Anguished Portrait of Vashti

The story of Vashti is a side story and preface to the Book of Esther but its message is quite timeless and universal although Vashti's story's immediate purpose is to clear the stage so that King Ahasuerus could choose a new queen. King Ahasuerus was a very powerful Persian ruler who reigned over 127 different provinces from India to Ethiopia. He had a royal throne in Shushan, Vashti being his queen. After he conquered all these different provinces, he held a huge banquet in celebration, and then held another in his palace for his personal court. King Ahasuerus entertained the men in one portion of the palace, and entertained the women with Queen Vashti in her part of the palace.

The Court was famous for its excess, and the men were at the height of their drunken revelry when they decided to send a messenger to Queen Vashti. She was to dance before the court naked wearing only her crown. When Vashti received the summons from her king, she excused herself and retired to her chambers. She was distraught and agonized over what she had been ordered to do. She would have to humiliate and degrade herself. She would lose all dignity. The entire court would see that though she may be queen, ultimately she is nothing more that the King's chattel.

In this first painting she is anguished. She is enchained by her status and position. Her many jewels symbolize the paradox of her position. According to one midrash, while she is in this state of anguish, a man comes to her window. Fearing yet another messenger she recoils. He states to her," I am a messenger, but not from the king. I am a messenger from God". Not understanding, she asks, "which God is that?" for Vashti is Persian and her pagan religion harbors many gods. He responds, "the God of the Jews". In the second painting, he begins to tell her story, including her feelings as child, being raised and groomed by her father to become a queen solely in order to enhance his position and her inner sorrow of that being her only value to her father.

She has never spoken about these secret feelings to anyone, so she realized that the man before her was not just any man. He was in fact the angel Gabriel, the angel of justice and strength. He said, "I am here to request that you commit an act of sacred rebellion. You do not have to do this despicable thing. You have a choice." For her this is an epiphany. Until that moment she had no idea that there were any choices. She could defy the king's order. She could go to him, throw down the crown, and refuse to do his bidding. Though she might be

Messenger  From God


punished with death, she would still have retained her dignity. This epiphany, this newfound awareness that she could honor herself no matter the trials placed in her path, is depicted in this third painting.

It isn't known whether she was executed or banished. She did refuse to dance, and the king's advisors assured the king it was imperative to make an example of her for if she successfully refused her husband entreaties, all of the kingdom's women would take this as a model and refuse their husbands.

We all have a choice in our behavior. Our character doesn't come from the adversity, which we face, but how we choose to handle that adversity. I love this story because Vashti was not the typical heroine; she was a privileged spoiled woman. However, by finding her dignity and honor under the worst of circumstances, I could see that I have a choice in how I conduct my life.

back to top | back to reflections section

Member Portrait Society of America
Artworks, scans and web design protected copyright.  No part of this site may be reproduced without prior consent.