This first chapter doesn’t address Esther (aka Hadassah) at all, but instead merely serves to set up the situation that leads to Esther becoming Queen Esther.
It is tempting to skip over chapters like this when we read scripture. After all, since there is nothing about the main character in the text, what lesson can we possibly be expected to learn - it's just preamble. I think that’s a mistake. Even though Esther doesn’t appear in the passage, doesn’t mean there isn’t something we can learn from the example - good or bad - in the story of Xerxes and Vashti.
The first question I ask when I read a narrative like this is “What kind of people are we dealing with?” or “What does the story tell us about the character of the people in it?” As we read this story we learn a lot about Xerxes. He has a problem with pride, as evidenced by his willingness to cast aside his marriage at the first hint of his wife’s “disobedience.” Xerxes clearly cares a lot about appearances - his lavish party, his desire to show off his wife to his officials all indicate a person who desperately wants to impress. Finally and most importantly, we learn that Xerxes treats other people - especially women - as “things” to be owned, not as fellow human beings to be treated with dignity and respect.
Once we determine the character traits on display, the next question we should ask is “Should we, as followers of Christ, follow their example?” In other words, should we aspire to be like Xerxes, or should we view him as a “cautionary tale” to be avoided. This is an easy question to answer for this passage - it should be very clear that we, as followers of Christ should not be vain, prideful people who view others as objects to be used. In fact, we should strive to be as little like King Xerxes as possible.
Once we figure out whether we are dealing with a “good or bad example,” we should ask ourselves “How can I be more/less like the example in the passage?” This is almost always the hardest question, because it requires introspection and more than a little honesty. It is difficult to look at our own thoughts, words and behavior and confront our own sin and mistakes. Because of this, too often Christians simply skip this step or, worse, will only look at all the ways other people sin and make mistakes.
If I am honest with myself (and it would be foolish not to be) I can find plenty of ways that I am uncomfortably like King Xerxes. All too often I treat others - whether the grumpy cashier at the grocery store, or the student asking for help for the ninth time - as inconveniences that get in the way of what I want to do, rather than people that God has called me to serve. I forget to ask how I can be a blessing to them, instead of just trying to go on my way.
Finally, once you recognize your own failings and sin, talk to God and repent of them. Acknowledge that you’ve failed and need His forgiveness, and ask Him to help you do better next. For my today, that sounds something like this:
“Father, forgive me for the times that I treat others as inconvenient ‘things’ that are in my way. Help me to treat everyone that I meet today as your precious child, imbued with your image whom I am called to bless, not as a speed bump on the way to something else.”
What are ways that you are like Xerxes? How do pride, vanity or indifference show up in your life? What sin do you need God’s forgiveness for today, and how can you ask for His help? Talk to God about your answers to these questions as you read His word today.
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