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  • Writer's pictureDub

The Ethiopian Eunuch

One of the things I miss about pastoring a local church is the opportunity to preach and teach from the scriptures. In my daily Bible reading a passage I have read perhaps hundreds of times suddenly took on new meaning in light of our current context. This post will be slightly longer than usual, because you know - preachers. But I hope you will indulge me. I found it helpful to understand and interpret current events. I pray you will too.


Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch
Orthodox Icon with English Text

Acts 8:26-40


"Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So, he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”


So, Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this:


“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.”


So, the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”


So, he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea."


There is so much here that we could talk about; so many lessons to be learned. But I want to focus on a few that provide helpful insight into the past, the present, and perhaps the future.


Jerusalem to Gaza


Jerusalem to Gaza
Sign to Gaza


First, for anyone that's fuzzy about where this unusual incident took place, there's an explanation and map in my blog, The Geography of Christmas. According to the Bible, Israel was created and set aside by God in the beginning as the homeland for His chosen people, Israel. Gaza is the rather unstable city/state between Israel and Egypt on the Mediterranean Sea. Settled by Philistines and vagabonds, it has continually served as a thorn in Israel's side.


Israel and Gaza co-existed this way for centuries until ancient Israel was dissolved by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 138 AD and all Jews were banned from the land. It remained that way until people settling the region (including a few thousand Jews) were first called Palestinians in 1898. World War I and the resulting British Mandate of 1918 paved the way for the modern nation of Israel to be miraculously restored by God's will in 1948.


The Acts 8 story takes place in the time of the first Christians, just after Jesus' resurrection, a century before Hadrian's edict. God sent an angel to tell Philip to go and meet an Ethiopian in the same desert where on Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas attacked and killed 364 people, wounded many more, and took 70 hostages at a music festival called the Supernova Sukkot Gathering.


Sukkot


Sukkot is the Hebrew name for the Feast of Booths. God commanded the Feast of Booths in the Torah as an annual holy observance. It is a seven-day reminder of God's miraculous protection when He delivered the Jewish people from slavery and bondage in Egypt. The day of the Hamas attack was Shemini Atzeret, the 8th Day of Assembly holiday. It is the holy conclusion of Sukkot. Perhaps gathering near the Gaza border for trance music, drugs, and dancing before an idol on Sukkot wasn't the wisest decision. Especially when Hamas is dedicated to the extermination of the Jewish people. How easily we forget God.


dancing in the desert
The Night Before The Hamas Attack

God Chooses


In the Acts 8 story, God sent an angel to Philip to tell him to go to this remote desert on the road to Gaza. He had no idea why, but he obeyed God's instructions and traveled there. When he arrived, he encountered an Ethiopian royal official. Ethiopians have a long and close relationship with Israel that dates back to the meeting of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (ancient Ethiopia) in I Kings 10. For a thousand years, Ethiopians had both access and knowledge of the God of Israel and the Torah. In fact, there were Jews in Ethiopia that claim to be descendants from the Lost Tribe of Dan.


God Speaks, It Happens


There's an amazing prophecy in Isaiah 11:11-12 regarding the Jews of Ethiopia that predicts their return to the land of Israel.


"It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush (Ethiopia), from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea. He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth."


This actually began to happen in 1977 as thousands of Ethiopian Jews were repatriated to Israel. You can read about it in The Lost Tribe Returning Home. This is one good reason we can trust that God is real, and the Bible is true.


The Ethiopian's Response


Considering this history of faith in the God of Israel, it's no wonder that Philip overheard the court official reading the scriptures of the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah not only accurately predicted the return of the lost tribe of Ethiopian Jews in our day; he also recorded more specific predictions about Jesus the Messiah than any other prophet. Hearing the Ethiopian reading one of them, Philip suddenly knew why God had sent him there.


He approached the Ethiopian traveler and explained how the verses he was reading relate to Jesus. He told him the rest of the story and preached the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. The Ethiopian, sincere in his interest and with this new understanding believed that Jesus is the Son of God. To confirm his newfound faith, he asks to be baptized. Notice that Philip doesn't question, reject, challenge, or deny him baptism even though to Philip he is a foreigner, a Gentile, and a eunuch. For these reasons, he would have been considered unworthy of God's notice or favor under Jewish law.


However, Philip had just come from Samaria where he saw Jesus save Samaritans, a group of people held in contempt by the Jews. That God sent him to an Ethiopian to be saved was certainly another surprise to this faithful Jewish disciple, but one he might have at least understood. But a eunuch? That must have stretched Philip and the other disciples' understanding of God's love and gift of salvation for all who believe in Jesus even further.


What Is A Eunuch?


Ethiopian Eunuch
Orthodox Icon

Before we explore the why it might be good to ask, what is a eunuch? GotQuestions.org explains. "A eunuch is a man who has been castrated for the purpose of trusted servitude in a royal household (see Esther 1:10; 4:4; and Daniel 1:9). A king would often castrate his servants to ensure they would not be tempted to engage in sexual activity with others in the palace, specifically the royal harem, or to prevent their plotting an overthrow as eunuchs were incapable of setting up a dynasty of their own."


While religious Judaism and the early Church may have rejected this person due to castration, clearly, he was highly valued in the Ethiopian society of this age, particularly by Ethiopia's royal rulers. The scripture tells us he was delegated "great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury." That's the entire wealth of the nation. It should not be difficult for anyone living in America to discern a comparison to the new world order and prevalent values of our culture today.


Why A Eunuch?


Why would God send Philip, a faithful representative of Jesus and His Church, to explain the scriptures, share the Gospel, facilitate salvation, baptize, and welcome this particular person into His family? The Ethiopian eunuch had traveled nearly 1000 miles through dangerous territory to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel. He would have certainly done so for one of the three major Jewish feasts; Passover, Pentecost, or (wait for it) Sukkot. Huh.


This person was genuinely seeking God. In return, God sent Philip, a disciple that was not afraid to follow the leading of God, even when God's leading conflicted with Philip's racial, ethnic, and religious traditions.


The result of this remarkable encounter is that the Ethiopian went home, shared his new faith with his fellow citizens, and the first Ethiopian Church was established. By the fourth century Christianity was declared the national religion. It remains the oldest and largest branch of Orthodox Christianity. Today, the Ethiopian Church claims to have the Ark of the Covenant housed in one of their churches. It's probably not really there, but the Church in Ethiopia remains vibrant and strong, nonetheless. They even carved churches out of the rock to ensure their faith would endure in spite of opposition and persecution that followed.


Ethiopia Rock Church
Lalibela Rock Hewn Church

Why This Matters


With all of the concern regarding gender and sexuality today, what if God sent a faithful member of His Church to share the Good News with someone like the Ethiopian eunuch? What if that person got saved, went to their people, their tribe if you will, and shared their faith in such a way that others like them believed and began following Jesus? What if their testimony of salvation became the basis for a national awakening? Would the Church today accept them and see them as equals in the family of God? Would others outside their tribe follow their example and become Christians and faithful worshipers of Jesus?


What if instead of marking time and dancing around our own idols, we followed the clearly written commands of God in the Bible into dangerous desert places and found Jesus already there, saving people we avoided and assumed were beyond salvation? What if we participated with the Holy Spirit in calling people to Christ, even those we have been taught to despise? Perhaps even going to those that despise us? What if God is speaking to us right now, calling us to go and fulfill His divine purpose for this generation?


We've read about the past. We live in the present. The Word of God contains lessons, prophecies, and promises for the future. Here's another one of them to consider.


Revelation 7:9-12


"After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”


Remember, it was God that called Philip into the desert for that divine appointment. Are we listening? Will we follow wherever He leads?


As always, thanks for reading. Feel free to share your comments.








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