“If I Perish…”

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For centuries, the Old Testament book of Esther has been a subject of debate for Christian and non-Christian scholars alike. Some question its historicity: did the events recorded ever really happen, or was it just a nationalistic Jewish tale to bolster national identity? Others question its canonicity (whether or not it should be a Biblical book at all): despite numerous mentions of the Persian king, Xerxes, there are no mentions of God, for example. I’m not writing this post to debate those issues. Personally, I have no reason to doubt either the book’s historicity or its canonicity. Instead, this post is about a message in the book – specifically in chapter 4 – that jumped out at me as I was reading it and that I feel would be awesome to share on here.

Here’s the passage of Esther that’s relevant to this post (if you don’t know the full story, then I urge you to read it, because it’s only a few pages long):

Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. Then she instructed him to say to Mordercai, “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the golden sceptre to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”

When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

Esther 4:9-16

The message that we can still take from this today is one of obedience and self-sacrifice. Although it’s never explicitly mentioned, it is implied that Esther was placed in her position as Xerxes’ queen by God (Xerxes was the king of Persia), in order that she may save the Jews at ‘such a time as this’ (v. 14). If you don’t know the story, the background is that one of Xerxes’ advisors wants to wipe out the Jews living under Persian rule; Mordecai believed that Esther (a Jew) could use her position as queen to change the king’s mind. Mordecai also says, interestingly, that if Esther didn’t act, then she would die, but the Jews would eventually be saved by someone else. As a Christian, this makes me think of how God uses us nowadays. I believe that God does place people in certain positions to do great things, but it takes the individual to recognise this and act on it for any good to arise. If we don’t act, then God will use somebody else, but we will have lost the chance to be obedient and glorify God, which is an important part of a Christian’s relationship with him. And the thing is God doesn’t always ask us to do things inside our comfort zone. If someone told me otherwise, I’d point them to the likes of Moses and Abraham as evidence for my point. In fact, the Biblical heroes of the faith are all people who acted in the place that God had put them, denying themselves and taking up God’s cause.

Esther is one of those heroes because despite her fears and concerns, she acted. If the king didn’t want to see her, she would have been executed, regardless of her status as queen (it transpires that Xerxes did extend the golden sceptre to her). The line that sticks in my mind is her famous acceptance of her fate: ‘If I perish, I perish.’ (v. 16). Death is a real possibility, but she accepts it and goes ahead with her task because she has the ability to save her people. Sure, someone else could be raised up if she didn’t act, but that’s not the point. The point is that God gave her the chance to be obedient, despite the risks, and she took it.

This self-sacrificial example is one that we can all learn from today. God may put us in a position to do something dangerous, or even merely uncomfortable. Once we’re in that position, we have a choice. Do we say ‘If I perish, I perish’ and obey God, trusting in him to see us through? Or do we cower away and let someone else take up the challenge? I think that this is a question that every Christian will have to answer at some point and when it comes around, remember Queen Esther, and the risk she took for her nation.

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