Ebed-Melech—Man of Courage
Ebed-melech was not an Israelite but an Ethiopian eunuch. He served at the court of Zedekiah, the last Judean king to reign at Jerusalem. Though surrounded by corrupt, godless officials, Ebed-melech distinguished himself as a courageous, compassionate man who had high regard for what is right.
At the time that Ebed-melech’s fine qualities became especially manifest the city of Jerusalem was being besieged by the Chaldeans. Jehovah’s prophet Jeremiah had repeatedly declared that the city was doomed and had encouraged the people to save themselves by surrendering themselves to the besiegers. His message from the Most High was: “The one continuing to dwell in this city is the one that will die by the sword, by the famine and by the pestilence. But the one going out to the Chaldeans is the one that will keep living and that will certainly come to have his soul as a spoil and alive.” This enraged certain princes who acted as King Zedekiah’s advisers. They were bent on defending the city at all costs, never capitulating. Refusing to recognize Jeremiah’s words as inspired of God, they regarded the prophet as an obstacle in carrying out a successful defense of Jerusalem.—Jer. 38:1-3.
These princes, therefore, went to King Zedekiah and accused Jeremiah of breaking down the morale of the fighting men and that of the remaining populace. They requested that the prophet be put to death as a seditionist who had no interest in the people’s peace or welfare. (Jer. 38:4) Weak monarch that he was, Zedekiah gave in to their demand, saying: “Look! He is in your hands. For there is nothing at all in which the king himself can prevail against you.” (Jer. 38:5) Zedekiah had followed their counsel in the prosecution of the fight against the Chaldeans, and so he felt obliged to yield to them in removing a man whom they considered an undermining influence to the furtherance of their war aims. While not specifically authorizing Jeremiah’s execution, Zedekiah virtually signed the prophet’s death warrant by giving the princes full control over his life.
These princes, however, may have felt a certain fear that restrained them from becoming directly involved in bloodshed. Nevertheless, they determined to kill the prophet without violence. They lowered him into a miry cistern, there to die.—Jer. 38:6.
While under custody in the Courtyard of the Guard, Jeremiah, by royal order, had received a loaf of bread as his daily ration. (Jer. 37:21) But now that he was in the miry cistern that royal command was no longer in force. With the food supply being virtually exhausted in Jerusalem, there was certainly no hope of Jeremiah’s receiving food from anyone. His death was just a matter of time.
When Ebed-melech heard about what the princes had done to the prophet, he acted without delay. He did not cautiously wait for an opportunity to get a private audience with King Zedekiah. To the Ethiopian eunuch, personal safety was not the prime consideration. An innocent man’s life was in danger, and so Ebed-melech willingly put his own welfare in a secondary position. He approached the monarch publicly in the open area adjoining the gate of Benjamin. This gate was likely in the northern part of the city, the direction from which the greatest pressure would have been coming from the besieging Chaldeans.—Jer. 38:7.
Courageously, the Ethiopian eunuch pleaded for Jeremiah’s life. He did not fear to condemn the action of the princes, even though he knew that the one to whom he was appealing had yielded to their demands. In a few words, Ebed-melech stated the facts: “O my lord the king, these men have done bad in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have thrown into the cistern, so that he will die where he is because of the famine. For there is no bread anymore in the city.”—Jer. 38:9.
Surprisingly, Zedekiah reversed his decision respecting Jeremiah, authorizing Ebed-melech to effect the rescue of the prophet. The king said: “Take in your charge from this place thirty men, and you must get Jeremiah the prophet up out of the cistern before he dies.” (Jer. 38:10) It is not likely that 30 men were needed to pull Jeremiah out of the cistern. But, in view of the intense hatred for the prophet and his message, there was a strong possibility of interference from those who wanted Jeremiah dead. While a few men might be overpowered, 30 men would have been sufficient to cope with any problems that might have arisen in connection with the planned rescue.
Ebed-melech immediately followed through on Zedekiah’s command. The manner in which he did it further testifies to his compassion and concern for the prophet. Since the cistern was deep and Jeremiah had sunk into the mire, considerable force would have been needed to pull him out. Hence, bare ropes could have cut into the prophet’s flesh. Also, it may well have been that when Jeremiah was lowered into the cistern originally, this was done roughly. So, there may have been sores in his armpits. Ebed-melech evidently gave careful consideration to the situation. He got worn-out rags and worn-out pieces of cloth and, by means of ropes, let these down to Jeremiah, to be placed under the prophet’s armpits and over the ropes. Thus, the rags and cloth served to cushion the pressure from the ropes that were used to pull up Jeremiah from the cistern.—Jer. 38:11-13.
Why was Ebed-melech so courageous? Though a foreigner living among a people that brought great reproach upon Jehovah God, he came to trust in the Most High. Yes, trust in Jehovah was the basis for Ebed-melech’s courageously coming to the aid of a hated prophet. For this, the Ethiopian eunuch did not lose his reward. Through Jeremiah, he was given Jehovah’s assurance: “Here I am bringing true my words upon this city for calamity and not for good, and they will certainly happen before you in that day. And I will deliver you in that day, . . . and you will not be given into the hand of the men of whom you yourself are scared. For I shall without fail furnish you an escape, and by the sword you will not fall; and you will certainly come to have your soul as a spoil, because you have trusted in me.” (Jer. 39:16-18) According to these words, Ebed-melech would witness the destruction of Jerusalem that Jeremiah had foretold. Yet, he would not need to fear it. As Ebed-melech had viewed the life of Jeremiah as precious, so Jehovah God would regard Ebed-melech’s life as precious and would preserve him alive.
What a fine example Ebed-melech set for us in not yielding to the fear of men but courageously taking his stand for Jehovah’s prophet! The Most High did not forget Ebed-melech’s righteous deed. Neither will he forget our faithful service, including our coming to the aid of our brothers in time of dire need. The Bible tells us: “God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name, in that you have ministered to the holy ones and continue ministering.” (Heb. 6:10) So, may we strive to be courageous persons as was Ebed-melech.