“...if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16
Esther finds herself in a tricky position. The Persian king, Xerxes, has rejected his wife, Queen Vashti, and Esther has been chosen to replace her. What Xerxes doesn’t know, and what Esther has no reason to tell, is that she is Jewish, and so belongs to a foreign community in the Persian empire.
Everything is fine until Haman, Xerxes’ right hand man, develops a vicious hatred of the Jews and persuades the King that they should be destroyed. The king foolishly agrees - not realising that this must inevitably involve his own senior queen.
Esther has a guardian, her uncle Mordecai. He becomes aware of what is going on and tells Esther she needs to act on behalf of her Jewish compatriots. “For all we know it was for just this time that you have come to be queen. Go and talk to the king!” (4:14) But there is a problem: in spite of her high position Esther cannot do this; she has to wait to be summoned.
But is she then just to sit around doing nothing? This seems absolutely intolerable, so she makes up her mind: “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” You can almost see her shrugging her shoulders.
The rest is history. Esther’s courageous decision turns out well, and her people are saved from destruction.
Our circumstances are, I imagine, totally different from Esther’s. But there is a principle here which can equally apply to us as Christians, even though in much less dramatic ways: there are times in our lives when we just have to take a deep breath, do what is right, and leave it to God to pick up the pieces. To do nothing is to do wrong.
An obvious example is that brave person we hear about from time to time, the “whistle-blower”. This is the person who sees something wrong going on in their place of work and who feels in conscience that they cannot remain silent. Yes, if they blow the whistle it could cost them their job, but they feel they cannot do anything else. And “If I perish, I perish.”
You can probably think of other possible scenarios in your own situation. What, for example, if the boss tells you to lie to someone on the phone?
Certainly our fellow-Christians in countries where the church is persecuted can face this kind of thing on an almost daily basis. There is the pastor who is forbidden to hold a service next Sunday... the mother who is told her child will be thrown out of the school if she doesn’t renounce her faith in Jesus... the employee, with his family totally dependent on his small pay, who is threatened with dismissal if he doesn’t convert to Islam. What are these people to do?
When I read the Esther story, and when I hear about these other harrowing situations, it prompts various thoughts in my mind.
First, that I will never criticise or condemn people who, under such pressure, end up doing what seems wrong. Not until I have stood in their shoes will I pass judgment.
Second, to pray that if ever I should find myself in such a situation I would have the courage to do what my Spirit-directed conscience tells me.
Third, to give all the support and prayer I possibly can to people, both Christians and others, who suffer for conscience’ sake. The writer to the Hebrews tells us: “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow-prisoners and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3).
If I perish, I perish... That’s pretty much what Daniel's friends said to King Nebuchadnezzar when threatened with the furnace: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods...” (Daniel 3:17-18). Don’t you just love that “even if he does not...”!
And it’s also pretty much what Peter and his fellow-apostles said to the authorities who were trying to muzzle them (Acts 4:19-20): “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Don’t you just love that “we cannot help speaking...”!
And it’s pretty much what many Christians find themselves having to say today.
What price are you prepared to pay to keep your Christian conscience clean?
Lord God, in many parts of the world your people are risking their very lives to stay loyal to Jesus. Protect, comfort and keep them, I pray. And help me to give them whatever support I can. Amen.