Another Better Than She
They had celebrated long and hard. For six months, Artaxerxes had wined and dined his Persian princes, glorying in the greatness of their world-dominating strength. Now, at the close of that festival, he had begun yet another party for all those that lived at the great palace in Susa. After enough wine, the king and his cohorts were ready to feast their eyes on the renowned beauty of the king’s wife, Vashti. This was certainly an interesting name, because in the Persian language it meant simply, a beautiful and excellent woman. Perhaps that was all she really was to Artaxerxes. We may never really know. But the time came when she was called for to reveal her beauty before the royal entourage, and she refused to appear. We do not know why. Perhaps it was pure indignation. Perhaps she misunderstood what her husband intended to do with her before the company. Whatever the reasons, she refused the command.
The king and his wise men became furious. They wondered at the possible ramifications throughout the kingdom when other wives of other men learned that Vashti was able to refuse the desire and commands of her husband. Something, they reasoned, had to be done! After some small discussion, they decided to write an edict, an addition to the law of the Persians and the Medes. Vashti was commanded to never again appear before the king. And it was declared, “…and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she.” (Esther 1:19) The wording is worth our attention here.
Was it just wishful thinking that there would be another woman somewhere in the kingdom that was in fact better than Vashti? Or was it a simple fact? Was it true indeed that there was someone waiting somewhere to take the place of this beautiful and excellent woman? As we continue to read this great Book of Esther, we discover that “appearing before the king” takes a special emphasis in its theme. Some Bible commentators write that Vashti was justified in her refusal to appear before these drunken leaders. Whether it was morally right or wrong, however, the fact remains that Vashti refused, she was found guilty by her king/husband, and one “that was better than she” replaced her. The former queen was certainly singular. She was excellent and beautiful. She was the only one called for to appear in front of the king’s friends. She held a special place in his eyes, no doubt. Yet, there was always one that was better than she. She was, therefore, singular, yet replaceable!
The Jewish heroine of the book is of course Esther. She is positioned by the will of God to become the very replacement for Vashti. It is fascinating to note, nonetheless, that Esther is tested in a similar way after her coronation. She is not commanded as Vashti was to come and appear before the men as they drink themselves into a stupor, but she does have a divine appointment in front of the king that is too important to miss. Her appearance before the king would be one of intercession for a doomed race of people. The Jews had been wrongfully accused and persecuted by an evil and jealous assistant to the king. Haman was bent on the total destruction of the Jewish people, and it would be up to Esther to bring their deliverance. Like Joash, she would be asked to bring salvation to her people, but there would be no prophet by her side to declare when enough was enough. In fact, she would have to be willing to give her all in the name of rescuing the Jews.
Somehow, Esther had to appear before the king to make her request. The problem, however, was the Persian law. It prohibited unsolicited visits to the king. Should a man or woman appear uninvited before the king, and should he not extend his scepter as a symbol of permission to speak, it was a crime punishable by death. This is what Esther was asked to do. She must appear without any guarantee of being received by Artaxerxes. Vashti had been invited, yet she refused. Now, Esther must appear, but was not invited! While it might seem that these two cases are diametrically opposed, they have, in fact, a very common thread between them. In Esther 4:14, we read the words of Esther’s relative and advisor Mordecai, “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Both women were summoned to appear before their king. Should either of them refuse, there was already someone else in place that could replace them. Both would be called, but would they answer that call?
Our Lord and Savior is certainly not a drunken and reveling king, but surely He takes a righteous pride in the beauty of His beloved Church. Who really knows how many times He has called on her to appear before the world and show forth His glory as reflected by her beauty. And who knows how many different times and in how many places she has refused to obey. To refuse this command to step forward and be the queen that we were called to be means that another will be chosen. And like the burden of Esther, if we are not the ones to appear in a strong intercessory capacity, who will be called to replace us in saving the lost world? Two things are certain here: the Lord will have a beautiful Church that obeys His will; and if we as individuals fail in our personal obligation of true ministry to others, there is one better than we are that will be found to replace us.
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