May 30 2013
An imaginative but possible rendering of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40
The Ethiopian man left Jerusalem with mixed feelings. It had been great to see the holy city and he was thankful he could purchase a scroll of Isaiah. But he had not been able to achieve his main objectives. He wanted to be baptized as a Jew and worship at the temple with all the others. “Sorry sir, we don’t baptize eunuchs” said the priest “It’s in our Law; you can read it for yourself” (Dt 23:1). The priest’s verdict read like a sentence of death. The castrated man had missed out on marriage, on children, and had suffered the stigma that came with emasculation most of his life, and here was one more thing for him to add to his rejection list. It was all becoming a bit much.
He was really looking forward to seeing the temple of Yahweh, but he wasn’t allowed to go through the courtyard gate. He only managed to get a narrow glimpse of the sacred door when the gate was opened momentarily to allow all the ‘real’ Jews in.
Now the long journey back to Africa had begun, ♦ but at least he had his copy of Isaiah to read on the way. He had looked at all the scrolls on sale in Jerusalem. The scribes were charging a lot, but he had settled on a copy of Isaiah which he kind of felt was meant for him. Now as he read it out aloud with the chariot rocking back and forth, he was captivated by one specific verse, “In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth” (Is 53:7-8). These words seemed to describe him. He knew humiliation, he had been deprived of what was right, and he couldn’t have descendants. Who was Isaiah talking about?
As he looked up, deep in thought, his eyes met those of a stranger walking next to his chariot. “Do you understand what you are reading?” the stranger asked. Ah, a Greek speaking Jew, this will be helpful. “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” he answered and invited the Jew to join him in the chariot.
They soon exchanged names and identities. The Jew was Philip from Jerusalem; he had recently fled the city because of a persecution that had broken out against his sect. The African introduced himself as the Royal Treasurer of an Ethiopian Candace Queen (probably Candace Amanitore of ancient Meroe in present day Sudan). But he did not go into detail because he had Isaiah’s sentence on his mind. So he got right to the point, “Tell me please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” And Philip began to explain that Isaiah was talking about the Messiah Jesus. The Ethiopian soon got around to his next big question, “Was this Jesus a eunuch?” “Well, yes, I suppose he was, “said Philip, “but a spiritual eunuch. He never married because he was dedicated to the purposes of his Heavenly Father.” And the Ethiopian smiled and nodded knowingly, for he knew what it meant to dedicate one’s life to a higher power.
After Philip explained that all who believed in Jesus needed to be baptized, the Ethiopian looked sad and added, “Except for foreign eunuchs, right?” “No!” said Philip “Look at what Isaiah said later about the offer of the Messiah, ‘My salvation is close … let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.’ And let not any eunuch complain ‘I am only a dry tree.’ For this is what the Lord says: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant – to them I give within my temple and it’s walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters.’ (Is 56:1-5). The Messiah gives foreigners and eunuchs an identity within his temple!”
The African man looked satisfied. His question had been answered. “Look here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” he asked. “You can!” said Philip, and they both got out of the chariot and went down into the water. As they came up out of the water there was a strange but beautiful sense of God’s presence on them. The Ethiopian was filled with joy and wanted to shout. He glanced back at Philip, but there was no one there; Philip was gone. The Spirit of God had taken him to another place.
For a moment the African wondered if he had been speaking with an angel. But then he recalled how Philip had said he was a member of the church in Jerusalem. His disappearance was shocking, but it was also holy and powerful; it added a divine element to everything he had said. The African rejoiced. He had been turned away by the Jews but not by Jesus, he could not stand before the temple but he could kneel before the cross.
Think of it, an African man had gone on a long and dangerous journey just to knock on God’s door; would God allow him to walk away empty handed? No way! God chased after him and caught him on the desert road. God doesn’t just have a heart for Israel; he has a heart for the foreigner, the gentile, the marginalized, and the outcast. And what happened to the Ethiopian is encouraging for Africa. God answered the call of an African man before the gospel had travelled beyond Samaria; before it had got to Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, or Rome. The African official travelled back full of God’s Spirit and carrying the prophecies of Isaiah. Africa got the message of Christ before most of the Roman world did. God had a will, and God made a way.
Other Illustrations used: Modern Descendants of the Ethiopian Kingdom | Visa Rejection
Closing Song: Jesus Hope of the Nations
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