#136: Was Ebed-melech a Courageous or Foolish Leader?

Lessons from the Lesser Known

I love studying characters in the Bible. I think each story God tells us is there to teach us something important.

Jeremiah Ebed-melech Leader

I especially love studying the most obscure characters of the Bible, the ones who are mentioned almost in passing, because I figure if they were important enough for God to call them out by name in His book, I should pay attention.

I discovered one such character as I was studying the book of Jeremiah. His name was Ebed-melech. The Bible describes him as a Cushite (some translations say Ethiopian) eunuch, who served King Zedekiah of Judah. Cush was the son of Ham the grandson of Noah. The Cushites settled in the land of ancient Ethiopia.

Ebed-melech name means “Servant of the King.” Being a Cushite means that he was a gentile serving in the court of Zedekiah, King of Judah.

Jeremiah had been prophesying for years that Babylon would conquer Judah including the capital of Jerusalem. King Zedekiah, his officials, and other prophets didn’t believe Jeremiah. Several of the officials called for Jeremiah to be arrested and executed for treason. Zedekiah was more concerned with the opinions of his advisors than the judgment of God that Jeremiah and prophesied, so he turned Jeremiah over to them. They took Jeremiah and lowered him with ropes into a deep cistern that was full of mud at the bottom. They no doubt hoped if he died there, they would not be directly responsible for his death.

This is where Ebed-melech enters into the story. Remember, Ebed-melech is a gentile servant of a Jewish king. When he heard what happened to Jeremiah he went to King Zedekiah and told Zedekiah what these officials had done was evil, because Jeremiah would surely die if left in the cistern.

Zedekiah ordered Ebed-melech to take 30 men and rescue Jeremiah from the cistern before he died. Ebed-melech took 30 men, got some old rags and some ropes and went to the cistern. He had Jeremiah put the rags around his armpits to protect him from the ropes, and hauled Jeremiah out of the cistern.

What is especially noteworthy about Ebed-melech and his actions?

1) He was courageous. He did not allow his status as a servant to keep him from approaching the king to plead for Jeremiah’s life. What’s more, he accused Judah’s ranking officials, friends of the king, of being wicked, evil men.

2) He was more righteous than his masters. He knew killing an innocent man was wrong and said so, whereas the city officials were perfectly content to conspire to bring about the death of someone they didn’t like.

3) He was thoughtful and considerate. He could have hauled Jeremiah out of the cistern with just the ropes, but he was thoughtful and considerate in giving Jeremiah some rags to protect himself from the ropes as he was lifted out.

4) He trusted in the Lord. Even though a gentile, Ebed-melech trusted in the Lord (Jeremiah 39:18). What a contrast to the Lord’s people of Judah, who had rejected God!

I love the story of Ebed-melech because here is this Gentile servant who had the courage to confront a king and his officials with their treachery. Any one of them could have had him killed, but he stood up to them, trusting in the Lord.

He became the Old Testament version of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) as he carefully lifted Jeremiah out of the cistern, restoring him to life. The Lord used Ebed-melech in a mighty way. He was aptly named “Servant of the King.”

You Can Tell You’re Not a Godly Leader If:

1) If you’re not willing to stand up for what is right and call out evil when you see it, you’re not a Godly leader.

2) If you’re not willing to stand against the majority, you’re not a Godly leader.

3) If you’re not willing to protect the oppressed and the innocent, you’re not a Godly leader.

4) If you’re more worried about man’s opinion than being righteous before the Lord, you’re not a Godly leader.

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. What do you think of Ebed-melech’s actions compared to King Zedekiah? Which one was a Godly leader?

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Category: Personal Development | Leader Qualifications

#135: What do you do when God tells you to do something ridiculous?

What do you do when God tells you to do something that seems ridiculous? I mean something that flies in the face of common sense?

Behold I am the Lord

That’s exactly what happened to Jeremiah (the prophet, not the bulldog) in Jeremiah 32-33.

Picture this. The country to the north of you has been conquered by an invading army. This same invader is coming after you next. In fact, they have been marching from town to town mowing down your army as they went. Now they are at the city walls laying siege to your city.

In the meantime, God tells you your cousin is going to pay you a visit and ask you to buy a piece of the family’s land, and God wants you to buy it! Seriously?! Who in their right mind is going to buy a piece of land that has already been taken over by an invading army?

Oh, and by the way, you’re sitting in a prison cell because your king is mad at you!

This is exactly what happened to Jeremiah. Sure enough, Jeremiah’s cousin shows up and wants to sell a piece of the family farm. So what does Jeremiah do? He measures out 17 shekels of silver and pays his cousin (that was about 1-1/2 year’s wages for a laborer). They make out two copies of a bill of sale, have them witnessed, and seal them up in a clay pot for safe keeping.

What did Jeremiah do?

Let’s look at Jeremiah’s response to God telling him to buy this piece of land and see what we can learn from Jeremiah’s example.

He followed God’s direction

It made absolutely no sense for Jeremiah to buy a field from his cousin when it was under the control of an invading army, except for the fact that God told him to! The fact that God told him to was enough for Jeremiah. Whether it made sense to him from a human perspective or not didn’t matter. His God told him to do something and in faith he did it.

Insight for us. Sometimes God will ask us to do something we just don’t understand. It may even seem stupid to us from a human perspective, but we need to obey God in faith!

He brought his questions to God

Once he had consummated the transaction Jeremiah had some doubts and questions for God. He went to God in prayer, praising God for His greatness, remembering all that God had done for His people, and then asking God about the need to purchase this piece of land.

Insight for us. There is never a time when our Father does not want to hear from us. Even if we are angry, hurt, or confused we can bring always lay the burdens of our heart at His feet. Jeremiah boosted his own confidence by recognizing that God was all powerful and that God had always been there for the people in the past. We can boost our own confidence and ease our fears the very same way!

He listened for God’s response

Sometimes we get in a hurry, especially when we’re in a difficult situation. We say a quick prayer and go on with our day. But Jeremiah was used to waiting and hearing from the Lord. This situation was no different. God responded to Jeremiah confirming his promise that in time He would restore the people to the land when it again would be bought and sold.

Insight for us. If Jeremiah had been in a hurry and not stayed to listen for God’s response he would have missed God’s comforting promises. Let’s take the time to wait and listen for God’s response. He has promised to give us comfort and wisdom.

Application

The world scoffs at us for our faith in God, but He has promised to reward us for our faithfulness. Rather than living for the pleasures and approval of man let us keep our hearts and minds trained to God, seeking His pleasure and approval. After all, He is the Lord. The God of all flesh. And nothing is too hard for Him!

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. Have you been called on by God to do something that seemed ridiculous at the time? What happened?

 

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Category: Personal Development |Dependence on God

#134: Service IS Your Product!

I don’t care whether you make a physical product or provide professional services, service is your product!

Waiting for service

The Bank

I recently had some questions about setting up a bank account for a newly formed non-profit corporation. I headed down to the branch where we do most of our banking in the middle of the morning on a weekday.

As I walked in, I could see all of the new account folks were busy so I sat down in a lobby chair and waited, and waited, and waited. I am not especially good at waiting. No one greeted me. No one said they would be with me in a minute. Even the manager who walked by me failed to say hello. My waiting patience level went way down when I noticed two of the new account people chatting with each other, laughing about their weekend adventures.

After nearly 30 minutes of impatient waiting, I finally had a chance to speak to a representative (not one of the two chatterboxes trading stories of their weekend). He answered my question in about three minutes, and out the door, I went. I got my answer, but I was not a happy camper.

Every bank has checking and savings accounts for individuals and for businesses. That’s their product. But what differentiates one bank from another? Their ability to provide excellent customer service!

The Restaurant

I love going to restaurants for breakfast because it is one of the small ways I can get my busy wife to slow down for a few minutes and relax.

One morning five of us went to a neighborhood, family-owned restaurant based on a recommendation from a friend. It has a nice homey feel, maybe ten or twelve tables. It’s the kind of place where a waitress greets you and says to sit anywhere you like.

So we took a seat and proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait. Did I mention that I am NOT especially good at waiting?

A couple of waitresses buzzed around the restaurant, but it was clear after about 15 minutes that we had fallen into the restaurant version of the Bermuda Triangle. Finally, the waitress who had greeted us pointed to us asked the other waitress, “Are you going to wait on your table?” Finally!

The food was ok, but not surprising the rest of the service provided by this waitress was abysmal. Every restaurant makes food, and if it reasonably on point, the thing that makes me want to come back, again and again, is service.

The Service Gap

I am not thrilled with my bank, and I am not headed back to this particular restaurant anytime soon. Why? Because there was a huge gap between my expectation of good service, and the service they delivered.

I would have felt a lot differently while I was waiting in the bank if I had been greeted by someone when I came in. My impatience meter wouldn’t have pegged in the red if I hadn’t had to watch employees goofing off while I waited. And I would have been tickled pink if the manager had stopped long enough to ask if he could help, or at least assure me that my presence had been noticed.

The issue in the bank is a lack of leadership from the manager. He needs to set an example himself, and second, he needs to train employees how to provide excellent customer service.

I would have felt different about my restaurant experience if our waitress had come by the table to acknowledge our presence, and tell us she would be right with us. If she would have followed that with prompt and courteous service I would return on a regular basis.

The issue in the restaurant may be training, but it could simply be that not everyone is cut out for the hard work of providing good service.

Paul, writing to the Colossians said, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). That means wherever we work, whatever we do, we should always do our best to exceed customer’s expectations for service.

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. What do you think about the idea of a service gap? Have you experienced poor service that caused you to stop patronizing a business? How about an example of a business who won your loyalty because of their excellent service?

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Category: Skills |Quality/Excellence

#133: What Oops! Do Starbucks and Haggen Have in Common?

What Oops! do Starbucks and Haggen Food & Pharmacy have in common? Both companies have recently been in the news for making some very poor decisions that became very public.

Man Wheelchair

Starbucks

Rob Rowen’s son-in-law has muscular dystrophy and is confined to a motorized wheelchair. So you can understand why he is sensitive about able bodied folks using the one handicapped parking place in front of the local Starbucks store in South Tampa, Florida.

Over a period of time, Rob let a few of these folks who violated the handicapped parking law know that they should move their cars and leave the space open for those who really need it. One customer took offense to being called out for breaking the law and complained to the Starbucks store manager. The store manager sent Rob a letter banning him from the store because “he disrupted the business and harassed customers.”

The local Starbucks district manager backed up the store manager’s ban against Rob. A few days later Rob got a letter from Starbucks Corporate banning him from all Starbucks worldwide for life.

Haggen Food & Pharmacy

Haggen Food & Pharmacy is a little chain of grocery stores headquartered in Washington. When Vons/Safeway & Albertsons merged in 2014 the FTC required them to sell off some stores and little Haggen bought 146 of them.

One of the first post-acquisition actions by Haggen was to trim costs. They accomplished that by laying off 700 employees in the acquired stores. Among those who were laid off were 19 developmentally disabled clerks in five California stores. The laid-off employees were given a week’s notice and had to sign a non-compete agreement that bars them from working for a Vons, Safeway, or Albertsons for one-year.

When questioned about the layoffs Haggen’s Pacific Southwest CEO Bill Shaner said,

“To ensure we’re operating as efficiently as possible, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily cut back on staffing at our stores, with specific reductions varying by store. We value the contributions these employees have made and are committed to treating all employees respectfully and professionally through this transition.”

Personally, I can think of better ways to demonstrate to employees and the community that you value the contributions of your employees than to terminate their employment.

Oops!

The result in both cases was easy to predict. The news about Starbucks and Haggen went viral on social media.

In Starbuck’s case, Mr. Rowen was contacted by and met with Starbuck’s VP & General Manager Pablo Arizmendi-Kalb. Mr. Kalb admitted that Starbucks had made an error in banning Mr. Rowen for life. Starbucks lifted the global lifetime ban against Mr. Rowen and said they would try to educate local store staff.

Who knows what Mr. Kalb means by “educate the staff”, but the word “local” certainly implies that Starbucks Corporate does not see this as a big enough issue to provide store training beyond this local store.

The Haggen case strikes a nerve with me because our son, Justin, is developmentally disabled. Do you want to get mauled by a bear? Stand between a momma bear and her cub. No difference here. My wife shops at a local Ralphs and looks for the check-stand where “Becky” is working. Becky is developmentally disabled. When the local Ralphs closed they didn’t layoff Becky they transferred her to another store in the neighborhood.

What the folks at Haggen may have overlooked is that in addition to providing employment to the disabled, they are providing a service to the community. It is a service that means a lot to the customers they hope will be loyal shoppers.

A Lack of Judgement

Both cases illustrate a lack of judgment.

The Starbucks store manager could certainly have been more sensitive to the handicapped parking situation, and to Mr. Rowen’s concerns. The Starbucks district manager backed up his store manager but escalated the situation to corporate instead of de-escalating the situation. Starbucks Corporate escalated again.

Did anyone stop to examine the situation to see if just maybe there was a better way to handle this?

Solomon writes, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). That Hebrew word for “gentle answer” is used to describe someone with a tender heart, someone who is soothing.

Had the Starbucks folks stopped to consider Mr. Rowen’s position, they might have come up with a solution that was “soothing” for everyone.

The folks at Haggen may have indeed needed to cut costs. That happens frequently in mergers and acquisitions. But really, is laying off 19 developmentally disabled part-time workers going to help your bottom line? Or maybe, just maybe, there was a better way to meet the profit goals.

Perhaps a forward thinking executive might have realized that building relationships with the community they were hoping to serve would be a good way to build sales.

Solomon writes, “If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will always be secure” (Proverbs 29:14). In other words, leaders who show respect and caring for the less fortunate are strong, effective leaders. Sadly, both the Starbucks and Haggen executives missed an opportunity to show leadership and provide an example to their employees and the communities they serve.

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. What do you think? Were either Starbucks or Haggen right in what they did? If not, what do you think they should have done in these situations?

I’d love your help. This blog is read primarily because people like you share it with friends. Would you share it by pressing one of the share buttons below?

 

Category: Personal Development | Humility