1–7 December 2019.
The great church Reformer Martin Luther wished that the Book of Esther had never been written. Esther is a historical novel that raised a lot of difficulties for the Jewish community and even more problems for Christians. That’s because unlike many other Bible stories, the Book of Esther doesn’t really have any great heroes or role models for us, and it doesn’t paint a picture of an ideal world. Instead it describes in very realistic ways how difficult it is to live as oppressed or marginalized people, and how difficult it is for such people to escape from their situations.
We see the first example of this in chapter 1. Even though Vashti is a queen, that doesn’t mean she is free to do what she wants. She lives in a male-dominated culture where she is controlled, ordered around, and told what to do. As the men in the king’s court make clear in verse 18 and 20, it doesn’t matter whether a woman is living in a poor home or a great palace she should always be controlled by a man. The king even puts his royal authority behind this view decreeing in v. 22 to all women that in every home of the empire “every man should be master in his own house.”
Trapped in this male dominated system, Vashti tries to push back. She resists the king’s command, she takes a stand, and she refuses to be bossed around. She refuses to be treated like an object and instead bravely stands up to the power that is controlling her life. That courageousness is impressive, even inspiring. The problem is that it doesn’t work. Instead of successfully pushing back against the system, Vashti is destroyed by it. She is stripped of her title and thrown out, never to appear in the story again.
Over the last few months we have watched the way our friends in Hong Kong have suffered under Chinese pressure. We have watched as so many have followed Vashti’s example and have bravely decided to take a stand against that pressure. That is truly admirable and inspiring, and it has touched the hearts of people around the whole world. But sadly for the people in Hong Kong, their experience has also been similar to Vashti’s. By standing up to unfairness, they have suffered even greater hurt and violence, and even greater injustices.
There is no happy ending to Vashti’s story. Instead it’s a frightening reminder to us that in our broken world sometimes when we push back against what is wrong we too just end up suffering even more. That can happen in our society and in our personal relationships too. That doesn’t mean we should give up on doing what is right. It just reminds us how incredibly difficult it can be to solve the conflicts we are stuck in, how carefully we need to plan are actions, and how urgently we need God’s wisdom and protection to guide us.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis