Matthew Henry On “Degradation of Women” Decrees in Esther
Though [the king] was very angry, he would not do any thing in this matter, till he advised with his privy-counsellors; as he had seven chamberlains to execute his orders, who are named, (v. 10.) so he had seven counsellors to direct his orders. The greater power a man has, the greater need he has of advice, that he may not abuse his power. Of these counsellors it is said, that they were learned men, for they knew law and judgment; that they were wise men, for they knew the times; and that the king put great confidence in them, and honour upon them, for they saw the king’s face and sat first in the kingdom, v. 13, 14. In the multitude of such counsellors, there is safety. Now here is,
1. The question proposed to this cabinet-council; (v. 15.) What shall we do to the queen Vashti, according to law? Observe, (1.) Though it was the queen that was guilty, the law must have its course. (2.) Though the king was very angry, yet he would do nothing but what he was advised was according to law.
2. The proposal which Memucan made, that Vashti should be divorced for her disobedience. Some suggest that he gave this severe advice, and the rest agreed to it, because they knew it would please the king, would gratify both his passion now, and his appetite afterward. But Josephus says, that, on the contrary, he had a strong affection for Vashti, and would not have put her away for this offence, if he could legally have passed it by. And then we must suppose Memucan, in his advice, to have had a sincere regard to justice and the public good.
(1.) He shows what would be the bad consequences of the queen’s disobedience to her husband, it it were passed by and not animadverted upon, that it would imbolden other wives both to disobey their husbands, and to domineer over them. Had this unhappy falling out between the king and his wife, wherein she was conqueror, been private, the error had remained with themselves, and the quarrel might have been composed privately between themselves; but it happening to be public, and perhaps the ladies that were now feasting with the queen, having showed themselves pleased with her refusal, her bad example would be likely to have had a bad influence upon all the families of the kingdom; if the queen must have her humour, and the king must submit to it, (since the houses of private persons commonly take their measures from the courts of princes,) the wives would be haughty and imperious, and would scorn to obey their husbands, and the poor despised husbands might fret at it, but could not help themselves, for the contentions of a wife are a continual dropping; Prov. 19. 13.—27. 15. and see Prov. 21. 9.—25. 24. When wives despise their husbands, whom they ought to reverence, (Eph. 5. 33.) and contend for dominion over those to whom they ought to be in subjection, (1 Pet. 3. 1.) there cannot but be continual guilt and grief, confusion and every evil work. And great ones must take heed of setting copies of this kind, v.. 16..18.
(2.) He shows what would be the good consequence of a decree against Vashti, that she should be divorced. We may suppose, before they proceeded to this extremity, they sent to Vashti to know if she would yet submit, cry Peccavi—I have done wrong, and ask the king’s pardon, which if she had done, the mischief of her example would have been effectually prevented, and process would have been staid; but, it is likely, she continued obstinate, and insisted upon it as her prerogative to do as she pleased, whether it pleased the king or no; and therefore they gave this judgment against her, that she come no more before the king, and this judgment so ratified, as never to be reversed, v. 19. The consequence of this, it was hoped, would be, that the wives would give to their husbands honour, even the wives of the great, notwithstanding their own greatness, and the wives of the small, notwithstanding the husband’s meanness, v. 20. And thus every man would bear rule in his own house, as he ought to do, and, the wives being subject, the children and servants would be so too. It is the interest of states and kingdoms, to provide that good order be kept in private families.
3. The edict that passed, according to this proposal, signifying that the queen was divorced for contumacy, according to the law, and that if other wives were, in like manner, undutiful to their husbands, they must expect to be in like manner disgraced; (v. 21, 22.) were they better than the queen? Whether it was the passion, or the policy, of the king, that was served by this edict, God’s providence served its own purpose by it, which was, to make way for Esther to the crown.
From Matthew Henry’s Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Vol. 2.
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