Ebed- Melech (A Bible Hero You Might Not Know)
In the pages of the Old Testament we encounter numerous heroes. The stories of some are given a great deal of coverage. For instance, Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, and Esther are heroes that the average Bible reader is familiar. But there are other men and women who did heroic and significant things that remain unknown to many. It is one of these little-known heroes that I want to call to your attention. His name is Ebed-Melech.
We find him in the book of Jeremiah. His name means “Servant of the King” and that is exactly what he is. He is a servant of King Zedekiah of Judah. He is an Ethiopian eunuch living in the time of the siege of Jerusalem. He serves a king that is corrupt and a “double dealer.”
In 597 BC Zedekiah had been installed as king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon at the age of twenty-one. He was to be a “puppet” king under the rule of the Babylonians to which the kingdom of Judah was to pay tribute. He decided to revolt, against the counsel of Jeremiah, and make an alliance with the Egyptians. This naturally “ticked off” Nebuchadnezzar and he responded with military force laying siege to the capital city of Jerusalem. The siege began in December of 589 BC and lasted thirty months. During that time the famine was so severe that Jeremiah recorded that “happier are the victims of the sword than the victims of hunger, who wasted away, pierced by the lack of the fruits of the field” (Lamentations 4:8).
During this siege, Jeremiah the prophet is not a popular character. He angers the city officials by declaring that the word of the LORD is that the city will fall to the Babylonians (Jeremiah 38:2-3). Their response is to throw Jeremiah into an empty cistern where he would die of lack of food and water (38:4-6). Zedekiah is either powerless to prevent this, or complicit in the action of the officials (the text is unclear as to this matter).
This is where Ebed-Melech enters the story. He hears about what has happened to Jeremiah and he takes action. He goes to King Zedekiah and says: “These men have done evil” (38:9). [Now this is where we have a variation between the Hebrew Masoretic text and the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint says: “You have done evil”.] Zedekiah response is to tell Ebed-Melech to take thirty men with him and go rescue the prophet (38:10).
Ebed-Melech goes to the storehouse of the king and takes worn-out clothes and rags to fashion a rope to lower to Jeremiah in the cistern and thus delivers him from the “jaws of death” (38:11-13). He is the hero who intervened on behalf of God’s prophet saving his life. This “black skinned, neutered man” boldly acted, in peril of his own life by confronting the king, and rescued Jeremiah.
But the story does not end there for Ebed-Melech, he is rewarded by the LORD for his action.
“The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the guard: ‘Go, and say to Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will fulfill my words against this city for harm and not for good, and they shall be accomplished before you on that day. But I will deliver you on that day, declares the Lord, and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the Lord.’” (Jeremiah 39:15-18).
Now you know the story of this little known hero.