Interestingly, the first name mentioned in the book of Esther does not belong to the heroine, nor does it belong to her guardian and mentor, Mordecai. Neither does it open with the antagonist, Haman. Instead, the Holy Spirit introduces us first to Ahasuerus, the king of the Persian Empire, known to us in history as Xerxes. Within a palace setting, events unfold that provide the background to Esther’s entrance as well as to the motivations for the Jews’ enemy. However, the situation that occurs does not come about due to an elaborate scheme but rather because of a series of hasty decisions. Following a six months long planning session in which the king dined with the most powerful people in Persia, he held a weeklong feast for them to enjoy at the close of their deliberations, sparing no expense (Est. 1:1-8). Indeed, it seemed more the boasting of a young, inexperienced ruler, though being in his late thirties and having governed Babylonia on his father’s behalf for some years. On the last day of the feast, the king called his queen in from the parallel banquet she was hosting for the women—specifically for them to feast their eyes on her beauty (Est. 1:9-11). When she refused, Xerxes became angry, likely fueled by embarrassment, and turned to his advisors for a fitting rebuke (Est. 1:12-15). Their answer to this rather personal situation was motivated by both politics and selfishness, but Xerxes followed their recommendations and rejected Vashti as a wife and as queen (Est. 1:16-22), a decision he would later regret (Est. 2:1). But all of his actions demonstrate the foolishness of making hasty decisions.
Ahasuerus followed Persian banquet traditions steeped in overindulgence and appeals to the senses. Thus, having let go of self-control for a week and having weakened his own resistance to impulse, a man who appears far too eager to please others, placed himself in a situation where his weakened will was weakened yet more. He gave in to the coaxing of his drinking buddies to the point that he was willing to objectify his own wife, demean her, and, considering Persian history, place her in harm’s way. Yet after her judgment proved greater than his, his pride and embarrassment still reigned over any good sense, turning once more to the self-indulgent men in his presence for advice. Thus, once again listening to men of low morals and poor judgment, he lost his wife by his own weakness of will in order to save face with those of high position but low character.
The book of Esther paints a picture of Xerxes—not so much as a powerful king, but as a weak-willed man. By following Persian culture, he created an environment designed for bad decisions. By failing to restrain himself, he gave way to lasciviousness. By letting his hurt pride and embarrassment dominate his decision making, he listened to people more worried about themselves than about him. By following poor advice, he rejected his wife after having instigated the problem because of how attractive he found her. And then he moped about the situation he had created for himself. Hasty decisions do not simply happen in the moment. They happen because we do not prepare ourselves properly for all that leads up to them. That final decision may have had the most consequences for him personally, but it was just a natural development considering his previous failure to learn how to make a good decision.