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August 28, 2018

Only Jesus... poster at Parkview Baptist Church, Tulsa OK
This powerful poster was in a Sunday School classroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"Ebed-Melech, A Kind Ethiopian"

Message summary: Is there someone you know that needs an act of kindness, someone stuck at the bottom of a muddy, stinky cistern?

ListenListen to our message on your audio player.

"Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, saying, 'Take thirty men from here under your authority and bring up Jeremiah the prophet from the cistern before he dies.' So Ebed-melech took the men under his authority and went into the king’s palace to a place beneath the storeroom and took from there worn-out clothes and worn-out rags and let them down by ropes into the cistern to Jeremiah. Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, 'Now put these worn-out clothes and rags under your armpits under the ropes'; and Jeremiah did so.  So they pulled Jeremiah up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern, and Jeremiah stayed in the court of the guardhouse" (Jeremiah 38:10-13).

Ethiopian pastorSunday afternoon we attended an "Old-fashioned Revival Hour" concert that featured several choirs who joined together at Calvary Church. As we parked the car I noticed another family also parking nearby and I introduced myself to the driver who was an Ethiopian man. As we walked through the parking lot he told me he was a pastor and was going in to lead his Ethiopian congregation in worship which meets every Sunday afternoon in the church building.

I do not recall ever meeting anyone from Ethiopia and in my mind thought of asking him, "Are you an Ethiopian eunuch?" but thankfully I thought that through before saying it!

Indeed the most familiar Ethiopian in the Bible is the Ethiopian eunuch, whose story is found in Acts 8. He was "a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure" (Acts 8:27). But the record of Ethiopians interacting with people in the Bible lands goes all the way back to Solomon when the Queen of Sheba made her visit. The Ethiopians are also known as Cushites depending on Bible translation. Of course today we associate Ethiopians with black skin which seems to be the sense of a verse in Jeremiah 13:23 which states, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin?"

Today let us consider an obscure, perhaps easily overlooked, detail in a story about an Ethiopian that reminds us of the blessing of small acts of kindness. His name is Ebed-melech.

The background: King Zedekiah was certainly not favorably disposed to the prophet Jeremiah, viewing him as a pest with his discouraging, negative prophetical pronouncements though Jeremiah was merely proclaiming the truth. Jeremiah summed up the king's attitude this way, "If I tell you the truth, you will kill me. And if I give you advice, you won’t listen to me anyway" (Jeremiah 38:15).

At one point Zedekiah had Jeremiah brought to the palace where he asked him privately, "Is there any word from the LORD?" I suppose Zedekiah was expecting a favorable word. "Yes," Jeremiah replied, "you will be handed over to the king of Babylon" (Jeremiah 37:17). Now that's a bold, truthful prophet, the kind of preachers we need today speaking truth even when we don't want to hear it!

The officials viewed the prophecies of Jeremiah to be demoralizing to the remaining soldiers who fought in this war. In retribution, and with the king's consent, wicked men lowered Jeremiah down into an empty cistern to torment him. It wasn't his first time to be held captive as Jeremiah had been whipped, imprisoned, put in stocks and ridiculed (Jeremiah 20).

In each of these instances he was finally released but here he is once again held in seclusion which would render his prophecies silenced and seemingly powerless. It would also lead to his eventual death as they withheld food from him while he sunk deep into the mud-filled cistern. Talk about claustrophobia! But one thing the evil captors could not do was keep Jeremiah from praying to God for release from his miserable captivity.

The kindness lesson: God had not forgotten nor forsaken Jeremiah. He began to nudge Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian to intercede for Jeremiah. It couldn't have been easy, probably causing Ebed-Melech to lose some sleep over the matter. He's one of those obscure Bible characters whose brief story in Scripture is so easy to pass over as we read the narrative portions of God's Word. Ebed-Melech means "servant of the king". He was an Ethiopian, which means he came from the region of present-day Ethiopia and was likely a black man.

Risking his life he approached the king and appealed for Jeremiah's rescue. The two-faced king granted permission and also sent thirty unnamed men to assist Ebed-Melech in lifting Jeremiah out of the cistern. (I certainly wonder why they needed 30 men!)

A small detail in the rescue itself is the source of today's encouraging challenge. Note the kindness and consideration of Ebed-Melech in taking along worn-out clothes and worn-out rags to pad the rope. Anyone who has ever held onto rope or been lifted with a rope knows how it can burn and cut deep into the skin if not padded.  We aren't told how long Jeremiah remained in the cistern but being deprived of sunshine and food his skin was likely even more sensitive to rope burn. What an extra measure of kindness and consideration at such a time as this!

Later after Jerusalem fell captive to the Babylonians Ebed-Melech received a very encouraging word of hope through Jeremiah's prophecy (39:15-18).

Ebed-Melech's act of kindness, similar to the woman who poured ointment on Jesus' head is forever memorialized in the pages of sacred Scripture. "Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her" ((Matthew 26:13). That is not the case with millions of acts of kindness that take place every day all over the world but God sees them and we who have been recipients often remember them. They matter to God.

Is there someone you know that needs an act of kindness, someone stuck at the bottom of a muddy, stinky cistern? Ask God how you can be part of His loving rescue plan for this discouraged soul. Be kind and be sure to take along some "padding" to make the rescue less painful.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily prayer: Father, we are so grateful for the rope holders who've helped pull us out of despairing situations. Those who have given us an uplifting message, interceded in prayer on our behalf, given of their time and expertise to help us in our dilemma. We too want to be a rope holder and offer a word of encouragement, be a listening ear, and extend tender compassion and mercy to one in need. Help us to be Your hand extended to those in need we pray.  Amen.

For further study: Who were the Cushites?

The Jewish people have been dispersed through the millenniums and have lived in colonies throughout the world. The Ethiopian Jewish colony goes all the way back to the message that the Queen of Sheba took back to Ethiopia at the time of Solomon at about 1000 BC.

This colony survived to our own day and in 1991 Operation Solomon transported 14,325 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 36 hours.

"The operation was kept secret by military censorship. In order to accommodate as many people as possible, airplanes were stripped of their seats. Many of the immigrants came with nothing except their clothes and cooking instruments, and were met by ambulances, with 140 frail passengers receiving medical care on the tarmac. Several pregnant women gave birth on the plane, and they and their babies were rushed to the hospital.

Upon arrival, the passengers cheered and rejoiced. Twenty-nine-year-old Mukat Abag said, "We didn't bring any of our clothes, we didn't bring any of our things, but we are very glad to be here."

The operation set a world record for single-flight passenger load on May 24, 1991, when an El Al 747 carried 1,122 passengers to Israel (1,087 passengers were registered, but dozens of children hid in their mothers' robes). Planners expected to fill the aircraft with 760 passengers. Because the passengers were so light, many more were squeezed in."

Personal note: This morning I (Stephen) finally have an appointment regarding a shortness of breath issue I had last month that prevented our planned trip to Colorado. For the last several years my allergies/asthma/? I have dealt with for many years has gotten worse. We are prayerful and hopeful for a diagnosis and that some help may be available.

Old-fashioned Revival Hour Rally, Lancaster, PA 8/26/18
There was a lot of interest in the Old-Fashioned Revival Hour Rally recreation on Sunday afternoon with a large crowd of mostly older folks in attendance. That's understandable since the radio show featuring Charles Fuller ran between 1937 and 1968 so most were relatively young when it was an active program and likely had a formative role in their spiritual development.

Old-fashioned Revival Hour Rally, Lancaster, PA 8/26/18
Brooksyne sang in the choir but it would take a magnifying glass to find her standing on the right side with the sopranos. Click on photo for larger view.

Joanne Warwick 8/26/18
Joanne Warrick had an interesting role playing the part of Charles Fuller's wife who always read letters from listeners. I took her photo after she had removed her vintage hat that added authenticity to her role as "Honey" which her husband always called her on air. She read a letter from an 11 year old whose mother had passed away only months earlier. She had been so encouraged by the ministry of the Old Fashioned Revival Hour she sent her allowance of 10 cents, all she could afford. Brooksyne told me that she cried when Joanne read it during practice on Wednesday and cried again when she read it during the concert, even though the 11 year old would now likely be our age or much older. You can read about Joanne's way of blessing others with her border collies which is how we first came to know her. She dances with her dogs. Her beloved border collies Miija and Jesi can do everything from the ballet to a waltz. They dance backward, weave in and out of Warrick’s legs and can even act out the words of a song plus many other tricks. See article in our local newspaper.

Don and Carol Musser
I served as a greeter giving me an opportunity to see many people I have met through the years. Don and Carol Musser are long-time friends. I first met Don when he was a sales trainer for Engle Publishing.

One guest I didn't see was John Glick, an Amish friend who had read about the program in last week's daily encouragement and came to the rally but didn't see me. He called Sunday evening and told me he had looked for me thinking I was one of the "bouncers" (confusing a greeter for a bouncer!) Maybe I can start using "bouncer" on my resume to enhance my testimony!

That brings back a pleasant memory of Tom Hanley, who was a burly converted bouncer who attended the church we served in New England. He worked at one time for the bars in Boston, before he came to faith in Christ. He has the knife scars to prove it. He now works in prison ministry. He and another friend, Rick Masciantonio, sent me a photo last year reminding me of a two word phrase I have long used to encourage others.
The concert we attended with Guy Penrod Sunday evening was outside in a park in Lebanon, PA. We are sitting on the front row which was great for view but way too loud in front of the speakers! We've done this numerous times since we like to sit close to the platform at concerts and church, but the speaker was just a bit too loud this time.

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"Show A Little Bit of Love and Kindness"  Video  The Collingsworth Family

"Farther Along"  Video  Old Fashioned Revival Hour Quartet

Finally today:

Some ads are just plain funny! "The Louisiana Purchase Is Complete" Video (30 seconds)

Another humorous post from the Babylon Bee: Study: Couples Who Occasionally Glance Up From Electronic Devices To Acknowledge Each Other’s Presence Are Happiest

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.

Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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