God’s Word for You
Acts 8:26-28 Sitting in his chariot reading
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, January 16, 2020
26 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Get up and go south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27 So he got up and went.
Philip had brought the gospel into Samaria; now the Lord had another task for this able missionary. An angel was dispatched to instruct Philip on what to do: Not just the direction he should go, but the specific road he should take. This was because the encounter God was setting up would not happen in a city or a village, but alongside this very road.
Gaza was about fifty miles southwest of Jerusalem as the crow flies, or about seventy miles from the city of Samaria. But there was no direct road from Samaria to Gaza. Philip would actually need to travel back to Jerusalem, and from there south all the way to Beersheba, and from there to Gaza. The city of Gaza is on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the southernmost of the ancient “five cities of the Philistines” (Judges 3:3; 1 Samuel 6:16). By the time of the New Testament, Gath had disappeared, and the other Philistine cities were no longer inhabited by Philistines, but by various Canaanites, Greeks, and Romans.
The road from Jerusalem that Luke describes went south to Beersheba, where it divided into a four-way X. Northeast the way went back to Jerusalem. Southeast it went into the Negev, a road that brought camel trains from distant places like Dedan and Teman in Arabia. Southwest was the road into the north-central Sinai known as the Road to Shur (Genesis 16:7) where the Angel of the LORD once spoke to Hagar. Northwest was the path Philip was instructed to take, to Gaza near the sea.
He saw a man, an Ethiopian and a eunuch of great importance under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians; who was in charge of her treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship. 28 Now returning, he was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet.
The rulers of the Ethiopians at this time were kings, but the line was transmitted through the mother, and so the position of Queen Mother or Kandake (Candace) was a very important one. The Queen Mother had her own palace, her own court, her own staff of servants, and her own small pyramid for a tomb. The word “Candace” is pronounced with three syllables and rhymes with “Aunt Stacy.”
This man was a eunuch, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he was castrated. The term eunuch came to mean, over time, professional public servants, and a eunuch was much the same as our term “minister” when used in the political sense: a cabinet minister. More importantly, he was to become the very first Gentile ever converted to Christianity.
Philip encountered the eunuch on the road. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem expressly to worship, and therefore we can say that he was a proselyte of the gate, a Gentile who believed in the God of the Jews and accepted Judaism. The Jews did not accept such proselytes as Jews themselves, but would allow their descendants of the third generation to be considered Jews.
The eunuch was taking a break from his trip, sitting in his vehicle, reading. The vehicle was a harma (το ἅρμα) or chariot; that is, a short carriage usually with just two wheels, large enough for one or at most two men to ride standing upright. Chariots are especially suited to battles on grassy plains. They are used in the Bible by the Egyptians (Exodus 14:9), the Amorites and Hittites (Joshua 11:3-4), the Canaanites (Judges 4:2-3), and the Israelites after Solomon’s time (1 Kings 10:26, 16:9, 20:21). It was in a battle of such vehicles that the famous King Tut had met his death many years before (1325 BC).
The Eunuch was reading from a scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. He must have been a wealthy man to have been able to purchase such a rare and valuable document. Perhaps part of his reason for going to Jerusalem was specifically to have such a scroll made, or to find one for sale. Outside of the scrolls of the Bible in the temple (2 Kings 22:8), which seem to have been rare and were for public reading in Old Testament times (Nehemiah 13:1), we know that by Jesus’ day there were copies of the Word of God in the synagogues. Jesus read from one of these in Nazareth (Luke 4:6-17). Now we find a wealthy Gentile who was able to obtain one for his own use (unless he was taking it back to his own synagogue and stopped along the way to read from it). Perhaps Paul had copies of some books of the Bible for his personal reading, since he says in his last letter, “Bring… my scrolls, especially the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13).
Here was a command from an angel, a man interested in the true meaning of the word of God, and a private place in which to talk. What a ripe field Philip had found! Try to be aware of such opportunities when they present themselves to you. You might not have the command of an angel, but you have the command from Jesus: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). May God bless your words wherever, whenever, and with whomever you share them.
Pastor Timothy Smith