His name was Ebed-Melech and it’s a pretty safe bet that few have ever heard of him.
He’s numbered among the unsung heroes of everyday life; those quiet souls that no one notices, or even cares to. Louder voices tend to catch the world’s attention; some in their efforts for good and others in their bent for evil. Such is the story behind Ebed.
A contemporary in Ebed’s day was the prophet Jeremiah; a young man called by God to carry truth to a corrupt nation. He spoke warning to his own people for forty years through the reign of five kings, and his heart broke at their stubborn rebellion. Truth was not their desire and Jeremiah’s faithful proclamation of God’s word just plain irked them. Though they claimed to know God, they intentionally redefined His word to fit their agenda and used Jeremiah as the scapegoat for their uneasiness. They struck him, put him in prison and petitioned the king for his death. But they were cunning. The means by which they planned to eliminate him were not disclosed.
Confronted by wicked princes, the weak king asked no questions and Jeremiah fell into the hands of his enemies. Now the scheme would be enacted. He was taken to a dungeon, lowered with ropes and left. Encased in darkness, Jeremiah sank in the mire. There would be no food, no water, no human contact. Such inhumanity seems unimaginable, but when a people lose accountability to God, they are capable of unconscionable cruelty. That day hate-filled men walked away believing they had prevailed. But God had other plans.
It happened that there was an Ethiopian eunuch serving in the house of King Zedekiah whose name was Ebed-Melech. He heard of the great wickedness done to Jeremiah and could not be silent. We’ll let Scripture unfold the rest.
“When the king was sitting at the Gate of Benjamin, Ebed-Melech went out of the king’s house and spoke to the king saying: ‘My Lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon, and he is likely to die from hunger in the place where he is. For there is no more bread in the city.’ Then the king commanded Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, saying ‘Take from here thirty men with you, and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon before he dies.’ So Ebed-Melech took the men with him and went into the house of the king under the treasury and took from there old clothes and old rags and let them down by ropes into the dungeon to Jeremiah. Then Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, ‘Please put these old clothes and rags under your armpits, under the ropes.’ And Jeremiah did so. So they pulled Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the dungeon. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.” Jeremiah 38:7-13
What a contrast of character. What a testimony of a soul that seeks true righteousness. Not only did Ebed-Melech desire to rescue Jeremiah from the hellish conditions that had been inflicted upon him, but he did so with compassion. Not wanting to cause further pain, he stopped to get cloths to protect Jeremiah’s armpits from the taunt ropes that would extract him from the depths.
Ebed was a slave with integrity. No doubt he put himself at risk. Had it leaked that he shed light on this darkness, there was the possibility of retribution. Yet to know and do nothing was too great a conviction; for how does a righteous man ignore evil?
The same question is before us today. In this time when evil is called good and good is called evil, will we find our voice and speak truth? The answer to that question is determined by the master we serve. If we doubt that, we would do well to remember that every word God spoke through Jeremiah proved true. And the unheeded response of rebellious people proved disastrous. The truth they hated became the reality they faced. Jerusalem was taken by the Babylonians in 586 and the people were sent into exile. Remarkably, Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, protected Jeremiah and had him released.
And Ebed-Melech? God sent Jeremiah to him with assurance that he would be delivered from the hands of the men he feared – because Ebed had put his trust in the Lord. The source of his courage was found in the One True God and life was the prize of his faith. It still is.
That’s the last we read of Ebed-Melech. His little known name found its way into the pages of God’s Book, not because he was famous, but because he was faithful. In the end, that’s what matters. Faith enables us to move beyond our fears. We may never know the full impact of exercised courage, but the story of Ebed-Melech makes it clear that one voice speaking truth can make a difference. Ask Jeremiah.