Who’s the Boss?
There’s an old, old story in the Bible–the story of deeply rooted hostility between men and women. According to Genesis 3, the wall of division between men and women goes far deeper, and begins ages earlier, than any other wall of division in the human race. It’s deeper and wider than Jew and Gentile; deeper and wider than slave and free.
Esther 1 reminds us: The power struggle between men and women has ancient roots in human history. It didn’t get invented by misbehaving women and misbehaving men in the 20th century!
But that’s not what this chapter is about. Not directly, anyway.
For years I didn’t pay much attention to Esther 1.
It was background for the real story—the part about Esther, Mordecai and Haman. It’s to let us know how there came to be a job opening in the royal palace—to be filled by someone better than Vashti.
Picture the ad in the newspaper:
No experience necessary!
Chief qualification: Beauty
Chief duty: Obedience
But did the Bible have to use all these words just to let us know about the job opening in the royal palace?
Esther 1 is like other first chapters in the Bible. If I miss what’s happening in the opening lines and chapters, I’m likely to miss what’s happening in the rest of the book.
Think about it:
- Genesis 1: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
- Job 1: There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.
- Psalm 1: Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked.
- John 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
- Acts 1: In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning.
- Revelation 1: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.
Esther 1: This happened in the days of Ahasuerus…. What do you think is happening?
We could say what’s happening is a story about the virtues of Vashti.
- She’s a heroine who refuses to go along with the king’s inappropriate if not immoral command.
- Thus, we hope our daughters and granddaughters will grow up to be like Vashti. They, too, will be courageous enough to say No to inappropriate if not immoral commands from men who think they have power over women.
Unfortunately, Esther 1 doesn’t tell us much of anything about Vashti.
- We don’t know whether she was a virtuous woman.
- We don’t know why she refused the king’s command.
- We don’t even know how she felt when she got fired from her job as Queen. Who knows? Maybe Vashti wanted to be banished from this king’s presence!
But what’s happening isn’t primarily about Vashti. There’s something else we need to see if we want to appreciate what’s happening in the rest of this book.
Esther 1 is packed with unusually lavish details.
This king seems to have everything going his way:
- Unimaginable wealth, astoundingly rare and precious possessions
- Ability to throw not one, but two super-huge parties
- Generosity and tolerance, the perfect host: Drink as much or as little as you like!
- A drop-dead gorgeous queen
- Happy to let the queen throw her own party for the women
- A reliable administrative system, including trusted advisers unafraid to speak their minds
- Finally, this king’s postal service delivers the mail where and when he wants it delivered!
Yet one thing is missing from this picture.
Every time a king crosses the pages of the Bible, one thing matters above all else. It isn’t the king’s wealth, popularity or super-efficient postal system.
What really matters is the king’s heart.
So how is it with this king’s heart? This king’s heart isn’t revealed when everything seems to be going his way. It’s revealed in that split second when he learns Queen Vashti said NO! I will NOT appear before you and your drunken buddies so you can show off my beauty!
In that moment we see the king’s heart burning with wrath and anger, consumed with the desire to do something to get back at Queen Vashti.
This king has a problem. It isn’t Queen Vashti. The problem is the king. It’s a heart problem. This king isn’t very good at taking NO for an answer. He doesn’t understand who’s the boss.
When King Ahasuerus commands Queen Vashti to come before his presence, he thinks he knows exactly what he needs to make his day. Ironically, he gets exactly what he needs: someone to remind him that he’s not the boss.
In fact, from Chapter 1 right through the entire book Esther, this king is just along for the ride! The most high God of Israel is in charge whether it looks like it or not.
Here’s the bad news.
We are all King Ahasuerus–male and female alike, young and old, wealthy or struggling to make ends meet, people of color and people of no color at all.
Each of us wants someone who will do exactly what we command. Someone who will just say YES! Right away! Whatever you say, Boss!
We don’t do well at taking NO for an answer.
- How dare you say NO to me?
- I’ll show you who’s the Boss around here!
We love calling our emergency meetings with ourselves or our trusted friends. We love hearing them affirm how right we are and how sinfully wrong that other rebellious person is!
- We need to protect our images!
- We need to make sure everyone understands exactly who’s in charge around here!
- We’re afraid we’ll lose face.
- We don’t want to appear impotent.
Where’s the good news?
Esther 1 invites us to pay close attention to our images. Not the images others have of us, or the images we work hard to protect, but our images as human beings created in the image of the most high God of Israel. In fact, part of our business on this earth is to polish our images so they reflect as much of God as possible.
And how do we do that? Here’s a clue: How many times has the most high God of Israel, incarnated in human flesh, taken NO for an answer?
Think about it. Jesus, God incarnate, invites family members, children, friends and strangers into the presence of the most high God of Israel. He offers living water that’s eternally satisfying.
Yet over and over people turn aside, turn back, or run the other way. They say NO! And over and over, God in human flesh takes NO for an answer.
It’s right to be concerned about our images. Not our false images, but the image of God in us. The image of God who knows how to take NO for an answer.
If I’m truly concerned about my image, I can begin by learning the hard way to take NO for an answer. Today someone will surely tell me NO. This NO may be angry, sad, regretful, spiteful, arbitrary, thoughtless, or even wrong. That doesn’t matter.
God has taken NO as an answer from me countless times. Could it be that God has a different way in mind? Esther 1 invites me to consider this possibility. My part is to loosen my vice-like grip on my desire for my way, to make space for something else to happen next.
I’m not the Boss; you’re not the Boss. Our work is to practice accepting NO for an answer, and to stop trying to be the bosses we are not. I think it’s sometimes called surrender—not giving up, but relaxing into whatever God has in mind, surrendering what we want to hang onto or bring about at any cost. Are you ready?
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 December 2014
First preached in a local church 9 June 2002 (Father’s Day)