The dynamic faith of two Ethiopians

Scripture reading: 2 Kings 24:17 - 25:11

In the Scriptures we read about two Ethiopians who had great faith.

The English word ‘Ethiopian’ comes from an ancient Greek designation meaning ‘people with a dark complexion’. It referred to residents of the land of Cush. Cush was a son of Ham (Genesis 10:6-8). The country of Cush, or the Biblical Ethiopia, was south of Egypt in the area of modern Nubia, Sudan and the northern part of Ethiopia. Ethiopians were black (Jeremiah 13:23).

We notice no prejudice in the Bible on the basis of skin color. Moses had an Ethiopian wife (Numbers 12:1). The stunning Shulammite shepherdess whose beauty Solomon praises in the Song of Songs was dark: “I am dark, but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, Like the tents of Kedar, Like the curtains of Solomon” (Song of Solomon 1:5).

The Hebrew word translated here as ‘dark’ means ‘black’. It is used to describe hair ‘black as a raven’ (Song of Solomon 5:11) and ‘black horses’ (Zechariah 6:2). The “tents of Kedar1” were made of black goat’s hair.

The Bible mentions two Ethiopians who had a dynamic faith worthy of emulation.

A faithful servant of the King.

The name Ebed-Melech means ‘servant of the king’. Ebed- Melech was a servant of Zedekiah, king of Judah. But more important: Ebed-Melech was a servant of the King of heaven and earth.

Ebed-Melech saved the life of Jeremiah the prophet, when King Zedekiah would have allowed him to die.

In 587 BC, Jerusalem had been under siege by Nebuchadnezzar II for two years.

Although Zedekiah had sworn an oath of allegiance to the Babylonians when they appointed him as king, he had broken his vow and rebelled against them. “Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did evil in the sight of the LORD his God, and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the LORD. And he also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear an oath by God; but he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the LORD God of Israel. Moreover all the leaders of the priests and the people transgressed more and more, according to all the abominations of the nations, and defiled the house of the LORD which He had consecrated in Jerusalem. And the LORD God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:11-16). [Also see 2 Kings 24:17, 20.] God condemned Zedekiah for breaking his oath (Ezekiel 17:15, 16). The Babylonians returned to reconquer the city.

The people of Judah had “forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God, and worshiped other gods” (Jeremiah 22:9). During 40 years2 Jeremiah had warned them to repent but they did not listen (Jeremiah 1:1-3; 25:3). God’s patience was at an end. His message through Jeremiah was that Jerusalem would be destroyed but that the people could save their lives by surrendering to the Babylonians.

Because of this, Jeremiah was viewed as a traitor by some.

Four leading men in Jerusalem “heard the words that Jeremiah had spoken to all the people, saying, ‘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.”’

“Therefore the princes said to the king, ‘Please, let this man be put to death, for thus he weakens the hands of the men of war who remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man does not seek the welfare of this people, but their harm.’

“Then Zedekiah the king said, ‘Look, he is in your hand. For the king can do nothing against you.’ So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the king’s son, which was in the court of the prison, and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire. So Jeremiah sank in the mire.

“Now Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs, who was in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon. When the king was sitting at the Gate of Benjamin, Ebed-Melech went out of the king’s house and spoke to the king, saying: ‘My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon, and he is likely to die from hunger in the place where he is. For there is no more bread in the city.’

“Then the king commanded Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, saying, ‘Take from here thirty men with you, and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon before he dies.’

“So Ebed-Melech took the men with him and went into the house of the king under the treasury, and took from there old clothes and old rags, and let them down by ropes into the dungeon to Jeremiah.

“Then Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, ‘Please put these old clothes and rags under your armpits, under the ropes.’ And Jeremiah did so. So they pulled Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the dungeon” (Jeremiah 38:1-13).

“Now Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken. And he was there when Jerusalem was taken” (Jeremiah 38:28).

“Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying, ‘Take him and look after him, and do him no harm; but do to him just as he says to you’” (Jeremiah 39:11, 12).

“Meanwhile the word of the LORD had come to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the prison, saying, ‘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. 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. 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” (Jeremiah 39:15-18).

What can we learn from the faith of Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian?

When he heard that Jeremiah was in the dungeon, he immediately attempted to help him. There was danger involved because he could be accused of helping a traitor. Yet he went to the king and told him that the men who had put Jeremiah in the dungeon had done something evil. Ebed-Melech recognized Jeremiah as a prophet and did not want him to die! The king granted his request.

Let us follow the example of Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian. Let us have the courage to do what is right even if others are doing what is wrong. From this we also learn that God rewards those who put their trust in Him.

An Ethiopian obeys the gospel.

Next we go to the first century AD. The church has been established. The gospel is being preached. Philip the evangelist is sent to a lonely road.

“Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, ‘Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake this chariot.’ So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: ‘He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.’ So the eunuch answered Philip and said, ‘I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’ Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:26-39).

We do not know the name of this Ethiopian. He was the treasurer of the queen of Ethiopia. More important however: he was a man of faith who put his faith into practice.

He was willing to expend great effort to worship God! By chariot he had travelled 1800 km to Jerusalem to worship! Along the way he would have encountered bad weather and hardships. He would have been in danger from thieves. The round trip was 3600 km!

How much effort are we willing to expend to worship God? God’s people no longer must go to Jerusalem, only to a local assembly on the Lord’s day.

Sunday is not our day on which we do what we want, it is the Lord’s day on which we come together to praise and thank God.

The Ethiopian was reading the Scriptures while joggling along in a chariot! There would have been a cushion on his seat, but chariots had no springs. He really wanted to know the word of God! What do we learn from this? We can find occasion to read the Scriptures if we love God and really want to learn His will.

When the Ethiopian heard the gospel, he obeyed immediately! When he saw water, he asked to be baptized! Some hesitate to become a Christian. Not this man. He was baptized and went on his way rejoicing.

From these two examples of dedication, we can learn much. Let us do what is right even if others are doing what is wrong. Let us exert the required effort to worship God and learn His will. Let us have a living faith like Ebed-Melech and the treasurer of Candace! Amen.
Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive


1 Of the Qedarites -

2 Jeremiah prophesied 18 years under Josiah, 11 years under Jehoiakim and 11 years under Zedekiah.