The Bravery of Ebed-Melech

The prophet Jeremiah is often called “the weeping prophet.” His message sure did involve a lot of suffering. He described how decades of idolatry and wickedness had brought God to the decision to destroy Jerusalem. Jeremiah lived to see his predictions come to pass, giving a first-hand account of the horrors of the Babylonian conquest of Israel, and recording his Lamentations as he stumbled through the smoking ruins of Jerusalem. Thankfully, Jeremiah’s message also came with the hope of salvation for the faithful remnant.

Furthermore, Jeremiah suffered personally. King Zedekiah and his officials were listening to false prophets who promised that if Israel continued to resist Babylon, God would provide victory. The officials didn’t appreciate Jeremiah’s contradictory and unpatriotic message. They accused him of treason and attempted to silence him and hurt him at every opportunity. Even though King Zedekiah seemed to suspect Jeremiah was speaking God’s truth, he bowed to his officials’ wishes and threw him in jail in the court of the guard (Ch. 32) and later in an underground dungeon (Ch. 37).

No matter what they did to him, Jeremiah wouldn’t stop preaching God’s message: “He who stays in this city will die by the sword and by famine and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans will live...” (38:2). Fed up, the court officials demanded Jeremiah’s execution. With the Babylonian siege ramps approaching the tops of the walls, Zedekiah had little power to do anything. He couldn’t feed his city or save the inhabitants, much less save Jeremiah. He replied, “he is in your hands; for the king can do nothing against you” (38:5). Gleefully, they brought Jeremiah out of his cell, and cast him into the first thing they saw, the cistern which was in the courtyard of the guardhouse.

Usually a cistern would hold stores of water, but at the end of the siege, the water had been used up, and all that remained was deep mud. Apparently, they wanted Jeremiah to suffer, for they let him down into the deep pit with ropes, “and Jeremiah sank into the mud” (38:6). My worst fears of claustrophobia, of darkness, of drowning and being buried alive all rise to my throat, as I imagine Jeremiah slowly sinking to his doom.

But Ebed-Melech, the Ethiopian, a eunuch, while he was in the king’s palace, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern ... [He] spoke to the king saying, “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... (38:7-9).

Zedekiah allowed him to go against the officials. With thirty men, he lowered ropes with armpit-cushions made of tattered cloth and pulled Jeremiah free of the sucking mud and up to safety and returned him to his guardhouse cell.

Still, Jeremiah wouldn’t change his message. But he had a special message from God to Ebed-Melech.

~ John Guzzetta