|The Banquet of Esther and Ahasuerus by Jan Victors|
There was a time in my life when I had a lot of anger about issues relating to women. I wasn't angry at a specific person or organization per se, but angry at a world that treated women as objects, raped them, enslaved them, prevented them from being born, paid them less money, and undervalued their contributions. Like the Savior cleansing the temple I felt my anger was justified; I was seeing injustice and I was getting motivated about it. Yet the more I went down that path the more I saw that anger was a drug and an illusion. Being angry about wrongs didn't really change anything.
Most of all I could feel that my "righteous indignation" was killing a beautiful part of my soul.
I found that I was becoming more judgmental of other people, that I was more easily provoked to anger and impatience by things people said or did, and that I was slowly loosing my faith in the goodness of other people's hearts. Most of all I wasn't as happy. One day it dawned on me that if I went much further down the anger path, I would never be able to come back up again.
It worries me to see people embracing, even unknowingly, an attitude of anger as it relates to feminist issues, or any issue for that matter. Not just because of what it does to their souls, but because actions motivated by anger-- in any form-- will never really change anything.
Let me explain.
In the first chapter of the book of Esther it tells the story of Vashti. King Ahasuerus, the king of Perisa, held a huge feast for all the princes of Media and Persia. At the same time Queen Vashti held her own feast in the royal palace for the women. It was a seven day long feast and on the last day, when "the heart of the king was merry with wine" he commanded his counselors to bring Vashti, with her royal crown, so that he could show off her beauty to all the princes.
Vashti flatly refused to come. She knew that what the king was asking of her was degrading to her as a woman and beneath her position as queen. I am sure that all her womanly pride boiled up at the thought of being paraded before a drunken crowd of men. The king's request was totally a misuse his power and showed a disregard for Vashti's feelings and dignity.
Really, no one can blame Vashti for not going.
Still, her very public refusal of the king's command made him angry. As both a king and a husband he expected to be obeyed, and she disobeyed him on both levels. Beyond that one of his counselors pointed out that,
"Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, the provinces of the King Ahasurerus. 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: 16-18).Basically, he was afraid that Vashti had opened a can of worms and that if king didn't do something then Persia would have a regular feminist movement on its hands. This scared the King and so he commanded that Vashti be removed as queen and he sent a proclamation throughout the land stating that, "every man should bear rule in his own house"... and that "all the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small."
There, feminist movement squashed. Right?
After Vashti's demotion the King's servants brought all the fair virgins of the land to the palace to be dressed, washed and pampered for six months. After which each was given a chance to win the King's affection and become the new queen. Esther was one of these fair virgins but unlike the other girls, when it was her turn to go before the king, she refused all finery except what was normally appointed to her. Perhaps it was this simplicity and honesty that caught the King's attention and caused him to love Esther more than all the other women. Eventually he chose her to be his new queen.
Yet despite Esther's apparent honesty she kept one big fact a secret from the king, the fact that she was a Jew. This caused problems when later the king's advisor Haman (and his wife Zeresh) convinced the King that he should exterminate the Jews in his kingdom. Once again, just like with Vashti, the King was being misled by his advisers and was being tempted to use his power in an unrighteous way.
The King's decree put Esther in a hard place. Due to the common occurrence of political assassinations in this time period King Ahaserus had a rule that no one, absolutely no one, could come into his presence without his permission. The penalty for breaking the rule was death, plain and simple. Not only was Esther afraid of approaching the King to state her cause, but it is likely she also remembered what happened to the last queen who disobeyed the King.
|Queen Vashti Deposed by Normand Ernest|
I think it says a lot about Esther's character that when faced with such a momentous decision she took it before the Lord before she did anything else. I wouldn't be surprised if it was during those three days that she, her maidens, and all the Jews of Persia fasted that the plan she ultimately followed was revealed to her. Furthermore, it is significant that she asked her people to fast for her and not that the King's heart would change. She wasn't trying to change anyone else's behavior, she was just asking for the strength to to what the Lord was guiding her to do.
On the third day of her fast Esther dressed in her royal apparel and stood in the inner court of the King's house. Eventually the King noticed Esther, and instead of being angry he was pleased to see her and held out his golden scepter as an indication that she could approach. Esther had blatantly disobeyed him but instead of getting angry and demoting her, like he had Vashti, he did exactly the opposite-- he offered her anything she wanted, even unto half of his kingdom.
Perfect time to ask for the king to not kill your people, right?
But Esther didn't ask for that. Instead she invited the King and Haman to a private banquet that she had prepared for them.That night the King asked her what she wanted, but all she did was invite them to another banquet. By the second night the King was pretty much begging Ester to tell him what it was she wanted, and promised that he would give her anything. When he found out what Haman was up to, and saw that he had been deceived, his attitude did a 360. In fact his heart was so changed that he sent a decree throughout all the kingdom proclaiming that the Jews were to be honored and protected instead of killed. This change was so enormous that even 4,000 years later the Jews still celebrate the story of Esther and what she did for her people.
The crazy part is that Esther's disobedience to the king was almost exactly the same as, if not more than, Vashti's disobedience to him. Yet the outcome couldn't have been more different.
It is important to note that Vashti and Esther were in much different circumstances. Esther wasn't facing a drunken king and all his buddies, and she had more time to plan and prepare. Yet, still the key difference in why Esther was successful in making a long lasting change in the lives of her people, and Vashti was not, was the was the fact that Esther's actions were motivated by love.
There is a lot to be said for loving people first and then helping them to be better. I think that is what Esther understood. She and the King had a good relationship, one built over time. She knew his heart and knew that it was good, but that he had been mislead by prejudice and the agenda of a corrupt adviser. So when Esther wanted to approach the King about a mistake he was making she didn't do it publicly. She could have done it right there in the throne room, but she didn't. She waited until she had Haman and the King alone and then she discussed with them what was bothering her.
I think too often when we see an injustice or a problem in the world we want to make it a public event. We want to get people on "our side" and change things by a show of force of solidarity. We want to get media attention, go viral on social media with our message, and show that we are right and someone else is wrong. Yet, anger and force will never ever change anything for the good.
When we choose to be angry about something-- even if we are totally justified-- we choose to open ourselves up to the power of the devil. Anger is his territory, and he claims all who enter into it. But he has no real power, and anything he "creates" will never last. On the other hand love is the territory of the Savior and when we choose to turn over our disappointments, our injustices, and our concerns to Him he can work miracles with them. He will change the hearts that can be changed and open up ways for the wicked "Hamans" to be gotten out of the way.
|Queen Esther by Minerva Teichert|
Even so, there is certainly a time and a place for being a "Vashti". Sometimes we have problems that people are so blind to that they need to be shouted from the housetops in a bold way. Sometimes the "Vashti-like" actions can even help pave the way for the "Esther-like" actions. Yet, the truth is that a "Vashti" approach to change will never result in real change. It may open people's eyes, it may stir people up and make the them angry and passionate for a time, but it won't last. Like Esther demonstrated real change happens when individual hearts are softened-- one-by-one-- and people come to see and love others like the Savior sees and loves others.
I think that both Vashti and Esther are women to praise and hold up as wonderful examples of strong leaders who knew their hearts. Yet over the years I have seen, that if you really want to make lasting change in the world, there is more wisdom in being an Esther than a Vashti.
There is real power, when instead of getting riled up and angry about a problem, you turn to the Lord with fasting and prayer to know what to do it about. God is in perfect control of the universe and His love and power can change anything or anyone. If you turn to Him with your heartaches, your concerns, and your injustices He will show you what He wants you to do. Just like Esther it might not always be easy and it may not be glamorous, but if it is motivated by pure love... it will change the world.
And it will last.
As in 4,000 years later it is still impacting the lives of people on a daily basis type of change. And not just the "We had 10,000 people together to protest such- and such" or "the UN passed this big resolution that nobody will really follow" type of change.
The trick is that real change is slower because you have to do it person by person. Real change also doesn't often attract the attention of the media or make people famous, but it is what is going to make the world better for women.
Which is why I hope that if you have any anger in your heart... you let it go... and replace it with love and faith.
I promise it works much better.