An Unsung Hero
As a culture we love our super heroes. Batman, Superman, Ironman, Flash, Captain American, and countless others frequent our television lineup and movie theatres. These characters stand larger than life. They give us an escape from all of the bad news and hope that good will triumph over evil. The Bible is also filled with super heroes. People like Abraham, Moses, David, Esther, Mary, and Paul inspire us, yet we admire from a distance. They stand larger than life before us as we read the pages of God’s word. We struggle to relate because we often see in them an unattainable level of spirituality and faith. The scriptures are also filled with many unsung heroes. Their names are often forgotten as the stories are told. Even as we read the text we barely notice their presence. Why? They stand in the shadows of giants. They are ordinary people. They do not live in the spotlight. However, without their acts of service, the Bible narrative would often come to a screeching halt. Ebed Melech was such a hero.
The story of Ebed Melech begins in Jerusalem just prior to the Babylonian captivity. If his name is unfamiliar it because he lived in the shadows of a spiritual giant… Jeremiah. Times were tough. Babylon had already been attacking Jerusalem and during a lull Jeremiah prophesied they would return, but this time Jerusalem would be destroyed. Jeremiah’s message was rejected. He was arrested, charged with being a traitor, and beaten. After being released for a time, Jeremiah did not change His message. This time, the leaders of the city convince king Zedekiah to hand Jeremiah over to them. Next, “they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king's son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud” (Jeremiah 38:6). Jeremiah needed a hero.
Through it all Ebed Melech was lurking in the shadows. As just a servant and a eunuch, he did not hold a position of power or prestige. However, he went before the king and requested permission to help Jeremiah. The king gave him permission and thirty soldiers to protect them while he rescued God’s prophet. Jeremiah 38:11-13 says, “So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went to the house of the king, to a wardrobe in the storehouse, and took from there old rags and worn-out clothes, which he let down to Jeremiah in the cistern by ropes. Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Put the rags and clothes between your armpits and the ropes.” Jeremiah did so. Then they drew Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard.” Ebed Melech was a common man with an uncommon heart. While his name goes virtually unknown today, his act of service made him one of the great heroes of God’s word!
As Ebed Melech saved the day he exhibited four uncommon characteristics:
He was bold and courageous in the face of evil. His appreciation of Jeremiah would not be kept a secret anymore. The same men who hated Jeremiah would now label him a traitor as well. If the king did not approve of his request, Ebed Melech could have been executed.
He cared about others despite his own struggles. He was a servant and a Eunuch. Like Jeremiah, Babylon would not have likely been his home. He had been forced to life his life, he was not there by his own choice. He was not so consumed by his own trials that he could not see and feel Jeremiah’s plight.
His concern led him to action. It would have been easy for him to have compassion but feel helpless, yet he was not helpless. He did not care from a distance. He did not wait around for someone else to come save the day. He took the problem personally and did what he could to solve it.
He was compassionate in his service. He wanted Jeremiah out of that pit quickly, but he knew he needed to act carefully. Jeremiah’s enemies did not lower him into the pit gently and as a result his arm pits would have been torn up. Ebed Melech knew this, so he gathered some rags for Jeremiah to put under his arms for protection as he raised him out. He was a thoughtful man.
Not all heroes wear capes. Like Ebed Melech, many unsung heroes are going about faithfully serving God and others in the shadows of giants. They are people who are willing to do hard things. It takes courage to assume the risk and make yourself vulnerable as a servant. They are people who care enough to get involved. It is easier to wait for others to step up and serve, but servants love enough to act. They are people who get involved with love. Being a servant means listening, observing, and acting with care, seeing the real need and how best to respond.
While Ebed Melech is often forgotten by men, he was not forgotten by the Lord. We learn later that all his actions were driven by his trust in God. God saw and rewarded his service and faith (Jeremiah 39:15-18). Today, God’s servants have the same assurance. The Hebrew writer reminds us that “God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:10-12). May we learn to look in the shadows and honor the heroes that are faithfully serving there.