Exeter Temple Bible Message notes: Sunday 9th August 2015
Bible Reading: Jeremiah 38-39
Many people have heard of Jeremiah but the name of Ebed-Melech is not so familiar. Yet, without him Jeremiah would have died a slow and painful death.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel has already fallen to the invading Babylonian army. The same fate now awaits Judah, but King, Zedekiah has allied the country with Egypt and they had already sent troops to support the Judean army and as a result they had pushed the Babylonians back. Jeremiah, had continually prophesied any hope Judah had of staying free, was to return to God. Jeremiah could see that Egypt would only defend Judah whilst it was in its own interests. Jeremiah counselled that the Babylonians would have their day, but all would not be lost for Judah, if she learned from this lesson returned to the Lord and forsook worshipping other gods. His advice sounded like treason to the Jewish leadership desperate to cling on to power. On an innocent family business trip Jeremiah was arrested, beaten up and imprisoned.
Secretly King Zedekiah knew that Jeremiah was right but was too weak to challenge the decision of his officials to issue a death warrant on Jeremiah, Jeremiah was taken and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the kings son which was in the courtyard of the guard where without help he was sure to die.
Who was Ebed-Melech?
This was not his name, but a title for what he did. It literally meant “Servant of the King.” He came from the land of Cush, a general term for regions of Africa south of Egypt. Some modern translations state that he came from Ethiopia. The NIV lists him as an official in the palace of King Zedekiah, other translations say that he was a eunuch. If he was this possibly indicates he was a guard of the women’s quarters. It is also possible he was a slave. His was a very different status to that of the four officials in Jeremiah 38:1 who opposed Jeremiah. They were members of the royal family and were very powerful. Ebed-Melech, the man with no
name, was a foreigner and a lowly back-room servant, just doing his job. But despite his position he became a key figure in Jeremiah’s rescue.
One commentator describes him as “a moral man in tune with God”
1. He heard v 7
How Ebed-Melech heard about Jeremiah’s plight is unknown. Jeremiah had not had a trial; he was not to be executed publicly. He was kept hidden away in the private drainage system within the confines of the palace. The point was to get rid of Jeremiah, whilst letting the world think he had defected to the enemy.
Zedekiah should have protected Jeremiah but he claimed he could do nothing.
v 5 “He is in your hands. The king can do nothing to oppose you.”
We are prone to saying, “Somebody should do something about this.” Sometimes we wish somebody else would go – but God says, I want you to go. Sometimes we wish somebody else would do the task needing to be done but God says I have placed this in our hands; no one else is going to pick this up. This is yours.
Christian speaker Ruth Hill likens the situation to being at baggage collection at the airport. Dozens of bags pass before your eyes on the conveyor belt. You don’t pick them all up but you do step forward and you do collect those with your name on. Most of the time, if you don’t pick it, it becomes lost luggage.
When we don’t really want to do something, many good reasons surface in our mind to justify our passivity. It is easy to be absorbed in the endless busy-ness of our small worlds: my study, my family, my home, my job, my local church, my comfort, my future.
But Ebed-Melech’s sensitive heart would not allow him to remain indifferent. He has been called the Good Samaritan of the Old Testament
2. He went v8
Ebed-Melech could have brought Jeremiah bread every day to keep him alive until the fall of the present regime. This would still have been an act of sacrifice because in the current crisis they were in bread was difficult to come by and it would have been an act of faith because it showed that Ebed-Melech believed Jeremiah’s prophecy. This would be all very commendable and sensible; helping but not risking too much; caring but not compromising your own position. But this was not what faith in God was calling Ebed-Melech to do.
Instead he had a two-fold mission.
1. - to expose the truth of what had happened to Jeremiah, clear Jeremiah’s name so that the word of God would not be discredited.
2. to show some compassion for Jeremiah personally and literally get him out of a hole.
It would take great faith and courage for Ebed-Melech to go to the king and plead for Jeremiah. He went to see Zedekiah when he was in a court outside the palace where, as the king he listened to appeals for justice. Ebed-Melech made Jeremiahs plight public and shamed the king into acting more justly.
Ebed-Melech’s words are bold. Kings usually don’t like to be corrected and especially not on moral matters. Yet King Zedekiah knew EbedMelech was right and he commissioned him to lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies”
Even with King’s permission, it was still a risky act to go and get Jeremiah out of the cistern, given the power of the men who had put Jeremiah there in the first place. Ebed-Melech didn’t need the 30 men provided by Zedekiah to pull one man out of a well. He needed them as body guards!
3. He used what he had
When Jeremiah prayed for deliverance he probably did not think that a bag of jumble would be a sign of hope. It is obvious that without the ropes Jeremiah could not have got out of the cistern but the old rags made it possible for him to get out without further injury.
Ebed-Melech was in the right place to hear about Jeremiah’s need, he knew where the king was to be able to bring the truth to light and who else but someone who knew the palace as well as a servant would know that there were worn out clothes in a room under the treasury!
For Ebed-Melech, serving the Lord, being the hero God asked him to be, simply depended upon him being himself and using the opportunities and the resources that were already his.
, “Just thanking God for making ordinary people like us indispensable co-workers with himself in his plan of redemption for those who are near to us and of course further afield. “ Commissioner Harry Read- Facebook
1 Peter 4:10 “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in various forms.”
4. He held on
Amazingly, Ebed-Melech had stayed at his post. He hadn’t gone over to the Babylonians, he hadn’t run away back to Ethiopia or escaped to Egypt but this meant that the outlook for him now was very bad indeed. His very title gives him away as a member of the deposed king’s staff. Prison, forced labour or execution is the most likely outcome for him.
In the midst of the chaos Jeremiah starts to prophesy but his message is not for the nation, it is not for the new governor or for the exiles in Babylon, it is a personal word for a faithful servant of God, with no name who was alone and terrified.
“I am about to fulfil my words about this city through disaster not prosperity. At that time they will be fulfilled before your eyes but I will rescue you on that day declares the Lord; you will not be handed over to those you fear. I will save you and you will not fall by the sword but will escape with your life, because you trust me.” (Ch 39:16-17)
God doesn’t always choose to physically protect the people he is pleased with but he never overlooks them, even if others do. Notice too, that even though he was afraid, God talks in the present tense of Ebed-Melech’s trust.
We can be assured that whatever it is that God calls us to get involved with, he knows us and he is aware of our fears, our battles and temptations.
“And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[b] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[c] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
Ebed- Melech may never be in the Top Ten of biblical heroes but it is unlikely he ever wanted to be, his main concern being to do what was right.