Christ Lutheran Church of the Deaf
Silver Spring, Maryland
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Jeremiah, the reluctant prophet

Jeremiah in the Well
Rev. Ron Friedrich
September 3 & 10, 2006

Before you begin this lesson, please read Jeremiah chapters 37 and 38.  Because this text is long, I will not reprint it here.  You may read it in your own Bible, or click here to read it on your computer.


Zedekiah was the last Old Testament king of Judah (southern Israel).  (Click here to review the last five kings of Israel)

Zedekiah's brother, Jehoiakim, hated Jeremiah because he hated Jeremiah's message.  In other words, Jehoiakim hated God's Word.

Zedekiah was different.  He respected Jeremiah.  Three times he asked Jeremiah either to pray for him or to give him God's advice.   However, Zedekiah refused to trust God or to obey him.   He was a weak king, not because he lacked authority, but because he lacked courage.

These two chapters give us a clear comparison between Jeremiah and Zedekiah:

"What does God say?"
"What will the people think?"
Wants God's approval more than men's praise
Wants men's praise more than God's approval.
Trusts God.
Fears people more than he trusts God.
What does God want me to do?
What will God do for me?
God is Lord God is a "fortune cookie"
Stand alone for what is true and right.
Follow the crowd;  Politically Correct.
Truth is worth dying for.
Keep religion comfortable.
His faith is open, for all the world to see.
His "faith" is secret, hidden.
LIFE GOAL: service
LIFE GOAL: preserve his power
so Jeremiah lost nothing,
but he gained inheritance
- in his lifetime
- in heaven.

WEALTHY, and lost everything:
- lost wealth
- lost power
- lost family
- lost eyesight
- lost freedom
Single minded - focused on God
Double minded (Greek: "double soul")
   focused on the world,
   while trying to keep one on God.
Received God's love, forgiveness, and life;
zealously tried to share the same with
Refused (turned down) God's gifts
to gain approval from people.


Chapter 38
(New  Century Version)
[The king's officers] heard what Jeremiah was telling all the people. He said: 2 "This is what the LORD says: 'Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, or hunger, or terrible diseases. But everyone who surrenders to the Babylonian army will live; they will escape with their lives and live.' 3 And this is what the LORD says: 'This city of Jerusalem will surely be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon. He will capture this city!' "

In a time of war, people who advocate surrender are traitors.  So the king's officers saw Jeremiah as a traitor.

 4 Then the officers said to the king, "Jeremiah must be put to death! He is discouraging the soldiers who are still in the city, and all the people, by what he is saying to them. He does not want good to happen to us; he wants to ruin us."

 5 King Zedekiah said to them, "Jeremiah is in your control. I cannot do anything to stop you."

Zedekiah "cannot do anything"?   Wrong.  Zedekiah is the king.  He is the highest civil authority in the country.  He privately respects Jeremiah, but Zedekiah did not protect Jeremiah's life, because he was afraid of his advisors.

6 So the officers took Jeremiah and put him into the well of Malkijah, the king's son, which was in the courtyard of the guards. The officers used ropes to lower Jeremiah into the well, which did not have any water in it, only mud. And Jeremiah sank down into the mud.

The word that is translated here as "well"  can also mean "cistern", which was a pit, a hole in the ground, for collecting rain water.  Sometimes people channeled water from a nearby stream to a cistern.  Some cisterns were large deep pits that were covered.  The cover slowed evaporation of the water.  The cover had a hole for lowering a bucket with a rope to pull water out.   The water in a cistern is not fresh and pure; it is not good for drinking. 
(See Jeremiah 2:11-13.  There God calls Himself "the spring of living," and the idols which Israel worshipped as gods were "broken cisterns that cannot hold water.")

The king's officers put Jeremiah into a pit (well or cistern) that was not filled with water, nor was it completely dry. 

...And Jeremiah sank down into the mud.

This was a really bad situation for Jeremiah!  The officers really did want to kill him.

 7 But Ebed-Melech, a Cushite and a servant in the palace, heard that the officers had put Jeremiah into the well.

Now meet the hero of this story.

Ebed-Melech was a "Cushite"  -- from the country named "Cush."  Today we call that country "Ethiopia."   It is near Egypt.  Ebed-Melech was an African.   Ethiopia had - and still has - a large population that worships the God of Israel.  According to their tradition, the Queen of Sheba who met King Solomon was from Ethiopia and she introduced her people to the true God.  Ebed-Melech was not the only Ethiopian in the Bible who worshipped God.

As King Zedekiah was sitting at the Benjamin Gate, 8 Ebed-Melech left the palace and went to the king. Ebed-Melech said to him, 9 "My master and king, these rulers have acted in an evil way. They have treated Jeremiah the prophet badly. They have thrown him into a well and left him there to die! When there is no more bread in the city, he will starve to death."

Ebed-Melech served under the authority of the king. He understood that in that position, he himself was not able to exersize authority, but he was able to influence the one who had authority - the king.  When Ebed-Melech saw the problem, he did not take matters into his own hands.  He knew how to make an effective appeal.  He described the problem,.  He appealed to the king's responsiblity for justice, and he described how Jeremiah was treat unfairly. Ebed-Melech did not accuse the king.  And did not tell the king what he should do.  He let the king decide on the best solution.

Ebed-Melech had better character than King Zedekiah, and Zedekiah knew it.  Fortunately, Zedekiah's conscience ws still working, and he was humble enough to respond to Ebed-Melech in a positive way.

10 Then King Zedekiah commanded Ebed-Melech the Cushite, "Take thirty men from the palace and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the well before he dies."

Why 30 men?   Was Jeremiah that stuck, that it will require the strength of 30 men to get him out?   Probably not.  But Ebed-Melech needed that many to protect him from the officers who want Jeremiah dead.

11 So Ebed-Melech took the men with him and went to a room under the storeroom in the palace. He took some old rags and worn-out clothes from that room. Then he let those rags down with some ropes to Jeremiah in the well. 12 Ebed-Melech the Cushite said to Jeremiah, "Put these old rags and worn-out clothes under your arms to be pads for the ropes." So Jeremiah did as Ebed-Melech said. 13 The men pulled Jeremiah up with the ropes and lifted him out of the well. And Jeremiah stayed under guard in the courtyard of the guard.

That means that Jeremiah still was under arrest in prison, but not in the dungeon.

If you have ever been "in the pit" because of what other people did to you or said about you, you can identify with Jeremiah.  During those dark days, friends to whom you looked for support, they abandoned you, the same as Zedekiah did to Jeremiah.  But you also noticed the quiet servants who have always supported you, now they move to the front in your defense, same as Ebed-Melech.

Ebed-Melech is one of my favorite people in the Bible.   Part of my fascination with him is the meaning of his name. 

Ebed means "servant."
Melech means "king."

If we follow the rules of grammar for the Hebrew language, Ebed-Melech means "Servant of the King."   That describes his job.  He worked for King Zedekiah.  So in the land of Israel, his job title became his name:  Servant of the King, Ebed-Melech.

How a good man like Ebed-Melech endured working for such a lousy boss like Zedekiah, I don't understand.  He serves as a good example for all of us.

We can also translate Ebed-Melech's name as "Servant-King."  So his name becomes a prophetic picture of Jesus Christ, who is both our Suffering Servant and our King
(see Isaiah 52:13-53:12).  Jesus said, "I have not come to be served but to serve, and to give My life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 10:28; 1 Tim. 2:6). The last hours before his death on the cross, Jesus took a towel and a large bowl of water, and He washed His Disciples' feet.  When He was finished, He told them, "I did this to be an example for you.  As I have washed your feet, now go and wash each other's feet."  (John 13:12-15)

Jeremiah was stuck in mud at the bottom of a pit.  In the same way, we are stuck in that awful mud called "sin" in a pit called "death." 
Same as Ebed-Melech, Jesus appealed for our lives.  Then  Jesus came into our pit with us, and He got Himself stuck in our sin and died alone in our place.

If I look at my life and my character, am I like Ebed-Melech, or am I like Zedekiah?  I must admit, I am more like Zedekiah.   But Christ my King and my Servant still loves me. 

Psalm 40 says:
 1 I waited patiently for the LORD.
        He turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the pit of destruction,
        out of the sticky mud.
  He stood me on a rock
        and made my feet steady.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
        a song of praise to our God.
  Many people will see this and worship him.
        Then they will trust the LORD(New Century Version)

That is true!  Jesus pulls us out of that deepest and final pit called Hell.  

After Ebed-Melech rescued Jeremiah from the muddy pit, the king sent Jeremiah back to prison to live.  However, our Holy King, after He rescues us, He invites us to live in His own house - in heaven - as His own children!

How can we respond to such great love as that?  
"Lord Jesus, You are my King.
Make me Your servant."


Post Script

The next chapter (Jeremiah 39) describes Babylon's final attack against Jerusalem and the destruction of the city.  (Also see Jeremiah 52, 2 Kings 25, and 2 Chronicles 36.)

What happened to Ebed-Melech?  (Jeremiah 39:15-18)
15 While Jeremiah was guarded in the courtyard, the LORD spoke his word to him: 16 "Jeremiah, go and tell Ebed-Melech the Cushite this message: 'This is what the LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, says: Very soon I will make my words about Jerusalem come true through disaster, not through good times. You will see everything come true with your own eyes. 17 But I will save you on that day, Ebed-Melech, says the LORD. You will not be handed over to the people you fear. 18 I will surely save you, Ebed-Melech. You will not die from a sword, but you will escape and live. This will happen because you have trusted in me, says the LORD.' "

What happened to Zedekiah?  (Jeremiah 39:1-7 = Jeremiah 52:3-11)
1 This is how Jerusalem was captured: Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army and surrounded the city to attack it. [Two and half years later]  ...the city wall was broken through. 3 And all these officers of the king of Babylon came into Jerusalem and sat down at the Middle Gate...

 4 When Zedekiah king of Judah and all his soldiers saw them, they ran away. They left Jerusalem at night and went out from the king's garden. They went through the gate that was between the two walls and then headed toward the Jordan Valley. 5 But the Babylonian army chased them and caught up with Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. They captured him and took him to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who was at the town of Riblah in the land of Hamath. There Nebuchadnezzar passed his sentence on Zedekiah. 6At Riblah the king of Babylon killed Zedekiah's sons and all the important officers of Judah as Zedekiah watched. 7 Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes. He put bronze chains on Zedekiah and took him to Babylon.

...and there he stayed until he died.
(Jer. 52:11)

What happened to Jeremiah?  (Jeremiah 38:11-14)
11 Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had given these orders about Jeremiah through Nebuzaradan, commander of the guard: 12 "Find Jeremiah and take care of him. Do not hurt him, but do for him whatever he asks you."

The Babylonian officers released Jeremiah from prison, and they took him to his own home. 

...and he stayed among the people left in Judah.

The Babylonians allowed a few people -- the "poorest of the poor" --  to stay in Judah, and gave them the vineyards and farm fields.  But some of them were irresponsible and rebellious.  One of them assassinated the Babylonian governor, led a rebellion, kidnapped Jeremiah and Baruch, and took them with them to Egypt with them.  
Jeremiah advised the Jews in Egypt to return to Judah, but they rejected his message. (Jeremiah 40-43)  We do not know if Jeremiah was able to return to Judah, or if he stayed in Egypt until his death.

What happened to Baruch?  
(Jeremiah 45)
Remember... he was Jeremiah's secretary (scribe) in the story about the scroll.

1 It was the fourth year that Jehoiakim son of Josiah was king of Judah. Jeremiah the prophet told these things to Baruch son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote them on a scroll: 2"This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to you, Baruch: 3 You have said, 'How terrible it is for me! The LORD has given me sorrow along with my pain. I am tired because of my suffering and cannot rest.' "

4 The LORD said, "Say this to Baruch: 'This is what the LORD says: I will soon tear down what I have built, and I will pull up what I have planted everywhere in Judah. 5 Baruch, you are looking for great things for yourself. Don't look for them, because I will bring disaster on all the people, says the LORD. You will have to go many places, but I will let you escape alive wherever you go.' "