A Heart for Justice
There was once a man who had a heart for justice and we know very little about him. What we do know is that he found himself at just the right time, and 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.
“He has shown you, O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”Micah 6:8
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, and in looking for a safe place ended up in another war zone?
The king’s servant
We are not told his life story. I’m not even sure we know his name. He was called Ebed-Melek, which means the ‘king’s servant.’ Was that really his name? Or was it because he was a ‘foreigner’ that no-one could be bothered to make the effort to learn his real name. Did they just call him by his job title?
When we seem to be disregarded by others, remember that God sees and knows all things. The wise and discerning live for an audience of One.
Ebed-Melek was working in the king’s palace in Jerusalem when the city was under siege and threat from the king of Babylon. God’s word to the king through his prophet was to surrender. This was a word that no-one in Jerusalem wanted to hear. There were men, officials in the court, who plotted to get rid of God’s prophet. They had him beaten and thrown into a dungeon, to silence him.
The prophet was Jeremiah. The king temporarily intervened, as he wanted a private word with Jeremiah, and so, briefly, conditions improved for him. But Jeremiah 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. 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. What do Jeremiah’s own people do when they hear, when the word gets out as to what has happened to him? Are they concerned for justice? They stay silent, they do nothing. Instead, it is the king’s servant. A Cushite, from modern day Ethiopia, with a heart for justice. Ebed Melek hears what has happened and decides to respond, to do something.
Speak for justice
Ebed Melek speaks up to the king. To the one who has the authority to do something about the situation. Choosing his words carefully, he speaks respectfully and with wisdom.
He speaks out. He clearly states the injustice of what has happened, in a public place, with other officials present. The king is now accountable.
Ebed Melek speaks for, the one who is unable to speak for himself. He speaks for Jeremiah affirming him as God’s prophet. And clearly states the consequences of leaving the situation as it is – Jeremiah will die.
Ebed-Melek was a man who ultimately trusted in God, even to the point of risking his own life, to speak out against injustice.
There is so much that we can learn and reflect on from this story. When we encounter injustice in our communities, it still has the power to speak to us today.
Power of Words
Knowing when and how to speak is a great gift, as our words are powerful. It is likely that we will all, at some time or other, be challenged in our daily conversations. The small injustices when someone is criticised or treated unfairly. Or when someone’s reputation is being attacked, is it easier to say nothing, to agree with everyone else? Confrontation can be difficult, it is a challenge. A challenge, however, that we need to respond to. We are called to act justly and to be peacemakers.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”Matthew 5:9
In this time, wherever we are, we are called to reflect the love of our heavenly Father.
To promote peace, it is important to speak respectfully. Our attitude when we speak, can create an opportunity for our voice to be heard. Or it can firmly close the mind of the listener and prevent them from hearing what we have to say.
When promoting peace, it is important to speak strategically. Do not grumble or complain to just anyone who will listen. Instead find those who have the power to act.
We can have a voice on a local, or even a national level with the power of our online words. There are organisations that work for justice and need support for their campaigns. We can use our voice, to make ourselves heard, in so many different ways, to promote justice, to bring peace and to fulfill our calling…..
And for those who are not familiar with the story¹, Ebed-Melek saved Jeremiah’s life, he rescued him from the cistern. When Jerusalem finally fell to the Babylonians, God rewarded him and his life was spared. He had showed himself to be a true servant of the King of kings.
¹Jeremiah Chapters 38 & 39
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