Esther, Esther, Where for Art Thou Esther?

Good young Queen Esther. How many times growing up had I heard the story of Queen Esther and how she saved her people? Far too many! But it was never a book of the Bible I spent much time in. After all, I knew the story of Esther back to front. I knew who all the main players were. I knew Haman and Mordecai, Ahasuerus and Vashti, and of course Esther; I knew the story.

I just did not know the whole story.

On the surface, the book of Esther is the story we heard growing up of the persecution of the Jewish people by Babylon, but it is so much more than that. It is also a tale of political intrigue and an origin story for the systemic oppression of women. And it all begins with Vashti.

“On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded…the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown…But Queen Vashti refused to come at the King’s command” (Esther 1:10-12).

On the surface this might seem like a pretty straight forward passage of text, that is until we understand that what was being asked of Vashti was that she break social norms of the time and place, as men and women of her stature did not mix socially, hence her hosting her own party for the women (Esther 1:9). Even more disturbing is that Vashti was to be required to “...make indecent exposure of herself before a company of drunken revelers,” and as the Queen this in particular would have been contrary to Persian custom.

So it is understandable that Vashti, or indeed any woman, would object to being commanded to humiliate themselves in such a manner. However, a royal command is a royal command, and as unjust as it may be, Vashti was legally bound to obey.

The result of such willful disobedience of a royal decree was that King Ahasuerus was to call the seven princes of Persia or Media, who were his chief advisors (or in today’s terms, a political cabinet) and ask them what should be done, and it is in this passage that things really get interesting. You see, Ahasuerus enquires advice on what should be done legally regarding Vashti, but his advisors respond not with this in mind, but with how their own wives, and other men’s wives will respond due to Vashti’s actions and the influence she held (Esther 1:16-18).

They decide to take a severe and drastic action toward Vashti, stripping her of her crown and authority, and doing so by a royal order. According to Persian tradition, a royal decree is not only absolute, but also irrevocable, meaning that Vashti had no chance for forgiveness or to make amends. It is also important to note that at no point is Vashti given the opportunity to defend herself or state her case. It was an action designed not only to punish Vashti but also to make an example of her. After all, if the men were aware of the impact that her actions would have on other women in the kingdom, then they would also be aware of the fear that taking such drastic action would have on women.

Power and authority was the motivation of these men and no other verse makes this more explicit than Esther 1:20, “So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, for it is vast, all women will give honour to their husbands, high and low alike.” There is a clear progression from the stated concern in verse 18 regarding noble women being disobedient, to now all women. And so the King, liking this advice, orders it so.

Please understand what is happening here. We are witnessing the encoding into law that the man is to have complete and total authority over his wife. We are witnessing the legalization of sexual discrimination. Now I know that some will argue that women were already not allowed to defy their husbands. After all isn’t that how we ended up where we are in the story, with Vashti defying her husband? But that would be wrong. We end up where we are because Vashti defied the king! Ahasuerus may well have been her husband, but what was presented to Vashti was a royal command and we need to distinguish between the two, especially since every man is not a king. There are a few other things that should be pointed out and they are:

1. If men held total authority over their wives already, a royal decree would not have been necessary.

2. Although women did not mix socially with the men, Vashti was independent and autonomous which is shown by the fact that she decided to throw a party for the women.

3. The insidious way in which the King’s embarrassment regarding Vashti’s disregard for his command was used to bring about consequences that went far past the initial problem.

4. Although illegal according to the letter of law, Vashti’s stance was justified; sometimes the right thing to do is not the permitted thing to do.

We have seen what happened to Vashti for disobedience toward King Ahasuerus, but she is not the only disobedient party in the book of Esther. When we read Esther 3:1-4, we discover that the very same King Ahasuerus commanded that Haman is to be bowed to and paid homage to, but that Mordecai refuses to do so as he is a Jew. What happened to Mordecai? As an individual, absolutely nothing. But more importantly, it is made clear that Mordecai’s disobedience is continuous (Esther 3:4) and that he, unlike Esther, is asked to account for himself (3:3).

As the story goes on we are shown that although Mordecai is not targeted individually for punishment, his entire people are, and once again this is achieved through duplicitous means (Esther 3:8). Haman seeks to destroy an entire group of people under the guise that they do not keep the laws of the land, but in truth he is more upset that he is not worshiped as he desires (3:5).

As a Seventh-day Adventist I see many things in this story that give me reason for concern over the developments within the church today.

I see the development of headship theology taking a greater hold within the church, and as a result I see men seeking to exert dominance over women whilst also seeking to restrict their role and their voice within the church. I am witnessing a single-minded drive to destroy church bodies that the General Conference feels do not give it the power it thinks it deserves via the creation of compliance committees.

Perhaps more importantly, I see the same insidious politicking that led to King Ahasuerus being used to further an agenda taking place. Just as King Ahasuerus saw his will justifiably defied, there are those that feel that some unions are in defiance of the vote at GC Session 2015, and so something must be done. However, what has been proposed far exceeds the initial scope of the problem. Compliance committees on homosexuality? Just like the book of Esther does not speak to every man’s wife having actually defied him, nor did GC Session 2015 speak to homosexuality. Nor did it speak to distinctive beliefs of the SDA Church. Or Doctrines, policies, statements, or guidelines for church organizations and institutions that teach creation. Just as the advisors to the king sought to reach far beyond the scope of the initial problem, so has the leadership of the GC.

The book of Esther shows clearly the dangers of politics and persecution of women. The book of Esther shows us that we are to beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and it shows us that some acts deemed illegal are actually the correct ones to take.

However, perhaps the most striking similarity I see with the book of Esther and the SDA Church is that the story doesn’t really get going until Vashti, a woman, takes a stand. And the story only reaches its conclusion once another woman, with the backing and support of a number of men, in turn takes her stand.

We have had our Vashti.

I now await our Esther.

Jeremy Storm is a father, student of theology, antagonist, and staunch advocate for equality of both race and gender.

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9505
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:+1::+1: Most interesting study and conclusion!

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Thanks, really enjoyed that!

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A wonderful beginning study of the Book of Esther with Purim Celebration just
a few day ago.
The troubling part of the end of the story is this – Haman and his sons are hung
on the gallows he prepared for others.
As the saying goes – Give a man [preacher] enough ROPE and the man [preacher]
will hang himself.
The story ends with LIBERATION of the Jews and the PERMISSION to FIGHT
against wrongdoing.

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If the book of Esther is a valid parable for today’s Adventist Church, then there are some ‘sobering’ times ahead for those who misuse power!

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In the case of the Headship argument it is the “King” who has surrounded himself with an ego centric court. All the church needs is some bearded ladies if Battle Chreek is the norm. But with the compliance committees all that will be left are castrata ie no beards. Let the news go forth that a woman can do anything a man can do except stand up and pee.

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A crisis brings the best and the worst out of people. I am seeing deep thinking all round. A crisis also brings the worst out of some people. In short, in a crisis, we show our true colors. I am praying that God brings on the crisis to the SDA church. Then we shall know as we are known.

What it means is that when there is no crisis, there is lethargy, hypocrisy and…death. Bring it on God!

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Lizwi –
There HAS BEEN a crisis since around 1901 when the General Conference
leaders crippled the giving of the Gospel. Crippled 65% of the adults of the
church from being free to go into the world and preach the Gospel and
Baptize believers.
This Crisis has been reconfirmed when the General Conference leaders from
around the world [from your part of the world, from my part of the world] voted
that any Union who promotes 100% of Men, 100% of Women may go out into
the world, preach the Gospel and Baptize believers will be found GUILTY and
will have DIRE CONSEQUENCES in the form of PUNISHMENT not long ago.

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This is a most interesting extraction from the book of Esther. There is no doubt that Esther is a story of kingly political intrigue. That Esther is a story that illustrates male headship gone awry, seems a stretch. Esther does, though, exploit Ahasuerus’ male compulsion by creating a clearly sexual quid pro quo with the king with whom she is not married, a transaction that results in freeing her people at the expense of their political overseers in the house of Ahasuerus.

The takeaway from Esther may be that we are to use whatever the culture in which we exist makes available to advance the personal propagation of the Gospel of Jesus. Women clerics where culturally essential, or proven circumcised male clerics where culturally imperative—as in at least one African Seventh-day Adventist subculture where a minister from a distance was reported to have been required to expose his circumcision to the elders prior to being allowed on the platform of a Seventh-day Adventist congregation.

As Paul offers, “19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9

The way you put is as if one side is wrong and the other side is right. In real life it does work that way. Both side of the fence there are dedicated Christians who see things differently. I do not think conspiracy theories about leaders who are bad through and through is what we need right now.

There are honest and dedicated leaders who because of culture and other factors may see things differently. Equally, even on the ‘good guys’ side there are evil people with agendas that are alien to God’s law. This is why God has not destroyed one side and spared the other like he did when Korah rebelled. I want to believe we are at Rehoboam’s time when Israel was divided and I do not think it is necessary to remain one if we generate this kind of heat against one another.

What I also see featuring prominently is the issue of status. Ordination appears to give pastors some kind of status which women also want. I have been a preacher since 1988 and I am not even an ordained elder. I leave baptism to those ordained to do so. Ordination has not hindered me to share what I have. So we are suffering from the disadvantages of growth. Power is good but eish, in my church right now it is creating problems. That is what it comes down to. Power and status

It’s interesting that you see Esther as the exploiter, but cannot see the exploitation and domination of women that takes place.

In the text itself it says quite plainly that the King’s advisors were concerned not about Vashti’s behaviour but about how their own wives might act having seen Vashti’s actions. That the King’s advisors sought to go well beyond the problem that was presented to them is as clear as day, and the problem is no longer the disobeying of a royal decree but disobeying a man.

As for Paul becoming all things to all people so as to reach them… that’s an interesting concept…

So why can’t women become all things to all people in order to reach people too?

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If you were a pastor then you would know why even though ordination is not biblical it is important in the current structure of ministry.

Ordination has not hindered you to share what you have! Praise God.

So if ordination does not hinder sharing of the gospel, then why does it exist?

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The way I see it, it is now a status symbol, and a way of getting more money if you are a pastor. Remember our church believes, or ought to believe in the doctrine of priesthood of all believers. While pastors deserve respect, the problem now is that slowly but surely most of them are coming to the ministry for fringe benefits much more than desire to save souls. You always have problems that way…

So if ordination gives access to equal pay, isnit unreasonable that people should want to be paid the same?

If ordination is a status symbol then are you advocating for its removal from both men and women?

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If one reads Christ’s LAST Commission, I don’t believe that He said one
had to be “ORDAINED” in order to baptize after giving the Gospel Message
and the person accepts the Gospel Story.
Ordination rules are a hold over from the early Catholic church.
Read “Pagan Christianity” by George Barna and Frank Viola.

I have not joined any of the camps because to me this issue has received much more attention than it deserves. Ellen White was not ordained, and did it bar her to carry out her mandate? I have no power to lobby for its removal. Those who really feel aggrieved by its current status are shouting at the top of their voices. Let them. I have one question for them though. Did they come to the party for the money?

Order is also important otherwise chaos is a result. It was not a bad idea to introduce ordination. We have so many practices that were borrowed from the Catholic Church which are okay. The only problem is that we have elevated ordination to mean one is a saint or something if he is ordained. Remember once ordained, one can leave the church and become a drunkard but the ordination stays. Wow

But Ellen White was ordained and has more than one certificate of ordination. This is a matter of record.

And despite not coming to the party for money, people still have bills to pay. Do they not deserve fair treatment?

Also ordination and order are not synonymous, order can exist without ordination. Ordination is about power and control, not order.

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So women are also clamoring for power and control? So if Ellen White was ordained, maybe it is because she was a prophetess. So maybe women must become prophetesses too, kk:rofl: