Abraham, David, Ruth, and Esther.
But what about Ebed-Melech? I didn’t encounter him as a child, and can’t recall hearing a sermon about him. It wasn’t until I read the book of Jeremiah that I was pleasantly surprised—and encouraged—to meet him.
Why the surprise and encouragement? Because Ebed-Melech was a godly role model for Jeremiah’s time and still is for us today in a political and cultural climate that often espouses closing hearts, shutting doors, and erecting walls instead of championing the compassionate care of distressed people.
Ebed-Melech obeyed God’s commands—the same ones we’re called to observe: “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy” (Ps. 82:3-4), and “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Prov. 31:8).
Ebed-Melech lived in a time of immense turmoil for God’s people. The prophet Jeremiah was in prison because he had relentlessly spoken God’s word of judgment against God’s people, Israel, for deserting God and following idols. Even in prison, Jeremiah continued to proclaim God’s Word: those who stayed in the city would die, but whoever went over to the Babylonians would live.
The officials wanted to silence Jeremiah because he was demoralizing the soldiers and people. With the approval of weak-kneed King Zedekiah, Jeremiah was lowered by ropes into a deep cistern. Though it had no water in it, it was muddy, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.
Enter Ebed-Melech, a Cushite—an Ethiopian—who was an official in the royal palace and a foreigner. We’ve been calling him Ebed-Melech, but that wasn’t his name. It was his title, and it meant “servant of the king.” Being nameless and a foreigner didn’t stop Ebed-Melech from acting. Boldly, he went to King Zedekiah and told him about Jeremiah’s plight.
At King Zedekiah’s command, Ebed-Melech took thirty men with him to free Jeremiah. But it’s striking what he did next on his own initiative. He found some old rags and worn-out clothes, which he took to the cistern. He told Jeremiah to put them under his arms to pad the ropes. Then the men pulled Jeremiah out of the cistern.
Ebed-Melech not only acted boldly when he saw Jeremiah treated unjustly; he also displayed deep compassion by thinking of Jeremiah’s comfort.
Jeremiah faced injustice, abandonment, mistreatment, and hunger, just like many people do today—refugees, trafficking victims, modern-day slaves, casualties of domestic abuse, and people with insufficient food and clean water. I wonder what I would have done if I was in Ebed-Melech’s place. Would I have acted courageously? Or would I have remained silent? Would I have thought the problem was too big for one person to handle? Or would I have been willing to speak up?
Our King is not weak-kneed like King Zedekiah was. He is God of heaven and earth. He sent his Son to rescue humanity and creation. Jesus—the one of whom the prophet Isaiah wrote: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isa. 42:3)—still today meets people in their needs and mends broken lives. He does that by sending us, his ambassadors, to speak up for justice, to boldly rescue, and to live as Ebed-Melechs. We are, after all, servants of the King!
- Which biblical character do you look up to as a role model? Why?
- Reread Psalm 82:3-4 and Proverbs 31:8. What are some ways we can both individually and corporately obey these verses today?
- How can we encourage each other to pursue God’s justice boldly and compassionately in our world today?
- Can you think of a time when you wanted to speak up like Ebed-Melech but didn't and regretted it? Or a time when you did? Please share.