Tag Archives: Esther

The Key to Leadership

Leadership Key   Once there was a woman who displeased her husband so he simply divorced her. In this case, the man was a king and his wife was a queen but that doesn’t matter; the husband could have been a farmer—or a physician or a factory worker or a finance administrator—or anything else… but I digress. The reason the king divorced his wife was that he had made a request of her but his wife had refused the request. And in those days, refusing a king was simply not done.

   None of that, however, is the point of the story. The point is why the woman refused to obey the king. Unfortunately, we’ll never know why because the king never bothered to find out. Or, if he did, it didn’t matter to him—which is, in our little story, not a minor detail by any stretch.

   By now, you’ve probably guessed the story: the king is Xerxes, the queen is Vashti, and the story is told in the biblical Book of Esther. But the core of it is an old story that continues to unfold everywhere, all the time.

   King Xerxes “requested” that Queen Vashti appear before him and all of his drunken officials so that Xerxes could show off the queen’s beauty, but the queen declined the offer. Suddenly, the party was over. At best, a great breach of protocol had occurred and, at worst, a serious crime had been committed. Perhaps even a Class A felony.

   So, beside himself, the king insisted his counselors tell him what to do. They immediately defaulted to “if she gets away with such blatant disrespect, then none of our own wives will respect us either. Away with her!” And so, away she went.

   Point? Not once (that we’re told) did the king nor any of his officials ever think to ask the queen whether there might’ve been any valid reason why she had refused to appear before the king’s assembly. However, through the centuries, there has been a great deal of speculation. And that’s because Vashti had to have had a very good reason for disobeying the king; people who did that were generally executed—which probably rules out simple defiance. And so, theories abound…

   Reason #1: Queen Vashti was ordered to appear before her own servants. This particular reason is not speculation. The Bible reports that Vashti was being ordered to appear at a party which the king was hosting for his servants and officials. (He’d already hosted a party for the governors and nobles.) It was on the seventh day of this party that he sent for the queen because “he wanted all the men to gaze on her beauty…” (Es. 1:11). Imagine, a queen being ordered to appear before the servants of her household so that they could, essentially, ogle her. That would certainly be a valid reason she might be reluctant to appear.

   Reason #2: King Xerxes wanted Queen Vashti to appear before the men sans clothing. (He did, however, order that she wear her royal crown.) Now while those proposing this theory can offer no definitive proof that Vashti was expected to appear unclothed, it is worth noting that women in those days were certainly considered of less value than a good war horse. Thus it does not seem unreasonable to suppose that if the king’s sole goal was to impress his officials and servants with his queen’s beauty, they should view all of it. However, in a culture where women were veiled for modesty, imagine what a scandal this would be. Sadly, in the king’s drunken state, he probably didn’t think of that. No wonder Queen Vashti refused to show— and especially before her own servants.

   Reason #3: Vashti could have been, for a variety of cultural reasons, considered “unclean” on that particular day. And we’ll leave it at that.

   Remember, Vashti knew—everyone knew—that to defy an order from the king could well mean death. That being the case, my guess is that whatever she was being asked to do, she must have considered worse than death. To appear under any of the above circumstances most probably would have resulted in a humiliation and degradation from which the queen would never have recovered. To be remembered as the queen who was forced to appear before servants and possibly without clothes (or worse) would truly have been a fate more terrible than death. But we’ll never know because Xerxes never bothered to ask why his wife would rather risk death than obey his command.

   The king lacked understanding.

   Xerxes cared more about his pride and reputation than about his own wife’s concerns. Nevertheless, after sobering up, indications are that he regretted his irrevocable decision to send her away.

   Perhaps he finally understood the facts.

   As leaders, whether in our homes, businesses, government or any other authoritative position, we need to understand the facts of any given situation and the effects of our verdicts upon others before making those decisions. That’s just good leadership. And although one would think that should go without saying, sadly it does not.

   In several places in his letters, Paul admonishes husbands, fathers, and slave owners [by extension, employers], not simply not to mistreat wives, children or slaves [employees], but to treat them with understanding (Eph. 5:21-6:4; Col. 3:18-21). And this principle holds true for anyone, including women.

   Understanding. It’s the key to wisdom, insight, revelation, discernment, and discretion. Without understanding, leaders cannot attain any of those.

   Think about that.

   Simply put—get the facts. The truth is that if those in authority treat others with understanding, then there will be much less need to demand respect and obedience. There is a time and place to deal with overt rebellion but not as an automatic default. Yes, chronic offenders, in-your-face law-breakers, criminals, and terrorists certainly demand swift and meaningful consequences, but in dealing with our families, our employees, and our constituents, fact-based understanding is the better part of wisdom.

   Understanding is the difference between a tyrant and a great leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The One Thing God Cannot Do.

gavel-in-motion-iii    “So it shall be written; so it shall be done!”

   Who can forget those immortal words spoken by Rameses in the classic The Ten Commandments? In the movie, Rameses is in competition with Moses for the throne of Pharaoh and so after Moses builds a city for Pharaoh, a jealous Rameses vows, “’The city that he builds shall bear my name. So it shall be written. So it shall be done.’”

   In ancient cultures, people understood that when a king put a command or decree into writing, then that word would forever stand; even the king himself could not revoke it at a later date. Moreover, a decree by a king was not simply a careless word spoken in a moment of passion and then later revoked, but even if it was spoken carelessly, the king’s word would nonetheless become law and stand for all time.

   And what does this have to do with us? Just this: If you’ve ever received a word or promise from the Lord concerning your destiny, it will come to pass.

   “’God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?’” (Num. 23;19)

   In Scripture, God gives us several examples of this principle in order to prove the gravity of the point. Despite even rash words uttered by kings, those kings were not able to revoke their words at a later date – even though they might want to.

   In the book of Esther, for example, we’re told that King Xerxes gave a seven-day banquet in Susa during which the men drank “as much as they pleased”. After several days of drinking, it is probably safe to conclude that Xerxes was “much in his cups” so he decides to send for Queen Vashti for a little entertainment. Xerxes orders that the queen appear, complete with the royal crown on her head, so that he could show off her beauty to all of the men gathered. However, Queen Vashti refuses to appear (1:11-12).

   Now while commentators offer various explanations for this refusal of hers – some rather interesting – we don’t really know why she didn’t show. Some say that the order by the king included instructions for Queen Vashti to appear wearing only the crown (which, admittedly, would show off all her beauty); others say that it was a grievous breach of custom for a woman to appear before an assembly of men; and still others say that Vashti was having the equivalent of a hissy fit and refused to be treated like a mindless Barbie doll.

   I doubt the latter.

   When she doesn’t appear – whatever the reason – Xerxes is angry and demands to know what penalty the law provides for a queen who refuses to obey the king’s orders. His officials, concerned that Vashti’s example would give the wives of the kingdom permission to disrespect their own husbands, counsel the king to issue a written decree that Queen Vashti should be forever banished from the king’s presence and a new queen should be chosen. Xerxes, thinking this suggestion makes good sense, sends letters to every province in his empire proclaiming that every husband should be the ruler of his home (1:19-22). In other words, he put it in writing.

   Nevertheless, the Bible tells us that “when Xerxes’ anger cooled,” he begins to think about Vashti and the decree he had made, the implication being that he regrets his decision to banish her. Still, he cannot revoke the decree so his officials suggest a beauty pageant to find another queen (2:1-4).

   Fast forward several months after Esther is chosen to be the new queen: Haman, who hated the Jews, talks Xerxes into issuing a written decree to have them all killed on a certain date. Xerxes, not realizing that Esther is Jewish, agrees and, once again, puts his decree into writing and sends it far and wide throughout the kingdom (3:8-15). Later, once he discovers that his beloved Esther is Jewish and, along with her people, will be slaughtered, he grieves because he can’t revoke any decree that he has put into writing. In order to solve the problem, he has to issue a new decree giving the Jews permission to defend themselves (chapter 8). The king specifically tells Esther and Mordecai, “’But remember that whatever is written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can never be revoked’” (8:8).

   Revoking his Word is the one thing God cannot do.

    “’For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it’” (Is. 55:10-11).  

   Has God made you a promise concerning your future? Do not take it lightly for God does not promise what he does not fulfill.

   “For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay” (Hab. 2:3).

   Prepare for it.