The Ethiopian Eunuch Baptized on a Desert Road

Acts 8:26-40

But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) And he arose and went; and behold, there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship. And he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” And when Philip had run up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: “HE WAS LED AS A SHEEP TO SLAUGHTER; AND AS A LAMB BEFORE ITS SHEARER IS SILENT, SO HE DOES NOT OPEN HIS MOUTH. IN HUMILIATION HIS JUDGMENT WAS TAKEN AWAY; WHO SHALL RELATE HIS GENERATION? FOR HIS LIFE IS REMOVED FROM THE EARTH.” And the eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself, or of someone else?” And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [ 1. And 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.”] And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus; and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities, until he came to Caesarea.

1. Probably not found in the original manuscript.

To begin with, “And 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.'” was most likely added after the initial release of Luke’s letter to Theophilus. But considering the previous context, we can understand why it was added. Nevertheless, now that we have touched on this possibility, we will not discuss it further because we don’t know if it is  authentic or added–most likely it was added. Either way it doesn’t add to or take away from the contextual meaning, meaning that we can set it aside.

“But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, ‘Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a desert road.)” While parenthetical in the NASB, “this is a desert road” is in the original text and it’s very important to remember as we consider the context. Philip is told to go down to the road that connects Gaza and Jerusalem. Jerusalem, being almost 2,500 feet above sea level, is over 2,400 feet higher than Gaza. Jerusalem is a mere 50 miles from Gaza, the road certainly would descend. The New Testament, while widely and wildly criticized, is actually quite accurate for its time. If this passage didn’t read, “an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip,” no secular scholars would question its validity. This road where Philip is sent, not only winds through the desert but it descends. The question is, why would God send Philip here? At the time, it was a deserted place, a winding road going down from Jerusalem, almost entirely uninhabitable.

As it turns out, the context gives us the answer, Philip, who has waited tables, fled from persecution in Jerusalem over the stoning of Stephan his fellow servant, preached and performed miracles to the Samaritans, is now about to descend down to an Ethiopian eunuch who struggles with what is written in the book of Isaiah. While going down, Philip once again rises to the occasion. Philip does as Abraham, Moses and especially Isaiah himself, plus all the other prophets, have done.

“And he arose and went; and behold, there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship. And he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’ And when Philip had run up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”

Twice even, in the same passage, first from the angel then by the Spirit, Philip was told to go. First he was told to go down, then to go up and both times, Philip went. Philip’s heart was open to the option of obedience. We see in Philip many ways of which one can serve the Lord, from table waiter to evangelism. But it goes even deeper than this.

Philip, full of the Spirit, is openly obedient to all of the all of the callings of the Holy Spirit–which is redundant. We have modern misconceptions about what it means to be “full of the Spirit,” and those misconceptions are many. But rather than look at our many, modern misconceptions, let’s simply look at the context and story of one who was full of the Spirit, seeing the sublime string, sensing a servant’s heart; a super short summary.

From before he was a table waiter until now, Philip was full of the Spirit. Notice that we have not seen Philip speak in tongues. He very well could have, but  Luke doesn’t focus on that. What does Luke focus on? For now, the focus is on Philip, a follower, a servant, a preacher, a miracle worker and now, an evangelical expositor of Isaiah to an Ethiopian eunuch. When the Spirit moved, Philip moved with him, and in fairly rapid succession.

We don’t know how long it has been since Philip first found faith up until this point. Some speculate that it has been about three years. To the reader it can seem as a matter of mere moments because Luke doesn’t write entirely chronological but will zoom in on a particular person for a time before returning to the main theme. Therefore we cannot say with certainty the amount of time that has lapsed between Philip coming to faith and interupting Isaiah. But the way in which Luke writes does give us an indication that it was relatively quick. We also can consider the overlapping occurrences in Acts to narrow the timeline. We know from today’s text that Philip found himself in Caesarea after being “raptured” to Azotus and preaching the word from there, all the way up the coast to Caesarea, with no mention of a family. In Acts 21, we now read about Philips family. “And on the next day we departed and came to Caesarea; and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. And as we were staying there for some days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.”

While nothing is definitively displayed, we can reasonably assume that Philip found favor with the Holy Spirit, due to his obedience and that he was “promoted” rather quickly, albeit from our modern, ministry methodism, from a table waiter to an expository-exegesis embracing evangelist–if one wants to call it a promotion. Nevertheless, we know that Luke was an intelligent and learned man, an excellent researcher, a partial eyewitness and a physician, surely he employed his writing style to influence us, indicating that Philip flowed with the Holy Spirit, and in rapid succession. I would love to zoom in on this and pick apart our modern, ministry methods, but alas, time and our attention spans our our own enemies.

We will argue, or agree with those arguing, that the downfall of the United States began with the Ten Commandments being taken down from the walls of our public buildings. I am reminded of what Paul wrote to the Roman church; the Roman church specifically, not to the 21st century church. Preserved for posterity in perpetuity to be sure, but written directly to them, and even more specifically, to those who claimed to obey the law.

“You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?” Mirror to my two-faced self as I write. I am counting all the hypocrites on the internet–I suddenly don’t feel so lonely.

One of those taken-down, Ten Commandments is to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Do we who argue for the inclusion of the Ten Commandments being left on the walls of our public places keep this commandment? I am as antinomion as anyone, meaning, there is no law, otherwise we would violate it. That is, we have all broken the law, repeatedly. But I also believe that the literal law is trumped by the “Spirit” of the law, given by Jesus, during the Sermon on the Mount, where one who gives his brother the moniker of “moron” is guilty of murder. Therefore the world is judged by this law but the believers are under grace. Why then would I ask if we, who want the Ten Commandments to hang in our halls, keep the Sabbath as the Ten Commandments tell?

It all comes down to the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. The letter of the Law of Moses states that no work can be done on the seventh day of the week. The spirit of the law says, rest, rejuvenate, regenerate, replenish, relax and reflect. Yet the literal letter and the Spirit say the same thing, “remember.” This does not indicate that I propagate the practice of piety on the Sabbath to cleanse us from our earthly acts during the week. On the contrary, giving God a day reminds us, in perpetuity, to present the rest of our days to him, as we work. The christian life should be one of a sabbath on steroids. Look at Philip and the early followers. The downfall of the United States is not a downfall of the United States, it’s an implosion of the church keeping its own citizens crying and crawling, begging for milk when they “ought to be teachers by this time.” All this to say, take time to study the Scripture, yourself, without the hindrance of a mega-church pastor. Consider the context.

In the alleged, seven-year, future tribulation, it has been said, “it will be like it was in the book of Acts, with rapid growth.” Why not now? Perhaps it’s because of our dubious dogmas and time-honored traditions? Because the church is slated to fall into apostasy? Or could it be because we have taken a sabbatical from spiritual sabbath service–church on Sunday, maybe prayer on Wednesday, but the rest of our lives belong to us, and our American Dreams? We have what is called, “the Judeo-Christian work ethic.” However we have imposed our own beliefs onto this Biblically based, yet flawed philosophy. In the mega-church, work is not enough, one needs to focus with faith on favor for his life, as if God were some sort of vending machine, handing out blessings of material goods to the faithful. But that’s not what the Scripture says–persecution is promised. In our uber-conservative organizations, one simply must work hard for the desires of his heart and for his retirement fund. But what does Jesus say? Consider the lilies, don’t store up treasure, sell all that you have and follow me, and the like. Yet we know not to take this literally, Jesus does not truly teach total trust in him to provide all of our needs. I find it funny that we take Jesus’ words concerning riches and materialism as metaphor, as well as “all these things shall fall upon this generation.” But when he says, “for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall,” he is speaking literally, without any hyperbole, because Jesus speaks nothing but truth. We are such incredible hypocrites! We manipulate the Scripture to fit our own narratives. This is why, here, we consider the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics to unlock the CAGED Scripture, which has been CAGED by our preconceived notions and presuppositions. Context, Author’s aspirations, Genre, Expository exegesis of examples and Divide rightly. We’ve been bottle fed, creeping and crawling rather than walking upright in the Spirit as Philip did. The problem I have is that I know from whence my next meal comes; my hard work. But down on this desert road, do we suppose that Philip packed provisions? In an irony of ironies, we see that the Lord provided exactly what the Ethiopian Eunuch’s (EE) heart desired, as he provided Philip with provisions. Consider the greater context and see the sublime string.

Philip followed where the Spirit led, and preached Jesus, through Isaiah’s prophecy, to the EE. Through Philip’s preaching, immediately the EE desired to be baptized. Problem; they were in the middle of the desert. The Bible calls it, transliterated from the Greek, eremos (pronounced air-ray-mose). It’s the same environment in which John the Baptist was preaching early in his ministry. It is also the word used to describe where the Israelites wandered. John didn’t baptize in the wilderness, nor did the Israelites find good water, yet the Lord provided. It is possible that one may find an oasis, but that is highly unlikely and not the point. I believe Luke’s aspiration to his audience to be simple yet sublime. Even in the desert, Philip found a follower, and he also found water, a rubber stamp, so to speak, stamped by the Spirit. Abruptly, the EE was baptized. He didn’t wait until after his baptismal class, or until he had proven himself worthy, or bought appropriate garb, or wait to invite his friends and plan a potluck dinner. The EE believed and by finding water where there should have been no water, we see it was the Spirit’s desire for him to be baptized, right away. Look again at the sublime string and the super-short summary.  An angel told Philip to go to a desert road, the Spirit told him to go to the EE and Philip ran to him, he didn’t walk. The EE was coming back from Jerusalem, reading Isaiah, but not understanding, Philip preached Jesus to the EE and based upon Philip’s testimony and the Scripture, the EE believed that Jesus was the Messiah. If that is not enough, the EE saw water in the desert and asked to be baptized. “Yes, but things work differently today.” I agree, but they don’t work that differently. Just as we see with the EE reading Isaiah, written several hundred years before Jesus walked the earth, yet described him perfectly.

The EE was taking vitamin E, our Old Testament tutor, because that was all he had–until the Spirit sent his servant, Philip. Now, we are simply simple minded–we assume that the EE only read two verses of Isaiah 53, because Luke only recorded two verses of Isaiah 53. We bring our current cultural clutter into our reading, picturing the EE reading a paperback book or a verse or two hand written on a cocktail napkin. The EE was no doubt reading from a scroll. Being the keeper of the treasures of Candace, it is of little doubt that he would have access to an expensive scroll. This is why considering the context is king and current cultural clutter confounds us and cages the Scripture. The Ethiopian eunuch also had his cultural clutter confounding his reading of Isaiah, which he did out loud–Philip heard him reading. And he heard him reading two, nonconsecutive verse. Therefore we know that Luke was summarizing, based on the context. We also can reasonably assume that the EE was reading the LXX. Nevertheless, the content of the LXX and the NASB point to the same person.

“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.  But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.”

Was the Ethiopian eunuch Jewish? We understand how he could possibly possess the parchment of Isaiah, but we don’t know, why? Let’s review what we do know: he was Ethiopian, a eunuch, responsible for the queen’s treasures, worshiped in Jerusalem (certainly not the temple–he was a eunuch), and was returning home, reading at least a section of Isaiah 53 out loud. Was the EE a descendant of Jacob, a convert or a gentile? Context is king and author’s aspirations are apex. The EE could not have been a proselyte, he was a eunuch. He could not have been a gentile because Luke wrote about the first gentile convert later on in Acts named Cornelius. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers claim that the Ethiopian eunuch was either a proselyte or a gentile. However those claims are easily refuted based on the context of the Bible and the aspirations of Luke to his audience. Problem; we don’t consider the context but rather traditions and tell-tales.

Isaiah 53 is the perfect proof. Who else in history could this be about other than Jesus? The dogmatic dispensationalists argue that because the eyes of the Israelites are blinded, they simply cannot see Jesus in Isaiah 53. What about the rest of the world? What about those messianic Jews who do see Jesus in Isaiah 53? “Well, it’s a partial hardening, which will end in the seven years of tribulation.” Problem; according to their dogma, 2/3rds of Jews are slaughtered during this future false fulfillment. The EE, most likely a direct descendant of Jacob, though probably of much mixed ancestry as well, didn’t understand Isaiah until Philip, full of  the Spirit, explained it to him.

We see that Jesus’ Great Commission is beginning to bud. First to Jerusalem and Judea, Samaria and even to those long lost in the diaspora. We have also seen the persecution pump primed by the stoning of Stephan. We are starting to see the fulfillment of Matthew 24 falling on “this” first-century generation, exactly as Jesus foretold. We have also seen a “rapture” of Philip. In an irony of ironies, Philip was not raptured to heaven but to Azotus. Food for thought as one considers what “rapture” really means.

Entirety of Scripture, that is what we need. Why was there a partial hardening of Israel? We are told. When will it end, we are told that too. The dogmatic dispensationalists argue that the believing gentiles have to be removed before Jews will be saved. That is not at all what Paul says. But that is also getting way ahead of ourselves because at this time in the text, it is Philip who is raptured, not Paul, yet (Paul landed on earth too–by the way). Right now, Paul is still the most prevalent and prominent persecutor of the people of Jesus. The focus is on Philip and the Ee. See all that is contained in the context. Notice the strange way in which Philip found a follower, but also the perfect portrayal presented of an evangelist. Let’s see if the “partial hardening of Israel” has ceased. Preach Isaiah 53, juxtaposed to Jesus, see if they make the pieces fit. Nevertheless consider; millennials are leaving the church in droves–this has to be qualified. Millennials brought up in the church are leaving the church in droves, however, many millennials who are unchurched are being added to the church. Many of them are Jewish millennials, actually.  Some surveys have found that approaching one third of Jewish millennials believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Fleeing from tradition taught by “elders” they see the similarities between Isaiah 53 and Jesus. Much in the same way, churched millennials see the hypocrisy in some of the church’s traditions.

What is my aspiration to my audience? Consider the context, aspirations, genre, examples and divide rightly. I want us to read the Bible for all its worth and reexamine ourselves in light of Scripture. Consider what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman in John, chapter 4.

“Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Notice; “an hour is coming, and now is…” Jesus himself said that there was an overlap between that “age” and the “age to come.” Philip lives in that age–“this generation.” In the book of Acts, we see the age of the temple coming to a close and the inauguration of the age of Spirit and truth.

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