Esther 1: 1 – 12 This happened in the days of Ahasuerus, the same Ahasuerus who ruled over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces from India to Ethiopia. In those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, in the third year of his reign, he gave a banquet for all his officials and ministers. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were present, while he displayed the great wealth of his kingdom and the splendour and pomp of his majesty for many days, one hundred and eighty days in all.
When these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in the citadel of Susa, both great and small, a banquet lasting for seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white cotton curtains and blue hangings tied with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and coloured stones. Drinks were served in golden goblets, goblets of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished in accordance with the bounty of the king. Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired. Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.
On the seventh day, when the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who attended him, to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing the royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the officials her beauty; for she was fair to behold. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command conveyed by the eunuchs. At this the king was enraged, and his anger burned within him.
Reflection Ahasuerus the Persian king was throwing a party and what a party it was! The description takes us through the power and reach of the kingdom over which the king reigned to the lavish provision for the party itself.
The practical in me wants to ask, how were all the necessary preparations made? The cynic in me wants to question the accuracy of the description – does anyone throw a party lasting 180 days or bring together such a range of people. Who was left to ‘mind the shop’?
So what was the author trying to do here and what is God doing? Esther is known as the book that makes no mention of God but is this a case of the guiding hand of God in the lives of the actors and of the author?
This first chapter sets the scene for the events which follow. Maybe the author could see the questions about accuracy and practicalities but wrote with his or her tongue firmly in his or her cheek, being fully aware that fiction can be an effective vehicle for truth.
And if these verses set the scene of power, wealth and extravagance, the final three verses tell a little story of their own. The one thing missing from the lavish party is a beautiful queen but no problem, King Ahasuerus has the solution and he can command anyone to do what he wants. Except ………. that Queen Vashti refuses to obey his command. What price all the power and wealth when a mere woman can refuse to obey. This is not merely a story of wealth and power in 400-200 B.C.E. but a story of wealth and power throughout all time.
Prayer Generous God, it is so easy to be taken in by the outward show of wealth and power. Help us, we pray, to be alert to false claims and abuse of power. Give us the courage to challenge the authority which seeks to impress but which lacks integrity. Amen