Eved Melech the Cushi is an obscure figure. It is uncertain that this was even his name. Metzudas David writes that his actual name was indeed Eved Melech, and he was dark-skinned like an Ethiopian (Cushi). Targum Yonasan ben Uziel and Radak translate the words literally as “an Ethiopian servant of the king”, who remains unnamed.
Rashi cites the Midrashic interpretation that identifies Eved Melech as Baruch ben Nerya, the main disciple of Yirmiyahu. However, this is extremely unlikely, being that Baruch was mentioned by name in many other places, and there is no reason for his identity to be masked in the incident that we will soon discuss. (It is common for the Midrash to identify two different people as one and the same to metaphorically compare them. The most famous examples are Hagar/Ketura and Lavan/Bilam. The latter lived centuries apart.)
In Chapter 38 of Yirmiya, the fall of Jerusalem is imminent. The city has been under siege by the Babylonians for years, and there is hardly any bread left. Many of the residents have fled to neighboring countries (where the sword ultimately followed them) or surrendered to the Babylonians. Yirmiyahu had been imploring them to do the latter, prophesying that if they surrender, the city and their lives will be spared. At this time he was languishing in a pit, submerged in tar and left to die. The king's officers, who wanted to hold out until the bitter end, had cast him there.
Tzidkiyahu, the final king of this era, was a complicated character in his own right (more on him later). He displayed sympathy for Yirmiyahu, but he was a puppet leader, and he expressed powerlessness before his own officers (verse 5).
This is where Eved Melech comes in. He heard that Yirmiyahu had been removed from his previous, relatively safe imprisonment in one of the palace courtyards and thrown into the pit. The king had gone to the gate of Binyamin, and Eved Melech left the palace to go after him. When Eved Melech found Tzidkiyahu, he said as follows in verse 9: “My lord the king, these men have done evil with all they have done to Yirmiyahu the prophet, that they cast him into the pit. Had they left him in his place he would have died from the famine, for there is no more bread in the city.”
In other words, Yirmiyahu was going to die of starvation anyway, because everyone was starving, and the officers should not have actively hastened his death by casting him into the pit.
The king accepted these words. He commanded Eved Melech to take thirty men and raise Yirmiyahu from the pit before he died. Chazal explain that normally only three men would have been needed, but because they were all weak from hunger, they needed ten times that number.
Yirmiyahu's life was saved by an anonymous black servant who went out of his way during a dire famine to intercede on his behalf before an impotent king with much more on his mind.
Hashem later gave Yirmiyahu the following message:
“Go say to Eved Melech the Ethiopian as follows. So says Hashem the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: Behold I am bringing My words to this city for harm and not for good, and you will see it before you on that day. And you will be saved on that day, says Hashem, and you will not be given into the hands of those before whom you fear. For I will surely rescue you, and you will not fall by the sword, and your life will be like spoils for you, because you trusted in Me. So says Hashem.” (39:15-18)
While Hashem was bringing cataclysmic destruction upon Jerusalem and its people, He made a point to single out an obscure person who was low on the social ladder to receive special divine protection.
Notice that Hashem did not reward Eved Melech specifically for saving Yirmiyahu's life, but for trusting in Him. It was not the result that earned Eved Melech the divine protection – something that was beyond his control – but the moral courage to try.
Do you feel insignificant? Do you feel as if you are being swept along by the massive upheavals in our time, and it doesn't matter what you do? Do you believe you are powerless to make a difference when rotten people control everything?
Eved Melech proves that you are very significant, and Hashem is keeping track of everything you do. Your efforts to save someone might seem far-fetched, but they matter. Some of these efforts might even be successful; you might save a life!
Either way, you might just save your own.
To be continued...