Subject: “A Servant of the King”
Scripture: Jeremiah 39:11-18
The definition of “trust” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something,” or “dependence on something future or contingent.” When you trust someone, you have tested or examined the person’s character, the person’s integrity, his or her actions, and found the individual worthy of your confidence. You not only test that person’s confidence when all is well because, let’s face it, friends abound when things are going well. Associates gather around us when all is well. Business and social connections abound when our stock prices are going up and the stock market is at an all-time high. Anyone can be faithful when all is well, but it’s in the hard times, the difficulties, that we see the true nature of someone’s character as well as the nature of our own — whether we really believe the things we say and think about.
But, oh, what a blessing when we find that our trust is reciprocated by the person we’ve placed our trust in! When the person comes through and proves to be who they say they are or promise to be, we find comfort in knowing that our trust has not been misplaced. When we work hard to find people that we can trust, we’re sending the message that trust is a fragile thing, that trust matters, that, when we put our trust in someone, we expect a return on that trust. No one gets trust for free.
But, while we find it easy to place our trust in people that we can see, what about a Person that we can’t see? What about placing our trust in God? That’s a position in which we find the subject of Jeremiah chapter 39. The man of the chapter is not Jeremiah, though Jeremiah plays the starring role of prophet, but an Ethiopian eunuch by the name of Ebed-Melech (or, as the Hebrew says it in the original language of the Old Testament, “Eved-Melech”). Eved-Melech or Ebed-Melech was from Ethiopia (yes, he was African, Black) and he was a eunuch, someone who, at the very least, was celibate. We don’t know if Ebed-Melech was castrated, forced into castration in order to become a servant of King Zedekiah, or simply chose not to have children and/or a family. In Jeremiah 38, the chapter before today’s passage, we find Ebed-Melech or Eved-Melech, a servant who lived in the house of King Zedekiah, hearing about the fact that the prophet, Jeremiah, had been thrown into the dungeon because his prophecies were prophecies of gloom and doom. Few people in the world want to hear bad news instead of good news, but the princes over the nation of Israel begged the king to put Jeremiah in prison because he was always the “party-pooper,” always the one with a terrible, depressing message. They never really stopped to think that Jeremiah’s message was gloomy AND true, but rather, that they were too depressing and never full of optimism. What the people wanted was optimism, even though they were in sin and soon to be captured and placed in the hands of their enemies. We like to hear good news, but sometimes bad news, though sad, is the best news because it’s true and in reality. They wanted to hear what they wanted to hear, typical of people in our own day.
Well, Ebed-Melech hears of Jeremiah’s imprisonment of the stocks, according to Jeremiah 38:7 (he wasn’t there when it happened), and goes to Zedekiah the king to request that Jeremiah be rescued. Keep in mind that the king did not defend Jeremiah when the princes request he be thrown into the stocks; rather, the king replies with “look, he is in your hand. For the king can do nothing against you” (Jeremiah 38:5). The dungeon belonged to Malchiah, and there was no water in the dungeon — which meant that, without water, Jeremiah could very well die. Perhaps that was the intent, but Ebed-Melech wanted to do something to rescue the man of God, the prophet. Things had gone so spiritually wrong in Israel that only Ebed-Melech really wanted to do something to help the prophet; no one else in Israel came to his rescue. When God’s people care nothing for the prophet, spiritual destruction is the direction in which the people are headed.
The servant was worried that Jeremiah would have neither bread nor water because there was no more bread, so he goes to Zedekiah the king and requests that he rescue Jeremiah. The king gives him 30 men who help him lift Jeremiah out of the dungeon (or the stocks) and thus, save Jeremiah’s life. Ebed-Melech saves the man of God’s life in an act of compassion.
But I remember reading Jeremiah 38 thinking that Ebed-Melech was a kind, compassionate man, but that was about all. Sure, he rescued Jeremiah from the dungeon, but maybe he just did it because he respected the prophet. Maybe he did it because he respected a valued member of the community — and who could be more valued than the prophet Jeremiah, the representative spokesperson from God who told the people what God had given him directly? Maybe he did it to be kind to Jeremiah because he didn’t think it kind for any man (whether prophet or not) to die in the dungeon without bread and water. Perhaps he was humanitarian in his stance, just helping his fellow man, not really doing it because he believed in Jeremiah’s God.
And yet, the Lord showed me that my path of thinking on this matter wasn’t true. In the following chapter, the passage for today, Jeremiah 39, we see that Judea is overtaken by King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. Jeremiah had told Zedekiah that the Babylonians and Chaldeans would come and overtake the land, that he needed to surrender himself in order to save his life. Jeremiah says it in two places. Jeremiah 38:2-3 says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes over to the Chaldeans shall live; his life shall be as a prize to him, and he shall live. Thus says the Lord: ‘This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army, which shall take it.” In Jeremiah 38:17-18, Jeremiah gave the same word from the Lord, with the words, “Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘If you surely surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then your soul shall live; this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. But if you do not surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans; they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.” Jeremiah has already told the Jews to surrender; now, he tells King Zedekiah to surrender to the invaders to spare his life.
And, just as Jeremiah had spoken, the Babylonians and Chaldeans invade Judah. The Babylonians come to capture the Jews and carry them away, and many go with the conquerors; only the poor remain in their land. But things don’t turn out so well for Zedekiah: the last thing he sees is his sons being killed before his eyes by the king of Babylon, we’re told in Jeremiah 39:6; after the invaders kill his sons, they gouge his eyes out so that he’s blind and can’t see in Jeremiah 39:7, and in verse 8 the Chaldeans, the rebel invaders alongside the Babylonians, burn down the king’s house and the homes of Jews with fire. Even Ebed-Melech’s home was destroyed because, remember, he was a servant of the king and lived in the king’s quarters. Ebed-Melech lost his home that day.
And yet, though the majority of the people were carried off to Babylon, and the noble princes of Judah killed, Jeremiah the prophet’s life was spared because of the goodness of God. In His mercy, God spared His prophet. But God didn’t just spare the prophet; he also spared the life of the king’s servant, Ebed-Melech, for in Jeremiah 39:15-18, our text of emphasis today, the Lord gives Jeremiah a message for this servant of the king while Jeremiah was waiting in the court of the prison (where he remained until the Babylonians and Chaldeans invaded Judah). Here’s what our text for today says:
15 Meanwhile the word of the Lord had come to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the prison, saying, 16 “Go and speak to Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will bring My words upon this city for adversity and not for good, and they shall be performed in that day before you. 17 But I will deliver you in that day,” says the Lord, “and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. 18 For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword; but your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in Me,” says the Lord.’”
While the Lord delivers Jeremiah and he gets to live among the people in Judah safely, and doesn’t get killed or carried off to Babylon, the Lord not only protect Jeremiah — He also protects the king’s servant, Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian eunuch. The Lord tells Jeremiah to go deliver a message to Ebed-Melech. What is the message? Verses 16-18: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel.” These words remind us that the message comes from the Lord, not from Jeremiah, that God wanted Ebed-Melech to know something from him. “Behold, I will bring My words upon this city for adversity and not for good, and they shall be performed in that day before you.” These words in verse 16 tell us that the Lord would bring adversity, trouble, upon the city of Jerusalem because of the sin of the people. As the Lord said, “I will bring My words upon this city,” which means that the words the Lord had already told Jeremiah to tell the people on more than one occasion would now be fulfilled. God is not a God who speaks words that don’t come to pass; if He speaks a word, or delivers a sentence, He has the power to bring it to pass. And in this case, He does. The Lord’s words would happen in the city “before you,” a phrase that tells us that Ebed-Melech, the Ethiopian eunuch, would witness the destruction that the Lord had foretold upon Jerusalem.
And yet, though he would witness the destruction, he would not lose his life. “But I will deliver you in that day,” says the Lord, “and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid.” Though the other Jews would be carried off into destruction and possibly lose their lives, Ebed-Melech’s life would be spared because God would allow him to be spared. The Lord tells Ebed-Melech that he wouldn’t “be given into the hand of the men” that were capturing Jerusalem, that, despite Ebed-Melech’s fear of the captors, the captors would not take him. It’s interesting to note that the noble princes of Judea were killed by the invaders, the sons of King Zedekiah were killed by the invaders, and the king’s eyes were gouged out by the invaders — but a servant of the king, Ebed-Melech, would be spared.
In verse 18, the Lord says “For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword.” To “fall by the sword” means to be killed by the sword, and the Lord tells Ebed-Melech that he would not be killed by the sword, that his life would be spared, that he wouldn’t experience the same fate as other men and women.
Now, the end of verse 18 is something we can’t leave the sermon without pointing out. The end says “‘But your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in Me,’ says the Lord.” The phrase “your life shall be as a prize to you” will ring a bell if you’ve read Jeremiah before. In the previous chapter, Jeremiah 38:2 that we read a little while ago, the Lord told the Jews that “He who goes to the Chaldeans shall live; his life shall be as a prize to him.” Now, we see the Lord tell Jeremiah to tell Ebed-Melech, a servant of King Zedekiah, that his own life would be as a prize to him. Why? “Because you have put your trust in Me.” For one’s life to be as a prize sets up a picture of someone winning something that wasn’t theirs but, by winning it, by taking action, the individual receives something he or she didn’t own. This is what the Lord is telling Ebed-Melech: the Lord says, “My servant Ebed-Melech, because you have put your trust in Me, because you have made me your God, I’m going to let you win your life. Your life didn’t belong to you, it belonged to Me because I’m the God of all the earth and everything that breathes is Mine. And yet, because you’ve trusted in Me, because you’ve made me your God, because you’ve taken that great step and made me Lord of your life, I’m going to let you win your life and keep your life because of it. You’ve chosen me as your God, the keeper of your life, so I will grant you your life in your hands.”
Ebed-Melech “won” his life by placing his life into the hands of Almighty God. Ebed-Melech was “a servant of the king,” but his name, Ebed, Hebrew for “servant,” and “Melech,” Hebrew for “king,” tells us that Ebed-Melech lived up to his name in more ways than one: for, above being a servant of King Zedekiah, he was a servant of the King of Kings, the Almighty God, the Maker and Creator of Heaven and earth, the Sustainer of all that lives, the Keeper of every human life, the One who controls everything. He realized that above his service to the king, Ebed-Melech had a service to the One who made him, the one who was over all, the one who created him, fashioned him, and saw his years when, as David says in Psalm 139, “there were none of them.” He realized that, though he lived in the king’s house, and though he had servants under him, and though he had some measure of power or success, he couldn’t be successful without realizing that he was a servant of the Most High God and that he owed God his life.
He trusted in the Lord, had faith in the Lord, was a God-fearer, and until the Lord gives this message to Jeremiah, we don’t know it. We see a glimpse in how Ebed-Melech cares for Jeremiah, but we now see it fully as the Lord spares the life of the king’s servant.
Scripture tells us that there’s a benefit to trusting in the Lord. Psalms 18:2-3 says that:
“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;
So shall I be saved from my enemies.”
Psalm 18:30 says “As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.” Psalm 32:10 says “Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; But he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him.” Psalm 34:8 says, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” Psalm 34:21-22 says, “21 Evil shall slay the wicked, And those who hate the righteous shall be condemned. 22 The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, And none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.” Psalm 37:39-40 says, “39 But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; He is their strength in the time of trouble. 40 And the Lord shall help them and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the wicked, And save them, Because they trust in Him.” Psalm 115:9-11 says, “9 O Israel, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield. 10 O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield. 11 You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield.” Psalm 125:1 says, “Those who trust in the Lord Are like Mount Zion, Which cannot be moved, but abides forever.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 says that “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 16:20 says “He who heeds the word wisely will find good, And whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he.” Proverbs 28:25 says “25 He who is of a proud heart stirs up strife, But he who trusts in the Lord will be prospered.” And Proverbs 29:25 says, “25 The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.”
Yes, there is great benefit to trusting in the Lord. Ebed-Melech put his trust in the Lord, and the Lord spared his life. Ebed-Melech’s faith in the Lord made all the difference.
Opening Selection: “Thank You Lord” (Don Moen)
“‘Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus” (Don Moen)
Intermediate Selection: “I Trust You Lord” (Donnie McClurkin)
“Trust In You” (Anthony Brown & Group Therapy)
Inspirational Selection: “Trust Me” (Rev. Richard Smallwood)