With the recent kickoff of our new SoulPerSuit study on the book of Esther, I've been interested in the character of King Xerxes.
I don't know about you, but personally, I am pretty intimidated by the image that comes to mind when I read, "... Xerxes ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush. At that time, Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa... He gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present. For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty..." "When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king's palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest, who were in the citadel of Susa."
I think Xerxes' little "fete" had its desired effect- if I am awed and intimidated 2,500 years later, imagine what his invited guests were thinking! I'd venture to say they got his message loud and clear... To the outposts and foreigners: "Mess with Xerxes and you'll get this entire arsenal knocking on your city gates!" To the people in his own backyard: "He's so kind and generous for rolling out the red carpet to little 'ol us, why would we ever want to disobey his commands?" The guy could really work the political spin.
Xerxes appears to be a generous soul who doesn't mind dipping into the treasury here and there to make sure his name is promoted and the underlings know their proper places. He hands his good buddy, Haman, the royal line of credit to do whatever Haman wants. It's only money. No questions asked. Not even ONE. (Shoulda asked at least ONE question, Xerxes!) He seems to appreciate the finer things of life- throwing sumptuous parties, accumulating a harem of women that spend an entire year making themselves beautiful before they can even enter his presence... And he likes to show off all that wealth and finery as well- just ask his party guests and Vashti about that.
But here's what gets me about Xerxes. For all of his generosity, for all of his appreciation of beauty and wealth, for all the might and power of his kingdom, for all the qualities he displays that make him the KING he is, the guy can't seem to make a decision on his own.
Now, I know it's common practice for leaders to surround themselves with a cabinet of experts or a group of advisors, but King Xerxes takes it to a new level.
The water begins to boil when Xerxes gets into a tiff with his Queen. "What should I do about it boys?" (Well, um, she's YOUR wife. And you DID ask her to leave her own party and her own guests (very bad form) so she could come to your party and parade around for your guests (even worse form). His "boys" easily convince him to send her away- a decision Xerxes later regrets.
Next, as he begins to re-think things, ("I'm lonely. I miss Vashti. What should I do?") he listens to some more advice from his "boys" to find a bunch of beautiful young virgins. Gosh, they're really looking out for their king, aren't they?
Then Haman decides he has a bone to pick with a guy named Mordecai, who is "of a certain race."
Haman: By the way, King, there are these people living amongst us who are really weird. They're not normal. Oh, and they don't obey Your Regalness' commands either. We're really better off without this certain race, so if you'll just give me the royal credit card, I'll see to it that they're wiped out. You won't have to worry about a thing.
Xerxes: Hmm? Yeah, ok. If that's what you think we ought to do. My wallet's on the nightstand.
Next, Xerxes wants to honor Mordecai for an old favor. So to Haman, he asks, "What should be done for someone who has found favor with the king?" Xerxes can't decide how to say "Thanks buddy, I owe ya one."
* Finally, we have the ONE decision credited to Xerxes, and it's one we have to applaud him for. * When Xerxes discovers that "the certain race" Haman has plotted to kill is the Jews and then connects the dots to discover that his lovely Esther is a Jew, Xerxes shows his kingly quality, immediately seeing his "friend" for what he is, and decides Haman's fate- death. (Although the poetic justice of hanging Haman on his own gallows must be credited to a palace servant.)
The story wraps up with Xerxes telling Esther and Mordecai to "write another decree in the king's name on behalf of the Jews as seems best to you, and seal it with the king's signet ring." Another example of Xerxes' decision making. Or lack thereof.
Taking this cross-section of Xerxes' life brings up many questions for me. It's easy to fault him for being a spineless leader, a doormat or an extreme phlegmatic, but I think it'd be better to take a lesson from him and examine my own life.
- Do I go through life with decisiveness and direction?
- Do I know the laws by which I am supposed to govern "my kingdom"? And the laws I am subject to? (King Xerxes should have known the laws of his land. In fact, a major requirement for Jewish kings-in-training was to sit and copy the Law over and over again so they knew it inside and out.)
- Can I deal with marital conflict (my "king") without running to Oprah or Hollywood to tell me how to handle it?
- How attentive am I to my children (my "subjects") and the direction of their hearts?
- Is my "advisory cabinet" composed of people, books, movies, websites and music that spur me on to love and good deeds?
- Can I manage my household (my "riches") in a way that honors God through what He has provided? Do I flaunt my "riches"?
- Am I equipping myself to make righteous decisions?
In the end, I hope my reputation won't be one like Xerxes'. "Yeah, Erin, she was a great gal. But she couldn't direct her life out of a paper bag."