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This devotional is part of a series in January that tells stories of “Bold Faith” written by CBF field personnel and members of a team composed of clergy and laity from across the Fellowship who are leading of process of prayerful discovery that will result in a faithful response. Find out more about this process called Toward Bold Faithfulness.
By Pam Durso
A few weeks ago, my friend, Joseph, put this question out to the world on Facebook: “If you could have a conversation with your younger self, what would you say?”
Almost without thinking, I commented: “Dare to be brave. Take risks. Try hard things. Don’t let fear win.” I have long wished that my teenage self had had more courage and had not been so afraid of failing. I wish my teenage self had been more like Queen Vashti, whose story is briefly told to us in the first chapter of Esther.
Vashti was the first wife of the Persian king, Ahasuerus, whose empire was one of great power and wealth. This king greatly enjoyed flaunting his luxurious lifestyle and demonstrating his control over the region, including hosting magnificent feasts for his princes and servants. But one of his feasts was no one-night affair; it lasted six months. Once this lengthy and lavish celebration ended, the king hosted a second party that lasted only seven days. Meanwhile, Queen Vashti hosted her own feast for the royal women.
Then the story gets interesting. The king, “merry with wine,” ordered Queen Vashti to appear at his party, “wearing the royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the officials her beauty; for she was fair to behold” (Esther 1:10-11 NRSV). The queen refused. She said “no” to her husband, the most powerful man in the empire. Not surprisingly, King Ahasuerus was enraged, and he quickly removed Vashti from her royal position and banished her from the court.
Bible scholars have offered multiple possible reasons for the queen’s refusal. My Bible scholar friend, Meredith Stone, who wrote a fascinating dissertation on the book of Esther, offered this insight: “Whatever her reasons for refusing, Vashti directly defied the power structures that influenced her life in repressive ways. Surely this was not the first time that the king had wanted to de-humanize his wife by putting her on display without regard for her feelings. Filling in the narrative gap in the story, we might imagine that after countless episodes in which Vashti was objectified for her beauty, she finally decided that enough was enough.”*
Yet Vashti knew. She knew that there would be a high price for refusing. She knew there would be consequences. She knew that her decision might cost her very life. But she boldly stood her ground. She rebuffed the king’s invitation and, in doing so, she dared to be brave; she took a huge risk; she did what was hard; and she chose courage over fear.
I wish my teenage self had known the story of Vashti. Sadly, her name was never mentioned in my childhood Sunday school classes or at Vacation Bible School. I was a seminary student when I first learned about the queen who said “no.” And in these past few decades, I have held her close in my heart as a model for my faith journey. Vashti has taught and is teaching me still that doing what is right, standing against oppressive power and might, and living into my own dignity as one made in the image of God requires great boldness.
In these days as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship seeks to live with bold faithfulness, Queen Vashti offers us a beautiful example to emulate. May her willingness to risk big and to defy expectations serve as an inspiration in these significant days of listening and discovery.
Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry in Atlanta, Ga., and serves on the Discovery Team for Toward Bold Faithfulness. Dare to be bold and help shape the future of our Fellowship by taking CBF’s online survey at www.cbf.net/survey.
*Meredith J. Stone, “There’s More than One Way: Vashti, Esther, and Women in Ministry,” Review and Expositor, vol. 110, no. 1 (Winter 2013): 125.