Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Vashti

"Vashti Deposed" by Ernest Normand, 1890


Background: 20 BC

King Ahasuerus, the King of Persia held a feast for all the princes and servants of Persia and Media in order to show off his great riches. The feast lasted 180 days. After this feast he held a feast for all the people in the palace which lasted seven days. Vashti, the queen, held a separate feast for the women of the palace in the royal house. One the seventh day of the feast the King was "merry with wine" and commanded his seven chamberlains to bring Vashti out to him so that he could show off her beauty. Vashti refused to come and the King was "very wroth, and his anger burned in him". He commanded that she never come before him again and that her royal estate should be given to another. He also sent out a proclamation that all wives in the Persian Empire should give honor to their husbands, and that every man should rule in his own house. Esther later became Queen in place of Vashti.

Facts about her:
  • She was the Queen of Persia, married to Ahasuerus. Persia encompassed 127 provinces, from Greece to India, almost the whole of the civilized world (see Bible Map 7);
  • She was fair to look at;
  • Her name means "beautiful", "sweetheart, or "the beloved one" in Hebrew;
  • She enjoyed a high standard of living and had significant political and social power;
  • She was responsible for holding a separate feast for the women and nobles of the palace;
  • She was summoned by the King's seven Chamberlains to appear before the drunken King and the drunk men of the palace;
  • She refused to come when the King called her, humiliating him before all the men of the palace;
  • The King's wise men told him that "Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the people that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus. For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes...Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath." (Esther 1:17-18)
  • The King commanded that she should never come before him again;
  • Her royal estate was given to another (eventually Esther);
  • Her act of disobedience caused the King to send out a decree throughout his entire empire (published in multiple languages) saying that, "all the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small" (Esther 1: 20) and "that every man should bear rule in his own house"(Esther 1:22);
  • She lost everything because of her disobedience-- her political power, her social position, her dignity, her chance to bear children, her friends, and her family.
Speculations about her:
  • The King's request that she "show off her beauty" might be interpreted to mean that she "appear naked" or "dance". In verse 11 the King specifies that she wear her royal crown, it might have been that is all he meant for her to wear;
  • According to the Midrash, she was the great-granddaughter of King Nebuchadnezzar, the granddaughter of King Amel-Marduk, and the daughter of King Belshazzar;
  • Men and women often dined together in ancient Persia, but as the dinner progressed and more wine was drunk, the wives left and were replaced by concubines. She might have felt like she was being treated as a concubine because the King called for her after dinner. She was a noble woman and would not have felt that was respectable behavior for a queen;
  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 12) Vashti would force Jewish women to work naked on the Sabbath. The Talmud also says that the reason she refused to appear before the King was not that she was modest, but because she had leprosy or because she had grown a tail;
  • The scriptures don't specify what happened to her, it just says that she would " come no more before king." Jewish tradition believes that she was executed, but it is very possible that she was still alive and living as a low status concubine in the palace when Esther became queen.
My Thoughts:

This story is hard for me because I have two conflicting thoughts about Vashti.

First Thought: I think she is a fantastic example of standing up for your standards. She didn't allow herself to be forced into doing something she knew was degrading and inappropriate. She took a great risk in standing up to her husband, who tried to control her with unrighteous dominion. She knew how she should be treated and she demanded it. She had strength and courage that I admire. Her story reminds me of a talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks entitled Priesthood Authority in the Family and the Church (Nov. 2005). In it he says:

President Kimball...declared, “We have heard of men who have said to their wives, ‘I hold the priesthood and you’ve got to do what I say.’ ” He decisively rejected that abuse of priesthood authority in a marriage, declaring that such a man “should not be honored in his priesthood” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 316).

There are cultures or traditions in some parts of the world that allow men to oppress women, but those abuses must not be carried into the families of the Church of Jesus Christ. Remember how Jesus taught: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, … but I say unto you …” (Matt. 5:27–28). For example, the Savior contradicted the prevailing culture in His considerate treatment of women. Our guide must be the gospel culture He taught.

If men desire the Lord’s blessings in their family leadership, they must exercise their priesthood authority according to the Lord’s principles for its use: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge” (D&C 121:41–42).
Vashti was the victim of an unrighteous husband who tried to control her and abuse her. It is not right for women to be treated that way, and she did well to stand up to him and assert her rights as a daughter of God.

Second Thought:
Both Vashti and Ester disobeyed the king, yet they did so in very different ways.

  • Vashti refused to come when the king called her/ Esther went to the king when she wasn't called;
  • Vashti offended and humiliated her husband with her disobedience/Esther pleased and empowered her husband with her disobedience;
  • Vashti's disobedience resulted in her banishment/ Esther's disobedience resulted in giving her more freedom and more power as a queen;
  • Vashti's way of disobeying led to more restrictions and control over women in the empire/Esther's way of disobeying saved the lives of all the Jews in the empire and elevated their status in the eyes of the king.
I can't help but feel that while Vashti had a VERY valid reason for disobeying her husband, she might have done it the wrong way. She was haughty, forceful, blunt, and undiplomatic. Her disobedience didn't do much to help women's situation in the Empire, it made it much worse for them. True, her situation was different than Esther's, but Ester used all her feminine resources to get what she needed. She used her beauty, her brains, her charm, and quite a bit of prayer and fasting to change the mind of her husband and gain respect.

Sometimes I think that women do more harm to their causes when they are forward, overbearing, and forceful. It seems like most of the time they are more effective when they use more gentle, "feminine" ways of persuasion. Sometimes that means wearing a pretty dress and hosting parties for the king until he is willing to listen to you. Sometimes it means humbling yourself and coming when you are called. Yet on the other hand, there are times when "feminine" techniques fail, and sheer willpower, force, stubbornness, and courage are required to stand up for what is right.

So you see, that is my dilemma about Vashti. I can't decided if her way or Esther's way is better--or maybe they are just different. Perhaps there are times when women need to be Vashtis and times when they need to be Esthers.


What we can learn from her:
  • Life has gotten better for most women since 20 BC, well most women. There are still women living in parts of the world where things haven't changed very much;
  • Sometimes women have to disobey what is demanded of them if it unrighteous, even at the risk of being cast out and punished;
  • Women suffer from unrighteous dominion;
  • Sometimes there is a better, gentler way to disobey and still get what you want.
Questions:

  • What is a modern day parallel of Vashti's story?
  • What do you think women today have to learn from Vashti?
  • Would you have come when the king summoned you? Why/ Why Not?
  • What do you think happened to Vashti?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Three Daughters of Heman

1 Chronicles 25:5-6

Background: around 953 BC

King David wanted to build a temple to the Lord but was told that he should not. Instead he turned the task over to his son Solomon. Solomon assigned families of the Levities, who were one of the 12 tribes and who had been set apart by God to assist the Priests with their duties, different tasks. Three families of the Levites, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun were assigned to "prophecy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals (1 Chr. 25:1)." Heman had 14 sons and 3 daughters that he taught to worship God with music. Earlier Heman and his family were also assigned to play music whenever the ark of the covenant was being moved (1 Chr. 15:16), and when the tabernacle was set up (1 Chr. 6:31-33).

Facts about them:
  • They were Levites, which meant they had been assigned the task of ministering in the sanctuary and were to assist the priests with their duties. Unlike the rest of the tribes the Levites received no land of inheritance. Instead, they, as a people, were offered up to the Lord as an offering. They were the Lord's peculiar property;
  • They had 14 brothers. Their names were Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shebuel, Jerimoth, Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti, Romamti-ezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, and Mahazioth;
  • Their father's name was Heman and he was the "the king’s a seer in the words of God, to lift up the horn" (1 Chr. 25:5);
  • They were instructed by their father to play songs with cymbals, psalteries, and harps;
  • They played music in the temple;
  • Their music was service to God.

Speculations about them:

  • They, or possibly their daughters or granddaughters, might have been some of the "singing women" mentioned in 2 Chr. 35:25 who mourned for the death of Josiah, and those mentioned in Ezra 2:65 and Nehemiah 7:67.

My thoughts:

I was curious about what a psaltery, harp, and cymbal were, and what the music would sound like. I found this picture of a psaltery, which they say is played kind of like a violin. Here is more information about them if you are interested.

The type of harp they would have used isn't like the type of harps we know today. They were more like lyres. I found an interesting article on King David's harp. The one pictured below is an ancient Palestinian harp, and would have been very similar to what they would have used.


These are ancient cymbals from Iran

Here is a video about the psaltery that I thought gave an idea of what their music would have sounded like.
What we can learn from them:
  • Music is a way to worship God;
  • It can be a woman's (and a man's) calling in life to prophesy and worship God through music;
  • Women can prophesy;
  • Women were, and still are, allowed to serve in the temple and participate in sacred rituals;
  • The Lord wants and expects women to work along side their brethren in serving in the temple and prophesying.

Questions:

  • What do you imagine their music sounded like?
  • Why is music so important? Why would God specifically call people to worship him through music?
  • Why were all 14 brothers named and none of the 3 daughters?
  • What does music mean to you in your life? How do you use it to prophesy or worship God?

Changed My Mind

I changed my mind, I think that I will keep doing one woman a week. I decided that I will just have to write a couple of entires before hand, so that on weeks when I get stressed I won't have worry about it. Yep, that is what I will do. So keep checking back every week.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Every Other Wednesday's Woman

So, I've decided to only post a new woman every other Wednesday. I underestimated the amount of work that goes into researching and studying out a woman's life. I initially thought that perhaps on weeks when I didn't have time to do a good study, I could just post a "smaller, insignificant woman"; someone who was only mentioned as the wife of so-and-so, or the mother of s0-and-so. But I've realized that THERE ARE NO INSIGNIFICANT WOMEN.

As I started going though my list, I realized that every woman had a story to tell. Even the seemingly most insignificant woman in the scriptures once lived, breathed, cried, rejoiced, loved, and was loved by someone. I don't feel like I can do justice to each woman until I take the time to study the time period in which she lived, the events that surrounded and shaped her life, and come to understand those who loved her and those whom she loved. Consequently, I'm not going to just be able to "slap" a woman up on the blog, like I initially thought I would. So, as not to overwhelm myself I am going to alternate-- on Wednesday a new woman and the next a question. I hope that these questions will be interactive and that readers will feel free to LEAVE COMMENTS about their opinions and thoughts.

So this week's WEDNESDAY'S QUESTION is....

Who is your favorite woman in the scriptures and what does she mean to you?

Who knows, maybe you'll give me some ideas about who to post on next!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mothers of the 2,060 Stripling Warriors


Farewell My Stripling Warrior, Del Parson, 1999

Alma 56:47- 48; 57:21-27

Background: abt. 76-63 BC

The sons of Mosiah taught and converted the father of King Lamoni who then taught the gospel to his people. All of the Lamanties in the cities of Ishmael, Middoni, Nephi, Shilom, Shemlon. Lemuel, and Shimnilom accepted the gospel and repented of their sins. In fact, they covenanted to never again shed blood. They called themselves the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi. Not long after they made this covenant the Amalekites and other Lamanites make preparations to attack them. When the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi saw this they decided to bury their weapons of war so that would not be tempted to break the covenant they had made to God. When the Amalekites attacked, the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi laid down and refused to fight, and 1,005 of them were slain. Many of the Lamanites were touched by this and refused to continue fighting; more than 1,000 Lamanites also made a covenant never to fight again.

In Alma 27 the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi get attacked again and this time fled to the land of Zarahemla. The Nephites gave them the Land of Jershon and vowed to protect them. They were then called the people of Ammon. Eleven years later the Nephites were under attack from the Lamanites and the people of Ammon wanted to help, but didn't want to break the covenant they had made to God. Their sons, who had not taken the vow, volunteered to fight instead. Under the command of the prophet Helaman, 2060 of them, referred to as the stripling warriors, went into battle. They were young, inexperienced, and fought in several dangerous battles. Miraculously not one of the stripling warriors died in battle. The prophet attributed this miracle to the faith, teachings, and examples of their mothers.

Facts about them:
  • They were Lamanites who accepted the gospel when taught by the sons of Mosiah;
  • After repenting of their sins they made a covenant to God that they would never again shed blood. They were afraid that if they did they would never be forgiven by God again;
  • They didn't bury their weapons, only set them aside, until they saw for certain they were going to be attacked. It was only when the Lamanites were upon them that they buried the weapons and accepted death rather than break their covenant;
  • They were mothers;
  • Their sons would have witnessed a great deal of bloodshed and death at a very young age;
  • They were refugees;
  • 11 years after they settled in Jershon they sent their young sons into battle against the Lamanites, led by a prophet of God;
  • They had no fear of death because they understood the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ;
  • They had strong faith and they taught it to their sons.
Speculations about them:
  • Some of them were probably widows who had lost their husbands in the attacks by the Amalekites (Alma 27:25026);
  • Maybe some of the sons would have lost their mothers during the Lamanite attacks;
  • They wouldn't have had much contact with their sons while they were at war. The only thing they could have done for them was to pray that God would protect them;
  • The stripling warriors were kept safe, not only because of their faith, but also because of the prayers of their mothers.

My Thoughts:


They did not fear death because they had a perfect understanding of the atonement

Alma 27:28 explains the foundation of these women's faith. It explains why they could watch thousands of their brothers and sisters be ruthlessly slaughtered, why they were able to leave their homeland, why they were willing to die rather than break their covenants, and why they were willing to send their young sons into battle. It says:
"And they did look upon shedding the blood of their brethren with greatest abhorrence; and they never could be prevailed upon to take up arms against their brethren; and they never did look upon death with an degree of terror, for their hope and views of Christ and the resurrection; therefore, death was swallowed up to them by the victory of Christ over it."
This is what these mothers knew, and this is what they taught their sons. They knew that because of the atonement of Jesus Christ death had no power. They had no fear of physical death because Jesus would conquer it, and therefore it had "no sting". They knew that the only thing to fear, and what would bring death, was sin and the breaking of covenants. They knew that if they honored their covenants and followed the Lord Jesus Christ, man could do nothing to them. They understood that mortal life was just a short part of their eternal existence. They had their eyes on an eternal , not an earthly, reward.


What Power a Mother's Teaching, Elaine Smith, 1999

Their sons did not fear death because their mothers did not fear death. Their mothers had taught hem, by their own example of being willing to die rather than break covenants, the power of the atonement. These sons went forth with a perfect understanding that physical death is temporary, and that if the were faithful and observed " to perform every word with exactness" they would live again. They did not doubt that God was with them. What a beautiful heritage these mothers were able to pass on to their sons! This is a heritage that EVERY faithful woman of God should strive to give to her children. I really like this talk about motherhood by Elder Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In it he says:
"Yours is the grand tradition of Eve, the mother of all the human family, the one who understood that she and Adam had to fall in order that "men [and women] might be" and that there would be joy. Yours is the grand tradition of Sarah and Rebekah and Rachel, without whom there could not have been those magnificent patriarchal promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob which bless us all. Yours in the grand tradition of Lois and Eunice and the mothers of the 2,000 stripling warriors. Yours is the grand tradition of Mary, chosen and foreordained from before this world was, to conceive, carry, and bear the Son of God Himself. We thank all of you, including our own mothers, and tell you there is nothing more important in the world that participating so directly in the work of God, in bringing to pass the morality and earthly life of His daughters and sons, so that immortality and eternal life can come in those celestial realms on high."
What we can learn from them:
  • Even though women may not appear to be in the forefront of stories, what they do and how they teach their children have far reaching affects on politics, history, and society;
  • Women can bring to pass miracles when they understand the atonement and follow, with exactness, the principles of the gospel;
  • God hears the prayers of mothers and answers them in miraculous ways;
  • When we have a clear understanding of the atonement we do not have to fear death;
  • Even children who are traumatized by bloodshed and war can be taught forgiveness, love and peace through the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Questions:
  • What type of faith would it take to refuse to fight and instead watch those around you die? Could you do it?
  • How are you teaching your children (or children around you) about the power of the atonement?
  • If you have made sacred covenants to God, are you willing to die for them rather than break them?
  • Can you think of times your mother prayed for you and how your life was influenced because of it?
  • How can we help children who have been traumatized by war learn peace?
  • Do you practice what you preach?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Similar Organization

Sister Beck gave an amazing talk on Saturday about the purpose of Relief Society. If you missed it or don't remember what she said I highly recommend reading it. One thing she said really stood out to me, and I thought that it would be an appropriate discussion for this blog. She said...

Since its organization, Relief Society has spread throughout the world and has been called “the largest, and by all measure, the greatest women’s organization on earth.”4 We know through the Prophet Joseph Smith that Relief Society was a formal part of the Restoration and that a similar organization for women existed in the Church anciently.5 The Prophet Joseph taught that Relief Society was “divinely made, divinely authorized, divinely instituted, divinely ordained of God,”6 “according to the law of heaven”7 to help the Lord “bring to pass the . . . eternal life of man.”8

I had never heard this fact, and was SO blown away with the thought. I guess I've never really appreciated the idea that the Relief Society is a NECESSARY part of the restoration. It always just seemed to me to be an afterthought or a nice way to get the women involved. What a difference it makes to me to realize that Relief Society is a "formal part of the restoration". To understand that the restoration would not have been complete without it, and that women leading, teaching, and serving in the church is a NECESSARY part of the gospel. The truth of this hit me to my soul when Sister Beck said it on Saturday.

Also, the idea that the Relief Society (or something similar) existed for women when Christ was on the earth, and possibly in other dispensations, REALLY changes the way I look at women in the scriptures. These women, especially the New Testament women, would have been leading, teaching, serving, and participating in an organization. Just like men are participating in the same organization of the priesthood that ancient apostles did, women are participating in the same organization that the ancient women disciples did. We are all, no matter what dispensation we were born in, striving and working towards the same goals and promises. What a beautiful thought; it really brings peace to my soul and makes me feel much more connected to my "relief society sisters" who lives I read about in the scriptures.

Lois




Background: 1 Century AD

Paul went to preach the gospel in Lystra after persecution drove him from Iconium (Acts 14:2-7). There he performed many miracles, such as healing a lame man and surviving a stoning (Acts 14:8, 19). It is likely that Lystra was the first time in Paul's missionary work that he was teaching Gentiles the gospel of Christ without approaching them through the common ground of Judaism. There were some gentiles who believed on his words, and he organized them, but then had to leave because of persecution. He encouraged them to be steadfast. On his second missionary journey (Acts 16:1) he returned to Lystra and met Timothy, a young disciple who became his and Silas's companion on the rest of the second missionary journey.

Facts about her:
  • She was the grandmother of Timothy, who was one of the apostle Paul's most trusted assistants. Paul calls Timothy his “son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1: 2, 18; 2 Tim. 1: 2);
  • Her daughter was Eunice, the mother of Timothy, who was a Jewess married to a Greek man;
  • She was one of the first in her family to believe in the gospel, and she taught her family, namely her daughter Eunice and grandson, Timothy;
  • She has strong, pure faith, Paul tells Timothy to remember "the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother..." (II Timothy 1:5);
  • Her name means "agreeable" in Greek;
  • She dwelt in Lystra, which is modern day Turkey.
Speculations about her:
  • She probably would have been taught the gospel directly from Paul, and would have witnessed the miracles he performed while in Lystra. Such as healing a man lame from birth (Acts 14:8);
  • Her daughter's husband, and probably most of the rest of her family, would not have been believers. She would have had to stand up for what she believed in, at the expense of being alienated from her family and society;
  • She probably would not have had much contact with Paul or the rest of the Church (the distance being far) and would have had to remain strong and steadfast on her own;
  • She would have been part of the ancient church's organization for women.
What we can learn from her:
  • Sometimes we have to be willing to stand alone in our faith;
  • We have a sacred responsibility to teach our children and grandchildren the gospel;
  • Being a mother/grandmother has far reaching consequences. One of the greatest legacy we can leave behind is children who are good, strong and faithful;
  • Each member of the church (unless they are converts) owes so much to the person/people in their family history who had the faith and courage to accept and live the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Questions to think about:
  • The dictionary says that "unfeigned" means "sincere; genuine", what does it mean to you to have "unfeigned faith?"
  • How have grandparents, or other "old" people influenced your understanding of the gospel?
  • Who was the first person in your family to accept the gospel? What would you say to them if you could meet them?