The story, of course, is in Esther Chapter 1. The ruler of the Empire (Ahasuerus) was having a great year. His power was unchallenged through the 127 provinces of his empire. He held a great festival, lasting six months, during which his local rulers all traveled to his capital and were dined and entertained (all while planning an attack on Greece, by the way). His wealth was immense and his people (and rulers) were amazed at his wealth, his kindness, and his power. The fact that he could bring local leaders so far from their communities shows how stable was his kingdom.
After the big event, Ahaseurus held a second event. The purpose of the second event was to honor the people of his capital, who had made the first event such a success. This second event was to last a full week (seven days), with the people of Susa (the capital) invited to come to the king's palace and feast on his food, drink from his wine cellar, and rejoice in the greatness of their kingdom. They even had a secondary feast, hosted by Vashti, for the wives of the city.
Two wonderful events showing the power, the kindness, and the greatness of their king. The people rejoiced. The king was greatly honored. All was well.
On the seventh day, the king decided to top the whole event with a great moment. His people, who had so supported him in the six-month event, would be honored by the presence of his queen, Vashti, at their banquet. He asked her to come to the banquet, to wear her royal robe and crown, and show herself to the people of Susa. The people would have been blown away by this event. She was, by all reports, a beautiful queen. He wanted to show everyone, at this final event, the final glory of his beautiful queen. Had she come, he would have been even more greatly honored. The people would have gone home filled with the glory of their king, of their queen, and of their kingdom.
But she refused. She refused to come when her husband called her. She refused to wear the royal robe and crown. She refused to honor him and their people. Her refusal ruined the entire event. Her refusal caused people, on the way home, to speak not of his glory but of her refusal. Her refusal brought him shame and cast a pall over the whole event.
Yet, people see her as a heroine. She did nothing in the whole story except host one party and humiliate her husband and king. Yet, many people defend her. How?
Well, some people claim that the party was a "drunken orgy," but this is not something scripture says. Scripture says the party was entirely seemly. In fact, the writer makes clear that no one was forced to drink (v. 8). If you believe that the people of Susa would go to the king's palace, to be honored, and just get drunk, then you are simply inventing things to believe. It was not an orgy, it was a celebration.
Well, some people claim the king was "drunk," but the scripture says only that "the heart of the king was merry with wine." That is, after all, why God gave us wine, according to Psalm 104:
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
Merry with wine does not mean drunk. Drunk means drunk. (Gen. 9:21). The king did no sin here.
Some people even claim that women in that time were not allowed to be seen publicly. Not only is this simply inventing something which neither history nor the Bible tells us, it is nonsense. Why would the queen have a royal robe and crown if she were never to be seen?
The Bible does not excuse her at all. The king is angry at her, his ministers admit her sin clearly (no one defends her), and she is punished by being permanently excluded from his company and being replaced by another queen. After all, what good is a queen who will not appear before her people? What good is a queen who will not wear her crown and robe and sit beside her husband in glory?
Vashti was wrong. Everything in the story makes clear that she was wrong. He was her husband and her king. She should have obeyed him for both of those reasons. Instead, she humiliated him, she ruined the glory of his celebration for his people, and she lessened the respect in which he was held by his people.
Imagine that Vashti had done what was requested. Imagine her appearing at the head table with her husband (or perhaps on thrones together). Imagine the excitement of the people, the glory of the moment. There is no greater glory for a man than to have people admire his wife. There is no moment of glory for a man that is not greater when his wife is there with him. If she had come when asked, she would have taken part in a moment of glory that would have resounded throughout the Empire, as people declared their love for her and her husband.
Instead, she lost everything.
Why do modern wives want to admire her? What is it about us that we try so hard to find reasons to avoid doing what is right? Wives, all too often, simply refuse to do what they do not want to do, then try to come up with some explanation to justify their actions. They defend Vashti by making up excuses, trying to show that she was right and her husband was wrong. In their own lives, they justify their failures by claiming some error on the part of their husbands. Women's classes are filled with "but he ought to" and justifications for the failure to be good wives. Their pride causes their sin and then causes them to justify their sin, as they try to justify Vashti.
Have you ever refused to go with your husband when you were invited? Maybe you thought the meeting would be too boring. Maybe you thought his friends were not really very interesting. Maybe you just did not want to be with your husband in a place where people really praised him. Why did you tell him "no"?
Vashti was replaced by Esther, a godly woman who honored and respected her husband and, thereby, was used by God to save her people. Who will you be today, Vashti or Esther?