References: Jeremiah 38:1-13; 39:15-18.
Heart of the Story: Ebed-Melech saved Jeremiah’s life while risking his own. Publically, he confronted King Zedekiah and his henchmen for dumping Jeremiah into a muddy cistern to die.
Story Line: was an Ethyopian (Cushite) eunuch who served in King Zedekiah’s household. He was one of a handful of men who were friends of Jeremiah in the final days before the fall of Jerusalem. The first time the Bible identifies Ebed Melech, Jeremiah is in a dungeon or cistern in the guard’s courtyard. Jeremiah was put there because powerful courtiers accused him of treason. Jeremiah’s treason consisted of relaying God’s words that Jerusalem would be given into the hands of the Babylonians. Inhabitants who remained in the city would die by sword, famine, and pestilence. In contrast, inhabitants who left Jerusalem and surrendered to the Babylonians would live.
A cistern is a collection chamber that gathers surface water. In ancient Jerusalem most cisterns were dug in the ground. They were bell-shaped like a 1960s-era glass milk bottle; the top narrowed so water wouldn’t evaporate. Very little light filtered through the narrow opening at the cistern top. In wealthy homes the sides of cisterns were coated with plaster; however, generally the sides were plain mud. In the guard courtyard, the cistern was empty of water. Jeremiah sat and slept in the mud.
Ebed-Melech went to the Benjamin Gate where King Zedekeh held court. In front of the court, Ebed-Melech told King Zedekiah that Jeremiah’s accusers were evil men; the put Jeremiah in a cistern pit were he would likely die of starvation. At the king’s direction, Ebed-Melech took 30 men with him probably to ensure no one blocked Jeremiah’s rescue.
After Ebed-Melech pulled Jeremiah from the muddy cistern, Jeremiah remained in the courtyard of the guard until Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. He was given bread to eat as long as the bread supply lasted in Jerusalem. During this time, Jeremiah was allowed visitors. While confined, God gave Jeremiah a message for Ebed-Melech: Although the disaster that Ebed-Melech feared would fall on Jerusalem, Ebed-Meleck need not fear. Because Ebed-Melech trusted God, he wouldn’t be killed nor given into the hands of the Babylonians.
Analysis of friendship: Ebed-Melech means “servant of the king.” Probably he was a slave in the king household. Like many other eunuch in Bible times, he had substantial duties in the Israelite royal court. It took great courage for Ebed-Melech to go where King Zedekiah held court and accuse Jeremiah’s persecutors of acting wickedly. Ebed-Melech was a servant while the four men who put Jeremiah in the cistern were senior officials, possibly even princes, in the king’s court. Originally King Zedekiah gave them permission to confine Jeremiah in the empty cistern.
Before Ebed-Melech removed Jeremiah from the cistern, he obtained old rags and worn out clothes. He lowered the rags and clothes into the cistern and told Jeremiah to wrap them around his arms and to pad the ropes used to lift Jeremiah. Not only was Ebed-Melech concerned about getting Jeremiah out of the cistern, he was careful not to hurt Jeremiah as he was pulled upward. The Bible doesn’t identify how long Jeremiah was in the dark, muddy cistern nor if he was fed during this confinement. Possibly, lack of food, water and vitamin D in sunshine caused him to have little flesh on his body and his bones to be brittle.
Ebed-Melek believed Jeremiah’s prophecy that Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians and many it its people would be murdered. As a palace servant, he could be killed outright or taken captive in chains to Babylon. In his position, most individuals would be concerned with living comfortably while they could. Many wouldn’t have jeopardized their standing with the king or made enemies of senior officials by championing Jeremiah, a prophet despised by most of the royal court.
Conclusion : Ebed-Melech was one of the few friends and supporters of Jeremiah. An alien and slave in Jerusalem, he believed Jeremiah’s prophecies. He aided Jeremiah even though the Israelite rulers and priests rejected Jeremiah and his message. The result was that God saved Ebed-Melech from harm when the Babylonians over-ran Jerusalem and killed or captured the Jerusalem elite who rejected His word.