Rags, Not Rope: on kindness in crisis

“…So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went to a room in the palace beneath the treasury, where he found some old rags and discarded clothing…”

Jeremiah 38:11

Why do I care about some ancient guy with a hyphenated name who is digging around for old clothes? Let me set the stage:

Jerusalem is at war. The prophet Jeremiah has repeatedly warned that fighting Babylon is a losing a battle. He is ignored. Again and again he announces God’s instructions to go with Babylon quietly and make new homes there. This was a time for surrender, not battle. Jeremiah spoke the truth, but he was not popular.

Now those warnings had landed him in a muddy pit, where he sank in the muck. No food. No water. The city in chaos around him. Evil officials gloating that they had finally silenced the nay-sayer.

Fire. Screams. Scuffles over waning supplies. The occasional boulder smashes against stone, hurled over the wall and punctuated by the hoarse war-cries of an enemy dialect. Wind whistling through tattered awnings and collapsing structures that once formed the border of a sunny, bustling market.  Now there is no sun. The air is thick with smoke.

And Jeremiah sinks in the mud.

Lowered into the dark where his cries would be drowned out by the noise of a city under siege, Jeremiah had no way to summon help. Perhaps it is this situation that finds its way into his Lamentations prayer:

“They threw me into a pit
    and dropped stones on me.
The water rose over my head,
    and I cried out, “This is the end!”

 But I called on your name, Lord,
    from deep within the pit.
You heard me when I cried, “Listen to my pleading!
    Hear my cry for help!”
Yes, you came when I called;
    you told me, “Do not fear.”

Lamentations 3:53-57


Enter Ebed-melech, who catches wind of Jeremiah’s situation and makes a bee-line to the palace to speak with the king.

He, too, was facing crisis. He, too, felt the lack of food and the siege on the city wall and the swarming Babylonian army pressing up against it on every side. It was not from a place of security and safety that he reached out to help. In the midst of his own concerns, he noticed Jeremiah.

He bursts into the palace and exclaims to an already over-tasked king that Jeremiah has been placed in desperate straits. He gains permission to take men and go rescue him. Then comes verse 11, where they go, not straight-away to the cistern, but to a lower room in the palace where they start to scavenge rags.

I read it and thought,  How resourceful, they must not have any rope. I bet they’ll tie them end-to-end and use that to get him out.

But I was wrong. They did have rope. Ebed-melech took the detour for another reason.


“…He carried these to the cistern and lowered them to Jeremiah on a rope. Ebed-melech called down to Jeremiah, “Put these rags under your armpits to protect you from the ropes!” Then when Jeremiah was ready, they pulled him out…”

Jeremiah 38:11-13

It’s a small detail, but it caught my attention. There’s a guy stranded in the bottom of a well, starving and sinking, and Ebed-melech’s thoughts go not to the rope they need to get him out, but to the rags they need to protect his skin.


Help me to become an Ebed-melech.

May this story serve as a reminder that you care not only for rescue, but for ropeburns. Even if no one else sees my desperation, you hear me, and that is enough. You are capable of providing the most compassionate of advocates. You see when my life is in jeopardy. You notice my smallest abrasions. You bring help just in time, and you bring help in ways I wouldn’t have thought to ask for.

May I learn this of your character, Lord: that you are not just heroic, plunging to the rescue. You are kind, carefully arranging padding. And that is what you produce in those who serve you. Not just courage, but kindness.

Teach me to trust you with my crisis, that I may move into the calling to rescue others. Like Ebed-melech, may I think of the small things, not just the big things.

For when I tend to the small things, I step beyond duty into love.

And that means that sometimes the small things ARE the big things.

Related Reading

On Dread & Distance: Biblical Guidelines for how to Respond to the Coronavirus Pandemic
5 Steps to a Light Heart in a Season Heavy with Coronavirus Concerns

2 thoughts on “Rags, Not Rope: on kindness in crisis

  1. Pingback: Buy a Field: on normal in the midst of crisis | dig deep | draw close

  2. Pingback: On Dread & Distance: Biblical guidelines for how to respond to the Coronavirus Pandemic | dig deep | draw close

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