Do the right thing

Bible Study Notes | February 17, 2021

In the wake of unnerving police brutality, the world is rightfully taking a good long look in the mirror when it comes to race. One of my most important mirrors is the Bible.

There are many biblical voices that get plenty of amplification (Abraham, Moses, and David), so it’s important to turn the spotlight on a few of the unsung black heroes of the Bible.

Jeremiah, a prophet of God to his people, was charged with delivering some very unpopular news: the king of Babylon was coming, and he would conquer Jerusalem.

For hundreds of years, God’s people had been super flaky with him. They’d worship Him and be devoted one minute and then be running off to worship and serve the false gods of their neighbors the next. God was fed up, and a conquering enemy king would be their punishment.

As is often the case with those who deliver bad news, Jeremiah wasn’t very popular, especially with the king. Finally, having more than they can take, a few advisors of the king convince him that Jeremiah needs to be put to death. The king says, in effect, do whatever you want.

These royal advisors take Jeremiah and drop him down a well. There’s no water in the deep hole, but there is plenty of mud. And to make sure starvation kills him instead of the fall, they lower him into this hole by rope. Jeremiah is left there, deep in the mud, with no food, water, or room to move.

Enter Ebed-Melech. The Bible says he was a Cushite servant of the King of Judah. Where is Cush? Many scholars associate it with the kingdom of ancient Ethiopia. Meaning? Ebed-Melech was a person of color. (In an earlier prophecy, Jeremiah rhetorically asks if a Cushite can change his skin color, inferring Cushites had dark skin. In Jeremiah 13:23).

Ebed-Melech, seeing this injustice, doesn’t just sit on it. He goes to the king. Yep, the same one who gave the OK to throw Jeremiah in a hole, and petitions for the prophet’s life. Ebed-Melech isn’t a friend of the king. He’s no crony or yes-man. He’s a court official in service of the monarch, willing to risk his reputation (and probably his life) in asking the king to reverse his decision. A pretty passive guy, the king says, “do whatever you want,” and Ebed-Melech finds thirty men to help him rescue Jeremiah.

Led by Ebed-Melech, the prophet is pulled from the mud and certain death. God is pleased with Ebed-Melech’s efforts, announcing through Jeremiah that, though Jerusalem will fall, “I will rescue you on that day, and you will not be handed over to the men you fear.”

The bottom line I’m learning from Ebed-Melech? I’m responsible for justice. When it comes to racism, white believers too often place the mantle of justice on the government, on elected officials, on the court system or someone of higher authority. Ebed-Melech risked life and limb to right a wrong. It’s time for us to do the same.