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God’s nobody

Imagine the scene with me. Your nation is under constant threat from a violent and aggressive nation that seeks to invade and steal your nation’s wealth. That wealth is not merely your nation’s material wealth, but its “elite” citizens—experts in their fields, whether doctors or scientists or craftsmen or businessmen. The danger is that the aggressive enemy wants to invade your land and take your treasures—including your fellow citizens—back to its own land and force them to produce even more wealth for the conquerors.

Your people have been in the land for a very long time. You have a long history in the land. Your very identity as a people is tied up in the land. Then one day the Lord God appears to you and calls you to be his prophet. Prophets spoke on behalf of God and the message was usually not good. Your mission is now to call your nation to repentance, for they have wandered far from the one true God who gave them the land in the first place. Early in your prophetic ministry you speak this message from God:

Thus says the LORD: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?”

Jeremiah 2:5 ESV

Though God had given them the land and had blessed them by bringing them out of Egypt and out of slavery and blessed them with every good thing, they rejected him and served false gods and pursued evil rather than righteousness. Jeremiah’s ministry among them was to call them into repentance. Over and over again the message from the Lord was to repent, and if they would repent he would bless them and give them security and prosperity. They refused to repent.

Jeremiah continued calling upon the people to turn from their idols and worship the one true God who had revealed himself over and over again. Though he warned them they would be destroyed as a nation if they would not repent, there were false prophets claiming God would never allow his people to be harmed by foreigners. It was as if they had completely forgotten their own history from the time of the judges!

The Lord told Jeremiah, and therefore Jeremiah told the people, the time was coming when even Jerusalem would be destroyed. For seventy years the people of Judah would be taken into captivity and the land would experience God’s anger for their sin. It’s not hard to imagine the people taking issue with this. Jeremiah was, essentially, threatening their livelihood and their prosperity and the ease with which they lived. He was threatened with death and abused for his message. Then Nebuchadnezzar showed up.

Babylon had become the dominant superpower in the Ancient Near East. King Nebuchadnezzar took many of the cultural elite captive back to Babylon, along with much of the material wealth. Through Jeremiah God told the people who remained in the land they were to serve Nebuchadnezzar. If they would serve him God would spare the city of Jerusalem. They chose to listen to false prophets instead.

Jeremiah told them of God’s promise for a new covenant, one that would not be based on their performance and ability to obey God. Instead, this new covenant would involve a great transformation in his people. The law of God would be written on their hearts rather than on tablets of stone. God himself would fulfill the new covenant that was coming, and therefore his people would receive its blessings.

The people did not like this and imprisoned Jeremiah. They hated him for speaking the truth. Then Nebuchadnezzar returned for while the king of Judah had paid tribute—what option did he really have?—he rebelled against the king of Babylon, and therefore against the Lord. Nebuchadnezzar showed up in force. In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign over Judah the siege began. It lasted for two years. Finally, the walls around Jerusalem were breached.

Zedekiah tried to escape into the night, leaving his people at the mercy of Nebuchadnezzar. He and his guards were caught, however, and brought back to the city. All his sons were slaughtered in front of him, along with all the nobles left in the city, and then they blinded Zedekiah so that the last thing he saw was the deaths of his sons. The city was burned and destroyed, along with the temple Solomon had built.

After being released from jail by the conquerors, Jeremiah was set free. He was allowed to live wherever he chose, and with Babylon’s blessing, for he told the truth about what would happen. Shortly before being freed the Lord spoke to him again, this time concerning a court official who had rescued Jeremiah’s life during one of his imprisonments. We read this in Jeremiah 39:

The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the guard: “Go, and say to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will fulfill my words against this city for harm and not for good, and they shall be accomplished before you on that day. But I will deliver you on that day, declares the LORD, and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the LORD.’”

Jeremiah 39:14–18 ESV

There are enemy soldiers in the capital city of Jerusalem. The king’s house is burned. The Lord’s temple is in ruins. Many people of Judah have died, either by the hand of the Babylonians or by starvation during the siege. Ebed-melech, however, trusted in the Lord. Though he was but a servant to king Zedekiah and though Zedekiah was the one who allowed the people to throw Jeremiah into a cistern, he pleaded with the king for Jeremiah. A cistern is an underground storage tank for water. This particular cistern was dry and the bottom was filled with mud. Jeremiah was thrown into the cistern and was stuck in the mud. Ebed-melech—a mere servant—pleaded with the king to free Jeremiah before he died in there.

It took 30 men with ropes to lift Jeremiah out of the cistern. That’s how stuck in the mud he was! He was then placed in jail where he remained until Babylon conquered the city of Jerusalem.

Think of the Lord’s word to Ebed-melech. He was an Ethiopian serving the king of Judah. Once again we see diversity among the people of Israel and Judah prior to the exile to Babylon. The nations were supposed to come in and believe in the God of Israel. Ebed-melech did. God was honored by his faith. While he feared being killed when the Lord did as Jeremiah said he would, God promises this foreigner who believes in the God of Israel that the God of Israel would spare his life.

What really strikes me is that God says his own plans for the city will come to pass. The city will be destroyed. The people will be taken into exile. The temple Solomon had built hundreds of years before, the very place God caused his presence to be, would be destroyed. Every word God spoke about the destruction of Jerusalem would come to pass. This destruction would result in economic upheaval like we’ve never seen before. Suddenly all the craftsmen and farmers and merchants—all the producers in the local economy—would be gone. The silver and gold would be taken back to Babylon. Farm tools, which could be used as weapons, would have been taken or destroyed. Houses in the city were destroyed as part of the battle and the subsequent burning of palaces and the temple. To survive, those remaining had to start from scratch. There were no crops, for the city had been under siege for two years. They had no tools. Those who were left behind were those who were already poor, and therefore had nothing from which to start anew. It would take years—decades, perhaps—to have anything like a functioning economy again. Life was going to be miserable for the foreseeable future.

In the midst of all this tremendous upheaval and destruction, all this pain and anguish, all this death and suffering, God had another word to speak, and he spoke it to a eunuch from a foreign country. Think of that. Being a eunuch he wasn’t even allowed to enter the temple compound to worship the Lord, yet he trusted in the Lord. God himself said he did. Ebed-melech was one of many servants in the king’s palace. Humanly speaking, he was a nobody. Unimportant. Easily overlooked. Insignificant. Why, in a text that clearly implies massive destruction that neither you nor I can truly fathom, for we have never seen such, why would God inspire Jeremiah to include this promise to an insignificant foreign servant who was barred from worshiping at the temple?

With God there are no insignificant people. Each and every person, no matter how obscure or unknown they are, matters to God. As we heard in our sermon last Sunday, God is love. God wants people to trust him, to love him, to experience his goodness. This goodness is fully revealed through faith. Though Ebed-melech was a “nobody”, God knew him and God loved him and God had a word for him.

Whatever life is for you right now, whether you feel lost or alone, or you feel frightened and in danger, whether the world is collapsing around you and you have nowhere to turn, do what Ebed-melech did: he trusted in the Lord. God’s plans for Jerusalem would still be carried out and there would be widespread destruction and suffering—even for Ebed-melech!—yet God cared for his well-being. Ebed-melech, a mere servant to a fallen and defeated king whose kingdom was destroyed, would receive some of the spoils of war: his own life.

It is easy to attempt to put faith in our circumstances, particularly if things are going well with our jobs and our relationships and our finances or even with our status in the world (“I’m somebody important because…[fill in the blank]”). The problem with trusting in our circumstances is they change. All the time. What was a promising and fulfilling job can be gone due to corporate layoffs. Good health can change the moment the test results are available. The reason our circumstances are not worthy of our faith is we cannot control them. We may think we can, but that’s a lie we tell ourselves. God, however, is in control of our circumstances and even if God says he will fulfill his words against our “city”—whatever that may mean—and the result is we find ourselves in great difficulty, God is in control and he is good and therefore he is worthy of our trust.

If you find yourself in a difficult time and you feel like a nobody, like you’re unimportant and overlooked and your circumstances threaten to destroy you, remember that through faith in Christ you are God’s “nobody”. God knows you. God cares for you. God speaks to you, however unknown and unimportant and irrelevant you may feel, and God promises you are his. To the world we may all seem like nobodies, but in Christ, we belong to God and he knows us and he loves us. Whatever our circumstances, this means we can continue to trust in him.