“King Xerxes and His nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as his adviser Memucan proposed. He sent dispatches to all parts of his kingdom, to each province in its own script, to each people in its own language, proclaiming in each people’s tongue that every man should be the ruler of his own household.” (Esther 1:21-22 NIV)
I love the Old Testament book of Esther, not only does it have all of the great elements of drama — the beautiful heroine, the evil villain, a diabolical plot by Satan, assassination plots, suspense, risk and adventure, irony and lots of ego — it also carries us to an ancient past that proves to be much like current events.
Here we see a “great declaration” of a powerful king to try to correct a problem arising from his inability to manage his own household well. Over and over again, I see men thump their chest declaring, “I’m the head of my household, I’m the king of my own castle!” Their posturing is just as ridiculous as King Xerxes’ proclamation in dozens of foreign languages.
Anyone who has to shout their leadership so loudly is clearly not a leader. It reminds me of the scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding when the father of the bride declares that he’s the head of the house and his wife enthusiastically agrees, then confidently says behind his back to all the women present, “And we’re the neck that turns the head!”
How did things go wrong for King Xerxes? We learn at the outset of the book that he was the ruler of a vast empire of 127 provinces stretching from the edges of India across the entire Middle East, into southeastern Europe and across Northern Africa (basically all of the then-known civilized world but the Greek city states). How did he paint himself into a corner where he had to banish his beautiful and intelligent wife, Queen Vashti?
Ask yourself, Why do powerful people make mistakes? How can someone who can control a vast empire, like the Persian King Xerxes, fail to manage his own household well? Often times mistakes come when people are full of themselves, at the height of their own glory. Such is the case here.
King Xerxes had called to the fortress at capitol city of Susa all his nobles, the military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes and the administrators of the 127 provinces. Historians believe that Xerxes was plotting the overthrown of the Greek city states at that time. During this six-month summit meeting, the king displayed “the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty.” (Esther 1:4) And he topped off this time with a huge banquet for everyone in the fortress, with a lavish open bar, for seven days running!
During this great party, the wives of the officials were also being hosted by Queen Vashti. At that time, the men and women did not party together. The only women at the men’s banquet would have been dancers and servants. No self-respecting woman would have been a part of such rowdy revelry.
The scripture tells us that Xerxes “was in high spirits from wine.” What a nice way to say he was roaring drunk. At the peak of his pride after having shown off all of his wealth, it entered his mind — “these men need to see my trophy wife, they need to know that I am not only rich and powerful, but I am lucky in love at the same time.” Sadly, he was too drunk to realize this was a bad idea. Instead, he commanded her seven eunuch attendants to bring Queen Vashti in wearing her royal crown!
When Queen Vashti refused this humiliation, the king exploded in a temper tantrum. I can picture him fuming and muttering to himself, “Who does she think she is?! Doesn’t she know that I am the great King Xerxes?! I’m the King of kings! I rule 127 provinces! Who does she think she is to refuse a royal summons?!” This whole thing reeks of self and pride. (Ever been there?)
Rather than give himself time to cool off, Xerxes turns this domestic dispute into a legal matter of government policy. He drags in his seven most trusted advisers and lays this question before them, “What must be done to Queen Vashti?” She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes?” Well, this is a loaded question. There is only one legal option in those days for ignoring a king’s command — severe punishment if not death.
The ensuing discussion by Memucan inflates the domestic dispute into a national crisis of chauvinistic proportions. Chaos will rule the empire! Wives of every social stature will rebel against their husbands due to Vashti’s bad example! Xerxes must show her who’s boss! Thus the proclamation above.
This is not true leadership. Now obviously, we are not in his position or in his culture. An Emperor with egg on his face is in a vastly different position than we would be. But we often get ourselves out on a similar limb and enthusiastically saw it out from under ourselves. What should we do when we get ourselves into a similar mess?
First, we should take responsibility for making an error in judgment and try to diffuse the public scene. (If we were dumb enough to create such a scene as this in front of all of our family, friends or business associates.)
Second, we should look for a time to humbly talk to our spouse later. We need to admit that our pride (and drinking) got the better of us. Admit our sin and seek forgiveness.
Third, we need to take a hard look at ourselves and what sins, ego and insecurities drive such behavior. We need to look at the toll these things take on our marriage, how they damage our reputations with others, and destroy our testimony for the Lord.
God’s picture of leadership in the home is very different from court orders that every man should be the ruler of their home. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must be the servant of all. Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:44-45 NIV) Later God said, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25 NIV) Christian leadership, whether in the home or elsewhere, is a self-sacrificial, servant leadership. The leader puts the interest of those whom he is leading before his won. This is a stark contrast with Xerxes’ self-aggrandizing demands that ignore Vashti’s need to show proper modesty.
In wrapping up this mess, let me talk about the elephant in this room. King Xerxes got in trouble while he was “in high spirits.” This speaks to the danger of drinking. Believers have moved away from a legalistic No Drinking stance, claiming that there is no place in the Bible where drinking is forbidden, only drunkenness. While this is technically true, let’s wake up to reality.
Two things are at play here. One, the scripture is clear that only one thing should control us — God’s Holy Spirit — over and against alcohol. (Ephesians 5:18) Two, society as a whole has recognized that it doesn’t take much alcohol to impair our judgment — only a level of 0.08 blood alcohol content. This wasn’t determined randomly, but after years of research. There is too much DUI — driving under the influence, SUI — speaking under the influence, AUI — arguing under the influence, DMUI — decision-making under the influence, etc. I have never known anyone to regret being sober, but have met many with regrets over drinking, even “moderately.”
Let’s not be a King Xerxes in either our pride and low respect for our spouses or in imbibing until we are less like a king and more like the court jester.