It was c. 588 BC. The dread of invasion was in the air. Troops were massing outside the city. Food was becoming increasingly scarce. People scurried through the streets estimating their best chance of surviving the coming bloodbath. Groups of individuals could be seen at the street corners discussing the latest news.
“I hear the Babylonians are as cruel as the Assyrians,” one said, “They will rape our women and dash our children against the wall.”
“But where are the Egyptians our allies? The king promised they would return to help us!” said another.
“Keep your voice down, there are spies everywhere. I am taking my family and fleeing to Egypt. It is our only hope of survival.”
Smoke from altars to various gods rose up from the temple of Solomon already stripped of its grandeur from a previous invasion. Many homes had their own idols as the worship of Yahweh declined.
One lone figure hurried through the anxiety laden streets on a mercy mission. A black court official Ebed Melech headed for the Benjamin gate where he knew the king was settling disputes. Word reached him earlier that a group of leaders had gone to the king demanding punishment for the prophet Jeremiah. He had been fearless in his message to the king and the people of Jerusalem that the best course of action was to surrender to Babylon, this was God’s punishment on the nation for the wholesale rejection of his word. To a people steeped in idol worship his words fell on deaf ears.
The king, a weak and vacillating leader, intimidated by his officials gave them permission to do whatever they wanted with the prophet. With a shudder Ebed Melech recalled the news he heard that the men had dropped Jeremiah into a cistern. This repulsive act was designed to inflict maximum torture on God’s messenger.. Many of the cisterns were without water leaving thick layers of mud behind. With nowhere to sit, or rest, it was the closest thing to being buried alive. The prophet would sink into the mud, and without food the cistern would become his tomb.
Ebed Melech quickened his steps knowing he did not have much time. As a true worshiper of Yahweh, he listened to the prophets’ messages and took them to heart. It saddened him that Judah abandoned the worship of the true God to revere idols they made with their own hands. As an alien in this country, he found peace and strength in the God Jeremiah preached and he committed himself to be faithful to him despite the danger from his fellow leaders in the palace whose only concern was wealth and power. Despite the obvious danger from the invading Babylonians, they refused to surrender and spare the population the destruction that would follow. They pinned their hopes on the Egyptians to come to their aid and leave them in power. Ebed Melech trusted in Yahweh and performed his duties as best he could. He reflected on how far one could fall once they turned away from the worship of the true God. Now, the entire nation was in peril.
Reaching the Benjamin gate, he hurried to the King and pleaded for Jeremiah’s life. Zedekiah recognized that Jeremiah was God’s messenger but was fearful of the backlash from his corrupt and depraved, megalomaniac officials if he attempted to follow the prophetic instruction. Still, he gave Ebed Melech permission to take thirty men for protection and free the prophet from his underground dungeon of mud. Working quickly, he gathered the men and the rope he would need to complete the job. He wrapped the rope in old clothing to save the prophet from rope burn and instructed him to place the loop under his arms. Soon the prophet lay panting on the ground of the courtyard. No doubt, Ebed Melech gave thanks he was in time to the seer’slife.
Later God sent Jeremiah with a message to Ebed Melech:
“Go and say to Ebed-melech the Cushite, saying, ‘Thus says Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel: “Look, I am about to bring my words to pass against this city for evil and not for good. And they will be before you on that day. But I will rescue you on that day,” declares Yahweh, “and you will not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are frightened. For surely I will save you, and you will not fall by the sword. But your life will be for you as booty because you have trusted in me,” declares Yahweh.’ ”