By Brian Jennings
A friend of ours is experiencing a family meltdown. It’s sad to watch. We feel frozen, unsure of what to do. We’ve encouraged her to seek professional help (her family is unwilling), but things have only eroded. Any other advice?
“So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud” (Jeremiah 38:6).
Jeremiah, “The Weeping Prophet,” went from one predicament to another. This may have been the worst. I can’t imagine being stuck in mud at the bottom of a nasty cistern. The psalmist asked God to deliver him from the pit, the slime, the mud, the miry clay. Jeremiah must have been wailing that dirge, wishing that the application wasn’t so literal.
God sent help in the form of a Cushite (probably Ethiopian) servant named Ebed-Melek, who trusted in the Lord.
A Courageous Rescue
Ebed-Melek had the guts to approach King Zedekiah (who’d authorized Jeremiah’s torture), and to rebuke the men who’d sunk Jeremiah in the mud. This could’ve cost him his life. Instead, Zedekiah ordered his release.
When someone is in trouble, it almost always takes courage to try to help. To move from “their problem” becoming part of “your problem” feels risky. But all through Scripture, God commands us to care for the person in trouble. Have the courage to care for your friend in need. Don’t play it safe by staying away. Your friend needs you.
A Display of Gentleness
Every church building has a creepy, damp closet full of random items. Apparently, the palace had one too. Ebed-Melek went to the room under the treasury to find old rags and clothes. He knew pulling Jeremiah out of the cistern could cause injury to Jeremiah, who was, remember, stuck in the mud.
“Ebed-Melek the Cushite said to Jeremiah, ‘Put these old rags and worn-out clothes under your arms to pad the ropes.’ Jeremiah did so, and they pulled him up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern” (Jeremiah 38:12, 13).
Go the extra mile to extend gentleness to the person in need. Sometimes we think, “They should just be thankful for any help they get,” instead of thinking, “How can I best help?”
I’d bet your friend feels more stuck and vulnerable than even you expect. Be gentle.
A Reminder of God’s Presence
One of the great laments throughout history has been, “God, where are you?” It’s the kind of question you scream from the bottom of a cistern.
“I called on your name, Lord, from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: ‘Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.’
You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.”
You, Lord, took up my case; you redeemed my life” (Lamentations 3:55-58).
Ebed-Melek’s courageous and gentle action reminded Jeremiah that God was still with him. He had not been forgotten. Jeremiah’s efforts only sunk him deeper. He knew he needed God.
The Balm of Gilead
Gilead was an area east of the Jordan River, well known for its spices and ointments. The “balm of Gilead” was a high-quality ointment with healing properties. Twice, Jeremiah lamented, “Is there no balm in Gilead” (Jeremiah 8:22; 46:11)? In other words, “Is there no hope, no healing?”
An old spiritual declares, “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul. Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my works in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.”
Throw a rope to your friend in the pit. If she doesn’t take it, keep lowering it. Be courageous and gentle. Remind your friend of God’s presence. Pray with her. Pray for her. Cry for her. Keep lowering the rope. For only Jesus can rescue us. He is our balm, our healing, our hope. And he’s the hope for your friend too.
Brian and his wife, Beth, and their four children live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he preaches at Highland Park Christian Church and writes (brianjenningsblog.com).