Our call today is for foot-washing husbands and loving, respectful wives to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ. It’s time to rethink our attitudes. The church is Jesus’ bride, not arm-candy. And this should influence our attitudes on marriage relationships.
1 This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: 2 At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, 3 and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials.
9 Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.
10 On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas— 11 to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. 12 But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.
13 Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times…
16 Then Memukan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, “Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. 17 For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.’ 18 This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.
19 “Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes.
22 [The king] sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household, using his native tongue.
Esther 1:1-3, 9, 10-13, 16-19, 22
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church…
33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:21-22, 25-27, 33
The story of Esther begins with the terrible tale of Queen Vashti. Queen Vashti was commanded to come before her husband, King Xerxes, to display her beauty to the people and nobles, because she was lovely to look at. Feel objectified yet? I do and I’m not even a woman. This may have been the order of the day, yet that doesn’t make it right or edifying to a person created in the image of God. Arm-candy. On parade. Showing off his property. Kinda stinks doesn’t it?
Shall we stop and lament the fact that not enough has changed since the 400’s BC? Think about that for a minute…
Vashti refused. Good for her. Who knows what the history was before this day. Who knows how objectifying life in Xerxes’ kingdom was? We can only imagine. Kings could have anything they wanted and no one could stand in their way. The power of a king could easily be out of control.
Jesus is a different kind of king. Jesus is the king who laid down his own life for the sake of those he loved. He didn’t view us as a possession to be paraded before others. Rather, he builds into us, cleanses us, washes our feet, and presents us back to himself in radiance.
We are his bride, not arm-candy.
It is this picture of careful adoration and intimacy between bride (the church) and bridegroom (Jesus) which frames our understanding of God’s design for our relationships in marriage today. Yes, there is submission and respect and love. These attitudes are enacted in the context of reverence for Christ and following his example for us.
If you are a Xerxes, rethink your attitudes. And don’t ever try to use Ephesians 5 to justify your objectification of your bride. Are you a Vashti? Examine whether your husband is a Xerxes or a follower of the Jesus bridegroom before you respond. If he is a Xerxes, you have some conversations to enter and that may be difficult (if he is abusive, you should seek advice before you do so).
If he is a committed bridegroom like Jesus, then be careful not to get hung up on submission. There are some women who are so anti-submission that they throw Christ-like servant husbands out with the bath water of submissive language. They have sought counsel from those (Esther 1:13) who understand the times, meaning that submission has no place in the 21st century.
Rethink your attitudes.
The call is for foot-washing husbands and loving, respectful wives to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ. Another day, perhaps we can explore the importance to women that their husbands serve them, and the importance to men for women to respect them. This language in Ephesians 5 is not by accident. It relates to how we were made…
For today, pursue right relationships which follow the grace and love of Jesus in his teaching, his life, his death, and his resurrection.