As Seen on Sunday: Rebellious Women in Powerful Places
We provide a recap of the Sunday sermon to encourage you in the faith each week but it's not the same thing as being here.
Rebellious women in powerful roles play a big part in the book of Esther. One is celebrated more than the other (hint: it is the one whom the book is named after), but both are a catalyst for change. But all rebellion is not revolutionary. Sometimes it just reveals the ugly truth about who we are. Other times it brings about a change that will literally save lives. The story of Vashti and Esther provides fertile ground for a conversation about rebellious women in powerful places.
The Big Party
Vashti was asked to get nasty on stage for the pleasure of all the men who had gathered, got drunk, and wanted to see some ancient twerking.
Vashti refused the personal request, Ahasuerus got mad. He gathered up his council - who may have also been peeved because they were denied the show - and asked what should be done about it.
The angry, drunk, and frustrated guys decided to kill her and their logic was this: if the queen can get away with it all the women in the land can get away with it. And we can’t have the women being so disrespectful to their husbands.
With Vashti out of the picture the king needed someone to take her spot - she had big shoes to fill. Vashti was gorgeous and anyone that would take her place must be even more gorgeous - so in Donald Trump style he held the Miss Susa pageant and the winner would be his new wife and the reigning Queen of all the land!
After the customary year of preparation to “beautify" the women, each were "given" to the king for a night.
Esther wins the contests and the title of Mrs. Ahasuerus and Queen of all the land. *Hooraty
Esther’s Daring Choice
After winning favor with the King and becoming queen, Esther ran into some family trouble.
Her entire family was sentenced to death - by her husband's right-hand man, Haman.
Her adoptive father Mordecai - who was the Haman’s sworn nemesis - warned Esther of the impending edict that was the Jew’s death sentence.
Mordecai begged his daughter to break the laws of the land and risk being killed for the chance that the Jewish people might be saved.
Esther agrees on one condition - that the people join her in fasting and prayers.
Her resolve is this - “I will do this and if I perish, I perish."
Two women. Same Choice. Different Outcome.
We have learned a couple of things so far:
- Refusing to do what you are told will get you killed.
- Breaking the established rules can bring about change or get you killed. It’s a crapshoot really
Both Vashti and Esther made the deliberate choice to disobey the orders of the King.
Vashti refused the direct request to supply sexual energy to a room of drunken guys.
Esther entered to courtroom uninvited.
Only one is heralded as the hero of the story - maybe because she was the one who lived and her actions saved the Jewish people. Or maybe because men secretly like the fact that Vashti was killed for disobeying her husband - who knows.
But Vashti’s actions - whatever her motive was (and we need to be careful to ascribe a personal view onto a character we don’t have all the details about) set in motion the temporary deliverance of the Jewish people.
Vashti could be cast in the heroine’s light because of her rebellious nature. That is what we do these days, right? Fight the power!
But Esther’s rebellion is celebrated while Vashti’s is quickly forgotten. And while I am fully aware that the book’s namesake forces us to make her the central figure - it is necessary for us to ask some questions about women’s place in society, government, and formal institutions, such as marriage and employment.
A Woman’s Place
We are obsessed with order and categorization, aren’t we? If the scientific revolution has brought us anything it is that everything must be in its proper order.
Kingdom, phylum, class, order, Family, genus, species. (my science teacher would be proud).
When applied to people, though, this can get nasty. The categorization of people brings about culture wars and gender wars.
But I suppose the battle for order has been present since sin entered the world. People have been trying to take the place of God since the beginning. People have been trying to usurp the authority of others since the beginning as well.
For the last 90 years or so, women have been battling against their pre-described “place” in this American society.
No longer content with the way things were, they pursued a prescribed “better future."
In some ways, women have carried on the lineage of Vashti and Esther. In the end, some good things have come out of it and also some bad things have come out of it.
Vashti’s rebellion revealed the gender biased belief of the age - If the queen can get away with it, all the women will be able to get away with it. It spat in the face of the categorization of people.
Esther’s rebellion resulted in the reversal of a death sentence for a multitude of people.
A Revolution Today
Revolution is at its core disobedience and disobedience will always cause friction and often times death.
We are witnessing many deaths because of the new women’s revolution - some good, some bad.
Good: the death of many gender biased inequalities
Bad: the death of many unborn human lives.
I think if I were to look at the landscape of the women’s revolution we have experienced the results of Vashti.
Gender bias has been revealed and we are seeing the outworking of what happens when pre-described societal roles are being challenged and reversed. It is messy, but no revolution is clean.
Unfortunately, we have not seen any repeals of death sentences. In fact, we have seen increased funding and support for the right to end another human life.
Maybe Vashti’s rebellion is seen as minor because she was rebelling, it appears, only for herself. Esther rebelled on the behalf of those who could not speak for themselves.
I am not sure we are ever in a position to judge the merits of revolution or the motives. That, of course, is why our history books are skewed. But, what can we learn from these two rebellious women?
In light of Vashti and Esther, how should we then live?