What did Esther mean when she said, "If I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16)?"If I perish, I perish" is one of the best known and most inspiring quotes associated with Esther. Esther was the Persian Queen to King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) in Susa at the time when the Jews were living in exile there. Thus, Queen Esther held a position of power when her people, the Jews, were scheduled for destruction. Unfortunately, this position of Queen did not entitle her to change Persian laws or even to approach the king without being called. In fact, "If any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live" (Esther 4:11). Initiating an encounter with King Ahasuerus could likely result in death, but that is exactly what Esther was called upon to do in order to help rescue her people.
Her cousin, Mordecai, informed Esther of the new Persian law commanding destruction of the Jews and asked her to use her influence with the king to save her people. When she reminded him that she could not just walk up to the king and demand the law be changed, Mordecai replied, "For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14). When Esther realized that the option of going before the king was no less risky than remaining silent and being slaughtered with her people, she decided to risk her life to rescue her people. At this pivotal moment, when she conceded to follow God's will at the risk of her own life, she uttered the statement, "If I perish, I perish." (Esther 4:16). It is a statement of commitment and sacrifice. Esther was welcomed by the king and God used her to bring about rescue for the people.
Similarly, Jesus laid His life down to rescue us as a people for Himself (Titus 2:14). When it was nearly time for this significant sacrifice, Jesus prayed, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done" (Luke 22:42). Jesus committed to following God's will "becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). Unlike Esther Jesus' life was not spared. He was killed on a cross, making the ultimate sacrifice to rescue us. Jesus died for our sins. But Jesus did not remain dead—He rose back to life, proving He is who He claimed and that His sacrifice was sufficient. His death was a once for all sacrifice (Hebrews 10). All who put their trust in Him are rescued from the eternal consequences of sin and instead granted eternal life (John 3:16–18; 2 Corinthians 5:17–21; Ephesians 2:1–10).
Having been a beneficiary of that sacrifice, the apostle Paul also willingly risked his health, body, reputation, and life in order to share the gospel and invite others to join God's family (2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 3:8). While in Ephesus, Paul said, "But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).
Just as these biblical examples (and more; cf. Hebrews 11) were willing to risk everything in order to obey God and rescue others, we are also called to willingly offer our own lives in service to God for the benefit of others. God calls His people to "love your neighbor as yourself" (James 2:8; Leviticus 19:18; cf. John 13:34–35). Jesus said, "Greater love has no one that this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Paul calls believers to "present your bodies as a living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1), meaning we continually offer God our time, talent, aspirations, relationships, reputations—our all—as we go on living. But perhaps a time will come when we also offer our very lives like so many martyrs, and with Esther we will say, "If I perish, I perish."
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