, decided not to appear when the king commanded her. This was a dangerous move because the king was the authority, and he burned with anger and was ready to pour out his wrath on Vashti. If she had a legitimate reason not to come and if the king’s motives were really pure, there would be no reason to be wrathful. But clearly some sort of power play was at work here, and the king had had enough of his queen failing to be subservient to him.
13 Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times—for it was the custom of the king so to speak before all who knew law and justice 14 and were close to him: Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media who had access to the king’s presence and sat in the first place in the kingdom— 15 “According to law, what is to be done with Queen Vashti, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?” 16 In the presence of the king and the princes, Memucan said, “Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also all the princes and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 17 For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women causing them to look with contempt on their husbands by saying, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in to his presence, but she did not come.’ 18 This day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s conduct will speak in the same way to all the king’s princes, and there will be plenty of contempt and anger. 19 If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed, that Vashti may no longer come into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. 20 When the king’s edict which he will make is heard throughout all his kingdom, great as it is, then all women will give honor to their husbands, great and small.”
There were seven wise men, princes of the people, who had direct access to the king, not having to be summoned first, and who were well versed in the law of the land. The king asked them what should be done with Vashti because she failed to submit to the whims and commands of the king. Memucan, one of the wise men, argued that Vashti did indeed do wrong to the men of the kingdom from the king down to the princes and other men. He was concerned with the fact that she set an example to the rest of the women in the land to be able to defy the whims and commands of their husbands just as she had done to the king. He argued that the women throughout the kingdom would now look on their husbands with contempt and speak rebelliously toward them, refusing to obey them. This pagan perversion of the idea of love and submission in marriage took on the form of the husbands ruling over and dominating their wives rather than treating them as equals and loving them as more important than themselves. The men tried to oppress the women and seemed to enjoy being boss over them. Vashti’s example could create quite a tumult for every married man in the kingdom if they didn’t do something to re-intimidate them and put them in their place, or so the wise men argued. The idea from the wise men was to write a new law into the laws of the land, which could not be repealed even by the king. It would state that Vashti could no longer come into the presence of the king and that her position as queen must be given to another. To them, she had lost her worthiness to be queen because she wouldn’t do everything the king said, even if she objected to it. They believed that upon the issuance of this edict that the women of the land would continue to allow themselves to be dominated and submit to their husbands who did not live with them in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7). God’s design in marriage is for the husband to meet his wife where she is at, to listen to her, to understand her and her needs, and to be a servant-leader in the home. It is not to dominate her and force her to do the husband’s every bidding.
21 This word pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed. 22 So he sent letters to all the king’s provinces, to each province according to its script and to every people according to their language, that every man should be the master in his own house and the one who speaks in the language of his own people.
The king liked what Memucan had proposed, and so he put it into law that every man should be the master in his own house. Each husband was also to speak to his wife in his and her native tongue so that she understood the commands and did as she was told. Perhaps the men had the opportunity to learn the common language of the land, whereas the women did not. Thus, they would have needed to hear their own tongue in order to be able to properly submit to their husbands’ orders. This law was communicated throughout the land, and the king could move on to the process of selecting a new queen. Even the process of selecting the queen showed that the king was the master, picking his queen rather than wooing her according to her corresponding desire for him.