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Summary: God can make something great of nothing.

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The Ethiopian Eunuch

Acts 8:26-40

Chapter eight of Acts begins with the spreading of the gospel out of Jerusalem. Saul’s (Paul) persecution of the Christians there had driven everyone out but the apostles from Jerusalem. These persecuted Christians spread out to the Judean villages like dandelion seeds and sowed the gospel there. Afterward, Philip went into Samaria and multitudes of Samaritans accepted Christ. One wonders why God would mess with something that was going so well with Phillip. But God sent Peter there, and this freed up Phillip for the next mission the Spirit had for him. Today, we find out what that mission was.

The passage begins with the Holy Spirit telling Phillip to take the road less traveled to Gaza. He had already come back to Jerusalem at this time, so he left from there to go down the desert road. One of the characteristics of the desert was its dryness. One could die of thirst there, and few took that road.

There would be one other traveler on that road that day. He was a high official of Queen Candace of Ethiopia and his chariot driver. We gather from the text that he had come to Jerusalem to worship. Although eunuch was a term which could just refer to a high government official, it seems likely as we shall see later that this man was physically a eunuch. A eunuch was not allowed into the Temple building proper, even if he was a Jew. Even though some Jews in the time of Jeremiah had escaped into Ethiopia and probably intermarried with the African inhabitants, he would have stuck out at the Temple grounds. If he had tried to enter the Temple, he would have probably been examined and the secret revealed. It was quite an act of faith for a second-class proselyte to undergo the journey to Jerusalem. Even though he was held in authority in his own country, he was of diminished stature there.

He was allowed some privilege as he was well-dressed and had a retinue with him. Money and the willingness to spend it would allow him to purchase the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. As the scroll was hand copied and the cost of parchment high, it would have cost him a pretty penny to get it. I would guess it was a Greek copy and not a Hebrew one. Even the Jews did not speak Hebrew, but Aramaic. There were a number of Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem, so there were Greek language scrolls available at a cost. If it was a Hebrew copy, then it would demonstrate even more extraordinary faith as the eunuch would have had to learn Hebrew. He obviously could read the scroll enough to question Phillip what it meant.

It is ironic that a man on foot should overcome a horse-drawn chariot in the desert. The eunuch might have taken the back road to read it. If the scroll was of the entire book, it would have taken some time to get to Isaiah 53. There was no fast forward or computer search that opened you to the right place. So the eunuch may have travelled quite a few miles before Philip go to him.

The first thing we see from the text is that the Hold Spirit arranged for this meeting. It was no chance encounter. Phillip had a directive from the Spirit, but we have no indication that the eunuch did. He got the scroll on his own free will, unaware as far as I can tell why the Spirit secretly put the desire in his heart to do. He made the choice to go down that road less-travelled to read it. To the eunuch, what might have seemed like a chance encounter was not by chance at all.

As Isaiah is a large book, it is possible that it was on two rather than one scroll. We don’t know exactly where the eunuch started, but it was at least several chapters before he got to the 53rd chapter which he was reading and puzzling over before the Spirit told Phillip to run ahead and catch the chariot. The text said he heard the eunuch reading from 53rd chapter of Isaiah. As Phillip was a Greek-speaking Jew, he would have understood where the eunuch was reading from. So an ordinary man comes to the high official and ask him if he understood the passage he was reading from. There is a sense of irony here as protocol usually required a commoner to remain silent until asked by a social superior. The eunuch answered that he could not unless someone guided him like his driver guided his chariot. He invited Phillip to come up and join him in the chariot. The eunuch asked him whether the 53rd chapter of Isaiah referred to Isaiah or another man. The Ethiopian eunuch was not alone in his wonderment. If he had asked the Jews in Jerusalem, he might have gotten one of several answers. Some would have said it was Isaiah, others Israel, and yet others a priestly messiah who was different from the Davidic Messiah. This passage cannot be rightly understood until it finds its interpretation in Christ.

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