Upon hearing the prophet Jeremiah’s pronouncement of God’s judgment, that was soon to fall on the city of Jerusalem [which at that time was under siege from Babylon]; the irate princes cried to King Zedekiah: “Please, let this man [Jeremiah ] be put to death, for thus he weakens the hands of the men of war who remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man does not seek the welfare of this people, but their harm.” (Jer. 38:4, cf. 26:11). The pusillanimous King failed to protect Jeremiah and handed him over to the charge of the princes, thus consenting to their pernicious plot (Jer. 38:5). With murder in their hearts the princes took Jeremiah and lowered him into a filthy, miry cistern whereby Jeremiah sank in the sludge. (Jer. 38:6). Because Jerusalem was in the latter stages of the siege from Babylon, it was unlikely that Jeremiah would receive food or water. Therefore, a slow agonizing death from deprivation appeared inevitable.
That said, a most unlikely candidate came to Jeremiah’s rescue. Ebed-Melech meaning servant of the king, an Ethiopian eunuch and perhaps the head of king Zedekiah’s harem.1 After hearing of Jeremiah’s dire predicament, he boldly approached the king and said: “My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet whom they have cast into the cistern; and he will die right where he is because of the famine, for there is no more bread in the city.” (Jer. 38:9). What courage and bravery were demonstrated by Ebed-Melech! Not only did he risk his life by approaching the king while he was conducting official business (v. 7), but he accused the king’s princes of evil-doing—for he was just a foreigner, a lowly slave. It must be noted that Ebed-Melech displayed care and compassion for the Lord’s prophet, that no other person demonstrated. By God’s providence King Zedekiah granted Ebed-Melech permission to free Jeremiah. Immediately upon receiving royal permission, Ebed-Melech acted and cleverly devised a plan to rescue Jeremiah from his miry grave. He lowered old clothes down by ropes, telling Jeremiah to put the clothes under his arms as he raised him up with the ropes. (Jer. 38:11-13).
Ebed-Melech’s self-sacrificing courage may have went unnoticed by the people at that time, even by King Zedekiah; but God who sees everything (Job 28:24), blessed the lowly slave. When God’s judgment befell Jerusalem utterly destroying the city, in which very few people had survived and the rest were taken as Babylonian slaves; God remembered the kindness Ebed-Melech exhibited toward His prophet Jeremiah: “Meanwhile the word of the LORD had come to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the prison, saying, ‘Go and speak to Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will bring My words upon this city for adversity and not for good, and they shall be performed in that day before you. But I will deliver you in that day,’ says the LORD, ‘and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. ‘For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword; but your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in Me,’ says the LORD.’ ” (Jer. 39:15-18).
Ebed-Melech’s faith in the God of Israel compelled him to exhibit courage far greater than any of those who were in the king’s court. For his great faith Ebed-Melech was rewarded and recorded in the pages of Scripture forever, as a tribute to his bravery (Jer. 39:15-18). It must be noted, that God not only rewards those who bless His people Israel, but also punishes those who commit evil against them–according to the covenant He made with Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you…” (Gen. 12:3a). Ebed-Melech was indeed blessed for his trust in God and by risking his life to save Jeremiah. Conversely, the evil princes who intended to kill God’s prophet were cursed; slain by the Babylonian sword (Jer. 38:2, 39:16, 52:10). Incidentally, the Abrahamic Covenant [Gen. 12:3a] very much applies today, God will remember those who show kindness to His chosen people but will recompense those who harm them.
In closing, Ebed-Melech’s sacrificial kindness should serve as an inspiration to all who faithfully serve the Lord. Ebed-Melech was a lowly Ethiopian slave, void of esteem by man, yet in the eyes of God, he was of the utmost rank and undoubtedly praised by his heavenly Master: “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt. 25:21). An individual’s status in society does not matter to God, faithfulness to Him is what matters: “[God] Who shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich above the poor, for they all are the work of His hands?” (Job 34:19). Like that of Ebed-Melech, there may be situations when it will be necessary for God’s saints to exhibit life-risking, sacrificial acts of love and mercy to others. For Scripture commands: “We know love by this, that He [Jesus Christ] laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 Jn. 3:16). In essence, any act of courage and kindness shown to a fellow believer will be regarded favorably by the Lord: “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Mark 9:41).
1 John MacArthur,The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Moody Press, 2003, pg. 1115–commenting on the role of Ebed-Melech in King Zedekiah’s house.