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Bible Study

Ebed Melech – Speak for Justice

In Jeremiah 38 the city of Jerusalem was under siege from the king of Babylon. God’s word for king Zedekiah through His prophet, was to surrender. But this was a message that no-one in Jerusalem wanted to hear. Jeremiah’s life was now in grave danger as there were those who opposed him and were plotting to get rid of him – they were almost successful. But there was someone who had a heart for justice and was willing to speak up for Jeremiah and that man was Ebed Melech the Cushite.

Jeremiah 38 Commentary

The men who plotted to get rid of Jeremiah, had him beaten and thrown into a dungeon. But  king Zedekiah temporarily intervened, as he wanted a private word with Jeremiah, and briefly conditions improved for him.

Jeremiah, however, could not stay silent; he was commissioned by God to bring a word of impending judgement on the city. So the men acted again, they made a move to get rid of Jeremiah once and for all, and with the king’s consent they lowered ‘the troublemaker’ into an empty cistern. Although there was no water in it, the bottom of the cistern was full of deep mud – a dark, damp, and dismal place to be.

Such a cruel and cowardly act, to leave a man to starve to death in such appalling conditions.

And what do Jeremiah’s own people do when they hear, when the word gets out as to what has happened to him? Nothing.

Who was Ebed Melech in the Bible?

It is the king’s servant, Ebed Melech the Cushite, from modern day Ethiopia, with a heart for justice, who hears what has happened to Jeremiah and decides to respond, to do something.

We know very little about Ebed Melech, but what we do know is that he found himself at just the right time, in the right place, to speak up and save a man’s life! He was hundreds of miles from home, living in a foreign land and working in the court of a foreign king. How did he come to be so far from home? Had he been a soldier, a mercenary in a foreign army and been taken captive? Was he a refugee, had he fled his home because of war, looking for a safe place and now ended up in another war zone? We don’t know what had happened, we are not told his life story. I’m not even sure we know his name…

Ebed Melech Meaning

This man from Cush – the region which is now known as Ethiopia – was called Ebed Melech.  In Hebrew this means the ‘king’s servant’, or literally ‘the servant of the king’. It is more likely that Ebed Melech was his job title rather than his name. Possibly, it could be that because he was a ‘foreigner’ no-one could be bothered to make the effort to learn his real name, and so they just called him by his job title.

When we seem to be disregarded by others, we need to know that there is One who sees and knows!

Related post: El-Roi, The God Who Sees Me.

How did Jeremiah get out of the Cistern?

Ebed Melech intervenes. He speaks up, to king Zedekiah, to the one who has the authority to do something about the situation, respectfully and with wisdom, choosing his words carefully. Ebed Melech speaks out, clearly stating the injustice of what had happened, in a public place, with other officials present. And he speaks for someone who is unable to speak for himself. He speaks for Jeremiah affirming him as God’s prophet, and clearly stating the consequences of leaving the situation as it is – Jeremiah will die.

King Zedekiah when publicly confronted by Ebed Melech gives the command for him to go with thirty men and rescue Jeremiah from the cistern. Ebed Melech leads the group of men fully aware of the risk involved and the danger of making powerful enemies. He shows kindness and compassion to Jeremiah in the detail of the rescue. Ebed Melech takes old clothes and rags to act as padding for the ropes when they hauled Jeremiah out of the deep cistern.  

Ebed Melech, the Cushite, was a man who ultimately trusted in God, even to the point of risking his own life, to speak out against injustice.

Jeremiah 38 Reflection

Speak for Justice

Knowing when and how to speak out is a great gift – our words are powerful! It may be unlikely that we will ever be in a position to speak on a local or national stage for justice, but highly likely that we will be challenged in our daily conversations. The small injustices, when someone is criticised unfairly, when someone’s reputation is being attacked, is it easier to say nothing, to agree with everyone else? If, like me, you find confrontation difficult, it is a challenge – but a challenge that we need to respond to.

Contend for Peace

God has always been inclusive, when we look through the stories of the old testament, the invitation has always been there, to welcome the outsider in. Now in the era of grace, we are all God’s children, he shows no favouritism, we are all equal in God’s sight.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

We are called to be peacemakers and to reflect the love of our heavenly Father. This will mean at times we will have to contend for peace – we will need to speak out!

Get Wisdom

Our attitude when we speak, either creates an opportunity for our voice to be heard or will firmly close the mind of the listener and prevent them from hearing what we have to say. If we are wise, we will speak respectfully.

The wise person will speak strategically. Not just grumbling or complaining to anyone who will listen but will look for the opportunity to speak to those who have the power to act. Today there are so many ways of doing this, with instant communication and the power of our online words.

Trust in the LORD

God rewarded Ebed Melech the Cushite for saving Jeremiah’s life. God spoke to Jeremiah and gave him a word, a promise, for Ebed Melech that when Jerusalem finally fell to the Babylonians, his life would be spared. He had showed himself to be a true servant of the King of kings.

Go and tell Ebed Melech the Cushite, “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I am about to fulfil my words against this city – words concerning disaster not prosperity. At that time they will be fulfilled before your eyes. But I will rescue you on that day, declares the Lord; you will not be given into the hands of those you fear. I will save you; you will not fall by the sword but will escape with your life, because you trust in me, declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 39:16-18

You might also like to read: Jeremiah the Weeping Prophet

19 thoughts on “Ebed Melech – Speak for Justice”

  1. Amen! Thank you for sharing this story—one I’ve never noticed before (one often rushes through Jeremiah without settling in to notice because it’s one of the hard books). I struggle to keep my words in check because I want to unleash the full fury of my outrage with all the big words at my disposal—but I know that will do nothing. Thank you for the reminder to keep respect at the forefront!

  2. Amen! Well said from a great example! Yes, we need to be wise, respectful & use the power of the Word in all social injustices of this world.

    You’re most welcome to join me in a cuppa at Tea With Jennifer,
    Bless you,

  3. I am so thankful that the Bible always has a word for whatever circumstances we are living in. I appreciate your emphasis on our calling as Christians to promote peace as well as justice to those most vulnerable in society.

  4. I love you highlighting Ebed-Melek, not a character that gets a lot of press. 🙂 But the lesson is so timely. It is time now (as always) to speak up for justice. If we each do our part, perhaps we can save some Jeremiahs out there.

    1. Thank you for your encouraging comments. I love those stories that show us again and again that God does not look at our race, nationality or social status but at our heart. 🙂

  5. There’s a Time to Speak and a Time to be silent. How often have we remained silent when we hear an off-color joke or demeaning statement? It’s time to start speaking up.

  6. Sharon, I shared this story some time ago with a young man who happens to be my youngest son’s best friend and was adopted from the land of Ethiopia. I wanted him to know that he is represented in the pages of the Bible in a very good and positive light. He had never been told the story either, so I was thankful to be able to point it out to him.
    Blessings to you for mining the riches of Jeremiah and then sharing what you have found.

  7. You did a beautiful job of writing the story of Jeremiah and Ebed-Melek. The connection between this story and the current events brings a new perspective and understanding. May we all use our voices for good to uplift others.

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