I was impressed with this lady's courage to stick her neck out and to graciously take a stand that was unpopular with her peers. And because she had already won their respect by her integrity, her consistently positive attitude, and her skill in her profession, they could not criticize her, even behind her back.
A man of such character and courage is the subject of our study today of great unknown heroes of the Bible. Today it's a man from the Old Testament, one whom the Bible calls Ebed-Melech.
The story is Jeremiah 38. As you look it up, allow me to set the stage for the story.
This story takes place within a hundred years before the end of the history of the Old Testament. Reigning on the throne in Jerusalem is the last descendant of David to ever reign as king, a wimp named Zedekiah. Secretly Zedekiah tells the prophet Jeremiah that he wants to do what is right, but he is too concerned about what those people think, who are supposed to be under his authority. And those who are under King Zedekiah's authority don't very much like Jeremiah, or his message. They particularly don't like the part of what he says concerning the Chaldean army from Babylon, who are knocking at the door, so to speak, and ready to overrun Jerusalem, and all of Israel, in the name of their great King Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah's message is, "God sent them. Don't fight. Surrender and go with them. Those who do, will survive. Those who don't won't."
Of course they had a great dislike for Jeremiah long before the
army came, because Jeremiah, like all the prophets before him, had
to point out the sins of the nation, and call the people to repent to
back to God. He pleaded with them to stop appealing to idols and stop
the demon spirits for all the blessings that God had given them. He
with them to abandon immorality and choose purity and integrity.
However term is used here in some contexts to refers not specifically to a water well, but to any pit; and in one place the context clearly indicates that it refers to a prison. So when the translators working for King James the First of England saw that pit was in the "courtyard of the guard," i.e. the jail house, they felt compelled to translate the term as dungeon. However, the reference to water and mud in the same verse leads me to stick with the more common translation of the term, as cistern.
And Jeremiah was also a bit stuck, too. Apparently, the cistern was too dry to pull up any water, but it wasn't so dry that the sediment at the bottom had hardened. And Jeremiah was stuck deep in the muck. It was clearly the intent of the King's advisors to leave Jeremiah there to die... as somehow that would free their consciences from any guilt in actually killing him.
The Hebrew text identifies him as literally "the Cushite man,"
from the land of Cush, which was a general term for regions of Africa
of Egypt. This term was used in the Old Testament very much as we use
term "African American" in our culture today. And, the text says,
was a government official, and as some of your translations indicate,
was probably a eunuch, serving in the court of King Zedekiah in
Jerusalem. Apparently Ebed-Melech was of far more noble character than
the others who surrounded the king.
The rest of Chapter 38 describes a secret meeting between King Zedekiah and Jeremiah, where Zedekiah sought Jeremiah's counsel, counsel he later chose not to follow. Consequently, Zedekiah's demise at the hands of the Chaldeans was horrible beyond description.
And whatever became of Ebed-Melech?
And precisely who were those whom Ebed-Melech feared? Was it the Babylonian Chaldeans? Perhaps. But more likely, it was those who seemed so effective in pulling King Zedekiah's strings, those who were so fervent in enforcing political correctness that those who opposed them usually died. Even Zedekiah admitted to Jeremiah that his political and military decisions were based solely on fear of what his "advisors" would think of him, and if given the chance, what they might do to him if he didn't go along with them.
In response to Ebed-Melech's faith and courage, God gave
unconditional assurance of His protection.
There have been many Ebed-Melechs in my life in recent years, when I was being lowered into the pit [re: losing my position of ministry]. And you who are sitting before me this morning are among my Ebed-Melechs, and I thank you.
During those difficult days, I had close friends and colleagues, to whom I looked for encouragement and support, but instead, they dropped me like a hot potato. And there were others who over the years had quietly cheered me on and supported me with their gifts for the ministry I was doing with the deaf of this community and across the state. It was most encouraging to watch these folks move to the front line of my defense, as they, like Ebed-Melech, stuck their necks out and appealed to those in authority on my behalf, and the behalf of the deaf congregation.
And for every one of them I am grateful.
But I must confess that long before I had this particular pit experience, Ebed-Melech had been one of my favorite obscure characters of the Bible. And part of what intrigues me about him is the meaning of his name. Ebed-Melech was not his African name. We have no record of what that was. "Ebed-Melech the Cushite" was the nickname given to him by the Hebrews as it was a description of who he was and what he did.
Ebed is the Hebrew word meaning servant.
Melech means king.
Following the rules of Hebrew grammar, the name could be correctly translated "Servant of the King." It looks like it could be a title. But the Hebrew text does not treat it as a title, but rather, as a name. So even in English we call him, Ebed-Melech. The name describes what the man did: He served the King. And he served the king with integrity and character. Quite frankly, this king really didn't deserve such a man as this on his staff. How Ebed-Melech endured it, I don't know. But for Jeremiah's sake, I am glad he was there.
Ebed-Melech's name could also be translated: Servant-King. In
that sense the name, the character, and the actions of this man are
of The Servant King, the Lord Jesus Christ, who said, "I have not come
to be served but to serve, and to give My life as a ransom for many"
10:28; 1 Tim. 2:6). The last hours before his death on the cross, on
night in He was betrayed, before He took bread, He took a towel
and a pan of water, and He washed His Disciples' feet. When He
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."
And just as Jeremiah was stuck deep in the muck of the cistern, so also were we stuck in the muck of our sin. And our Lord came, not lowering a rope for us to grab onto, but He lowered Himself, placed Himself in the muck of our sin, set us free, as he died there, abandoned, in our place.
I can think of too many times in my life when my faith looked more like that of King Zedekiah than the faith of his faithful servant, Ebed-Melech. Yet Christ, my King and my faithful servant, still loves me, and He still, as the Psalmist says it, redeems my life from the pit (Psalm 103:4). And it is no trivial matter that He snatches our lives from the pit of hell.
And that's the real reason why I like Ebed-Melech. He's not just a cool dude whose courage and character challenge me. His actions and the meaning of his name remind me of my great Rescuer, and yours... Jesus.