The book of Esther is a short book in the Old Testament, set at the time when the Jewish nation had been conquered and many of its people taken away into exile.
The first main character we are introduced to in Esther 1 is King Xerxes. Xerxes was a rich and powerful king who conquered many lands and people; his kingdom stretched between Ethiopia and India. He had riches in abundance – gold, silver, jewels, rare cloth.
For King Xerxes it was all about power. His main use of his wealth was to prove how powerful he was. In Esther 1 he decides to throw a six month long party for all the nobles and princes in his kingdom. Here he was surrounded by his subordinates, his military commanders, as well as the princes and nobles of the nations he had conquered and subsumed into his own. He spends six months lavishing the best of his wealth upon his guests – in order to show how much bigger, better, richer and more powerful he is. It was not enough to conquer people, he had to rub their noses in it too – and done under the guise of generosity at that!
During the party, Xerxes realises that there is one of his most prized possessions which still hasn’t come out on display – his chief wife, Queen Vashti. The Bible describes Vashti as ‘lovely to look at’. A beautiful woman, Xerxes clearly saw her as yet another status symbol which made him look good. “Look at my beautiful wife, how great I am that I have a wife like this” – Vashti was the ultimate trophy wife!
It would be easy to think that Vashti’s life was one of luxury and splendour – after all she lived in King Xerxes’ lavish palace, she had attendants and servants, access to the best food, all the beauty treatments used in the day – a bit like living in a luxury spa with no spending limit! But if you look closer, she was also a captive – she was kept in a separate part of the palace, only allowed to see the King if he commanded it. Her movements were determined at the will and whim of Xerxes, who owned her. Though she was called the Queen and given status above the other women in the harem, she was no more free than any of the King’s concubines.
Xerxes was a rich and powerful man, with many expensive possessions, a luxurious home, and a beautiful wife. And yet he did not have some of the most precious gifts that exist.
Despite all his wealth Xerxes still does not seem satisfied. Rather than enjoy his wealth he is driven by a need to demonstrate his power. He is surrounded by beauty and craftsmanship, and yet it does not seem to give him pleasure.
When God created woman it was to complete something that was missing in man on his own, to create a helper and partner, equal to man in dignity and worth, also being an image bearer of God (Genesis 2). But Xerxes’ wife, Vashti, is little more than another possession. Xerxes may have married a beautiful woman but he lacks the joy of a biblical marriage, of a best friend to do life with. He does not love her nor receive love from her.
Xerxes is surrounded by people – but one would doubt there is much genuine friendship there. He is generous with his possessions, issuing a decree that every man should be allowed to drink as much as he wants. But this does not come from a place of friendship, or comradeship; it is not based on how he feels about the people at all – but purely from the perspective of wanting to prove he has so much wealth he can literally splash it around. And when he’s upset by Vashti and turns to his ‘friends’ for advice, they are more interested in how Vashti’s actions will affect their own households. The support of good friends with whom to share the enjoyment of life is missing.
Xerxes has a God complex. He sees his own power and wealth, and in it finds a desire to rule all things, as well as to be worshipped. But man is frail and small compared to the true God who is truly sovereign over all. We were made to worship God, and when we worship smaller things, even a ‘great’ man, we rob God of His due while also diminishing our own satisfaction. While Xerxes needed to continually prove to those around him why he should be worshipped, he would never have had peace for very long, because as soon as one man acknowledged his greatness, there would be another still to be convinced! Instead Xerxes should have been worshipping the Creator, which would have given him far greater satisfaction as well as a true peace.
There are many things that this world treasures. But we can be wealthy in the eyes of the world and still be a pauper in the things that bring true joy. Be careful of what you place value on, and seek after true riches instead!