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Women Of The Bible: Lesson #18 – The Last Women Of The Old Testament

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VASHTI

Scripture references:  Esther 1:10–22  Bible Search Tool

Vashti was the principal wife of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes), around 475 b.c. Her name means “beautiful woman,” and she was included in Scripture because her “stand for women’s rights”—or perhaps her natural obstinacy—led her to refuse the king’s command to appear at a banquet he was hosting. Vashti’s subsequent divorce by Xerxes led to the search for a new queen ofPersiathat resulted in the crowning of Esther. This enabled Esther to save the Jewish people from extermination.

Aside from this significance, the account in the first chapter of Esther is fascinating for its insight into the terror assertive women can strike into the hearts of some men.  When Vashti “disobeyed”, the king acted immediately to “protect husbands everywhere from their wives”.  What makes this account even more humorous is that the husband’s position as ruler of the household was thoroughly established in both law and custom in the ancient world. How amazing that the king and princes of such a mighty kingdom felt so insecure in their home life!

ESTHER

Scripture reference:  The book of Esther

Date:  About 475 b.c.

Name:  Esther [ESS-ter: “star”]

Main contribution:  As queen of Persia she thwarted a plot to exterminate all Jews in the Persian Empire.

Esther was the niece of Mordecai, a Jewish official in the royal court. Mordecai aroused the hostility of Haman, a higher official. Haman determined to take revenge, but he was not satisfied with engineering Mordecai’s death. Instead Haman determined to wipe out Mordecai’s whole race.

Haman was successful in winning permission for this early holocaust from the king, and began to throw dice to determine the propitious moment to carry out his plan.

In the meantime, Queen Vashti was deposed, and Esther was selected to be queen.

Through a series of God-ordained events, King Ahasuerus discovered that Mordecai had once saved his life. When Queen Esther exposed “this wicked Haman” (Est. 7:6), the king ordered Haman’s execution on the very gal-
lows Haman had erected to hang Mordecai.

Together Mordecai and Esther created a decree that not only saved the Jewish people, but also rid the Jews of their most vicious enemies.

One of the unique features of the book of Esther is that it contains no mention of God. Yet it is clear that Esther and her uncle had a deep and abiding faith in Him.

Mordecai was a surrogate father to Esther, and Esther showed him the respect that Scripture teaches a child should show to a parent. Esther looked to Mordecai for advice, and so respected his opinion that she overcame her fear and took the initiative to approach the king.  It would be wrong, however, to see Esther as a person unable to make decisions. Rather, in a time of crisis Esther relied on a wise parent who had proved his love for her over the years and whose judgment she had come to respect.

Esther’s husband was an absolute ruler, but there is good reason to believe that he was also slightly mad. He launched a number of campaigns against the Greeks, suffering successive defeats. On one occasion when a storm destroyed a pontoon bridge over which he expected his troops to pass, he ordered soldiers into the water to beat the waves with whips.

In the end Esther found in her faith the courage to approach the king and appeal to him. And her appeal was successful. Because of the great deliverance she won for the Jewish people, her courage is commemorated in an annual celebration called the Feast of Purim, and Jewish women’s groups everywhere have adopted Esther’s Jewish name, Hadassah.

 JOB’S WIFE

Scripture references:  Job 2:9-10  Bible Search Tool

Job and his wife probably lived in the age of the patriarchs, some 2000 years b.c. They almost surely did not live during the age of kings, for in the entire book of Job there is no mention of the Mosaic Law and no reference to the Jewish people.

To fix a date for the timeless story of Job and the struggle to understand why bad things happen to good people is unnecessary.

Job’s wife had a small role in his story and in the book. She is mentioned only after Job had lost his wealth and his children, and had been stricken with “painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7). As Job sat in ashes, exhausted and in pain, his wife spoke:

“Do you still hold fast to your integrity?  Curse God and die!”

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:9, 10).

It would be easy to misunderstand these verses and criticize Job’s wife. Job did not suggest that she is one of the “foolish women.” In Hebrew the word translated “foolish” here doesn’t indicate a lack of sense. Rather “foolish” is a moral term. Job’s wife is not morally deficient, but in giving this advice she speaks “as” a foolish woman might.

What we see here is a wife who was being torn apart by her husband’s suffering. She saw the tension in his body; she heard the moans that escaped his lips when he supposed no one was listening. At last she cried out in her own anguish, urging him to give up and die. Anything seemed better to her than to see him suffering—even his death.

It’s easy to admire Job. And it should be just as easy for us to understand and to sympathize with the feelings expressed by Job’s wife. How much easier it seems at times to suffer ourselves than to see a loved one in pain. Love undoubtedly moved Job’s wife to release him by her words. Even though she would be left a penniless widow and alone, at least Job’s sufferings would end.

But Job did not die. In the end, Job’s health and wealth were restored, and Job and his wife shared the joy of together bringing a new family into the world.