Subscribe to TWR Canada’s weekly Women of Hope email to receive daily prayer requests, updates and stories of impact from the TWR Women of Hope global ministry.View RSS Feed
Read stories from listeners of TWR Women of Hope.
Read stories from listeners of TWR Women of Hope.
Aug18FriAugust 18, 2017 By the TWR Canada Women’s Ministry Team
This month, the TWR Women of Hope Prayer Calendar is praying for women affected by domestic violence. Perhaps the two most prominent examples of domestic violence are David’s daughter Tamar and Jacob’s daughter Dinah. We've written about these women before – you can read that here. There are other notable examples of women who faced violence and some demanded (in the way allowed to them by their culture) justice such as Rizpah (Saul’s concubine – 2 Samuel 3:7; 2 Samuel 21) and Abigail (1 Samuel 25).
- Filed Under:
- Women of the Bible
This month though, we want to focus on two women married to the same man, by all accounts, a difficult and possibly abusive man – and a king. Many biblical scholars believe that King Ahasuerus mentioned in the book of Esther is the man history knows as Xerxes I (which is why that’s the name used in the NASB and NIV versions).
History records that Xerxes I (he called himself King of Persia and Media, King of Kings and King of Nations/World) had a summer palace in Susa and was known for his lavish banquets, drinking, sexual appetite and other things. His explosive temper is well recorded by the Greeks, predominately by the historian Herodotus. Early in his reign, Xerxes I ordered the sea lashed 300 times when a storm destroyed a bridge he was building and delayed his army. Xerxes I became king at age 36 and reigned for just over twenty years. He was assassinated by a member of his household.
The first wife we meet in the book of Esther is Vashti. Some biblical scholars speculate she was the daughter of King Belshazzar (Daniel 5) (Darius the Mede was Xerxes I’s father). After her father’s death, she would have been given to Xerxes I as a wife following the Medo-Persian victory over Babylon. If this is true, it was a marriage of political expediency and dominance over another people – a public claiming of woman and lands.
In the first chapter of Esther, Xerxes I is early into his reign and has devoted a lot of time and energy into raising funds and men to make war on Greece. At one point during the feast (the gathering would have been intended to impress his generals), Xerxes I demands that Vashti appear before the all-male banquet guests “to display her beauty to the people and princes.” She refused.
While the text doesn’t tell us the reason for Vashti’s refusal, the underlying fact we must not forget is that Xerxes I was not a man anyone refused lightly. Vashti knew her decision could have disastrous consequences. As a result of her public refusal, Xerxes I set her aside. Was she killed? Was she simply sent away to live under house arrest for the rest of her life? We’re not told.
The second chapter of the book of Esther opens with Esther being scooped up off the street by one of Xerxes I’s overseers who was seeking potential wives for the king. Fighting would have been futile; Esther had no choice in the direction her life took. Not only had Esther lost her freedom, she had lost her identity too because her cousin Mordecai instructed her not to reveal her Jewish heritage.
Esther submitted to the twelve months of beauty treatments and in that time greatly impressed Hegai, the king’s eunuch in charge of the harem, and anyone else who met her (Esther 2:15). We know Esther retained her faith in Yahweh, but whether she secretly kept the food restrictions and other rites of the Jewish people the text doesn’t say.
Roughly four years after Vashti was banished, Esther had her one night with the king and was made queen. Five years after Esther married Xerxes I, the central conflict for the book of Esther plays out with Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews of Persia. The text skips ahead in time, so nine years have passed between Vasthi’s refusal and Haman’s plot. History tells us that at this point in his reign, Xerxes I had suffered an epic defeat at the hand of the Greeks and returned home to complete his father’s construction projects and maintain peace.
It’s possible that Xerxes I wasn’t the same explosive monarch we met at the beginning of Esther, but the traditions and laws about approaching the king remained the same. This is what made life in the harem so sad. The king had to summon you. You didn’t run into your husband in the halls or lean over during a meal to ask him a question. The King’s women were not allowed out of the harem, could not speak to anyone or leave.
While Esther would have enjoyed more freedom and visibility as queen, she was still held to the same laws as all the other concubines. Mordecai challenged Esther to use her position to save her people. Esther stepped out not with anger or public refusals, but with calm hospitality, humility and with many praying and fasting on her behalf. She won Xerxes I over with love (remember, everyone who met her loved her).
How Does This Apply Today?
We see this happen again and again through the feedback we receive from our TWR Women of Hope prayer group members and our Women of Hope listeners. Women report how their own hearts were changed through faith in Christ. Over time and with much prayer, their abusive and often-absent husbands are won over by the love, peace and humility their wives show them. Certainly, these are remarkable stories and don’t apply to every situation, but God’s hand is upon those caught in these difficult situations. He has not forgotten them, and in His grace He does send deliverance from these difficult situations in a variety of ways.