"Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, 'Go south to the road-the desert road-that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.' So he started out, an don his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians." (Acts 8:26-27a)
Yesterday we were introduced to Saul. We will get back to him tomorrow and will take an in-depth look at him and his conversion. But, today we will look at another of the two Hellenist Jews that were called upon to wait on tables. You may recall that one of them was named Stephen. The other (at least of the names we can pronounce) was named Philip.
Philip had recently been preaching in Samaria, but is now called upon to go elsewhere when he encounters an Ethiopian eunuch. We are told that he was an important official who was in charge of Candace's treasury. Now, we can not be sure that the eunuch was actually Ethiopian, for "Ethiopian" in scripture could also mean "dark skinned." Also, Candace may have very well been a title for the queen and not a proper name. Candace would have been similar to the title "Caesar."
"This man (the eunuch) had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. 'Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. 'How can I,' he said, 'unless someone explains it to me?' So he invited Philip to come and sit with him." (Acts 827b-31)
At this point we need to do look at the background of eunuchs. Some time ago I was in a discussion with someone about the Bible. Well, I was discussing it, she was just throwing out Bible verses that she had memorized. I brought up the eunuch. She had no idea what a eunuch was. At first, we may not think that eunuchs are important to the biblical story. However, I think we should re-examine that thought.
What is a eunuch? Well, as painful as it is to write this, a eunuch is someone who has had his testicles crushed or cut off. This could be by choice or not. We may ask, "Why would any guy in his right mind make the choice to...?" Jesus chimed in on this by saying: "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can." (Matthew 19:12, NRSV) Wow! Jesus acknowledged that this would be difficult for some to accept. Yes, Jesus said, "Some were born that way." Now, to tie all this together.
We read about eunuchs all the way back in the Old Testament. You may recall reading about how the eunuchs were in charge of the king's harem back in the book of Esther. The eunuch was no threat to the king's ladies. Often, as in the case of the eunuch Philip encounters, eunuchs did hold powerful positions. But, eunuchs could not be Jews or proselytes to Judaism. The Old Testament book of Deuteronomy reads: "No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord." (Deut. 23:1, NIV) In other words, eunuch's were not allowed in church. But, this eunuch has been to Jerusalem to worship. He is reading the scripture. If he was prohibited from the sanctuary, why did he go to Jerusalem to worship? What gave him that right? Well, here is a listen on being careful saying; "The BIBLE SAYS!" Yep! Deuteronomy 23:1 tells the eunuchs to keep out, but Isaiah 56:3b-5 says something entirely different: "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 will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off." Yes I wonder if the Lord got a chuckle in the "will not be cut off part?" This same passage (that I did not include) also promises a place for the foreigner in God's house.
Well, the eunuch is reading scripture, but he does not understand it. "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else." (Acts 8:34) The passage quoted is Isaiah 53:7-8. Philip related the scripture to Jesus Christ, just as Jesus did in Luke 24. The eunuch actually read the words; "he was cut off from the land of the living..."(Is.53:8b) In the passage the eunuch could easily relate to the one that this scripture in Isaiah spoke of.
"As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?' And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him." (Acts 8:36-38) Later church tradition holds that the eunuch became the first Christian missionary to Africa. Luke, however, says nothing of this. "When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing." (Acts 8:39) The fact that the eunuch went on his way rejoicing was typical of Luke's style of writing. Philip, however, became the very first space traveler. LOL
The story is given to us in order for us to see the range of the gospel. Various ancient writers depict Ethiopia as the equivalent of the end of he world. Tomorrow, we will begin looking at Saul/Paul. I promise that you will not want to miss a study on Paul.