Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Married to an Alcoholic

Leslie Basham: One bad thing after another happened to Esther, but God was with her. Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: In God’s providence, He overruled a tragic situation for the good of His people and for the fulfillment of His redemptive plan. That’s what God specializes in doing.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, June 6.

If you are sometimes tempted to focus on your husband’s faults, imagine being married to a drunken dictator with multiple wives. That’s the story Nancy began yesterday. It’s a story that will help you hope in God no matter who you’re married to, what your future looks like, or what opposition you face.

Here’s Nancy in the series Esther: God’s Woman at God’s Time.

Nancy: Well, we’re still in the first paragraph of the book of Esther, and we’re looking at this first chapter, which gives us a backdrop for how Esther came to be the queen.

We’re seeing that the central character thus far is a man named King Ahasuerus (with a capital A); or, as some of your translations say, King Xerxes—same man. This king is a man who has absolute authority. At least he thinks he does.

He’s the king over a vast empire, perhaps 100 million in population, and he’s a man who has great affluence, great wealth, and great arrogance. We saw in the last session that he brings all the noblemen, all the important people of the kingdom together for a six-month exhibition of his wealth, his splendor.

As you read these first verses, you see a picture, a depiction of this world system. What’s it all about in the world? Power? Position? Rule? Possessions? You see people jockey for power. They vie to be “who’s who,” to be known. There’s name dropping. There’s posturing for position. There’s the drive to be something, to be someone great.

In fact, interestingly, in the first chapter you’ll read the word royal seven times. There’s a royal throne, royal glory, royal wine, royal crown, royal order or decree, royal position, and royal provinces.

This is royalty. It’s a description of the world’s concept of what really matters. You’ll see words throughout this first chapter like commands, orders, decrees, king, reigning over, governors, greatness, palace—all these power words. This is man thinking that he is something great.

Interestingly, we’re reminded that God is not in all of that. God is not in all of that striving, that scheming, that conniving.

You can just imagine all these VIPs trying to get at the king’s table, trying to be seen, trying to be known, elbowing each other, trying to get up to be something in the land. God’s not in all that—then or now.

God lives in the small, the humble, the despised place—the cowshed where the Son of God is born. It’s the little things, the little people; it’s with the lowly in heart that God is present.

King Ahasuerus/Xerxes has no consciousness of God, no awareness of God. He is the center of his universe, and he thinks he is the center of the universe.

We’ve seen his authority, his arrogance, and his affluence, and today we see his use of alcohol and his anger—two other things that stand out in this first chapter.

I begin reading at verse 7, where we’re in this great feast that’s taking place with all the capital city. It says in verses 7-8,

Drinks were served in golden vessels, vessels of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. And drinking was according to this edict: “There is no compulsion.” For the king had given orders to all the staff of his palace to do as each man desired.

The reason that was important in this six-month-plus-a-week-long feast was that there was a Persian law that every time the king took a drink, the people had to take a drink. Well, the king was into drinking, and he didn’t want people to feel like they had to drink every time he did, so he waived that law for the purposes of this feast.

The word feast, as it appears in this chapter—the word banqueting, perhaps, in some of your translations—is actually related to the Hebrew word for drinking. They go together.

There are eight references to drinking in the book of Esther, and we’ll see the significant impact that alcohol had on people’s behavior—it did then; it does now. It does not bring positive results.

Now, as we come to verse 9, a second character is introduced into this cast—Queen Vashti. Her name means “one who is desired” or “beloved.” That’s kind of ironic, isn’t it, because the one who was desired became the one who was not desired. How did it happen?

Well, verse 9, “Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women in the palace that belonged to King Ahasuerus.” Now, the feasting and the banquets in those days would have been segregated—men in one place, women in another. Women would not come into the places where men would have their feast in those days—that would be against the etiquette, against the protocol.

So Queen Vashti, being the queen, is doing the queen’s part, fulfilling her role as the queen. She’s entertaining the women while the king entertains the men.

We see in verses 10-11,

On the seventh day [the last day of this feast], when the heart of the king was merry with wine [that means he’s drunk], he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king.

Now, those eunuchs were officers in a king’s household who were usually assigned to guard and to manage the women of the harem. Often they were emasculated. Not always, but that’s who these eunuchs were. He sent these seven eunuchs, who were in charge of the king’s harem,

to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs. At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him (verses 11-12).

So we’ve already seen the arrogance of Ahasuerus; and, on a human level, I think this whole sequence of events was probably triggered by that very pride—the desire on Xerxes’ part to show off his wealth, to show off his achievements.

Remember, we read in verse 4 that for a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. Does that sound like an arrogant man?

He’s showing off—showing his toys, showing his possessions, showing his stuff; and the sin of pride always, always, always leads to other sins. It always goes before a fall [see Proverbs 16:18].

So, here’s a king who is insecure. You can see that as you meditate on this passage. He has this incredible desire to impress others with his wealth and power, and he’s driven for the approval of others.

As a result, you’ll see that he’s impetuous. He’s easily swayed by the input and opinions of others. So, after six months of activities and all this arrogance, he decides to show off the one thing he hasn’t yet had a chance to show off—his queen, Vashti.

Now, he’s under the influence of alcohol at the time. It has a negative influence on his life, as it does on so many.

There are differences of opinion as to exactly what the king demanded or why Vashti responded as she did. It’s safe to assume—it was a men’s party; they had been drinking freely; the alcohol was flowing for all these weeks and months—it’s safe to assume that the men were in a lusty, drunken state.

What we do know is that the king demands that Vashti come out to be paraded before his male officials. We know that at best, his command violated the custom of keeping the men and women segregated.

For whatever reason, Vashti refuses, and then notice how the king responds. He is enraged. He’s furious.

You see, Persian kings were considered deity. The king is god. So Ahasuerus is in charge—at least he thinks he is. Everyone is in awe of him.

For six months all the VIPs of the known world have been kowtowing to him; “Yes, sir,” scraping, bowing, “Yes, your majesty.” And now his wife says, “No, your majesty.”

Here’s the man who gets everything he wants, the man who speaks and everyone jumps, the most powerful man on the planet, and he can’t get his way. In fact, he’s lost face in front of the very people he spent six months trying to impress. He’s humiliated.

So, what does he do? He erupts. He’s enraged. His anger explodes. Verses 13-14:

Then the king said to the wise men who knew the times (for this was the king’s procedure toward all who were versed in law and judgment, the men next to him being . . . the seven princes of Persia and Media, who saw the king’s face, and sat first in the kingdom) . . .

Now, I didn’t list all of the names that were written there, but there were seven wise men who consulted for the king. They were his advisors, his counselors.

They were probably astrologers. It says that they knew the times. In that kingdom, in that era, they probably consulted the stars and used other forms of divination to give guidance to the king.

So the king says to them in verse 15,

“According to the law, what is to be done to Queen Vashti because she has not performed to the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?” [What shall we do to her?]

Then Memucan [one of the astrologers, one of the wise men] said in the presence of the king and the officials, “Not only against the king has Queen Vashti done wrong, but against all the officials” (verse 16).

Notice the word all in this paragraph. She has wronged not only you, O king, but she has wronged “all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus.” That’s about 100 million people. She has wronged all these people by refusing to come to your banquet.

For the queen’s behavior will be made known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt, since they will say, "King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come." This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will say the same to all the king’s officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty” (verses 17-18).

Now, I’d say there might be a little bit of overstatement in the conclusion they drew here. As I read this, I think these officials are not men of integrity. They’re just wanting to say what they think the king wants to hear them say.

He’s furious. They’re responding to his anger, so they say in verse 19,

If it please the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus.

Get rid of her; divorce her; banish her.

And let the king give her royal possession to another who is better than she. So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, for it is vast, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike (verses 19-20).

Now, just a couple of observations here. First of all, verse 19, the law of the Medes and the Persians—this was a law that could not be revoked. It could not be rescinded or repealed, not even by the king.

You see, in those days, kings could make rash laws. If they just said it—wow, it would happen; but they could not take back those laws. I think people apparently felt it was better to be ruled by kings who were making rash laws if they at least knew they couldn’t keep changing those laws.

So this fact becomes significant later in the story. They’re saying, “Issue a decree, one of the laws of the Medes and Persians that cannot be reversed.”

In fact, when the king comes out of his drunken stupor and misses his queen, he says, “Where is she?” They say, “Oh, king, you can’t bring her back. You signed a law, you signed a decree; she’s gone.” He could not bring her back after this law was signed.

Now, as you hear the advice being given by these wise men to their king, you see that they’re encouraging men to rule in their homes as autocrats, as dictators. That’s the pagan concept of marriage, the pagan concept of authority. These men will rule over their wives as kings, as authorities, as autocrats.

How different is this picture, this description, from the kind of love and respect taught in the New Testament that should take place between a husband and a wife! Throughout this book of Esther, you’ll see how the world’s view of men and women and marriage and roles is so different from the view taught in the New Testament, taught in the Scripture.

This advice pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed. He sent letters to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, that every man be master in his own household and speak according to the language of his people (verses 21-22).

So these advisors told the king what he wanted to hear. They encouraged him to act rashly. They reinforced or supported his ego and his irrational behavior rather than saying what the king needed to hear at that drunken moment.

He needed a voice of reason, but isn’t it hard sometimes to be honest with people like King Xerxes, people who are autocratic? They are in control; they’re cruel; they’re ruling. It was hard to be honest.

As I think about King Xerxes and how he made it hard for people to be honest with him, I think about the contrast in James 3, where it talks about the wisdom that is from above, godly wisdom. These men gave King Xerxes a human kind of wisdom.

But godly wisdom, it says, is easy to be entreated. It’s full of mercy. It’s full of meekness [ see James 3:17]. That’s God’s kind of wisdom, not the kind of wisdom these men gave to their king.

So Ahasuerus makes a very foolish decision in relation to his queen, and I think he makes it under the combined influence of his arrogance, the alcohol, and his anger. You put those three things together, and you’re going to make some stupid decisions. And that’s exactly what he did.

Now, this decision to banish Vashti, to divorce her, raises two questions. First of all, did Vashti do the right thing in defying her husband’s order? Number two, is it ever right for a wife to disobey her husband? You can’t study the book of Esther without asking those two questions.

First, did Vashti do the right thing? Well, I’ll just tell you this: If you study all the commentaries (I’ll save you some time), some say yes, and some say no. Some great commentators, ranging from Matthew Henry to Charles Spurgeon to Warren Wiersbe and others—some say yes, and some say “no.”

The fact is, we don’t know why she refused to come, and we don’t know how she refused to come. We don’t know about her true character. We don’t know about her heart. We don’t know about her motives. We don’t know how she handled the situation. Scripture doesn’t tell us enough to know.

I think it’s important to remember that she was a pagan queen. She was living without the biblical light that we have today.

What she did in this situation was just one of several controversial behaviors and choices you find throughout the book of Esther; not only Vashti’s disobedience, but Esther going into Xerxes’ harem.

There are other things throughout this book that cannot be justified or explained without knowing more of the background than Scripture tells us. Scripture just doesn’t give us a lot of commentary on some of these issues, so you can debate the rightness or wrongness of each of these situations, but it’s best not to draw conclusions where God doesn’t tell us what all the facts were.

We do know that God used Vashti’s situation to position Esther in the palace “for such a time as this,” and we know that in God’s providence, He overruled a tragic situation for the good of His people and for the fulfillment of His redemptive plan.

That’s what God specializes in doing—in your circumstance, in your situation. God is able to overrule, in His providence, even the worst of situations. No matter how wrong the king is, no matter how wrong the queen may be, God is able to overrule for the good of His people and for the fulfillment of His plan.

Then that raises the question, is it ever right for a wife to disobey her husband’s order? Let me just say, if you’re looking for a reason not to be submissive to your husband or to another God-ordained authority, you will not find that in this passage. You may want a reason, but you won’t find it here.

You will find in Queen Esther, as the story unfolds, some great illustrations about how to appeal to an authority who has made a wrong decision or an ungodly choice; but we can’t draw conclusions about marriage and submission from this Old Testament passage. There are other passages, particularly in the New Testament, that clearly address those questions, and that’s where we need to go to look for answers.

We know in the New Testament that there’s a biblical balance between loving authority and respectful submission. We also know there are extremes that need to be avoided—extremes of aggressiveness on one end and passivity on the other end, where a woman becomes a doormat or a husband becomes dictatorial or abusive and lords it over his wife.

We know these are not biblical patterns that God intends. There should be loving authority and respectful submission to authority.

So, if you’re going to resist your husband’s wishes, your authority’s directives, you’d better be sure that it’s not in reference to a matter of personal preference, but that it’s in relation to something clearly contrary to Scripture. It’s so important.

I hear women, or they write to us about things their husband wanted them to do, and they say, “I’m just not going to do it.” It’s because they don’t want to do it. It’s not because it’s clearly contrary to Scripture; it’s just that they don’t want to be under authority. Or, “My husband’s not a Christian.”

It doesn’t matter. God put the husband there in a role of authority, so if you’re going to disobey his directives, you’d better be sure it’s in relation to something that is clearly contrary to Scripture.

And if you’re going to go against his direction, even in a matter that is clearly contrary to Scripture, you’d better be sure that you’re doing it in a right spirit—a spirit of respect, a spirit of meekness, a spirit of humility—not with a rebellious, stubborn, resentful, or resistant spirit.

This passage is not authorizing women to disobey their husbands. What we do know is that the New Testament teaches that God has ordained authority, and we are to obey and submit to authority unless it goes clearly contrary to the Word of God. Then, when we say “no,” it needs to be not with a resistant spirit but with a humble, obedient, meek spirit.

Now, let me just back up here for a moment to verse 16 and following, where the king’s wise men made this incredible overstatement:

If you let this situation with Vashti go, then all the women in all the provinces throughout all the king’s empire will disobey their husbands.

That is an obvious overstatement, but the fact is, other people are influenced by the way we respond to authority. As they see me responding to authority, as they see you responding to authority, whether it’s a human authority or God’s authority itself, people are being influenced.

I want my life to be one of submission, one that influences other women who look at me to say, “I want to be under God’s authority. I want to obey authority.”

The king’s heart is in the Lord’s hand. You can trust God even when that authority makes a decision that’s not wise or best. You can trust that God is at work; God is protecting; God is intervening on your behalf as you place yourself ultimately under God’s authority and then demonstrate that by coming under those human authorities He has placed in your life.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been helping us see why the first chapter in the book of Esther is so relevant today.

One of our listeners responded to yesterday’s program. That program introduced the book of Esther and touched on a lot of the practical themes this study will encompass.

This listener works at a mission and said they enjoyed this series on Esther “because of the men and women we deal with. We deal with addictions, emotional issues, and homelessness.” This listener realizes how practical and reliable the Word of God is to speak to these issues.

Whether the problem facing you is alcoholism, anger, or fear, you’ll find the study of Esther to be rich and helpful. I hope you’ll make Esther a part of your daily Bible study with a booklet our team created called Esther, the Exiled Queen. It will lead you through Scripture and take you through a series of questions to help you apply what you’re learning to your own situation.

When you support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts with a donation, it will help us continue speaking to women in your community. As our thanks, we’ll send the booklet Esther, the Exiled Queen.

Ask for it when you call and make your donation. The toll-free number is 800-569-5959, or donate online and get a copy of the study at ReviveOurHearts.com.

It’s important to us to support a local church. Revive Our Hearts is not a replacement for the week-to-week teaching and ministry that takes place at your church, so we encourage you to be a part of the body of Christ in your area. Learn, serve, and worship there this weekend, and then be back with us on Monday.

So far we haven’t actually gotten to Esther in our study of Esther, but we’ll get to know this young woman when we pick up this series on Monday. I hope you can be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Nancy: Lord, I pray that You’d give to us the kind of wisdom that is easily entreated, that is full of meekness and mercy and good fruits, and that You would place within us a heart of submission, a heart of obedience, that our lives would influence others to want to obey You.

Lord, give us that balance. Help us to know when we should say yes and when we should say no, and always to do it as women who live obedient to Your ultimate, supreme authority in our lives. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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