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Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

01 Feb

The Angel of the Lord appeared to Philip in the Samaritan village as he was ending his ministry there and told him to go south toward Gaza (Acts 8:26). The Apostles had returned to Jerusalem, but Philip was a hunted man, perhaps not by name but because of his faith and how he interpreted that faith. He was more liberal in his faith than the Apostles, who had adopted a more conservative stance of preaching the Gospel. Both expressions of the Messianic faith were used by Jesus to spread the Gospel. Philip could no longer preach openly in Jerusalem during the Holy Days when pilgrims from all over the Empire visited Jerusalem, but the Apostles were still able to do so.

Philip, like Stephen before him and Paul later, was not so finicky about the ceremonial laws and the oral traditions that were so important to the Pharisees and 1st century Judaism in Palestine. Philip would have been more comfortable in the company of Gentiles than perhaps Peter or John would have been at this early period of preaching the Gospel. So, in this manner the Gospel of the Kingdom reached out to the Jews of the Diaspora through the preaching of the Apostles in Jerusalem, and now to those who were afar off spiritually through the preaching of Messianic Jews of the Diaspora who were no longer welcome in Jerusalem.

I find it interesting that Philip was sent to an Ethiopian eunuch, because it was an Ethiopian eunuch who saved Jeremiah’s life just before the captivity of Judah (Jeremiah 38:7-12). It seems that the Lord may have been making a point of first showing mercy to the very people who had shown mercy to his servants in the past (viz. Matthew 25:34-40). Perhaps the earlier good works done by people like the Ethiopian eunuch, who went before the king on Jeremiah’s behalf, were like seeds planted in the Jewish nation. Later these seeds bore fruit in people like Philip who having petitioned the King on behalf of the former’s countrymen, that they too would have a share in God’s Kingdom as a kind of firstfruits of the nations (cp. Psalm 68:31).

Eunuchs, according to the Law of Moses were not permitted to enter the congregation of Israel (Deuteronomy 23:1). Some believe this was later rescinded (Isaiah 56:3-5), but this position cannot be proved; neither can it be proved that the term eunuch was later used to indicate an officer in the kings court. While many eunuchs were, indeed, high officials in the royal courts of Judah and the nations, it does not mean they weren’t emasculated. For example, knowing that Potiphar was a eunuch in Pharaoh’s court and not merely a high official lends new meaning to his wife’s adulterous advances toward Joseph (Genesis 39).

When Philip preached Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:35), he was offering him comfort that the Law did not provide. Imagine this man’s desire to draw near to God through the Law which excluded him from doing so (Deuteronomy 23:1). He was returning to Ethiopia from Jerusalem (Acts 8:27-28) probably from worshiping at the Passover in 35 CE, remembering that Stephen was stoned during the fall festivals of 34 CE according to the Scriptures. Philip presented the grace of God, predicted by the prophets who told the eunuch not to consider himself a dry tree, but he whom the Law excluded would be given a name better than those with sons and daughters, provided they took hold of  the covenant by resting in the Sabbath (Christ) from all his labors (Isaiah 56:3-5).

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Posted by on February 1, 2012 in Kingdom of God

 

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