Now Ebed-melech the Cushite, a court official in the royal palace, heard that Jeremiah had been put into the cistern. While the king was sitting at the Gate of Benjamin,
I. ITS CIRCUMSTANCES. These were such as to impress the mind of the prophet. He was deliberately consigned by the princes of the people to the dungeon, and the king consented, so that there would appear to be no appeal. His heart must have failed him as he felt himself sinking in the mire. In a prison like that he was in imminent danger of being forgotten and starved. Apparently it was intended as an effectual means of "putting out of the way." And all this was due to what? Doing his duty. The very persons whom he sought to benefit either turned against or ignored him. The whole situation was desperate. It appeared as if no human help could save. It is just at such times that faith receives its confirming, ultimate lessons.
II. ITS CHARACTER.
1. In itself. It Was:
(1) Thoughtful. It has been suggested that, as the dungeon was in the palace, "he came to the knowledge of it by hearing Jeremiah's moans." This may or may not have been; but when he knew of the situation of the prophet he was concerned and full of sympathy. It is this spirit which true religion, and especially the gospel of Christ, ever fosters, and the world has need of it.
(2) Prompt. In a question like that of a few hours at the utmost, no delay had to be made if the prisoner was to be saved. As the king was "then sitting in the gate of Benjamin," he went out immediately and sought an audience. And he urged expedition. One of the finest recommendations of help is that it is given when it is needed. The case is taken up as if it were his own. How many philanthropies miss fire because they are kept too long without being carried into effect? Bis dat qui cito dat.
(3) Courageous. He went straight to the king, by whose order he must have known the thing had been done, and spoke with quick, nervous fearlessness and condemnation. There was not only feeling here, but principle. He was evidently careless as to the consequences to himself.
(4) Practical. Ebed-Melech meant that the thing should be done, and so he took the requisite steps to carry it out. Everything is thought Of and applied to the purpose. Even in the "old cast clouts" there is evidence of forethought and careful, if novel, application of means to ends.
2. In its origin. Ebed-Melech was:
(1) An alien.Not a Jew, and one from his office disqualified from participating in the benefits of the covenant. It is the more remarkable that none of Jeremiah's countrymen interposed.
(2) A servant of a vicious king. The establishments of such princes are usually stamped with the same character, and their members are but the creatures of their masters. There is something doubly unlooked for, therefore, in such an advocate and friend. It is like a salutation from one of "Caesar's household."
(3) It is also probable that he was one called out by the occasion. No mention of him is made either before or after.
III. WHAT IT TEACHES.
1. True religion does not depend upon conventional forms. Not that these are therefore without value, but they are not of the essence of religion. It is Divine faith, with its outflowing charities and works, that alone can save man and glorify God. Rahab the harlot and Naaman the Syrian are but instances of many for really outside of the kingdom of God, but really within it. Let each ask, "Am I, who have received so much privilege, really a child of grace?"
2. The kingdom of God is always stronger than it seems. As to Elijah the assurance," Yet I have left me seven, thousand, in Israel," so to Jeremiah is this experience. We are never justified in despairing of human nature if God be in his world.
3. Implicit trust in God as the only Saviour. The raising up of such a deliverer was so unique and unexpected as to call attention to it as a work of God, It was supernatural and special, and spoke of gracious intervention. He would not abandon his servant, nor will he any who put their trust in him. - M.
I. IT IS EASY TO SHOW KINDNESS. Some things are very hard to do. We know for how many years the Government of England, of our own country, and of other nations, have been trying to find the way to the North Pole. How much money has been spent, and how many valuable lives have been test in these attempts! And vet they have never succeeded. Getting to the North Pole is a very hard thing to do. Some things can only be done by those who have plenty of money. But it is very different with the work of showing kindness. There is nothing hard about this. We do not need much money to do it. The poor can show kindness, as well as the rich. Ebed-melech was a poor coloured man — the slave of King Zedekiah; yet he managed to show real kindness to the prophet Jeremiah. He wag the means of saving his life.
Ebed-melech the Ethiopian.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH BROUGHT THE TWO TOGETHER AND CAUSED THE STRANGE CONJUNCTION. The prophet is cast into a dungeon, deep and loathsome. Into the slime of its unfloored depths he sinks, and there he lies. Left to die and rot in the dungeon's mud! No. One man's voice is raised, one man's hand works. But no son of Israel is he; only a slave of the royal household, a heathen from a far-off land, with a black skin but a pure heart.
II. THE DELIVERER. What his own name was we know not, for among the royal servants he was known only as Ebed-melech, "the king's slave." Whether he was of the original Hamitic or of the invading Semitic stock we cannot conjecture, save that, from his position, there is an inherent probability that he was of the former. We are at liberty, then, to conceive of him as a black, torn from his home, either as a boy or youth, to meet the demands of the market at Meroe; and then, in the way of traffic, passed on through Egypt, till at last he passed into the palace of the King of Judah. We can next conceive of him, by the exercise of the qualities of intelligence, fidelity, and prudence, promoted to the important post of superintendent of the royal harem. He would thus come into contact with Jeremiah, who, as "the last of the prophet statesmen of Judah" (as he has been called), had for many years compelled for himself a place in the councils of the nation The simple nature of the Ethiopian, uncorrupted by the vices of palace life, would recognise the moral and spiritual elevation of the prophet, and would yield a homage and a love of which the heartless courtiers Who despised him were incapable. His position brought him into frequent intercourse with the king; perhaps gave him a free access to his presence. None could know better than he his weaknesses and his vices; hut he would also know, as most could not, that in his debased mind were certain possibilities of justice and generosity to which an appeal might be made. Hopeful or hopeless, the brave heathen resolves that appeal there shall he. And after a right honest and straightforward fashion he sets him to his task. Well done, slave! Bravely spoken, Soudanee! Was there another man in all Jerusalem man enough to have done thy work! I trow not. But it is an ill turn thou hast done for thyself! Where is thy prudence, man? Who is this Jeremiah for whom thou art pleading? The lost and almost the last advocate of a lost cause. Who are "these men whom thou art arraigning? The magnates of the realm, in whose hands the king is but a feeble, though it may be a well-meaning puppet. What supports canst thou expect to secure? None, unless it be the secret friendship of a few frightened men, whose favour is nought. What enemies canst thou not fail to make? The princes of Judah, whose frown may be death. But "fear not, thou king's slave! Chariots and horsemen are upon the hills round about thee. There is an unseen Friend whose favour is life; and there is an immortal Church to call thee blessed." The king's better nature is roused by the appeal. Rising for the moment above the unkingly fear of his nobles, he exercises his royal prerogative, and commissions Ebed-melech, to take a sufficient force and release the prophet from the dungeon. Speedily, tenderly, and joyfully it is done. The forethought displayed, the various precautions to secure the exhausted victim from further danger or discomfort, are minutely and gratefully detailed.
III. THOUGHTS WHICH SUCH AN INCIDENT AROUSES IN THE MIND. It would be easy to descant upon the moral lessons which the incident teaches, to make Ebed-melech the peg on which to hang edifying reflections. He might easily be made into a lay figure to do duty for the showing off of such thoughts as these: that God uses instruments selected from among the lowly as well as the lofty; that the faithful discharge of the offices of commonest humanity is noted, approved of, and will finally be owned by the God of providence; that in most unlikely places, among most unlikely classes, God's servants, His because servants of righteousness and humanity, are to be found; that He has His "hidden ones" where the eye of man suspects not; and that the faith that God desires to see in men is that trust in Him and that supreme homage to the claims of charity and truth which will cause them to do right, and leave the issues to work themselves out as they may in subjection to His will. But I do not desire the man to he lost in the meditations. I want us to see men under the influence of motives that may he ours, to enter into the human feeling, to sympathise with the human surrender, and to behold in these that which God loves to behold in His creature-children. Jehovah says, "Thy life shall be for a prey unto thee, because thou hast put thy trust in Me." A thought of comfort, quickening, and strength is here suggested; those who do right, follow charity, work humanely — not because these things will pay, but because they are what they are, leaving consequences to come as come they may — these are trusting God, these are His worshippers, even though they have never learned His name.
(G. M. Grant, B. D.)
II. KINDNESS IS USEFUL. Ebed-melech's kindness was useful to Jeremiah, because it saved his life. He lived for years after this, and was the means of doing a great deal of good to the people of Israel who were living then. Jeremiah has been useful to the Church of God, ever since that day, by the prophecies which he wrote. And a large portion of those prophecies was written after the day in which Ebed-melech saved his life. And this shows us how great the usefulness was of Ebed-melech's kindness. And in learning to show kindness to others, there is no telling how much good we may do.
III. KINDNESS IS PROFITABLE. God sent word to Ebed-melech, by Jeremiah, that when Jerusalem should be taken by the Assyrians, He would put it into their hearts to show kindness to him by sparing his life. And so it came to pass.
(R. Newton, D. D.)
Put nowI. THE EXAMPLE OF EBED-MELECH SHOULD BE FOLLOWED BY THOSE WHO WISH TO SHOW REAL KINDNESS TO THE POOR. When "poverty cometh as an armed man" (Proverbs 6:11), blighting hope, and bringing wretchedness in his train, a heart must be harder than stone, which is not moved with compassion. To show kindness to the needy, at the right time, and in the best way, should be the study of those who would be followers of Jesus. Experience has shown that it is generally far better to put people in the way of getting employment, than to make them feel their dependence by directly relieving their wants.
II. A LESSON FOR THOSE WHO ARE ANXIOUS TO RESCUE PERISHING SINNERS FROM GOING DOWN TO THE PIT. Harsh words are quite out of place, even to the most depraved; and we can hardly claim to be disciples of Him who will not "break the bruised reed," nor "quench the smoking flax" (Isaiah 42:3), if we venture to speak them. It is far better to lower the silken cords of Divine love, and the soft cushions of the promises, and to address words of encouragement to those who are groping in darkness. "He that winneth souls is wise" (Proverbs 11:30). The word "winneth" is the important one. It suggests something besides labour and painstaking. Winning implies gentleness, and a sincere interest in the souls of others. No one will be made better by scolding, or sarcasm; but he who will imitate Ebed-melech, in his thoughtful tenderness, will be successful in his work.
III. THE EXAMPLE OF EBED-MELECH DESERVES TO BE REMEMBERED BY THOSE WHO WOULD BRING OTHERS INTO THE FOLD OF CHRIST'S CHURCH. Very little is ever accomplished for the Master by harsh and uncharitable controversy.
(J. N. Norton, D. D.)
1. In Ebed-melech, therefore, we may behold a type of One who comes forth from the palace of the Great King to loose the captive's chains. Our Saviour stoops down to help us. The cords of His love and compassion lift us up, and restore us to that "service which is perfect liberty."
2. But again, in this narrative there is a very good illustration of the too often forgotten truth that in man's redemption he has his own part to do. If it was Ebed-melech who let down the cords, yet Jeremiah had to fix them under his arms to such a position that he might safely be drawn up. "Work out your own salvation" is the plain direction of the apostle.
3. Again, there seems to be a lesson of instruction in this point — that the rags and castaway fragments of garments were made useful in the way of making easier the deliverance of Jeremiah, things which were worthless in themselves used for a good and excellent purpose. So many things, at which men scoff, saying, "How can they save souls?" are, by God's blessing, made of use.
4. Lastly, let us take Ebed-melech for an example. Can we not strive to rescue some soul! Cannot we, like the thirty servants of the king, aid in letting down the cords, or protect those who are doing so? We may at least lower down the cords of prayer and entreaty.
(W. Hardman, LL. D.)
I. Mark you, HELP ALWAYS COMES FROM ABOVE. Jeremiah found it so. It was useless to try to climb out of the dungeon, it was only to fall deeper into the mire. "Salvation is of the Lord." You cannot save yourself. The effort will only exhaust you. Cry unto the Lord. Say, "O Lord, deliver my soul." He is sure to hear your cry. Ebed-melech is only a very poor picture of Jesus. The Saviour does more than send down a rope. He comes Himself and lifts us up. Although Ebed-melech may be a very poor type of Jesus Christ, he is a very good picture of the style in which one man may help another.
II. HE HAD SYMPATHY. Now, sympathy is the mother of help.
III. EBED-MELECH DID NOT ALLOW DIFFICULTY TO DETER HIM. Some men can work hard so long as there are no difficulties; opposition to them is like a hill on a jibbing horse; they must stop now: they "did not look for this sort of thing, you know." Just so, the eunuch found it was not easy — it never is — to undo wrong. "A stout heart to a stiff brae," is common sense as well as right. If you mean to help others, you will have to pull hard against the stream.
IV. EBED-MELECH TEACHES US TO SPARE THE FEELINGS OF THOSE WE HELP. He lowered down the old rags and clouts he had gathered, and bade the prophet put them under his armpits, so as not to have them cut by the ropes. The rope of deliverance should not cut the flesh of those we save. This is not always thought of. We may wound men in helping them, and they may like the remedy less than the disease. We should think of the feelings, as well as the wants of those we help. Shall we not imitate Him of whom it is said, "He will not break the bruised reed"? When we take the rope, let us not forget the old rags as well.
V. Among the practical lessons of this story, there is the great truth that ONE MAN MAY SET OTHERS GOING. Ebed-melech went to the king for help, and he gave him thirty helpers. In the thirteenth verse, we read, "So they drew up Jeremiah." How many times this happen! Robert Raikes had no idea how many wheels his would set in motion. Muller of Bristol has many imitators, and thousands of orphans are fed and clothed that he will never know of. If you will only begin, others will follow you. Do not wait for others to start with you; be content to go alone. It was David Livingstone that set Stanley and Cameron to work, and the end of that lonely traveller's work will be seen when "a highway shall be there, and the ransomed of the Lord shall return with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads, and sorrow and sighing shall nee away"; but if Livingstone had waited for others, he would have died, in comfort, it may be, but could not have had a grave in Westminster Abbey, nor have set in motion the plans which are sure to issue in Africa's deliverance.
VI. Let, us learn THE VALUE OF DESPISED AND CAST-OFF THINGS. The prudent chamberlain had seen "under the treasury the old cast clouts, and old rotten rags." No one else saw any value in them, but he put them to a good use. What a number of things are cast aside, like these old rags! Do you see yonder woman in such dismay? She has been upstairs looking at some old dresses, and finds that the moth has been there before her, and they are useless. Would it not have been better to have given them to her poor relations, or to that widow who has such difficulty to find clothes for her little ones? Have you not old magazines that would gladden the heart of some of those intelligent paupers who never get any lively reading, or save from ennui some convalescent in the hospital? Look and see what you have "under the treasury."
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